National Trust names Kw'st'an Sacred Sites one of America's 11 most endangered historic places

provided by National Trust for Historic Preservation


o call attention to the threat posed to the traditional lands of the Quechan people, the National Trust for Historic Preservation this month added Kw'St'An Sacred Sites at Indian Pass, California, to its 2002 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Unless the BLM recognizes the value of this land, Glamis Gold will dig a mile-wide open pit mine and destroy this Indian spiritual landscape forever.

    “Indian Pass is sacred to our people. We have already lost so much. If we lose Indian Pass too, all we will have left to pass on to the grandchildren will be fairy tales about what once was. Religious freedom would amount to nothing more than the right to believe that our religion will be destroyed,” stated Mike Jackson, Sr., President of the Quechan Indian Nation. “We are pleased that a respected national preservation group, the National Trust, recognizes the value of protecting special native places like Indian Pass.”

    “Indian Pass is one of the few remaining American landscapes that is largely untouched by modern man,” said Richard Moe, President of the National Trust. “The religion and culture of the Quechan people, who have used this land for thousands of years, is deeply rooted in the sacred mountains of Indian Pass. They shouldn't be asked to give up their souls so others can have an ounce of gold.”

    “Our classrooms and links to the ancestors are through these sacred places. Glamis Gold wants to destroy these places – but access to nowhere is not freedom of religion,” stated Mr. Lorey Cachora, consultant to the Quechan Culture Committee and Tribal member. “The Interior Department is saying that they may have no choice but to allow the destruction. We say they have no choice but to reinstate the denial of the permit. Destruction is not progress.”

    “It would be a crime against culture for the government to permit Glamis Gold to destroy Indian Pass. An official never has the discretion to violate the Constitution,” said Courtney Ann Coyle, Attorney for the Tribe. “Congress mandated BLM to protect Indian Pass from undue impairment. If a mine is allowed here, Glamis Gold will become the poster-child for all that is wrong with the antiquated Mining Law of 1872 and the environmental rollbacks of the Bush Administration. If we can't protect this place, then nothing can be protected from mining interests.”



    The Indian Pass site – with its chips of black volcanic basalt and white quartz – has been described as a giant prehistoric chessboard. The Quechan and other Colorado River tribes have continuously used and revered this site for thousands of years for spiritual teaching and religious pilgrimages. The land is now owned by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management.



    Glamis Gold, a Canadian corporation with mining operations in Nevada, California, Mexico and Honduras, wants to dig a 200-square-mile, cyanide heap-leach gold mine at Indian Pass. The mine would have three open pits up to 880-feet deep and create rock stockpiles as high as a thirty-story building. The ore is of such low grade that only one ounce of gold would be mined for every 422 tons of waste rock removed. During the Clinton Administration, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt refused to issue a permit for the mine because it would irreparably harm the environment and the Quechan's spiritual places. Now, however, the Bush Administration has reversed the ruling.Ê


    The immediate threat to the site can be eliminated by a Bureau of Land Management decision to deny the proposed mine, just as it did previously.

    America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified more than 135 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988. While a listing does not ensure the protection of a site or guarantee funding, the designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.

    This year's list contains an unprecedented three Indian sacred places: Kw'St'An sacred sites at Indian Pass, Imperial County California; the Missouri River Valley Cultural and Sacred Sites, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota; and Pompey's Pillar, Yellowstone County, Montana.

    The Quechan Indian Nation is a federally-recognized tribe. About 3,000 tribal members live on the reservation. The Quechan are the third largest California land-based tribe, with about 45,000 acres in reservation status. Many members still speak their native language. Their aboriginal lands include the area protected in the Babbitt decision denying the mine. The tribe has utilized the area since time immemorial for religious, ceremonial and educational purposes. The tribe intends to continue to use the area in the future. Tribal members also consider the area sacred apart from physical uses of the lands.

    The National Trust is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the National Trust provides leadership, education and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Its Washington, DC headquarters staff, six regional offices and 21 historic sites work with the Trust's quarter-million members and thousands of local community groups in all 50 states. 

    The Atlantic Monthly will present a special feature insert, sponsored by Shell Oil Company, on the National Trust's 11 Most Endangered list in the July/August issue of the magazine