Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Water, in its various forms, from rain to rivers, is sacred to many indigenous peoples. In Iximulew (Guatemala), the Kaqchikel (and other Mayan peoples) address the spirit owners, immanent sacred energies, of springs and water courses at altar sites along their courses. Many of these sites are now on private land or have been degraded by lack of care by upstream owners. Non-riparian sacred loci are also imperiled by privatization and extractive commercial ventures. In 2008 legislation was introduced into the Guatemalan Congress to protect these sites and guarantee access to them. However, this legislation failed to pass in three successive years and has been abandoned. In the United States, Native Americans have been accessing the Colorado River as it courses through the Grand Canyon for thousands of years. However, since the establishment of the national park 100 years ago access to the river and traditional lands has been curtailed. For the centennial, the Park Service is seeking indigenous input into commemorations and information made available to tourists. Eleven neighboring tribes are now working with the Park Service to help present the Park, the river and its sacred spaces to a non-indigenous public with proper reverence to match the awe-inspiring landscapes. This paper explores the control or lack thereof of sacred waters and sacred sites in the Guatemalan and Southwestern US highlands.