DAPL intensifies.

How biased is the media you have access to?  Have you heard much about the DAPL?

I don’t have television, so I have no idea what is playing on the news.  I do know, however, that Google News has only articles from more obscure sources about DAPL and none of them are coming up as headlines.  Compare that to my social media feed, filled with articles and posts shared by my largely Native friend base, and you can see how little important Native news makes it into mainstream media.

People are being arrested.
The popular video being shared today is from AJ+ and shows peaceful protestors being arrested.  In one clip, a man who is walking away in a field is grabbed from behind and slammed to the ground as an officer handcuffs him.

DAPL is suing.
The energy company is claiming endangerment of its workers and a risk to its permits for delay in constructing its water crossings.  Ironically, the protestors are claiming endangerment of their lives should the construction continue, adding to the sentiment the pipeline is causing amongst the Standing Rock people: “Is an entire people expendable?”  The methods used to seek approval for construction of the pipeline are called into question.

More and more people are showing up.
I have a number of friends packing up their cars from Indiana to Idaho, ready to drive to North Dakota and risk arrest for the cause.  Shailene Woodley, Divergent actress, is already on-site defending alongside the Sioux.  Read her Twitter feed here.

30 youth just ran 2,000 miles.
They delivered a petition with 160,000 signatures to stop the pipeline to Washington.  They began on foot from North Dakota.

Protestors are asking for support.
DAPL supplies

The Cheyenne River Sioux stands in solidarity with Standing Rock.
This letter was written to Washington on behalf of the cause:

Furthermore, transportation was provided for protestors:
DAPL Cheyenne transport

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe are also backing up the Standing Sioux.DAPL Flandreau

Salish Sea Bio Region members are raising funds to support the Native groups.
They plan to travel from Washington to North Dakota to stand in support of defending land and water rights.  Their fundraiser is located here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as more people are planning to make the trip to North Dakota.  I just hope my friends stay safe; the Dakotas are not exactly known for polite police officers when it comes to Native peoples.

“I am the river and the river is me”: How New Zealand is defending Maori worldviews.

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Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in indigenous communities today is the laws that oversee their affairs but do not incorporate their own intrinsic values.  Western society has become so accustomed to a worldview developed through sets of values such as Christianity that it becomes difficult to separate these perspectives from our every day lives.  But not all peoples hold the same values, including the Maori in New Zealand.

Recently, New Zealand attorney general Chris Finlayson worked on agreements between the New Zealand government and various Maori groups to enable a swath of land or entire body of water to be granted personhood in the eyes of New Zealand law.

“In [the Maori] worldview,” stated Finlayson,”‘I am the river and the river is me’.  Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”

This idea seems foreign to those who view “personhood” as something that belongs only to a human being.  But in a worldview that sees spirituality and what constitutes as living in a different light than what many Westerners see, this definition applies to traditional lands is completely logical.

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The former national park, Te Urewera, existed from 1954 to 2015 and consisted of 821 square miles of North Island.  Recently, the Te Urewera Act took effect so that the government abandoned its formal ownership and the land became its own legal entity, including having “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person” per the statute that was passed.  In other words, the park was granted personhood; a river system is expected to receive the same designation soon, once it passes Parliament.

This classifications seem like “unusual designations” for those accustomed to non-Maori worldview, yet the legal status is similar to that of corporations who are also not an individual human being.  The decision to grant personhood was a “profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” according to Pita Sharples, the minister of Maori affairs when the law passed.  The settlement resolved the ongoing argument between New Zealand government and Maori groups over the guardianship of natural features within the country.

One great advantage to passing this law for the sake of conservation is the power it gives to the land itself.  Lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself without any need to demonstrate how a human being is impacted while defending the land’s protection.

The river set to receive similar status is the Whanganui River, the third longest river in New Zealand.  To the Maori, it is “an invisible and living whole, comprising the river and all tributaries from the mountains to the sea – and that’s what we are giving effect to through this settlement,” according to Mr. Finalyson.

These new designations do not mean people cannot still enjoy Te Urewera like when it was a national park; it simply means special permits for activities like hunting must be issued through a new board that represents the river.  This board will consist of both government and Maori representatives.

The hope now is that this landmark decision will set precedent for other indigenous communities around the world whose worldviews and cultural paradigms are not being incorporated into the laws that govern their traditional and sacred sites.  Finlayon has already began discussions with Canada’s new attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, on how these concepts can be written into Canadian law.

