Thursday, February 16, 2017

Continuing outrage over Standing Rock

(submitted, but not printed, as Op-ed to New York Times)

Recent decisions regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline deserve outrage. How is it that the Army Corps of Engineers, having recently agreed to a full environmental impact statement and search for an alternate pipeline route, can, in two weeks of Trump Time, decide that they have enough information to allow the digging to begin on what NYT writer Jill Turkewitz labeled that “disputed patch of land”? Anyone who has half-followed the events at Standing Rock over the last year knows that an alternate route, which would have put the line closer to mostly white Bismarck, N.D., was scrubbed early in the process. And knows that news of “water protectors” representing over 200 North American tribes and indigenous people from Hawaii and the other Americas being shot with rubber bullets and hosed with water cannons in freezing weather has brought veterans groups, churches, and ordinary Joes and Josies to join the protest. I expect the outrage to continue, and the protests, including a March 10 event in Washington, to swell.

But there is room for broader outrage at a national press that has to be dragged into Indian affairs, that only briefly covers Indian stories, finds room for a few pictures of headdresses and feathers, and then moves on, reluctant or not knowing how to deal with the nation’s long bad history with Indians. It doesn’t have to be that way!

I’d like to take you back to March 18, 1973, when the confrontation between the FBI and tribal members on the Pine Ridge Reservation—near neighbors to Standing Rock—had devolved into violence. Because of that violence, because of prior events at Alcatraz and the BIA offices in Washington D.C., because of general unrest over failures in Vietnam, the country was on edge. But the New York Times and Alvin M. Josephy Jr. stepped up with a long, Sunday Magazine piece, “Wounded Knee and All That—What the Indians Want.”

In stinging prose and pictures, Josephy chronicled the Nixon White House attempts to reform the Bureau of Indian Affairs in a pro-Indian fashion, and the reform’s failure because of Congressional and Administration inaction and fear. By Josephy’s reasoning, the road to Wounded Knee seemed almost inevitable. But he didn’t stop there. He told us about a century of outrageous treatment of the Sioux by Americans and our government including the “first” Wounded Knee, in 1890. Times editors included an eerie 1890 photo of US troops atop a mass grave of Indians massacred by Gatling guns.

If Alvin Josephy, noted historian and founding board chair of the National Museum of the American Indian, were alive today, he would have an op-ed in the New York Times. He would be visiting Standing Rock, and pointing out that the “disputed patch of land” that investors, the State of North Dakota, and President Trump want for their oil pipeline is sacred, yes, is important for the water that flows through it, yes. But is finally, once again “stolen ground,” with a long history of broken treaties, and government dissembling, cheating, and war-making on the Indians who have lived their forever.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Before Alvin wrote about Indians--Denig’s Demons




Denig awards Alvin Bronze Star
Before he met the Nez Perce, before he wrote about American Indians, Alvin Josephy was a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent in the Pacific in World War II. He traveled with a typewriter and a wire recorder, wrote thousands of dispatches to local newspapers from the front lines, and the Library of Congress lists over 90 recordings made on Guam, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. A 15-minute version of the Guam landing recording played nationwide on all three radio networks.

Alvin’s boss was BGen Robert L. Denig, and the troop of journalists, photographers, and artists he assembled to get the Marine Corps story back home was called “Denig’s Demons.” It’s my thought that Alvin’s war-time experience was crucial in his quick absorption in Indian history and adoption of Indian causes. He was less than a decade out of the Pacific when he found the Nez Perce story—and the first thing he wanted to know was “where is the Indian side of things?” In the War, he was in the foxholes with fellow marines, not on ship or shore with the generals.

Alvin was always a Marine. He told me once about being at Pine Ridge when things were still testy among Indian factions and between the Indians and government agencies. In the course of his travels, he saw a Marine Corps insignia at a front door, and stopped to make a friend. They were both Marines.

Here’s a link to a Leatherneck Magazine story on “Denig’s Demons.” Alvin’s in it, but the important thing is the story, the vision of Denig and, I think, how it then played out in Alvin’s long career as writer and advocate.

