Today, President Biden designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni (Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon) National Monument, which will conserve nearly 1 million acres of greater Grand Canyon landscape. For decades, the uranium mining industry has fought to gain access to this area, which has been vehemently protected by the advocacy of the Havasupai people, the only local tribe still in residence on that land. Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters,
“This land is sacred to tribal nations and indigenous peoples. Its sweeping plateaus and deep canyons share many of the features of the Grand Canyon. The land includes some of the most biodiverse habitats in the region, providing refuge for wildlife like bighorn sheep, bison, bald eagles and songbirds. And the area’s meandering creeks and streams flow into the mighty Colorado River, a critical water supply to millions of people across the Southwest.”
I would argue that this land is sacred to all people. Unlike the indigenous people, however, many of us have forgotten how to listen to the Holy Spirit as she flows through nature, begging us to be the stewards of Creation God called us to in His first order to humanity - “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:28).
In God is Red: A Native View of Religion, Vine Deloria Jr. delves into humanity’s responsibility to stewardship of the land. As part of this, he asserts that the Native People have been called to perform Spiritual rituals in various sacred sites throughout the world. However, due to colonization and infrastructure development, many of these sacred sites are now inaccessible to the indigenous peoples. For centuries, our Native brothers and sisters have been warning that their inability to perform these Sacred rituals will have devastating effects on the world, possibly even hastening the Apocalypse.
As Christians, we have this impulse to ignore the pleas of Native Americans by viewing these rituals as idolatrous and inherently against God. We excuse industrialization that prohibits access to these lands by denying the sacredness of these places because they are not inherently sacred within our own religious traditions. But what if they are sacred in our religious traditions? What if we strip away for one second this urge to discount the Spirituality of our fellow people and be open to learning something that could save our world?
All of humanity has been ordered by God to reign over the creatures of the Earth. God does not call us to be tyrants; yet somehow that is what we have become - overusing and abusing the planet to the point of devastation. We were made in the image of a God who rules benevolently; therefore, we are called to rule benevolently - protecting, encouraging, and allowing creation to thrive. What if the Native People hold a Divine Wisdom to maintain spaces through their use of these sites as Hallowed ground? In partnering with them to protect lands throughout our world, especially those home to critically important biodiversity, we are uniting in our mission to steward God’s creation towards a vibrant and more sustainable future for all people, all creatures, and all life.