Since the beginning of time people have picked special places on the land to honor their connections with all of life. This act of creating a space for the sacred allows a divine power of connection to arise within each of us. A connection to our community, to nature, to spirit, to the future, to the past. In an age where land has become a commodity for development or extraction, the need to claim, protect, and celebrate sacred sites is more important than ever. Luckily we have the wisdom of indigenous elders to guide us back to this important and sacred connection to all things.
If you would just take a moment to pause from your busy day and think about the most sacred place that you are connected to, the place that brings you peace and accepts your prayers, very likely the place where your grandparents and their parents once prayed, the place you would safeguard with all of your might, with all that you are and all that you have. If you said the holy name of that place out loud, would it be the name of a church or a temple or chapel you hold dear? Say it, utter its name out loud as I do… my church, my temple, my mountain, Mauna a Wakea, Mauna Kea.
– Hawaiian Auntie, Pua Case.
For those of us who have been displaced for generations from our homeland, those who live in crowded cities, as well as those who are fortunate enough to live on the same land their ancestors walked upon, sacred sites are vital to our well-being. This powerful connection between humans and the land that sustains our lives is also easy to forget in our busy lives. This is why it is so important to take a moment to stop, breathe, and remember.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse is the Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Pipe, which has been passed down for 19 generations along with some very powerful teachings for all of humanity. This is why Arvol has been a leading voice to bring awareness and life back to sacred sites around the world through ceremony and prayer. World Peace and Prayer Day happens on June 21 every year in a different place, and their website is a great resource for those interested in preserving sacred sites around the world.
It was shown in a dream long ago, that we would come to a time in this global community, we would have to unite at our Sacred Sites once again to bring back healing. Many Nations would stand shoulder to shoulder in the Sacred Hoop. The future of our children’s health and wellbeing is dependent on our efforts. They need every person’s prayer from the Global Community.
– Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
Protecting Sacred Sites
There are many threats to the land that we are seeing all over the world, and the fiercest protectors to these special places are our indigenous brothers and sisters. Whether it is Hawaiians fighting to protect their sacred Mauna Kea, the Apache fighting to protect Oak Flats, the Hopi running a thousand miles with a message to protect water, Plains Indians refusing Keystone XL, Canadian Tribes resisting tar sands, or the Mebegokre Kayapó Indians blocking Belmonte Dam, there is a common thread between all of them. Their struggles are not merely personal, their sacrifice is for all of us and people everywhere are beginning to wake up to this truth. There are many ways to show solidarity, to step up and support but it starts by cultivating a connection to the sacred within one’s self and/or on the land.
Our ancestors never destroyed to advance, never constructed in a manner that would irreparably harm their island home or its inhabitants. They were a people who protected the balance, the alignment, the interdependence, and the energy in all things. They knew on the deepest of levels how connected all was and is still, not just to here, but to everywhere and everything. In us, that memory still lives.
– Hawaiian Auntie, Pua Case
Reconnecting to Sacredness
The recognition of our interconnectedness is deeply meaningful and empowering. Time in nature is healing, it reduces stress, and awakens us to the beauty of life. When was the last time you gave yourself some ecotherapy and took a day to be with nature, to honour her, offer gratitude to her, beautify her? This simple action is a gift that you can give to yourself by setting the intention to reclaim your own connection to what is sacred.
Scientists have long known that sunlight can ease depression, especially seasonal affective disorder (SAD). New research is expanding those findings. A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.
The Sacred Within
June 21 is also recognised as World Yoga Day. Though yoga and sacred sites may seem like two completely different concepts coming from separate cultures, there is a common thread. Yoga means union, and the practice teaches us to respect our own body as a living, breathing temple. This is not very different from the indigenous teachings which remind us that the earth is also a living, breathing temple. When we stop to honour, and connect with ourselves as well as the land on which we live, we re-awaken the sacred. This is empowering, and it comes with a responsibility as well as an opportunity.
It is time to globalise legislation for the Rights of Mother Earth and establish a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature, to recognise her as a living being- the biggest of all-, to protect her, restore her, and link her to humanity by way of respect and preservation of all her species. – First International Forum for the Rights of Mother Earth.
A Legal Framework for Protecting Sacred Sites
There is currently a legal movement globally to protect nature from unsustainable development and destructive extraction practices. In 2010, Bolivia enacted the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth for UN ratification. The concept of ecocide that originated in the 1970s is becoming recognised as an international crime. Ecocide is defined as the extensive destruction or loss of ecosystem(s). This legal framework allows governments to enforce protections for natural habitats.
Native Treaties provide some of the most powerful legal protection for cultural heritage sites. The United Nations has developed a consultation process for representation of Native Voices in local and global affairs. Since the water, the soil, the air are commonly owned by all, and their destruction can lead to illness, death, or cultural devastation, the issue of sacred sites also touches on human rights issues which are protected under many local and international laws.
Knowledge is Power
We have an opportunity to empower ourselves through knowledge of these issues, by understanding that there are local laws that protect sacred sites, and with our own personal connection to sacred sites in our region we can make meaningful changes. By connecting with local indigenous tribes, one can gain a deeper understanding for the cultural history and protocol for these special places. This also helps to deepen cross cultural connections and heal some of the historical wounds of colonialism.
Maybe there is a local spring, waterway, mountain, forest, beach, or canyon that brings value to you and your community? You can declare it as a sacred site and commit to protecting it. This type of stewardship, and community involvement is paramount to having a healthy future environment, as well as a living connection with the land.
What is sacred to you? How will you protect it, honour it, celebrate it? These questions will awaken within you something that is ancient and empower you with inspiration to act. We have been given this abundant world full of life, it is our responsibility to take care of it so that others may enjoy it long after we are gone!
FEATURE IMAGE: excerpt from artwork by John Jude Palencar