Here’s the story:  http://josephy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/leatherneck2007.pdf

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Standing Rock Outrage!

November- Reuters News
In a brief story in the New York Times this morning, reporter Julie Turkewitz tells us that the Army has approved construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It took Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, two weeks—from the time of President Trump’s announcement that he was going to expedite the building of pipelines—to announce his decision to Congress. Speer said he didn’t need the entire environmental impact statement and news of other potential sites that President Obama had ordered, that he knew enough and is ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on this  “disputed patch of land.”

I glance at the NYT headline stories daily, then go to the opinion pages for the Times editorials, the regular columnists, and op-eds that relate to the day’s news. Standing Rock is missing this morning. Not one editorial writer or columnist chose to weigh in; not one piece of writing from an outraged Indian at Standing Rock or anywhere else in this country got space.

Indians, once again, are back page news.

According to Turkewitz, “the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault II, responded to the decision by vowing to fight it in court. ‘As native peoples, we have been knocked down again,’ he said in statement. ‘But we will get back up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact.’”

Didn’t I just write about Indian Resilience? Didn’t I believe that months of protests by members of over 300 North American Tribes and Natives from Hawaii and Central America, by environmental organizations and dedicated individuals from across the nation had convinced a country and its government that the planning for this pipeline was flawed, that the Army had once again short-circuited Indians, and that the proposed pipeline might endanger the water, the most critical of our natural resources?

Every day I learn something from Alvin Jospehy. Today I learned that Indians still don’t count for much in this country of ours. They are, as Alvin said, a sideshow in our history, or they are impediments in the way of progress. We’ll put them in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and watch cowboys take the West, We’ll glean spiritual knowledge from their commercial potions and sweats—the old traveling Medicine Shows often featured Indian cures, and hippies in the 70s favored feathers. We’ll celebrate them in pictures with Edward Sheriff Curtis, and picture them when it serves a purpose. Alvin liked to point out the State Department’s use of a mistakenly idealized American Indian—horse-mounted, feather bedecked Sioux of the Plains—in their “visit America” literature.

For over 40 years, Alvin wrote painstakingly about America’s curious and tragic historical omission of Indians. He paid special attention to broken treaties, and to the Sioux. In 1971, when he consulted on the movie, “Little Big Man,” he went to the Custer Battlefield with Indian friends and wrote about the “real Custer” in Life Magazine. In 1973, weeks after the FBI-Indian confrontation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he wrote “What the Indians Really Want,” a description of government misdeeds going back to the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, for the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

If Alvin were alive today he would have an op-ed in today’s New York Times. He would be visiting Standing Rock, and pointing out that the “disputed patch of land” that investors, the State of North Dakota, and President Trump want for their oil pipeline is sacred, yes, is important for the water that flows through it, yes. But is finally, once again “stolen ground,” with a long history of broken treaties, and government dissembling, cheating, and war-making on the Indians who have lived their forever.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Resilience

The election and the first days of a new and controversial Presidency have captured the news and national attention. For the most part, Standing Rock has slipped to back pages and Indian media websites, even as President Trump tweets and signs executive orders demanding a speedy resumption of pipeline building. The sheer number of tweets and executive orders helps obscure this news.

Life--1973
Water problems on one reservation and a lawsuit over education on another creep into the news, but, for the most part, Indians and tribal concerns are background noise once again, caught occasionally by a local press, or by an environmental media newly awakened to Indian allies, covered regularly only in Native news outlets.

But, I would argue, now is exactly the time we should be looking at and to tribes for guidance in dealing with current social, environmental, and political issues: Indians have the kind of history and standing that might instruct us now—while reminding us of past errors in their regards; it is becoming increasingly obvious that Indian environmental and legal concerns are concerns for all Americans; and, more than anything, Indians can remind us of and teach us about resilience.

Indians were here first, here to meet the boats from Spain, England, Holland, Portugal, Italy… Indians were then decimated by European diseases to which they had little resistance, enslaved, killed in wars over land, “removed” by Andrew Jackson, restricted to reservations, coaxed into assimilation by the Dawes Allotment Act, boarding schools, the Termination Act, and an urban relocation program.

