How sovereign do we plan to be?

This piece first appeared in the Navajo Times on 6/8/2017.

Whether I’m speaking to my Anishinaabe relatives on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota or to you on this vast Navajo Nation, all of us are subjects to the same self-proclaimed warden: The United States. My question is: How sovereign do we plan to be?
Even if you don’t work for the federal or tribal government, surely you’ve heard the words “jurisdiction” or “red tape.” And more often than not, you probably heard it in a negative connotation. That’s because these concepts are constantly used against our people.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will claim ownership of rights-of-way. Energy companies –both on and off the reservation –seek ways to seize land through eminent domain, legal loopholes, or dishonest bargaining.

And tribal citizens have to jump through a plethora of hoops just to open a business, a process that takes longer than obtaining an engineering degree from Arizona State University.

Energy development in Indian Country is no exception.

The Navajo leadership took a stand with Standing Rock last year, despite of the Four Corner’s poor track record for stopping the exploitation of oil, coal, and uranium resources. And it’s a tricky place to be. On such a large nation with a tragically high rate of unemployment, it takes a lot of commitment to turn down even the most meager of energy contracts for an undeveloped dream of a just, green economy.

In fact, when Trump announced this past week that he would not be supporting the Paris agreement and would instead move towards the four-year-long process of withdrawing, I couldn’t help but laugh a little for the administration was actually keeping its promise to all of the coal miners who had voted Trump into office. (When has the government ever kept promises?)

Yet Appalachia, where many of these coal miners are, is also an impoverished collective of Americans who often have a shared history of how they came to be in the mines. Streams run orange with acid mine drainage, the education systems are rated among the worst in the country, and rarely does a presidential candidate seem invested in the people there.

So, just as some Navajo politicians talk about the need for jobs, I could imagine many Appalachians feel equally backed into the corner with the threat of things like the Paris zgreement –something that is foreseen to run the coal industry out of business

However, coal, oil … none of these products are the solution, not to our energy demands, and not to our local economies.

Instead, places like Appalachia and Indian Country need presidential candidates who can affirm the necessity of such promises as the Paris agreement while also promising those who work in the mines that a green economy will receive them as well –and with far less health risks.
Appalachia may not be waking up to the reality that they have an alternative to an extractive economy, but the Navajo Nation has that opportunity to genuinely take care of its people.

The Navajo Nation’s modern government was birthed by the federal government in order to sign over oil leases to corporations less than a century ago. It also won the largest lawsuit any tribe has ever won for the BIA’s failure to honestly and transparently maintains its bookkeeping responsibilities for decades worth of Navajo energy transactions.

And the health consequences? Just watch the documentary “Broken Rainbow.” It’s any wonder the Navajo Nation hasn’t furiously severed all ties with each atrocity that has surfaced.

The problem is federal entities still have such a stranglehold over Indian resources, especially energy ones. Leases that may take a matter of days off a reservation will take up to seven years on tribal lands.

Even if tribes wanted to develop their resources, the layers of red tape scare away business. In addition, the BIA must negotiate, approve, and oversee all leases –meaning exorbitant amounts of funds are used on bookkeeping and oversight.

Meanwhile, tribes see very little of the revenue –and little to no accountability for the reclamation afterwards.

Should our tribal leaders take a stance in controlling this process in a manner that more closely resembles that of a sovereign nation’s power, tribes like the Navajo Nation might finally see some energy justice.

That also means our leaders could choose to protect the people regardless of Trump’s decision to pull out of international agreements about climate.

In addition to dedicating themselves to a just, green transition for the Navajo people and energy employees, Navajo leaders could be putting together their own climate plan. This plan could hold outside corporations accountable according to Indian law –not lax federal law –and force outsiders to respect tribal sovereignty.

By doing so, we would also see our precious cultural resources protected –from the snowy mountain caps to the medicinal plants that are all threatened by such things as rising temperatures and vanishing precipitation.

So, respectable members of the Council and the OPVP, how will you be responding to the needs for leadership committed to a climate plan and a just energy transition for the Navajo people?

Kayla DeVault
Tse Bonito, N.M.

