Monday, February 29, 2016

First Foods

The water in Flint
As I read headlines about Flint, Michigan’s water over the past months, and of water contaminated by chemical runoff in the farm belts of the Midwest and on irrigated ground closer to home, the notion that the relationship between humans and the land is mutual and more complicated than science and technology have proffered sends me again to Alvin Josephy and the Indians. Recent accounts of the loss of pollinators, which some say threatens global food supplies, leads to the same place.

Josephy told us that by denigrating the values and practices of Indian peoples, by seeing “human” and “natural world” as two domains, the one to be dominated by the other, by a “Eurocentrism” that saw everything from that point of view and all things Indian as “primitive,” we have denied ourselves valuable information and, possibly, tools to heal contemporary problems such as those mentioned above.

Our friends on the nearby Umatilla Reservation give us an easy and, I think, profound way of looking at and attending to such resource problems. They call it the “First Foods” program. It was developed—is still being developed—by Eric Quaempts and the Natural Resource Department at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Simply put, it argues that if we take care of things in the order in which they are served in a Longhouse celebration, we will be taking care of ourselves and the lands and waters we live with and on.

The first of the First Foods is actually water, and at any gathering of Plateau Indians that I have attended, a drink of water, the Creator’s first and most important gift, starts it off. After water it is salmon, and then in succession, deer, roots, and berries.

For the rest of creation—including we of the two-legged variety—water is fundamental, so taking care of the water is fundamental to a healthy environment for the salmon and other fish and creatures that live in it, for the deer (and other animals that we eat, or that contribute to the chain of creation in other ways), and for the roots and berries that require it for survival and growth, and the bees and other pollinators that service the plants. Our fundamental responsibility as humans and stewards of the earth is to take care of the water. The engineers in Flint and the farmers in Iowa seem to have forgotten that in their rush to save and make money.

Salmon require clean, cool water. They also require resting and nesting places as they make their journeys to the sea and back again. Their maintenance as species and food for humans also requires a continued presence—asks that humans leave some as they as take some from their river homes. The “first salmon” is returned to the water to take that news to his brothers and sisters.

Deer, elk, bear, and the other four-leggeds require clean water, healthy grass, brush, and other foods. And the roots must not all be harvested at one time from one place for them to continue. The berries must be treated with the same care and respect. The bees and other pollinators are all in this chain of life as well. I am told that, traditionally, Indians move collecting grounds, leave and even spread “seed crops.” In fact, what is often called a “seasonal round” of migration across a landscape—the Plateau Indians were part of large landscapes that they traveled over in seasonal patterns from year to year to year—is captured in the First Foods concept. Notice that it is also a matter of elevations—in the case of many tribes from fishing spots along the Columbia to berry patches in the Blue Mountains.

The corollaries to this marvelous system are that the land and waters stay healthy when we attend to them in this way, and that we humans stay healthy by drinking clean water and eating healthy foods.

In the elevation of science over experience, European over indigenous, and the rush to “more”—acres of corn, head of livestock, tax savings and individual profits—we neglect these fundamental principles developed over thousands of years by our Tribal neighbors.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Pope, Chiapas, and Father Serra

Pope Francis is on the move again, upsetting the Mexican establishment that would like to show off its fancy malls and building projects by visiting slums and speaking out against violence and corruption. And today, Monday, February 15, he will be in Chiapas, where thousands of Indians from surrounding villages, and even some from Guatemala, will come to hear the Pope deliver a mass, some of it recited in three Mayan dialects.

Pedro Arriaga, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, told the press that "In Chiapas there is a situation of extreme poverty, of marginalization of the indigenous community, of social conflicts…. Of course we know that one visit by the pope won't resolve all that.... But we do hope for a profound spiritual experience with the people that will help us transform our social conscience."

History's first Latin American pope had already issued a sweeping apology for the Catholic Church's colonial-era crimes against the continent's indigenous peoples while in Bolivia last year. And now: “I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures," Francis told Mexico's bishops Saturday in a speech outlining their marching orders. "The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence."

I applaud it all, but have to wonder further about the canonization of Father Serra that the Pope hurried on in his September visit to California. The indigenous people of California too “await true recognition of the… fruitfulness of their presence.” And, according to Alvin Josephy “the treatment of California Indians was as close to genocide as any tribal people had faced, or would face, on the North American continent."

Although the Pope is apologizing today in Mexico, and apologized profusely for the Church’s treatment of indigenous peoples in Bolivia last year, there has been no such apology to the Indians of California. Instead, there is the march toward canonization for Father Serra, the man who, in the mind of Rupert Costo, a Cahuilla Indian and the editor and publisher, in 1987, of The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide, was responsible for the missions—and the genocide.

