Coalition of Large Tribes authors letter in support of Navajo Nation’s NASA complaint

Published: Friday, January 5, 2024 - 3:04pm
Updated: Friday, January 5, 2024 - 4:57pm
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COLT, or the Coalition of Large Tribes, is standing in solidarity with President Buu Nygren and the Navajo Nation in a letter by airing opposition to NASA’s private mission to disburse cremated human remains on the moon.

This group of more than 50 large land-mass tribal communities each manage at least over 100,000 acres of land and make up more than half of Indian Country’s population. They’re calling for the upcoming launch to be delayed or that the remains should be removed from its payload until there has been enough tribal consultation.

O.J. Semans, Sr., executive director of legislative affairs at COLT, says this letter is sending a strong message to NASA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and rest of Washington.

“We wanted to make sure that they were aware that this is not to be tolerated,” says Semans. “I mean, it’s just a blatant slap in the face, whether it was intentional or not intentional, doesn’t take away the disrespect that they showed the tribes.” 

“Celestial bodies play an important role in our ceremonial life and cultural heritage for most, if not all Tribes in the United States,” penned COLT Chairman Marvin Weatherwax, Jr., of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. 

“NASA has acknowledged this … and yet ignores its own commitment,” added Weatherwax, citing NASA's Indigenous Peoples Initiative. It’s supposed to build relationships between NASA and Indigenous communities through “place-based remote sensing training, community engagement, and co-production of knowledge.” 

The moon, stars, and even space itself, are all spiritually significant to Navajos, but also Lakotas like Semans, of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. He believes that his people are born from the stars and return to them once they die.

“It’s a spiritual journey that we take when we leave Mother Earth,” says Semans. “We knew our ancestors were making that journey to the stars, and that’s where we came from.”

Although Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has been suddenly named to the National Space Council as of Thursday, Weatherwax wrote that this “belated inclusion” of a Native voice is “welcome and we urge her to support the Navajo Nation’s and COLT’s request for tribal consultation regarding any placement of human remains on the moon.” 

“I think that President Biden needs to get a hold of NASA administrator [Bill Nelson], and basically set him straight,” says Semans. “He wants to work with Indian Country. And yet, whether it's the Department of Justice, or NASA, or IRS or OMB, they continue to do things that are the complete opposite of what President Biden is saying.”

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