This Day in History: Supreme Court OKs Road Through Sacred Site

There are any number of examples of the clash between the Western view of the earth as a resource to be harvested and the Native view of the earth as Mother and sacred. Today’s example comes from the U.S. Supreme Court case Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, decided this day in history April 19, 1988.

Background: The U.S. Forest Service wanted to build a 75- mile road connecting two towns. A six-mile stretch would pass through the Chimney Rock area of the Six Rivers National Forest in California, with the potential to harvest timber in the area. The proposed route went through an area sacred to the Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa Indians.

The Forest Service commissioned a draft environmental impact statement (EIS). According to the Court record: “The study concluded that constructing a road along any of the available routes would cause serious and irreparable damage to the sacred areas which are an integral and necessary part of the belief systems and lifeway of Northwest California Indian peoples.”

The U.S. Forest Service decided to go ahead with its plans anyway. Native groups, environmental groups and the state of California challenged the Forest Service’s decision. Native groups argued the road would violate their First Amendment rights. They lost the legal battle and the Freedom of Religion argument, but did eventually save the sacred space. Continue reading