Sacred Sites Networks
Indigenous communities recognise the whole Earth as sacred. We are born from her and depend on her wellbeing for our wellbeing. Our identity is intimately woven out of the land in which we are born. Land or territory is more than the sum of its parts - rivers, soils, plants, mountains, birds, insects - are all imbued with life force, meaning, memories, all webbed into our lives.
Sacred Natural Sites and Territories can be considered on the Earth, as a network of acupuncture points would be on the human body. They have a healing effect. We also consider that the relationship between them is critical and they cannot be seen in isolation from each other. The caretakers of these special places are maintaining these healing points but as our numbers become fewer our healing powers for the Earth diminish. abandoned. Statement of Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories - IUCN World Congress, 2008
Sacred sites are places of special cultural, ecological and spiritual significance, embedded in sacred territories. They are also places of potent energy, understood by many to be like acupuncture points in the body of the Earth, forming an energetic network which plays a vital role in maintaining the health and vitality of the ecosystem.
Sacred sites are usually special places in the ecosystem, like springs, forest areas or mountains which are sources of rivers, breeding grounds for certain species, waterfalls which oxygenate water, or salt licks for animals. Traditional societies have custodians of these sacred places to take care of them and to ensure that the associated norms and practices are respected. It is from these sites that the custodians interpret the health of the ecosystem and the customary laws and lore for the community. The custodians are therefore central to the community's ecological governance system.
Despite the growing global recognition of the role of sacred sites in maintaining biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural identity, relatively little is understood about the significance and role of custodians and rituals in the maintenance of sacred natural sites. Furthermore, they are increasingly vulnerable to commercial interests, such as tourism or mining, which are targetting the last remaining sanctuaries of bio-cultural diversity.
Gaia works with partners in the Colombian Amazon, Sweden and Altai, to support local and indigenous communities to strengthen their traditional knowledge, practices and governance systems in order to protect their sacred sites and territories. Together, we are developing legal strategies to reinforce the protection of these vital sanctuaries. This is important not only for the local communities but also for the rehabilitation of the planet's ecosystems, which are essential in building resilience to cope with climatic instabilities.
We are committed to working with custodians, reviving bio-cultural diversity and protecting sacred sites and territories, as the most viable way of building ecological and community resilience. This requires different levels of engagement:
Supporting partners to work with elders and sacred sites custodians to revive their knowledge and practices and exchange learning between them.
Strengthening community cohesion and governance through reviving sacred sites practices and using a range of tools such as eco-cultural mapping and eco-calendars to do so.
Linking into a broader network of custodians, shamans and communities to share and develop common strategies.
Legal advice and support to maximise use of legal instruments to protect these areas, and create precedents which recognise Community Ecological Governance norms and practices, based on the Earth as the source of law.
Establishing international designations and precedents which legally recognise sacred sites networks and custodial governance systems.