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Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2022: Aug

Virtual displays based on the annual A History of Racial Injustice calendar.

August's Topic - Desecration of Sacred Indigenous Spaces

Indigenous male and female protesters some with mask against President Trump's July 4th celebration at Mt. Rushmore

Calendar photo caption: Indigenous activists protest President Donald Trump's planned Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore, a monument carved into the Sioux Nation's sacred Black hills in South Dakota. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Calendar Text

For centuries, Indigenous people have suffered the unjust loss of land sacred to their history and religious practices. In 1492, more than 10 million Indigenous people lived throughout what is now the U.S.; by the early 1600s, 90% had been killed by violent massacres, armed encroachment, and disease.

In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act, creating the reservation system and forcing Indigenous communities to reside in designated areas they couldn't leave without permission. Later laws restricted Indigenous people's access to sacred land outside reservation boundaries and, in some cases, outlawed their religious practices. Much of the seized land was used to create national parks. In 1868, the Lakota Sioux people were promised the sacred Black Hills "in perpetuity," but the U.S. rescinded that treaty after gold was discovered. The land became South Dakota's Black Hill National Forest, the site of Mt. Rushmore.

Many surviving Indigenous sacred sites are threatened with desecration today. In 2017, President Donald Trump reduced the protected Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante sites by nearly two million acres in the largest reversal of federal land protection in U.S. history. This opened the land to oil extraction, logging, and other exploitation, eviscerating the work of Indigenous advocates whose organizing had protected these lands for decades. 

In 2020, construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Arizona destroyed sacred burial sites of the Tohono O'odham Nation. "This is our land," an 80pyear-old Tohono O'odham woman said in 2017. "We want it without walls." Today, only 56 million acres (2.4%) out of the U.S.'s 2.4 billion acres is recognized as Indigenous land.