Monday, February 11, 2013

Op-Ed: State’s sacred sites should be preserved

My op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune regarding preserving CA's Native American cultural heritage. (I know I love Roman references).

State’s sacred sites should be preserved

By Mike Gatto
Like everything else, protecting cultural treasures requires conscious effort. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the story of the magnificent equestrian bronze of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, carved in 175 A.D. Now considered one of the world’s irreplaceable cultural treasures, it is hard to imagine that the statute was once merely one of many. Over the years, the other magnificent ancient equestrian bronzes were stolen, melted for coins, or destroyed by vandals. Such neglect seems criminal with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of the magnitude of what was lost. Only the conscious efforts of Pope Sixtus IV and others saved the statue of Marcus Aurelius from the fate that awaited the statues of other emperors.
Might future generations lament our neglect in protecting and preserving California’s unique cultural heritage? Let’s face it: Our state has a habit of neglecting or paving over our history. Recently, thieves stole carvings from an unprotected sacred site on the Volcanic Tableland north of Bishop, stealing priceless rock art revered by the local Paiute people. And in the last few years, developers have sought to place things like dumps or granite mines near or on top of ancient sacred sites. This isn’t right. Native peoples deserve protections for sites that are parts of their ancient heritage. And California should treat these sites as historic resources too.
I have introduced AB 52, legislation that will protect California’s Native American cultural treasures and sacred sites. My proposal will include a process for California’s native peoples to weigh in on development that could affect a sacred site, and will feature increased protections for sites that might not necessarily face threats from development but which are nevertheless threatened. Even though some locations must be kept private to avoid crimes as the one committed against the Paiute, the effort to maintain them must be considered an essential activity in the preservation of our state’s historic resources.
This also fits into the larger effort to reform CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which some people feel has been abused at the expense of economic development in California. Last year, the effort faced additional hurdles because of concerns by Native Americans that a streamlined CEQA would provide lesser protections for sacred sites. We should remove this sticking point from negotiations.
California’s Native American sacred sites should have their own set of protections, and reform efforts should not stall because of the absence of such a law.
Will future generations wonder what happened to California’s pre-Columbian heritage? Or will they thank us and appreciate our efforts for preserving the sacred sites and cultural treasures that still exist? I can’t imagine Rome without the grand statue of Marcus Aurelius. And I can’t imagine a Southwest without Native American petroglyphs, rock carvings and other sacred sites.
Gatto chairs the Appropriations Committee of the California Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale and some neighboring communities
This Opinion-Editorial originally appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune.  You can read this Opinion Editorial and more at the San Diego Union Tribune by clicking HERE

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