Another View: State’s sacred sites should be preserved

08/21/2014 12:00 AM

08/20/2014 7:42 PM

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 A.D. 175.

Now considered one of the world’s irreplaceable cultural treasures, it is hard to imagine that the statue was once merely one of many. Over the years, hundreds of 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? My Assembly Bill 52, panned by The Bee, seeks to protect California’s Native American cultural treasures and sacred sites (“ Three bills that the governor should kill” Editorials, Aug. 20).

Let’s face it: Our state has a habit of paving over or neglecting our history. Last year, thieves stole carvings from an unprotected sacred site on the Volcanic Tableland north of Bishop. It was priceless rock art revered by the local Paiute people.

Developers have sought to place dumps or granite mines near or on top of ancient sacred sites. This isn’t right. Native peoples deserve protection for sites that are parts of their ancient heritage. And California should treat these sites as historic resources too.

AB 52 includes a process for California’s native peoples to weigh in on development that could affect a sacred site, and will feature increased protections for tribal artifacts that are threatened by development projects. Saving these resources must be considered an essential activity in the preservation of our state’s history.

This also fits into the larger effort to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, which some people feel has been abused at the expense of economic development in California. Previous attempts to reform CEQA have faced additional hurdles because of concerns by Native Americans who worried that a streamlined CEQA would provide lesser protections for sacred sites.

Will future generations wonder what happened to California’s pre-Columbian heritage? Or will they thank us and appreciate our efforts to preserve 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.

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