The Subcommittee on Sacred Sites is discussing the Navajo Yei’be cheii masks being auctioned in France by Naa tanii Medicine Men Association, which was presented by Subcommittee member Delegate Elmer Begay.
DELEGATE ELMER BEGAY
(NOTE – BEGAY WAS ASSIGNED TO THE ISSUE OF THE AUCTIONING AND RETURN OF THE YEI BEI CHAI MARKS BECAUSE HE IS A YEI BEI CHAI DANCER. SUBCOMMITTEE JONATHAN HALE RECOGNIZED BEGAY’S RIGHT TO BE THE SPONSOR OF THIS ISSUE BY ACKNOWLEDGING THAT HE HAS NOT BEEN INITIATED IN THE YEI BEI CHAI WAY)
my report is from the Hataaliiss (Ceremonial Singers) and their request to this subcommittee. Hataaliis wanted to know for sure that the 34 masks are authentic; if used during ceremony. as see today, someone could duplicate. they want to see. if the masks were also used during the Yei Bei Chai ceremony because a Hataalii wud immediately know if they were. they also don’t know if the masks were sold by a Navajo or indigenous person or someone from the outside. And if the masks were really used then in ceremony then they want to make sure about whether they were stolen because then it would different from someone selling them. it also would be different if we navajos are selling and doing this to ourselves.
but from the photos of the 34 Yei Bei Chai masks, the Hathilis were able to name the deities that they represent.
they also said that there are also other sacred objects out there so if bring back, is there a place to have them. are we ready for them? what is the proper way for its return? is the museum the only place? they said if bring back and really old and if used for ceremony then there would be way for it to be returned to the Holy Ones with prayers/ceremonies.
we can’t really say that it’s ours. it’s the deities.
today my point is if we say sacred and these are spiritual items and we are talking on behalf of, then we need to involve ourselves in ceremony because the U.S. only says indigenous people and a certain number of federally recognized tribes. we need to do this by ceremony which wud make us unique and put us in the forefront for our voices to be heard.
there are indigenous people in South America and other counties that are recognized but here in the U.S., we are not recognized by the United Nations.
France doesn’t see masks as cultural property and they want to know if human remains. The hopis have defined cultural properties as human remains but Navajo has its own definitions and we don’t want to block other tribes with our definitions.
This discussion has also raised questions regarding how are we recognizing ourselves as Navajos which should define Navajo sovereignty.
SUBCOMMITTEE THEN DISCUSSED SOLUTIONS IN THE RETURN OF THE PROPERTY OF THE YEI BEI CHAIS/DEITIES, WHICH THE NAVAJO PEOPLE ARE TO TAKE CARE OF AND USE ONLY DURING THE WINTER SO THAT THERE IS MOISTURE, AND THE PROTECTION AND HEALING OF DISEASE/SICKNESS RELATED TO EYES, EARS, THOUGHTS.
NAVAJO NATION LEGISLATIVE ATTORNEY CAROLYN WEST
Navajo Nation Office of the Chief Legislative Counsel
if going to get Yei Bei Chai masks back, the Navajo Nation Legislative Counsel’s office is recommending that the Sacred Sites Subcommittee retain an attorney in Paris.
CHIEF OF STAFF LEONARD GORMAN
first phase would be research. second phase would be how the Navajo Nation would present their concerns to the international community. there are 13 sacred items that have been identified. third phase would be admission to forum that would involve why the U.S. should argue in the International Forum and once that done then it goes to legal arguments.
with university of arizona, office of the speaker, we discussed the education of tribal legislative attorneys on international law and retaining an attorney in Paris.
SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBER DELEGATE ALTON SHEPHERD
so what if the sellers are buying these sacred items in the Black Market? the federal laws such as those addressing the selling of eagle feathers should also be applied.
and if the tribe retains an attorney in Paris, there definitely needs to be investigation of how these sacred items got into the Black Market, in the same way that the feds investigate illegal drugs.
last month, we specifically engaged US Ambassador assigned to Geneva Switzerland in getting the Paris Ambassador involved. He advised us to contact other indigenous nations with similar concerns. we replied to him that we didn’t travel thousands of miles to hear that kind of answer. we insisted that we meet with Paris Ambassador. He asked for a letter and one was obtained from the Navajo President and Speaker Pro Temp. we have not heard back from the American Ambassador.
Trademark is protected under intellectual property law but that protection is temporary which is why indigenous nations shud never use Trademarks to protect sacred properties.
Thank you, Mr. Gorman for that explanation because I am sponsoring Navajo Council legislation regarding Trademarks.
what is cultural properties and how does the Navajo Nation under cultural properties in its interaction with France and World Conference in New York.
federal laws regarding authentication of sacred properties, the creation of tribal law regarding Trademarks and Sacred Properties, what is the impact of Sunset Laws regarding Trademarks. They may have obtained sacred properties but before receiving them, we need to know if those sacred properties were authenticated.
so this subcommittee dealing with more than domestic violence and women and children.
we are working to open the door to indigenous people to discuss our concerns, including sacred properties, at the United Nations. i know that Navajo Council was active in the Large Land Based Tribes Organization and that has stopped but perhaps the Council needs to start participating again so that our voices are stronger because these issues are Global Country line issues and perhaps maybe it’ll be universal. this is just food for thought about why this subcommittee exists to make that stronghold and have our voices at the international level.
I’d prefer to have electronic copies of documents instead of carrying around hard copies.
what i’m distributing to you is CERT reports and it is CERT’s concerns issued to U.S. before June UNM meeting in Switzerland. there shud be part that talks about concerns of indigenous people regarding their lands. The U.S. responded to these concerns in Aug. 13 and 14 meetings and i participated in responses. Unedited release of report of US meeting obligations on meeting human rights. On page 11, paragraph 24, raises issues of US meeting its human rights for indigenous people by protecting sacred sites. it’s a relatively good statement but we need to balance out against US statement made by August in 3rd UN Working Group. US is well known for saying that the US is exempt because there are US laws addressing human rights of indigenous people. The US., on its merits, without interpreting thru US Constitution, said that it accepts language regarding sacred sites.
Oneida has issued resolution with time table and generated for human rights council in Geneva Switzerland in September. There is open comment period. Human Rights Council is a new mechanism and under UN General Assembly and oversees Special Rapateur on Indigenous Rights/Issues so Oneida passing resolution on indigenous rights. The three deadlines are in September.
Mr. Gorman, send the subcommittee a written summary of what you just presented regarding the Oneida resolution.
REPORT voted on and accepted by vote of 3 in favor, 0 opposed.
The Navajo Nation Council’s Naabik’iyati Committee’s Subcommittee on Sacred Sites adjounred at 2:35 p.m.