 

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The Hypocrisy in Cleveland’s Local Food System

I have been closely involved in the local food system in Cleveland for the last three or more years and I can’t help but continuously noticing the hypocrisy in it.  I’ve brought some of these topics up before at Brews + Prose local food panels in Ohio City and been backed up by the experts, so I don’t feel at all out of place for calling it “hypocrisy”.  I’ll just break down some of my observations to give you an idea of what I’m seeing:

1. LOCAL FOOD AS A LUXURY:
This is my favorite point at panel discussions.  I’ve written several locavore restaurant reviews on my Cleveland blog and always conclude the same thing: Local food is presented as a privilege, not as a way of life.  Why is it that I can visit these “local” ingredient restaurants and spend exorbitant amounts of money on tiny, decorated dishes of vegetables?  Why do fancy chefs have to run these “locavore” joints?  Why is the trend in Cleveland to make eating local a showy, classy, exclusive trend for those with money?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  The one explanation I got was simple: perhaps the demand is much higher than the resources due to population density.  So isn’t the next logical step to educate the public and make serious strides in adding green spaces and gardens to Cleveland?  Some co-workers just this week commented on Cleveland’s lack of attractive parks within the downtown area.  If these concepts weren’t so foreign, maybe people wouldn’t be so in awe by them and remember that local eating is not a newfangled trend but rather a way of life – the only way there should be!

2. WASTEFULNESS:
I worked on a farm on the outskirts of Cleveland as an intern where we grew organic food to deliver to our clients within the city.  Sometimes these deliveries were whole plants, but it was usually produce.  We grew ridiculous quantities of squash and cabbage as the weather started to cool – so much, in fact, that we started giving it away —— and NO ONE WOULD TAKE IT.   Does that make any sense???

3. ENERGY CONSUMPTION:
On the same farm, we also used greenhouses to start nearly every plant and to grow a lot of our basil and winter our plants.  We were looking at getting a solar panel array to supply the operation.  It was a lot of energy to grow local food.  I thought about this again at the North Union Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square.  My mom and I were walking around looking at produce and she asked me what they could possibly sell in quantity during the winter months.  She’s accustomed to canning and not fighting the Pennsylvania snow once the first frost threatens our orchard.  She made the point that a lot of the farmers at the market would probably use green houses to grow crops for profit.  I started to think about these two situations – my farm and the farmers at the market – and began questioning how this was a better solution.  How is asking all of this produce to be grown in a green house outside of the city then driven to the public in personal cars any better than just bringing a large shipment to an urban store?  It’s not like you can buy all of your needs at a farmer’s market like you can buy your food, clothes, and supplies at one Wal-Mart.  It’s like how it’s more energy efficient and green for England to import its tomatoes from Spain than to grow them in English green houses…

4. PLASTIC BAGS:
If you try to buy something at the market, the vendors don’t even ask but try to shove your produce into a plastic bag.  You have to stop them and tell them you brought a bag.  They sometimes seem surprised…but why?

5. DRIVING:
For all of the cars that are parked around the market each Saturday, I have to wonder how many people actually walk to the Square on market day.  That makes me wonder how many people here don’t take advantage of the market and why they don’t.  Then I start to wonder where the other people must be coming from…and I wonder if they come from the same towns as the farmers who drive here weekly.  I would love to do a statistical analysis on the gas consumption caused by market day for this reason.

6. PROMOTION:
Why eat local?  The idea is it’s better for the environment.  My mom points out it’s also better for the farmers, thinking about the dairy farms in our area that are broke because the milk prices are kept at statewide lows.  However, I investigated what the promoted reasons for attending are.  They consist primarily as “educational experiences” or as ways to get the “freshest” food.  How is it educational?  Because apparently people don’t realize that apples don’t grow in Region 6 Decembers.  It’s been hard for me to realize how little people really know about growing – and cooking – food, especially in urban areas.  Even so, I would be promoting how it benefits the environment and the local farmers…because it does, right?

7. FARM SHARE:
The market at Shaker also promotes a “farm share” program…which I absolutely think is hypocritical.  Can you believe there are people who live within a block of the market who will not leave the house to buy produce on Saturday mornings?  What better things do you have to do on a Saturday morning?  No, instead they sign up for “farm shares” so they can have someone do the shopping for them, then deliver a PLASTIC bag of goods each week to their DOOR.  Imagine all of the driving that must be done for these personal deliveries.  I told my mom this as we walked around the Square and she was absolutely disgusted.  Then she looked up to see a woman teetering on a bike whose baskets were overflowing with produce.  “Look at that lady in the dress – on a bike!”  I thought my mom was going to insult her for wearing a dress, but instead she was making a point.  “Even a classy lady like her, at her age, is real enough to take her bike to the market each week to buy her produce.  Anyone who could live here and get a farm share… it must just be for show.  Those people don’t really care about what they’re doing at all, just what other people think about them doing it.”