Will Canada be next?

it’s time Navajo Nation uses its powerful voice for indigenous solidarity, not oil prosperity.

Standing Rock

In fact, it’s well past time.

Although I hold tribal membership in a different community, I was drawn last summer to work for the Navajo Nation government by its impressive example of tribal sovereignty in action.  Not many tribal communities can brag they have their own Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, etc.  Not every indigenous person can point out the window to a traditional plant or a sacred landmark.  (My own tribe suffered both relocation and the Dawes Allotment Act.)  Because of Navajo leadership’s ability to negotiate at Bosque Redondo, these are things the Navajo people have never lost and that they must never forget.  The Navajo Nation has a powerful voice, so long as it chooses to speak.

I have heard Navajo leadership use this voice.  It is loud, and it can be condemning.  Think: Gold King Mine spill.  Or: Delegate Crotty’s passionate denouncement against Donald “Drumpf”.  However, when it comes to the environmental threats caused by extractive industries on tribal lands, whether on Navajo Nation or elsewhere, I hear relative silence.

And correct me if I’m wrong.  I would love to be wrong on this.

It’s a sad reality that the modern Navajo government structure was essentially developed by the Federal Government around 1922 to pass off the rights to sign oil leases.  Even the modern Federal Government is, shall we say, uncomfortably close to the lucrative extractive industries that have an incredible knack for getting away with compliance lapses and environmental devastation.

When, on November 6, 2015, President Obama rejected Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Lakota and their many allies celebrated this decision.  It would save the Black Hills, a sacred site, from destruction.  It would save the Ogallala Aquifer, the world’s largest source of underground freshwater, from contamination.  It seemed like the message finally got across…except now the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is threatening the Plains yet again.

Not only will this proposed DAPL, constructed by a private energy company, also cross the vital Ogallala Aquifer, it will also cross the Missouri and Cannon Ball Rivers half of a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  In an immediate response, a campaign called #RezpectOurWater was launched, arguing that a leak in this line could destroy local water sources and make both people and animals sick.  The youth in the campaign ask, “If it was your family at risk, would you be okay with it?”  One girl states, “I guess they don’t think we’re that important.”

Do you remember how the Gold King Mine spill felt?  How it still feels?

I have grown up being told by the elders around me: “The 3rd World War won’t be over land, or trade, or even religion.  It will be over water.”  As the Lakota say, “Mni wiconi.”  Water is sacred.

I spent 2 years working for “big oil” as an Engineer.  How I got there was a kind of sick irony.  My undergraduate degree specialized in Environmental Engineering, yet, by the time I graduated, the “alternative energy” sector had transformed into the fracking industry.  In that short timeframe, I experienced enough emergency response spills to know how I feel about this industry.

I would spend 12-hour shifts, day after day, holding air monitoring devices near the heads of migrant workers as they attempted to salvage spilled oil from contaminated streams in nature reserves.  I carried empty water bottles to collect dead salamanders I spotted for the biology counts.  (I used to catch these little guys in the woods at home.  By 2014, I had seen more dead than living salamanders in my life.)  I have also endured the misogyny of laborers while performing oversight on well pads.  I suspect these man camps in Indian Country are responsible for the increase of rape and other violence against indigenous women.

Sure, an engineering job in the oil industry could make you rich.  But what good is money  when we’ve destroyed our collective home?  The most finite of resources?  Yet it’s not just the oil spills that are a concern.  It’s also the idea of burning fossil fuels.  The incredible impact humans have made to the health of our planet in just my short lifetime.

The theory of climate change is not a joke.  There is a pure science behind it, just like the theory of gravity.  We all feel the theory of gravity; it makes it easy to believe.  But not all of us feel the theory of climate change to the same degree.

The whole concept is rooted in emissions.  In fact, hozho is at the heart of this idea.  Most people can probably understand the need for trees.  Trees are the figurative lungs of our planet as they take all of the carbons dioxide we exhale and transform it into the oxygen we inhale.  We need each other.  It’s a beautiful balance.  But, as we change the oxygen-breathing-organism-to-plant ratio, that’s similar to sitting in your garage with your car running.  Likewise, as we change the chemical composition of the atmosphere through increased carbon emissions, we change how energy such as light and heat lingers in our air.  We see these effects in everything, from the intensity of storms, to the melting of glaciers, to even the inability of calcium carbonate to precipitate into the ocean for coral and fish to build their skeletons.