But they have survived and, incredibly, retained tribal cultures and values.

And, they have survived from coast to coast and border to boarder, even made hay of their mistreatment in boarding schools by meeting one another, learning from one another, and emerging now, in 2016 and 2017 to stand together at Standing Rock.

After decades of Indian concerns over water, fish, and other natural resources, often in the face of majority opposition (see the “great fish wars” in the Northwest prior to the Boldt Decision), the environmental community is acknowledging Indians and the Indian stance in the natural world rather than over the rest of it. After water contamination in Flint, Michigan, Portland, Oregon and dozens of other places, we—majority culture environmentalists—see that clean water is precious and fundamental in North Dakota and everywhere.

And, as Standing Rock illustrates, Indians can teach us to bridge the rural-urban divide. In the 1950s, in the Eisenhower era, a last gasp at assimilation called termination policy aimed to erase the reservation system, Trust responsibilities, and the whole doctrine of Tribal Sovereignty. As an accompaniment—Indians were to join the main stream in America—thousands of young Indians were loaded on buses and moved to urban outposts across the country.  As a result, the Federal government and State and corporate interests terminated the Klamath and scores of Oregon tribes, and built the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, coal fire plants in the Southwest, and the Kinzua Dam on Seneca land.

However, by standing their ground and established legal doctrine, Indians beat back termination—President Nixon famously said that “there will be no further termination of Indian tribes, but self-determination for Indians.”

Even then, Indians learned from their misfortune, met people from other tribes, studied at universities, learned to have a foot in two worlds. And now they are still in urban areas, at colleges and universities on reservations and off, and have trained their own as lawyers and battled in courts over land, water, and sovereignty. They have also retained family and tribal links, and move back and forth between city work and rural tribal work. They are trained in fisheries and wildlife management, business and gaming, and move from government to non-profit to tribal to private fluidly.

They run huge gaming and entertainment enterprises, and assist tribal programs and local non-tribal educational, cultural, and government programs with their winnings. (The Wildhorse Foundation on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation has given millions across northeast Oregon.)

Indians are everywhere, and more often than not they are on the side of the angels. As my old mentor, Alvin Josephy often said, “Indians are still capable of ‘group think,’ of thinking beyond the self and immediate family for the good of all.”

So now, in these troubled times, it is up to us, the majority white culture and African-American and Latino and Asian-American groups, to find them, support them, and learn from them. They know these roads. They know resilience.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Cold winter and climate change

I’ve not gone back to look at past winter temperatures and snowfall statistics on Wallowa County, but I know the 40 degrees on the outside thermometer as I write this, and the wind doing the warming, are breaking a month-long cold chill.

“This is the coldest it’s been and the most snow we’ve had in my 20 years living here,” says a friend. And “where is that climate change?” someone asks at the post office. The change deniers like this as much as they don’t like the cold—though I don’t really hear much about that from locals, who are busy dealing with the weather given them, figuring out how to stretch the hay, keep the driveway open, or get to a scheduled airplane departure or pick-up in Boise, Walla Walla, or Lewiston.

I remember 40 years ago learning that some sort of wet cycle had given hope to homesteaders on the County’s north end at the turn of the last century. Then wells went dry and the lucky ones with water bought out their neighbors and consolidated land and water. I heard about 7 year cycles, 30 year cycles, and even 100 year cycles, but nothing about a changing climate.

Polar bear talk and sinking island nations have caught my attention over recent years, but it was only after I started poking around early American history, reading Josephy and Charles Mann and wondering what really drove the first immigrants across the oceans in the early days of European settlement that I began to wonder about climate. What about that Little Ice Age? I thought, and then read about cold and hungry European parents taking their teenage children to the docks, handing them over to a ship’s captain who promised to get them across the sea and into the hands of a wealthy somebody who would indenture them for 3 or 5 or 7 years and then allow them freedom and a chance to feed and clothe themselves and make their own ways in the New World.