That is why I have vowed to do my shopping every week at the market.  I’m going to start buying extra and canning it for the winter.  I only walk to the market, I only buy on Saturdays, I only use my reusable bags, I freeze extra food that isn’t canned or dried, and I keep as many live plants as I can to grow my own food.  I try to pick from the stands that have the most honest practices.  In one case, I bought peaches from a stand of senior citizens because I witnessed them breaking their backs to lift, sort, and sell their produce and I knew that they were hard workers.

Is there any hope for the local food “scene”?  Is it not full of hypocrisy?

Shopping with a Conscience.

Do you ever feel guilty buying certain things at the store?  There are three things that really get me:

1. Out-of-season foods.
It’s hard to eat healthy and local at the same time without boring your tastebuds to death.  I just spent the last 5 weeks in Africa where I witnessed this isn’t a problem: people have the freshest, sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted growing at their fingertips year round.  In Cleveland, however, healthy and local aren’t commonplace during the long winter months.  Unless you want to eat cabbage and broccoli all winter, you can plan on buying imported fruits.  I first came to this realization when one day I thought, I don’t eat enough fruit; I should buy some apples.  But apples don’t naturally grow here in the winter.  Was eating an apple really worth supporting the industry of shipping exotic foods from afar all year round just to satisfy my palate?  No.  How could I get around this?  Better planning.  Next year, I should take advantage of abundant apples and other fruits growing locally and then learn to can them with spices!  Mmmmm.  Or even make pies and freeze them.  Too bad others don’t feel this way.  We only encourage such out-of-season deliveries by buying and creating a demand for more.

2. Chemicals.
After several classes about environmentalism and policies, Silent Spring attaches itself to every thought I have of store-bought chemicals.  Although I personally refuse to buy and use chemical herbicides, insecticides, and most household cleaning products, I am aware that I still buy and use things that are not very environmentally-friendly.  For example, my drains got extremely clogged last year and my mom bought me a bottle of Drain-O which I reluctantly applied.  Or how about something as simple as acetone to take off nail polish?  Or even nail polish itself?  Air fresheners in aeresol cans?  Even buying plastic zip-lock bags falls into this category for me – an evil necessity that, quite frankly, isn’t necessary at all but we convince ourselves that it is.

3. Plastic amenities.
My chemical fears continue in this category.  I don’t just mean plastic bags, but plastic utensils and kitchen items.  I buy glass mason jars and use them for everything as much as I can.  My friends make fun of me for traveling with mason jars instead of snack bags, but I feel like a much better person for using them.  But where plastic really irks me is in the kitchen itself.  I love to cook, and the thought of flipping on an oven instead of lighting a fireplace bothers me enough already.  I do everything within my power to avoid plastic spatulas, plastic cups, plastic bowls, plastic anything!  This theme continues into my housework where I strive to buy metal brooms instead of plastic sweepers.   I work overtime to avoid electricity use.  I even do a lot of my laundry by hand in my bath water after I’ve taken a bath.  My friends think this is crazy, but I argue it’s much simpler than going to the Laundromat.  And I dread the day that I have my own house and contemplate my need for washing units of my own.  What wastes!  But when it comes to appliances, I always put in the extra money for that metal toaster or metal blender with the hopes that it will last longer, will degrade better, and was better for the environment to be produced.  Besides, metal appliances are so much classier!

Maybe it’s just me – and maybe it shouldn’t be just me – but buying certain things in the store send me reeling on a guilt trip.  Are there any things in particular that bother you?  I mean, most of us break down and buy a car at some point, which is bad enough, but what about the little nagging things?  Like imported goods and plastic, plastic, plastic?

Maybe, one day, we won’t have to make environmentally-conscience decisions every time we shop.  Maybe they’ll be the only option!

Catch 22: How Improving Our Country Would Cripple Us

America – it has its flaws and we know it.  Poverty, pollution, outsourcing, topics ranging from global political issues to internal ethical controversies.  But what if solving these problems only introduces an epidemic of fresh complications?  I have reason to believe that it might.

