- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
For centuries, young American Indians have run a series of trails along the Colorado River separating Arizona and California.
Running them has been at the center of the Quechan Nation's religion, traditions and history. Now 30 young men are running to try to save the paths for the next generation.
The runners are making a 700-mile relay trek through California to focus attention on state legislation that seeks to protect ancient sites like the one they hope to prevent from becoming a gold mine.
The group wants Gov. Gray Davis to sign a bill that would require local governments to notify a tribe of proposed construction within 20 miles of a reservation and to protect sacred sites from development.
Opponents of the bill said it could grant tribes veto power over both private and public land. The California Chamber of Commerce said the bill threatens to delay or stop public improvement projects, school buildings and new homes.
Mr. Davis, who has until month's end to sign or veto the bill, has not publicly taken a position.
"This is not only for politics," said 15-year-old runner Richard "Ticky" Smith, a Quechan tribal member who sweated through triple-digit temperatures in California's Central Valley this week. "It's for all the elders the ones that passed on, the ones who are sick, the ones who can't run or walk or hear or see. It's also for the future."
The run began Sept. 20 in Sacramento, Calif., and was expected to end yesterday at the tribe's Imperial Valley reservation. The proposed mine site at Indian Pass, a remote spot near the Arizona-California line is on federal land outside their reservation.
Lillian Sparks, an analyst for the National Congress of American Indians, said no state has enacted legislation similar to the bill before the governor.
"California is really taking initiative to protect Native American sacred places, and we're hoping other states will follow through until we can get protection at the federal level," Miss Sparks said.
Across California, about 300 sites that average a quarter-acre each need protection, according to the Native American Heritage Commission.
Under the legislation, a local government would hire an outside investigator such as an anthropologist to check historical records and determine whether a site has long been considered sacred. The investigator would also look at whether the area has a shrine or other religious artifacts.
The bill stems from Quechan opposition to plans by Glamis Gold Ltd., a Reno, Nev., company that wants to build an open pit gold mine on 1,600 acres of Bureau of Land Management land near the tribe's reservation. The Bureau of Land Management parcel includes a site of religious ceremonies that contains ancient pottery shards and petroglyphs.
Charles Jeannes, senior vice president of Glamis, said the proposed state bill could ruin the company's efforts to create an operation on which has already spent $15 million.
Mr. Jeannes said the bill on Mr. Davis' desk would hamper development statewide by only allowing construction on sacred sites of projects that have an overriding environmental, public health or safety reason.
"It's a fairly narrow exception, and it gives the native tribe any right to veto any project they deem sacred," he said.


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