Cultural Heritage and Sacred Sites: World Heritage from an Indigenous Perspective 15 May 2002 - New York University

Presentation by Delphine Red Shirt (Transcript from audiotape by Marie-Danielle Samuel. Lakota words not confirmed and *at times missing) Delphine Red Shirt, is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She is an author of two books: Her first book, a memoir titled: "Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood" has been translated in German. Her second book: "Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter" is an autobiographical story told by her mother in Ms. Red Shirt's native language, Lakota. Ms. Red Shirt is currently an adjunct professor in English at Connecticut College and linguistics this fall at Yale University. Ms. Red Shirt is a columnist for Indian Country Today, the nation's leading American Indian News Source. She is a voice for Lakota people. She served as the Chairperson of the NGO Committee on the World's Indigenous Peoples in 1995-96. She is currently President of a nonprofit organization seeking to establish a preparatory high school for Native American students, to be located near the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the school has repurchased 560 acres of land.

When my Black Hills Money comes in…we will never sell these sacred hills: a Lakota perspective. My name is Delphine Red Shirt. I was born and raised in Nebraska and grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. My first language is Lakota. I am bilingual. I learned to speak English in kindergarten. So again I speak primarily Lakota, my own nation, my own culture. What I came to do tonight, I came to ask UNESCO and the convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritages to consider this proposal to include the all federal land located within the Black Hills of South Dakota, a place rich with Indigenous cultural history as a Sacred Site, specifically the connection Indigenous peoples feel toward their homeland.

You are all visitors here in the United States, you are all immigrants, visiting or living here to the Indigenous peoples' present. To the Indigenous peoples' present, this is home. This is the place where we have survived and we still feel a connection to these lands. It is important to understand that, in order to appreciate the indigenous culture that exists within the borders of the United States. These cultures are rich and occupied in the past larger land bases that the government acknowledges. These lands we, as Indigenous peoples, cannot and do not forget. They are in our blood memory, what Scott Momaday calls blood memory. And we still pay tribute to their sacredness for our own survival. The Black Hills are such a place for my people, the Lakota. If you travel west past the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, and most New Yorkers don't think that the United States exist past the Mississippi river, you will find my homeland in the Great Plains region of the United States. That is my homeland. There I feel connected to the land, "*………." we call it, to the four sacred directions that we pray to each day, to the sky and the earth. So when I, as an Indigenous person, rise in the morning, I face the first light wherever that light appears. And I travel often, so I look for it. I open my hotel room window and I look for the first light. When I see it, I greet it first to the west, "wiyoh peyata", and then to the north "waziyata" and then again to the east and then to the south, and then to "*…….", the sky and "*……" the earth. It is the way we pray, we connect to the four elements and to the sky and to the earth.

Our origin story says that we come from the He sappa, the Black Hills, located in the western most part of the state of South Dakota. The Black Hills are forests of yellow pines. The highest peak rises 7, 242 feet above the plains. That is my home. Our origin story tells us that we emerge from the Black Hills, from a cave there known as Wind Cave National Park. Interestingly, Wind Cave National Park contains the world's six longest caves and we Lakota say that is where we originated from, perhaps as long ago as 11,000 years. Think about that! 11,000 years… The He sappa or Black Hills of South Dakota are a cultural landscape familiar to many Northern Plains Indigenous peoples but particularly for my people, the Lakota. We are the Indigenous peoples whose leaders Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Sitting Bull fought for the return of these lands taken by the federal government. The He sappa or the Black hills are hills formed by granite and limestone, 110 miles by 40 miles. They sit alone in a peculiar isolation on an otherwise flat and empty plain. They rise out of the plain. It is here that Lakota people, perhaps for 11,000 years, sought shelter from the artic wind in winter and waited for the red buffalo grass in the springtime "*…….". In these hills the young men sought visions in the early summer on the hillsides of these sacred hills, in late summer and early autumn, the Lakota women and children harvested berries and other foods and our medicine men and women harvested medicinal plants and herbs from these hills. We followed the bear, the "matho" and whatever the bear ate, we picked as well because that was our medicine. It was in these hills that our people and other northern plains Indigenous peoples lived in harmony and balance with nature and everything good that came from the natural environment in these hills The people still continue to this day to make pilgrimage into the Hills to gather herbs and plants for medicinal use. Tradition, ritual and prayer continue in these He sappa for my people as well as other indigenous tribes located around the periphery of the Black Hills. It is a place that we Lakota call the heart of everything that is, it is a place that we as Indigenous peoples perceive and rightfully so as sacred, "Wakhan", sacred.

Within the Black Hills is Mt Rushmore, considered the world's greatest mountain carving. Ironically Mt Rushmore does not in any way acknowledge the Indigenous peoples that have lived there for centuries in the Black Hills. Archeological digs within the sacred Black Hills confirm 11,000 years of human habitation and migration in the area at a site in the Black Hills called Pine Bluff near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Pine Bluff extends for miles and includes thousands of stone tipi rings, Indigenous burial grounds, prehistoric trails and bison jumps. The bison or buffalo has been a sacred animal to us. These bison jumps confirm the hunting of this great animal for 11,000 years. This area in the Black Hills has the largest wooly mammoth bones in the world. It is designated a national natural landmark, but it, in no way, gives special consideration to Indigenous peoples who still reside within a hundred miles of the site.

My hope is that, if it is designated as Sacred Site by the world community thru UNESCO, Indigenous Peoples will have freer and greater access to this site for cultural and spiritual renewal. We, as Lakota people, have fought thru the court system in our own country and were awarded in 1980 by the US Supreme Court which ruled on a treaty signed in 1868 which included the Black Hills as part of a reservation for our people, that is until gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The US Supreme Court concluded in 1980 that the Black Hills region was taken from us illegally by an 1877 Act of Congress. In that decision the Court said that the 1877 Act ignored the stipulation of the Fort Laramie Treaty that any session of the land would have to be joined in by 2/3 of the adult males, and the Supreme Court awarded us 105 millions for the illegal taking of the Black hills from us. We continue to this day to reject the payment of the 105 millions which has now grown considerably. Although we live on the Pine Ridge Reservation and on most Sioux reservations… we, in Pine Ridge, live in the poorest county in the United States, we are not interested in the money awarded by the Federal Government. We are interested only in the return of the land, it is to us an ancient spiritual area. And I urge the world community thru UNESCO to include in the World Heritage list the Black Hills, the He sappa, so that we, as Lakota and other Northern Plains intertribal peoples, can regain access to the federal land located within the Black Hills. And I say federal land, we are not interested in privately held land at this point. So that we may really use these lands for our use, for our rituals of renewal and survival.

The mention of the school in the Black Hills: We purchased 560 acres of land so we may establish a preparatory school, the second of its kind in the nation without church or government funding so that we can re-teach the cultural values to the Northern Plains peoples, to their children, including language.

I feel very fortunate to know my language intimately. I can speak it conversationally, I can think in it if I choose, I can pray in it. I learned it because my grandfather who lived with us could not speak English so we as children had to learn both languages.

Now I feel it is up to me to pass that knowledge on to the younger generations, because a culture cannot exist without a language. It is how you define your god. We say in our language "*………", that is our god. "*……." is "that which moves, moves", it is the energy in all living things. I would like to say that Einstein was a Lakota. With that I would like to again urge the world community thru UNESCO to include on the World Heritage list the Black hills, the He sappa. "*…………………." Thank you.



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