Here’s an unlikely example: corn.

While I researching how questionable corn is for our health as a new topic in my other blog (heartsmartandpennywise.wordpress.com), my mind began imagining how to solve our country’s problems.  The thing about corn is it’s in pretty much everything in America.  Just watch the movie The Informant and you’ll get the idea.  Not only do we eat corn as corn, we eat it as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn-fed animals,… We rely heavily on corn.  Come a draught or epidemic big enough to wipe out a portion of our corn and the price of everything is going to skyrocket.  We won’t know what to do with ourselves.  Another factor to this problem is that about 80% of corn is genetically modified.  (I say 80 because I saw a stat that indicates 20% of corn demand is for organic kinds.)  Not only is corn already difficult for our bodies to digest and a nutritional wasteland, but genetic modifiers accelerate corn’s negative effect on our health.

So now you know about corn.  You know we rely too much on it and it is affecting our health.  But how would we solve these problems?  Here are my initial thoughts – and the points at which I realized the Catch 22’s:

1. Stop using so much corn.  Seems like a no-brainer.  We eliminate corn products and then we don’t need to rely on it so much.  Besides, it’s better to spread our dependencies around to different crops so that, in the event of a blight or other tragedy, we don’t lose absolutely everything in one swipe.  The problem: Why should companies eliminate corn?  It’s cheap, it does its purpose, it’s versatile.  There is no motivation to change it… unless the FDA steps in a changes regulations.  That’s a whole mess of controversies and complaints, of time and energy to actually follow through, etc.  Products everywhere would be changing ingredients, tastes, costs, allergy warnings, calorie counts.  Farmers with tons of corn crops would have suddenly a dramatic demand decrease and would have to change crops.  But not all soil is suitable for all crops, and there’s the whole crop rotation issue to factor in.  Corn pretty much strips soil of nitrogen, and each crop has its own soil demands.  So maybe stopping using corn – at least all at once – isn’t the quick fix solution?

2. Ban genetic modifiers.  There’s so much internal controversy over the health and environmental effects of genetic modifiers as it is.  The problem: No genetic modification means more organic crops.  Organic crops are more expensive and the FDA would keep farmers under strict regulation.  Not only this, but organic crops would yield less and smaller crops, so the volume of what would be produced would be insufficient and require more land to produce enough.  One plus might be that these demands means increased price which might in turn cause the demands to go down, but that isn’t want a farmer wants to hear, even if that means less product would end up going to waste in the end.  However, no genetic modifiers would likely affect the shelf-life of produce, thereby increasing the transportation demand which is already a problem in this country.  By improving one environmental issue, we’d introduce another.

This same thought process can be applied to a number of situations.  Like poverty.  If we could actually spread the wealth so that everyone was happy (which they inadvertently wouldn’t be anyway), it is the error of humans being vain humans that would lead to a collapse.  There is a disparage in the wealth for a reason, I believe, and it’s like the expression: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man how to fish, feed him for life.”  Maybe this is a highly Republican viewpoint, but I think it is applicable.  I also think the Communism is wonderful concept, it’s just that humans are too greedy and corrupt by nature to be equally committed to making it work.  It is in our nature to want to come out on top.  It’s called survival, as trivial as a thing that may seem in modern society.  Hand-outs seem like a quick fix, putting heavier taxes on the wealthier temporarily smoothes out some intrinsic problems, but, in the long run, the equilibrium will balance itself back out.  These “fixes” will only aggravate the system.

This “Catch 22” theme also applies to my previous post on LEED certification, where we do more environmental damages in the long run to prove that we tried to care about “going green”.  Now that we’ve entered this energy-dominated era, there is little hope for turning back.  There are so many things to fix that, honestly, I feel like we will have buried ourselves before we can ever hope to get back out.  You can only have so many cracks in your windshield before you realize they’re running and you can’t see anymore.

I can’t take credit for writing a particularly organized post because, I’ll admit, this has become somewhat of a rant.  But I guess this is a blog and not an article.  Hopefully my point-of-view sparks some thoughts for whoever might read this.  I genuinely do believe America is in quite a jam – or, at least, is heading into one quite quickly – and that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to clean it up before it falls apart.