Everything is interconnected.

I’m going back to graduate school this fall to study energy technology because I believe in the urgency of reducing these emissions.  In fact, I was recently selected as a U.S. Delegate to travel with SustainUs for COP22 this November.  We will be participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference to lobby for a change in global policy.  While I might feel only somewhat impacted by climate change from my home in Window Rock, I realize I have the privilege to influence change for those hit the hardest.  There are people in “critical” countries and tribal communities that will literally lose their communities in the next few decades if we don’t come together as a Five Fingered family and make a change.

Last year’s COP21 delegation launched the campaign #ZeroBy2050, demanding leaders to adopt policy that would phase out emission-spouting industries with alternative solutions.  The year 2050 was selected because, if the average temperature of the planet rises any more than 2C (which it is projected to reach by that year), vulnerable countries will be deluged by a rising sea.  Entire islands, homes, cultures.

At UNITY this February, I sat on stage for a panel discussion and watched my Inupiaq friend, Teressa Baldwin, passionately describe her Arctic Circle culture.  Then she burst into tears as she explained her traditional village would be completely underwater by the time she is a grandmother.  The next morning, she left for Russia to strategize with other leaders from affected Arctic Circle communities.

We live in a global community.  We must hold every person accountable for how they impact each other and our resources.  And we absolutely must stand in solidarity with these entire communities who are at the immediate risk of losing everything on account of our silence, our turned blind eye.

How would you feel if someone was blowing secondhand smoke on your child?  Would you ask them to stop?  Or would you pretend each time not to see it, and then to not acknowledge the child’s subsequent struggle with asthma?  The child is our future generations.  The smoker is the fossil fuel industry, and that industry is a chain smoker determined to never kick the habit.

In order to reach this emissions goal, we must already be in the energy transition.  Creating green jobs, setting new emissions standards, holding Big Oil accountable.  Taking the hands of both tribal and federal leaders out of the pockets of these industries.  We know this, and yet oil, gas, and coal companies have already laid claim on deposits representing 2,795 gigatons of carbon.  To meet the 2C mark by 2050, no more than 565 gigatons can be developed between 2011 and 2049.  2,795 is five times this limit.  Think of that.  Then think of these proposed pipelines that are meant to slice and dice Indian Country, traveling thousands of miles over freshwater reserves and sacred sites.

Navajo Nation leadership, this is your chance.  If you voiced solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, if you committed to this fossil fuel phaseout, if you began sincerely investing in green jobs… Not only would the Navajo Nation become a leader in what tribal sovereignty means today, but it would also set an example for the entire world.

The Navajo Nation has such a potential to be a powerful voice and a world leader.  I just hope we all make the right decision and choose Solidarity over Oil Prosperity.

thawing permafrost posing unpredictable effect in Siberia.

The thawing permafrost was something we already knew was happening.  The rising sea levels, the effect on the seasonal cycles, everything seemingly out of whack.  But something has just happened in Russia that was not predictable: an anthrax outbreak.

Siberia.jpg

In an isolated corner of an already isolated land, dozens of indigenous Siberians have been hospitalized and one child has died.  The Russian government has begun airlifting families from the Yamal Peninsula region of the Arctic Circle as over 2,000 reindeer have been infected with the disease.

So what caused it?

Although it is not confirmed, the “current hypothesis” is: “A heat wave has thawed the frozen soil there and with it, a reindeer carcass infected with anthrax decades ago.”  The question now is: Will this be a new trend on the tundra?

Permafrost is frozen as deep as 1,000 feet underground in parts of the Yamal Peninsula, meaning bacteria can be preserved easily in those temperatures.  The theory is, as the summer temperatures rose slightly, more of the permafrost melted to thaw out a 75-year-old reindeer carcass.  The anthrax also thawed and revived, releasing spores across the tundra to the reindeer grazing nearby.

As a response, Russian officials are vaccinating living reindeer and burning dead ones.  The problem is this thawing is not an isolated case.  The temperature in the Arctic Circle is rising three times faster than anywhere else in the world, meaning more and more melting permafrost.

And anthrax-infected bodies are not a surprise.  In the early 1900s, repeated anthrax outbreaks hit Siberia and over a million reindeer died.  It’s likely there are 7,000 other infected carcasses in this part of the country, buried as deep into the permafrost as was possible at the time.  But now, with that permafrost thawing deep enough, the burials are irrelevant to preventing the outbreak.