I told Al Josephy I needed to know more about the Little Ice Age, and he said that he had had a professor at UC Santa Barbara named Brian Fagan who had written a book about it. Oh—“and dad had him write some stuff for American Heritage in the ‘70s I think.” Then, on a trip to Portland and Powell’s, I found The Great Warming, a book Fagan had written about the period from about 800 to about 1300, which preceded the Little Ice Age, which runs from about 1300 to 1850. I’d start there.

I learned that over half of the pre-American Revolution European immigrants were indentured, fleeing failed crops and cold poverty in the old countries smack in the middle of the Little Ice Age.  And when I looked in an old “Western Civ” textbook that I used in 1962, the Little Ice Age didn’t show up, nor did its predecessor, the Great Warming and the rapid increase in population that accompanied it. Even The Plague, which wiped out maybe half of the European population in the mid-fourteenth century, just as the warming slowed, got only brief mention. History was about kings and queens, religions, writs, constitutions and forms of government, wars and great men, not about changing climate and diseases.

Fagan first tells us that the causes of ancient climate change—which remain contributors to current warming—are difficult to measure. Ocean currents—now named—and sun activity are involved, but just how is still being explored (“El Nino” was not even in the vocabulary as I grew up on the California coast!). He then recounts the Nordic exploration and settlement in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland; the growing of wine grapes in England and wheat in Norway, and the development of the moldboard plow to turn over new agricultural ground. In Europe, the results of warming seemed sanguine.

But in the Western Hemisphere and in Africa the results were dramatically different. Drought was in fact the largest factor in die-offs of large segments of live oaks and Pacific populations, and in the collapse of Mayan city-states, where sophisticated irrigation systems could not cope.

Fagan’s most striking finding in this warming exploration was its erratic nature: temperatures did not increase in a straight line, but bounced upward relentlessly; rains didn’t come for years, and then came in torrents. The hallmark of climate in that period in the earth’s history—the roughly 500 years beginning about 800—was its erratic, in the short term unpredictable, nature.

So this winter’s snows and cold might—or might not—signal next winter’s warmth and rain. But read Brian Fagan’s The Great Warming for some understanding.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

A white guy looks at Indian affairs; more lessons from Standing Rock

Fortunately, 2016 might be the year in which some significant portion of the general public sees that what is good for American Indians is good for all of us, that Indian affairs are American affairs. That, for me, is one lesson of the now well-told story of Standing Rock.

CBS News
(For months it was not well told; it took time and the joining of Indians from some 300 North American tribes, indigenous activists from other nations, and large contingents of American veterans and environmentalists to finally garner consistent major news media attention.)

Standing Rock is at the end of a chain of events that are embarrassing in the light of history, honesty, and the law. It began with promises made to Indians about sacred lands in the Black Hills in the nineteenth century—promises broken most famously by Custer; it went to the condemnation of Mandan Lands for the Corps of Engineers’ Garrison Dam, built in the 1940s and 50s, protested vigorously by Indian leader Martin Cross, and rectified—legally, at least—in the US Supreme Court by Martin’s son, Indian Warrior and lawyer Raymond Cross; and it comes to us today at Standing Rock and the Sioux insistence on treaty rights and clean water.

We hope that the awakening now to Indian rights will allow tribes across the country to reassess reservation lands and non-owned lands deemed “usual and accustomed” for hunting, fishing, gathering, and grazing. We hope that these lands will then be properly administered for tribal and public benefit—and not for the narrow economic interests of the few, or for the program interests of the Corps of Engineers or any other government agency.

Here’s a model: President Obama, at the insistence of and with the collaboration of several tribes, just this week designated the Bears Ears National Monument in Southeastern Utah under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, Alfred Lomahquahu, said that  “The designation of the Bears Ears National Monument is a victory not just for Native Americans, but for all who love and whose lives are intertwined with this remarkable place." One can’t help but see the footprints of Standing Rock in Utah.