Casinos have made some California Indians wealthy, but I have to think that there is not enough tribal strength in that state to stand up to church and government hierarchies. Or to make it through the filters of church, government, and wealth to the Pope, as appears to have been the case in Bolivia and Mexico. I don’t even know that the people and the government of California have ever owned up to the genocide--or “near genocide” to use Alvin’s words--of their indigenous population.

But I do believe that a copy of Costo’s book in the hands of this Pope might be cause for reconsideration. Does anyone have his address?

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Previous post re Father Serra and the Pope is at:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thinking like a Paiute

I first heard about “Paiute forestry” twelve or fifteen years ago, when we spent a Winter Fishtrap weekend at Wallowa Lake talking about fire. Paiute foresters were Westerners who had picked up on the Indian practice of regular, low level burning of forestlands to keep shrubs and dense regeneration under control.

Indians had learned over millennia that regular fire ensured abundant grasses and root crops as well as easy travel. After the Plateau tribes got horses, about 1730, the grasses were especially welcome. But by 1920 the Forest Service, dominated by European and Eastern, Yale-trained foresters, thought the practice “wasteful,” and derisively dubbed its advocates who worked for the Forest Service “Paiute foresters.”

The Forest Service emerged as a separate entity in 1905. The new agency would manage “forest reserves,” land that had already been withdrawn from the public domain in 1891, eventually to be supplemented by other lands—mostly Eastern forest remnants—purchased from the private sector for erosion control and stream protection.

The first Chief of the newly named Forest Service was Gifford Pinchot, whose wealthy family had endowed Yale University’s Forestry Department with great attention to European forestry practices. Pinchot advocated scientific forestry and strong public private partnerships in managing forests for the long-term health of all forests. My reading is that he envisioned a kind of Jeffersonian usage by yeomen foresters of public forestlands. Small and local loggers and mills would manage public timber for their own and the public’s long-term benefit. Pinchot was Chief from 1905-10.

But in August of 1910, a huge firestorm blazed across three million acres of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The “big burn” and WW I would impact Forest Service and fire policy for decades.  The burn’s role is obvious; the War and all its horrors led many to see in firefighting a “moral equivalency” to war, a way for young testosterone to be made useful as boys became men.

There was another change in the Forest Service stance as well.  After Pinchot—and his White House advocate for sustained natural resources, Teddy Roosevelt, moved on, economic utilitarianism became its guiding principle. In 1920, the third Chief, William B. Greely (also a Yalie) wrote in “'Paiute forestry' or the fallacy of light burning” that

"If surface burning is not stopped, the end is total destruction just as complete and disastrous as       when a forest is consumed in a crown blaze that kills everything at once... If the only solution lies in the uninterrupted destruction of young growth by light burning, we had better harvest our mature stumpage without more ado and then become a wood-importing nation.”

I.e., The Big Burn had been an economic disaster, and even light burning was wasting a natural resource which sustained the forest industry. That view held the fore for over half a century; in 1978 the Forest Service finally abandoned “fire exclusion” in favor of mixed management techniques, including the Paiute practice of light burning.

Today, with the Malheur siege ended, as we think about the Burns-Paiute calm call for the long term health of their millennial homeland, and look over their shoulders at the Malheur Refuge and the vast Harney County landscape, what else might we see?

The birds, fish, and wild four-leggeds throughout the region who need and often share land comfortably with domestic agriculture and ranching; in Harney County, the ranchers, BLM employees and Tribal representatives who are searching for long-term solutions to use and management of resources;

In Klamath Country, another group of ranchers, utility managers, and tribal members working towards compromises on fish, farming, and economies;

And we see the water in Flint, Michigan, where children are reeling with lead poisoning as bureaucrats chase blame for a cheap budget fix that resulted in contaminated water—water being the resource that sustains almost all natural resources;

And the water quality in the state of Iowa, where lead and agricultural contaminants make much of the water in the entire state unsafe, and lobbyists find more value in corn and ethanol than in community health;

And prisons and camps for refugees run for profit—directly and in the building and staffing of government facilities—rather than as parts of systems that make safety, rehabilitation, and immigration fairness state and national goals for the entire body-politic;

And the school buildings in Detroit that are crumbling as teachers, students, and parents struggle to educate a next generation of Americans;

And other school buildings, roads, and bridges that are not roads to riches for the entrepreneurial class.

Maybe it’s time to listen to the Paiutes—and to Indian voices across the land that still speak for fish, water, air, space, and a notion of property as something other than profit center;

Maybe Malheur and Paiute forestry will become symbols for listening to the land and each other, Indian and non-Indian, city and country, young and old, farm and factory, rich and poor. We are all in this together.

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