Described as “Pandora’s Box”, the question is: Will an outbreak be the new trend every summer for Siberia?  Or will we manage to halt the thawing of the permafrost?

 

drought on the Navajo Nation & a need for more observers.

colorado_river_basin_lg

Back on March 22, 2016 – a.k.a. World Water Day – the White House held a White House Water Summit.  The Obama administration directed federal agencies to begin focusing on national long-term drought resilience policies.  This effort was primarily focused on how to solve ongoing water shortages that disproportionately affect Western states, specifically along the Colorado River Basin.

“We need to continue to develop collaborative strategies across each river basin to ensure that our nation’s water and power supplies, agricultural activities, ecosystems, and other resources all have sustainable paths forward,” said Michael L. Connor, the Interior Department’s Deputy Secretary.

But what are tribes doing about it?

Taking a look at a map, it’s clear that the Colorado River Basin includes more than just a few states.  It also includes ten tribes who make up the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership.  This group was founded in 1992 and involves the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Cocopah Indian Community, Hopi, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Nation Nation, Quechan Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Indian Tribe, and Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

colorado_river_basin_lg.jpg

Of course, tribes not included are extensive.  Within Arizona alone, there are also the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Pima and Papago), Gila River (Pima and Maricopa), Havasupai Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab-Paiute Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community, San Carlos Apache Tribe, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Tohono O’oodham Nation, Tonto Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nationa, and Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe.  Then of course there are the other states including even more groups, such as the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

What have tribes been doing to take action on climate change?

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has many sustainability goals for the Navajo Region due to the Executive Order 13653, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe was awarded the EPA Clean Air Excellence Award this July for implementing an Air Quality Program (AQP) through its Environmental Programs Division.  But the reality is that the southwest’s water crisis is taking its hardest toll on groups such as the Navajo Nation.

In August 2015, protestors in Window Rock attempted to chase Senator John McCain from tribal land for his on-going efforts to steal water rights from the Navajo and Hopi tribes.  While the Navajo Nation already struggles to manage its own resources, Arizona is attempting to take surface water rights from the tribes and pull from their underground aquifers in an attempt to meet the high demands of cities like Phoenix and Tucson to the south.  There are many problems to these proposals, not just because of their clear violations of tribal sovereignty and water rights but also because of what they would be supporting: the continued growth of two large cities that already overuse water that they don’t have.

Meanwhile, many individuals in the Navajo region have been conducting their own research on climate change.  Dr. Margaret Hiza continues to observe sand dunes, noting that the invasive Russian Thistle (tumbleweed) with its tendency to break off without a root system contributes to the erosion and movement of dry sand.  Dr. Karletta Chief and her assistants analyze data of precipitation and make recommendations through a technical review.

The findings all point to a need for more data, and of more people acting as observers for precipitation and changes on the Nation.  Yet this enters the same area of concern brought up recently by the Dine Policy Institute’s Siihasin Summit: Reflecting on Research and Data Management in the Navajo Nation.  The Navajo Nation has its own IRB, a research board that helps approve of projects and ensures any data collected is in full possession of the Navajo Nation.  This helps prevent crises like Havasuapi-Arizona State University case that stole genetic data for purposes other than it was intended.  And while this step of tribal sovereignty (data ownership) is necessary, it is also necessary for the tribes to step up and begin collecting and managing it at an efficient and effective manner that meets the demands of the problems the Nations are facing.

It will be interesting to see how the Navajo Nation continues to respond to topics of Climate Change, especially when it is so heavily reliant on extractive industries that clearly contribute to the emissions and water problems of the southwest.

navajos wear nikes.

NavajosWearNikes

I recently read a book called Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life by Jim Kristofic.  I now realize my roommate’s copy has a signature on the front page in blue ink, what looks like a JK in a circle with four small triangles.  The sacred mountain.  I guess that’s an autograph.

It’s funny because my first reaction to the book was actually about its cover.  I saw a truck with some faceless kids, the truck having a Colorado license plate.  I thought, Wouldn’t that be hilarious.  Write a book about real Navajo life and they pictured a couple of Utes?  It’s a joke, I don’t really know.  Maybe that’s one of the author’s photos.  I just thought it was funny.

