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National Trust for Historic Preservation Lists Quechan Indian Pass Area

By Courtney Ann Coyle, Attorney, Quechan Indian Nation

View of Picacho Peak


Late last fall, the new executive administration in Washington DC summarily rescinded the denial of the proposed Imperial Project, an open-pit, cyanide heap-leach mine in Imperial County, California.

The mine would destroy or seriously compromise some 55 recorded historic properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Indian Pass-Running Man Area of Traditional Cultural Concern, items subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and religious sites including prayer circles, ceremonial places, shrines, ceramic scatters, petroglyphs and spirit breaks linked by ancient trails.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton rescinded the denial without consulting with the Quechan Tribal Government, state or local political officials, the State Office of Historic Preservation or the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and without notice to a concerned public.

Based on this action and its misguided public policy, on June 6, 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Quechan Indian Pass Area as one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002. At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC, Richard Moe, President of the Trust, stated, "Indian Pass is one of the few remaining American landscapes that is largely untouched by modernman. 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."

Since Secretary Norton's rescission of the mine denial, the Quechan people, and other interested parties in native, political, legal and foundation arenas have been very busy refighting the battle to protect the sacred lands in and around Indian Pass:

  • In November, the National Congress of American Indians unanimously passed a resolution at its annual meeting in Spokane in opposition to the proposed gold mine and supporting protection of the Quechan Indian Pass area and calling for the formation of a national Sacred Lands Protection Coalition;

  • In December, 29 members of the California Congressional Delegation and both U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Secretary Norton critical of the secretary's rescission of the denial of the mine and requesting that she again deny the project in the public interest and to protect Californians;

  • In April, the California Attorney General's Office sent a letter to Secretary Norton requesting that Interior reinstate the denial of the Attorney General's legal analysis, agreed with that of the Tribe and former Secretary Bruce Babbitt: that BLM has the authority to deny the massively destructive mine as it would unduly impair the natural and cultural resources in this protected area;

  • In May, the Lannan Foundation awarded a multi-year grant to the Tribe to support the fight to save the area and protect the Tribe's cultural heritage resources, native language and songs;

We are grateful for the assistance and support of each of these organizations and agencies and the tribal support we have received. But the battle to again protect the sacred lands at the Indian Pass area is far from over. There are some things historic preservationists and others can do to help:

  • Send a fax to Interior Secretary Norton protesting her unsupported rescission of the denial of the mine and requesting that she reinstate a denial of the mine (fax: 202.208.6950);

  • Send a fax to California Senator John Burton's office supporting the stateside sacred lands protection bill, SB 1828 (fax: 916.324.4708);

  • Make a donation to the fight. Private and organizational donations, of any size, will help demonstrate community commitment to our supporting Foundation, call 858.454.8687.

We thank you for your interest and continued support to protect and preserve the irreplaceable history of California.

2002 - Volume 33, Issue 2

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