Current Problems

Language and Culture (13-17)

Calls for people to stop posting images and GPS co-ordinates online

September 14, 2023
Two photos: First shows a cave with two intact walls made of interlocking rocks framing the entrance. Second shows same cave with only left wall still standing.
A site near Sedona, Ariz., where a wall collapsed in the last three years.(ashley.goes.hiking/Instagram)

CBC Indigenous: Land advocates and Native Americans are calling for better protection for sacred sites, as their locations are being distributed online.

Deidra Cinclaire, a land advocate and enrolled member of the Navajo nation in Arizona and Apache nation, said she’s noticed more damage caused by visitors to the sacred sites her grandmother taught her about. Cinclaire said her grandmother taught her lands are medicine that will always provide for her as long as she takes care of it.

“These are the home to our ancestors, the very ancestors who survived genocide, for us to exist today,” said Cinclaire. She said she thinks the uptick in visitors is related to social media influencers posting images and GPS co-ordinates to trails.

She said that she and other land advocates have approached hiking influencers — people with social media accounts dedicated to sharing their hiking trips — about their concerns only to be met with hostility, apathy or being blocked on social media.

CBC Indigenous contacted Ed Preston and Anna Preston Schlosser who run The Wanderer’s Guide, a website that sells trail maps and co-ordinates to sites. The website’s trail guides tell people to leave artifacts alone, report vandalism to the U.S. Forest Service, and not to take their pets to archaeological sites.

“Make no mistake. Everything sacred will continue to be defiled, whether I write hiking guides or not,” said a written statement from The Wanderer’s Guide to CBC Indigenous.

“I’m 100 per cent against taking taxpayer money to support public land, while telling taxpayers they cannot visit or even know where something is…. Excluding any group of people from hiking on public land and experiencing our national heritage is my definition of pure evil.”

Woman smiling
Deidra Cinclaire is a land advocate and enrolled member of the Navajo nation in Arizona and Apache nation. She said she’s noticed more damage caused by visitors to the sacred sites.  (Submitted by Deidra Cinclaire)

Cincliare said she feels a lack of awareness about Indigenous people and their history in the U.S. is part of the problem. “I think people often forget, too, our ancestors were forcibly removed. It wasn’t our choice,” said Cincliare.

‘They are protected for a reason’

Alicia Spargo, who is of the Yaqui Nation and head curator at the Indigenous issues website Last Real Indians, calls these sites her ancestors’ dwellings. “These are our relatives, these people we have a direct relationship to,” she said.

She said she reached out to several people and websites posting about the sites and that they refused to remove the co-ordinates from their pages. “I understand wanting to visit these places, wanting to spend time there, wanting to witness it themselves. I get it,” she said.

“But they are protected for a reason.”

Spargo said she contacted the U.S. Forest Service, which enforces the Archeological Resources Protection Act that applies to sites on public and reservation land. It prohibits the public disclosure of sensitive information including the nature and location of archaeological resources.

Ashley Petesish, a Sedona resident who has an Instagram account where she shows her travels, started documenting the negative impacts increased foot traffic has had on the lands.

A site of the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian Indigenous culture, is on an unmarked spur trail in Boynton Canyon near Sedona. “This site, the co-ordinates didn’t get shared until I think it was late 2020,” she said. “This is less than three years worth of it being out there on social media and a wall was pushed over.”

A cave with a fallen rock wall.
Ashley Petesish worries increased foot traffic at an Arizona site knocked down a rock wall that had been standing for centuries. (ashley.goes.hiking/Instagram)

She said she’s contacted the U.S. Forest Service in the past, but after seeing rocks rearranged, graffitied, items left along rock walls for photos, or even people defecating inside caves, she said she feels like she’s “screaming into a void.”

She said she finally got AllTrails, a popular hiking website, to remove the trail to the site as it’s not on an official route. She urges people to use discretion when they post their adventures to social media. “If you’re going to hike in this region, learn how to responsibly visit the site,” Petesish said.

“[That] means not touching rocks, not bringing your dogs in there, not touching the walls or touching the rock art because the oils from your fingers can damage it,” she said.

In Canada, the Anishinaabe are the co-managers of the petroglyphs located at Petroglyphs Provincial Park near Peterborough, Ont.

Curve Lake First Nation Chief Keith Knott said the petroglyphs, now a national historic site, were once used as a message board for Indigenous travellers coming through the area. Knott said visiting nations would identify themselves on the rocks, and etch their observations into the stone as they moved from one hunting grounds to another.

Photos are not allowed to be taken of the petroglyphs. They are now protected from people and the elements by a building, which Knott says is a good thing.

“We’re too destructive these days,” he said.


Candace Maracle, Reporter

Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.