The Plot
This story is actually an autobiography of sorts recounting Kristofic’s life on the Navajo Reservation.  His mother moves him and his brother Darren to the reservation after following work as a nurse there to the IHS.  The family moved from Pittsburgh, so there are plenty of references there for the city and the surrounding areas in Pennsylvania.  Kristofic describes his mom’s obsession with “Indians” and her feeble attempt to teach Kristofic not to stereotype them, that the movies aren’t correct.  The story then follows the family’s life in Ganado, Arizona with a later move to Page.  Kristofic describes everything from Rez dogs to local shops like Mora’s at the gas station, church life, football tryouts, and a lot of racial tension.  He describes life as a white person being raised in a Navajo world and therefore not necessarily fitting in with either category in most cases.

Articles/Reviews
Many reviews have been made on this book from both non-Indian and Indian-based groups.  I was curious to see the kinds of reactions before fully formulating my own opinions.  After perusing many reviews on Goodreads, I found that some Navajo readers really enjoyed reading this book.  Some non-Indian readers enjoyed exposure to a world they otherwise would never hear about, jini.  The University of New Mexico Press published a number of quotes in regards to the book, many from Indian-based or “Indian-informed” groups or individuals.  I was really interested to see that Indian Country Today posted an article about it, although I cringed when I Googled the author and found she claims distant Native American heritage, “tribe uncertain”.  (And now I understand the outrage I’ve heard about ICT only paying non-Native authors to write Native stories.)

Kristofic is interviewed in the ICT article, which is very interesting.  He is asked about the reception of his book.  Probably most interestingly is the point he wishes people would take away.  One of the comments I read on the Goodreads page was someone saying ‘more kids wish they could leave’, like it was a tragedy that they couldn’t get what they want.  (I’ll touch on that later.)  Here’s a point he makes in the interview that counters that sentiment:

Sixty percent of Navajos don’t live on the rez because there [are] no jobs. Most people have to leave. Maybe this book will help them remember where they are from a bit better, until someone from the rez who’s Navajo writes a better book. I think that’s what will happen, I’m hoping that will happen. That there’s this great Navajo author, as good as Sherman Alexie, and that he or she is going to write some really cool stuff, make the people proud. Because that’s something that art can really do, especially literature. It can make you proud of your homeland.

My Thoughts
Here is the unedited part I wrote as my Goodreads review:

I have mixed feelings about this book.  Personally, I struggled getting through it.  However, I was very interested as a resident of the Navajo Nation and an enrolled member of a different tribe.  I live down the road from Ganado, so it was definitely interesting reading about the things that are (and aren’t anymore) there.  I also get a lot of the cross-cultural stuff, although for me it’s in a different form.  I have a unique status as being an “other” Indian, and also part white.

Probably the things that bothered me the most, though, was what other people might take away from it.  For example, his mother’s weird obsession with an entire race of people.  I’m not comfortable with how this book almost started to normalize that attitude.  I’m mostly not comfortable with it because of how others have even mentioned her obsession as some kind of positive emulation.  Yeah, that’s how people justify racist mascots.  I understand that he was also a very young person for most of this story, so probably the depth of philosophy isn’t well reflected in the way of life, but I think that’s an important differentiation that can demonstrate how there is no “Indian” obsession – the cultures are far too diverse if you truly understand what you claim to be obsessing about.

Finally, there’s the idea that I’m not sure was completely dispelled: about the Rez being some awful place.  Sure, there are awful elements, just like in any community, but people too often focus on that.  There is also rich culture and resilience and a very distinct way of life that people want to maintain.  For those who think kids want to, should be able to, and simply can’t leave the Rez – I wish you would stop thinking like that.  We are facing a “brain drain” crisis where kids ARE leaving, and if they can’t get an education and come home to jobs, what will be left in a 100 years?  They need to see the beauty in it and not focus on these stereotypes.  That’s all…

JimKristoficThe autograph in the copy I read.

And just to reiterate, there were definitely points in the book where Kristofic taught the “swastika symbol” as meaning many more things to Navajos.  He tried to defend his native counterparts.  He definitely lived the experience.  I just wonder how many people who read the book caught those elements of it as strongly as I would have hoped, or how many were still so fascinated by this “other world” that they missed the point.

obligatory COP22 fundraising post.

COP22

If you want to learn more about my work and COP22, please check out the link to our GoFundMe fundraiser:

GoFundMe – COP22

I included a summary there.  Please consider supporting us through that link.  Also, please share the fundraiser on social media or even by email to people you know.

If anyone prefers making a direct donation, such as to our delegation at SustainUs, please email me for details at kayla.devault@sustainus.org – thanks!