A friend who has been to Standing Rock explained two major lessons for him: The first was listening to elders. He said that successful environmental activists and military veterans—and not all were successful—learned that Standing Rock is not an environmentalist showcase, nor a veterans’ showcase, but a struggle to hold onto treaty rights and ensure clean water. And the course of action is set by tribal elders. DNA might confirm the connection of today’s Northwest Indians to the Ancient One (aka Kennewick Man) but tribal wisdom is the accumulation of 9,000 years of wisdom since his original burial. Today’s elders, my friend says, know that.

The second lesson he learned at Standing Rock is the power of intertribal cooperation. The support of tribes from across the continent, the contingents from Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, from Africa and the Caribbean, the joining together of all in common cause was, said my friend, sometimes a coming together of old enemies; it was a great coming together, maybe the greatest coming together of indigenous peoples ever! He was visibly affected by the power of it.

My friend didn’t count it a lesson, and he, being an enrolled tribal member and a military veteran, might not have realized the wonder in his own voice as he described the power of peaceful action. He and elders and we who are watching from the sidelines with hope and fear should realize that this is the world of Gandhi, King, and Mandela. The North Dakota troopers and politicians were the day’s Bull Conners and the politicians of apartheid. The Indians were and are the party of and teachers of peace.

And peace, like water, can begin with a small stream, make rivers and move mountains. In times of war and conflict from Chicago to Syria, the Kremlin to Congress, that could be the most important lesson of all.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lessons from Standing Rock

According to the NY Times, there have been over 30 film crews capturing the events at Standing Rock. Some of them have been there continuously for months; others have moved in quickly for a few weeks to get a story.

A friend who has been there says that the elders have taken charge, that film crews, young environmentalists, veterans—supporters of the Sioux water protectors who have come for whatever reasons—have all listened to local elders and found wisdom and humble roles for their own participation. Or they have moved on.

The issues at Standing Rock have to do with water, and with sovereignty. The calls by North Dakota politicians and government agency workers for abiding by the “rule of law” and respect for “private” property are ironic at best! The Army Corps of Engineers has high-handedly taken land from the Sioux and ignored or abrogated treaties with impunity in its march along the Missouri and its tributaries for decades.

From a recent article in the Washington Post: “Originally, according to the law passed by Congress in 1889, the tribe’s territorial boundary stopped at the low water level mark on the east bank [of Lake Oahe], giving it ownership of the water and river bed. After building the dam, the Army Corps seized strips of land on either side of the river. Those strips are the areas in dispute now, giving the Army Corps a central role in letting Energy Transfer Partners complete the line, or not.”

This long-standing assault on Indian treaty rights—and on Indian Sovereignty as defined by Justice Marshall in the 1830s!—has echoed across the country continuously from the first signings of treaties. Standing Rock is just the latest and currently biggest story, but other recent and ongoing disputes have involved the Garrison Dam, also in North Dakota, the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania, and Pyramid Lake in California.

It’s interesting to note that in all of these cases treaty rights and water are tied together. The big gifts from Standing Rock to the entire country might just be the attention to clean water and the involvement of the environmental community in the issue.  With hard work and a little luck, the environmental community that has awakened in the Dakotas might follow Indian eyes to the uranium polluted water on the Navajo Reservation and the water fights between tribes and commercial water bottling companies that dot the Western landscape.

“Cool, Clear Water,” as the Sons of the Pioneers sang it, will—or should—continue to be in the news beyond Indian Country as well. It turns out that Flint, Michigan is not the only place in our country with a lead in the water problem. CNN says that 5,300 water systems in the US are in violation of lead rules, and The Guardian claims 33 cities with Flint-like problems. One New Jersey news source claims that 11 of her cities have lead problems worse than Flint’s!

The elders at Standing Rock are teaching us the value of strong wills and just causes; against almost insurmountable odds, the Indians at Pyramid Lake taught all Nevadans to love their Lake again and celebrate the return of the Lahontan cutthroat trout. The Indians on the Umatilla teach us that the first of the “first foods” is water.

Let’s listen together in the New Year to the wisdom of Indian elders, and listen for and celebrate the sounds of cool, clear water.

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