Sacred Land Film Project Timeline

All around the Earth, decade after decade, indigenous people protected sacred places and resisted when sites were threatened. Explore key events and look for patterns in this important history.

The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area?

A couple of graduate students from UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, Toby McLeod and Glenn Switkes, receive the largest grant ever received by Berkeley grad students—$34,456—from the Arizona Humanities Council. With Randy Hayes they produce the documentary film, The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area?, over the next four years. It wins a Student Academy Award in 1983 and is broadcast on PBS. While distributing Four Corners, McLeod asks David Brower if Friends of the Earth would sponsor a not-for-profit film project and Brower invites McLeod to join the new Earth Island Institute, and the Sacred Land FIlm Project is born (1984).

Trump approves Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL

Just 72 hours into his presidency, Donald Trump has signed executive orders designed to move both the Dakota Access (DAPL) and the Keystone XL oil pipelines forward. Keystone XL is the TransCanada pipeline that was defeated in 2015 after then President Barack Obama decreed it was not in the best interests of the United States. The pipeline needed U.S. Department of State approval because it crossed the international border with Canada. DAPL has been on indefinite hold since December 4, when the U.S. Department of the Army declined to issue one last easement for pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.

Bears Ears Protected

President Barack Obama establishes the Bears Ears National Monument in southwest Utah, which holds a wealth of petroglyphs and cliff dwellings. The designation comes with a first-of-its-kind tribal commission with elected leaders from each of the five Native American tribes who will serve as commission members.

Apache Protest Oak Flats Giveaway

The National Defense Authorization Act included a rider to transfer 2,400 acres of sacred Apache land to the giant international Resolution Copper mining corporation in exchange for several parcels of land scattered around Arizona. Oak Flat is a historic ceremonial and burial ground that would be destroyed by copper mining. The San Carlos Apache organized a 2-day, 44-mile protest march to and occupation of Oak Flat to express their anger over the giveaway of this important traditional territory.

First Gwich'in Gathering to protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

For the first time in over a century, the Gwich'in Nation in Alaska and Canada gathered in Arctic Village, Alaska, to address the threat posed by oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Drilling on the Refuge's sacred coastal plain would threaten the Porcupine Caribou Herd, critical to these "Caribou People." They created the Gwich'in Steering Committee and committed to fighting the drilling, an effort that continues to this day. The Gathering also helped launch a partnership with environmentalists who were still coming to understand the cultural importance of the caribou and sacredness of the coastal plain.

Pacific Northwest Fish Wars

In the late 1960s and early 70s Native Americans around Puget Sound refused to obtain licenses or obey fish and game restrictions on certain fisheries. Billy Frank Jr. was arrested 50 times. The tribes went to court in U.S. v. Washington. The 1974 Boldt Decision established 20 treaty tribes in western Washington as co-managers of the salmon resource with the state of Washington and reaffirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to Washington rivers. These battles revealed one of the early clashes between environmentalists and native activists. Tribes were fighting for treaty-guaranteed fishing rights and some white allies miscast the struggle as one for racial equality. Native activists argued that this missed the point and confused the issue: the truth was that their fishery rights as First Peoples were ­simply ­stronger, in a legal sense, than those of non-Natives. Treaties matter.

Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Impact

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest dramatically increased public understanding of Native American issues. It was also a turning point in improving working relations among Native American tribes and with environmental and other advocacy organizations.

IUCN votes to protect indigenous sacred lands and peoples’ rights

The world's largest conservation group, the IUCN, voted at its World Conservation Congress for the sacred natural sites and territories of indigenous peoples be recognized as 'No-Go Areas' for destructive industrial scale activities, It also voted to create a new category of membership for Indigenous peoples’ organizations. This will open the opportunity to strengthen the presence and role of Indigenous organizations in IUCN – a unique membership union gathering 217 state and government agencies, 1,066 NGOs, and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest rallies Native American tribes

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters from more than 200 Native American tribes protest the Dakota Access pipeline, which threatens water supplies and sacred lands. U.S. government suspends construction after months of protest.

Dongria Kondh Protect Niyamgiri Hills in India

Dongria Kondh community councils, also known as Gram Sabhas, voted to deny mining rights in their sacred Niyamgiri Hills to Vedanta Resources. Citing the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the Indian government honored the local decision and forbid the company from extracting 73 million tons of bauxite from the hills, which are home to the Dongia Kondh's god, Niyam Raja.

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