International Institute for
Indigenous Resource Management

ROUNDTABLES ON CULTURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT

Roundtable on the Role of American Indian and Other Indigenous Spiritual Leaders and Healers in Protecting and Preserving Biodiversity and Sacred Landscapes Affected By Federal Facilities Environmental Restoration Activities

Denver, Colorado
August 28-30, 2002
Sponsored by:
International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Health and Environmental Research
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Facility Restoration and Reuse Office

Final Report

I. Introduction

Indian tribes are unique stakeholders. They are at once governmental, social, cultural, and economic entities with unique legal relationships with the federal government based in part on treaties, in part on federal statutes, and in part on the federal-Indian trust. Indian tribes are also unique because their interests in land and natural resources are not merely economic but also religious, totemic, political, social and cultural. In short, many of these lands and the landscapes are sacred to the native peoples of America .

The objectives of the Roundtable on the Role of American Indian and Other Indigenous Spiritual Leaders and Healers in Protecting Biodiversity and Sacred Landscapes Affected by Federal Facilities Environmental Restoration Activities were threefold:

To carry out this agenda, the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management brought together traditional healers and spiritual leaders from the U.S., Canada, Malawi, Nigeria, and Aotearoa (New Zealand) with representatives and legal experts from federal agencies, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, and universities.

II. The Issues and the research agenda.

A. What systems or institutions are needed to help traditonal healers and spiritual leaders protect biodiversity and sacred landscapes?

The systems and institutions suggested by the formal presentations and facilitated dialogues fall into three distinct categories: international professional organizations; educational or technology transfer systems; and, enforcement mechanism. However, underlying and integral to these systems are capacity building and communications projects. These projects include internships, workshops, international conferences and roundtables, secondments, and other staff exchanges. Implicit in these capacity building projects is the recognition that some very good and very exciting things are occurring in places like Pendleton, Oregon; Malawi, and Aotearoa (New Zealand) and that some of the very best teachers of indigenous students are indigenous scientists, technicians, attorneys, and administrators.

1. What international and regional professional organizations are required?

  1. Traditional healers in Malawi are required to be certified by a national organization of traditional healers. Healers in Malawi and other African countries are prestigious and frequently politically powerful positions within village society and regionally.

    The following research projects were suggested.
  1. Some traditional healers have their own apprenticeship programs but some are also working with their local educational institutions to develop educational programs to instruct native students in their work. Similarly, cultural practitioners, e.g., basket weavers, are developing educational programs that connect up the craft with the land, water, and other natural resources as well as the spirituality thereof. To build and improve these educational programs the following projects were suggested.
  1. Traditional healers in Malawi, Nigeria, and other countries in Africa can enforce rules designed to protect traditional medicines, habitat, and sacred landscapes through political, spiritual, and legal powers not enjoyed by their U.S. and Canadian counterparts. However, the sense of the participants was that U.S. and Canadian Indian tribes are not without some power.

    The following projects were suggested.

2. What scientific and technial systems and institutions for protecting biodiversity and sacred landscapes are required?

  1. The presentation of the representatives of the Coeur D'Alene Tribe made a powerful statement in support of the wedding of science and technology (in this case, geographic information system) and culture to protect biodiversity and landscape. Similarly, the cultural risk presentation suggested that tribes could develop scientifically valid methodologies that are also culturally sensitive.

    The following projects were suggested.

3. What legal strategies systems and institutions for protecting biodiversity and sacred landscapes are required?

  1. The DOD has entered into cooperative agreements with Indian tribes under the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program. With one exception, the lands covered by these cooperative agreements are Indian country. The exception is the “usual and accustomed” fishing sites that are the subject of the cooperative agreement between the DOD and the Muckleshoot tribe. Similarly, DOE has entered into cooperative agreements with ten Indian tribes. In the main, these tribes have lands that adjoin DOE facilities or are the subject of treaties that reserved tribal hunting, fishing, grazing or other rights on such lands. In all cases, these lands have been, are, or will be affected by the cleanup and operations of DOE facilities such as Hanford, Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory, and Los Alamos. DOE has also entered into cooperative agreements with two tribal organizations: the National Congress of American Indians, the National Tribal Environmental Council, and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. DOE, through the former Center for Risk Excellence at the Argonne National Laboratory, has also worked with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and directly with some of the tribal colleges to develop curriculum and training programs. DOE has involved Indian tribes and tribal organizations in various advisory bodies on transportation, technology development, and other issues. These cooperative agreements are based generally on treaties and the federal-Indian trust relationship. However, exactly how far treaties and the trust can take a federal agency in its relationship with Indian tribes around biodiversity and sacred landscape issues is yet unresolved.

    The following projects were suggested.

III. Realizing the research agenda.

The Roundtable set out an ambitious agenda. Part of it is already being realized. The pilot project on medicinal plants in Malawi is being funded by UNESCO as a direct result of this Roundtable. The International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management has begun research on the role of geographic indicators in protecting traditional medicines, food, and other plants. The UNESCO representative has expressed an interest in supporting some of this work. To this end Institute staff will be meeting with her and her colleagues to see how we can coordinate our efforts to support this work. The Roundtable participants also instructed the Institute to prepare proposals and concept papers for pharmaceutical companies, foundations, and federal agencies, including the FFRRO.