Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Indians and Environmentalists

This before election results are in, knowing that one candidate thinks climate change is a hoax, and that neither candidate has acknowledged Indian efforts at stopping the Dakota Access pipeline—or, for that matter, having talked at all to Indians or about Indian issues and concerns.

There are three pieces in today’s New York Times that reflect advances and show the need to continue Alvin Josephy’s long-ago efforts at bringing the environmental community and Indian communities together.

The first of course is about the environmental community backing the Indians at Standing Rock in their fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline by targeting big banks that are financing the project (perfect roles for such groups). The second and third articles—and a closer look might have revealed more—were about the smog in Delhi, India, which is literally choking the population with industrial overload, and another about oil companies, that, to varying degrees and seeking to serve their own best economic self interests, are exploring alternative energies. Good for them.

In ancient days, when David Brower was the head of the Sierra Club, Alvin said that his and other environmental organizations paid no attention and lent not a helping hand as a high-minded hell-bent-for-development Army Corps of Engineers

"built the Garrison Dam, the largest rolled-earth am in the world, across the Missouri River in North Dakota, ignoring the protests of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians and chopping up and flooding sacred sites and large parts of their reservation. Repeating their high-handedness, the Corps then broke the American government’s oldest existing treaty, made in 1794 with the Seneca Indians of New York State, to build the Kinzua Dam, which flooded the center of the Senecas’ reservation and the burial ground of their famous revolutionary-era chief, Cornplanter, and again forced a heartbreaking relocation of most of the Indians.” (Walk Toward Oregon, pp 275-76)

Weed, California
There were other disagreements, and other cases where environmental groups disregarded issues in Grand Canyon and in Alaska, but Josephy insisted that the two sides should be talking, wrote an op-ed about it in the Times, and actually arranged a New York meeting between Brower, Alan Gassow, and others from Friends of the Earth with tribal leaders. Ultimately, he wrote several articles for Audubon Magazine and a book, Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, which gathered essays and arguments on many of these issues. They are as fresh today as when he wrote them in the 70s and 80s--Kinzua’s still there; the Indians are ahead at Pyramid Lake and on the Columbia, and controversy swirls in the Dakotas.

I told my OSU class in La Grande yesterday about canaries in coal-mines, and how Indian concerns over natural resource issues, especially over water issues, might be seen in the same way. Dakota Access is not the only water issue out there today. Look to see what is happening on the Navajo Reservation with drought and pollution, and the efforts of Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead to tap Indian water in other places.

There is plenty of work to do—from Standing Rock to Delhi—but good environmentally conscious citizens might look close to home for the Indian tribes and their canaries and see where they are pointing.

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