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

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.

what makes the savage?

On one of my other pages, I made my banner read the quote by Chief Dan George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) that says what we don’t understand we fear, and what we fear we destroy.  This is so true.  If a bear stands up on his hind legs in front of you in the woods, he may just be saying “Don’t come closer!  My family is behind me.”  If you don’t understand his gesture, you might think he is attacking.  He might be communicating, but you might pull out a gun, kill him, and now his family has no papa bear because you destroyed him out of ignorant fear.

That’s just a bear example.  But, as people, we do this to each other all of the time.  Americans who don’t understand what it’s like to immigrate from Mexico and learn English make fun of Mexicans for their accents, poor English, and mock their customs.  Every single time a “New World” has been discovered, thousands of cultures – if not peoples – died for the sake of expelling the unknown.  Manifest Destiny operated at the heart of these cruel crusades to kill the savage in people and save the Christian, a mentality that I hope is an ancient, long-gone misinterpretation of “God’s will” so that I don’t have to live in fear of future Holocausts and genocides.  Sadly, I see how much hatred is expressed towards the Middle East.  That is to me confirmation that our “forward thinking” is still as backwards.

I strongly believe that morality comes from one thing and one thing only: Religion.  That doesn’t mean you have to be Christian to have morals, it just means that, if you’re Christian, you center your morals around the 10 Commandments and what your version of God tells you is right and wrong.  If you’re another world religion, it’s slightly different.  (But, in reality, I think all world religions are different versions of the same single belief, that their Commandments, etc., are just verbalized standards of how to live harmoniously, i.e. are common-sense, and yet tons of people are dying over vain dispute and have been for centuries.)  Religion can be just about anything, though.  It can mean you have certain values and you hold yourself to those values.  For example, many Native American religions or religious stories are based off of how the earth has created and continued to support man.  These peoples refuse to separate life from the health of the planet and they often view animals as spiritual beings of equal belonging.  I most certainly find my values aligned to these practices before I could ever agree with the controversial passages of Genesis which declare man as made “in the image of God” and as having “dominion over” all of the animals.  Talk about egocentric.

I find it ironic that “savage” i.e. indigenous cultures, who all live so closely to the land and are attuned to its pangs as modern society plagues it, are the only ones who have ever revered the land since Judaism took root in the Middle East.  Is it not common sense that the land comes before all?  I guess it’s not if you think the land was made by and in full control of its “creator”, but even indigenous peoples have come to acknowledge a “Creator” and refuse to sit back and watch some other being clean up messes for them.  Yadda yadda I can go on about a lot of things here, but I have one major point in writing tonight: HYPOCRISY.

When Pilgrims first came to the New World, they were all Puritan and devout and desperate and whatever.  They heard about this new place, and they were like, okay, cool, let’s hop on that…boat…and then months later they finally got there.  Well, some of them did.  Everyone else just died because of like scurvy or whatever.  Or, like, your neighbor got on the boat with tuberculosis, which no one knows until they’ve already left, and everyone’s like, “Really dude?  Rude.”  Anyway, now they’re all in Massachusetts and who really knows how the story went exactly but the gist is PROBABLY that the tribes who encountered the first settlers were respectful to them and helped them in exchange for respect back.  (And later empty promises ensued, and lies, and Constitutional rights revoked, and genocide,…but not today’s point!)

Long story short, Manifest Destiny was the reason for the attempted annihilation of any native person in America that white settlers could get their hands on.  Boarding schools, relocation, laws forbidding traditional dress or religious practices, punishment for speaking native languages, etc. – these were all techniques used.  Andrew Jackson, in fact, was a total bully who thought it was cool to set up a lot of the cultural stripping of natives, including stripping them of land and going back on promises that he probably never intended to keep.  So like Tuberculosis-Dude-on-the-Boat, Andrew Jackson was just rude.  He was exercising his rights and duties as a Christian which, by the way, included stripping these homelands to expand the cotton industry (and, thereby, African slavery as well – which was totally chill because they weren’t white Christians so God apparently didn’t care about them or whatever).  Oh, but wait, it’s not like Galatians 3:28 says this or anything: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Okay, it does say that – I guess it just means Jesus loves you even if another human owns you and doesn’t love you…and dudes, keep your hoes in line,…or whatever.

So when white immigrants were coming to America, they were like “Holy Toledo, these people are weird!!!  Look at their hair, their jewelry, their clothes, their swagger,…”  (UMM, HELLO???  That’s exactly what I say every time I look at my parents’ yearbooks!  Not to mention a history text… like, nice ‘fro, George Washington.  It’s whiter than my grandma’s doo.)  They were all flipping out because these people ate strange foods, lived in weird accommodations, and practiced strange traditions.  They were probably watching rain dances or some ceremony and scoffing, saying “You really think you have a say in that?”  They were comparing the lifestyles they had chosen to what they were observing and were completely convinced that these were modern heathen Canaanites., these strange (i.e. different) tribal people.  It never once occurred to them that they get down on their knees and talk to themselves every night and that maybe some cultures think THAT is weird.

Meanwhile, I bet the Pequot and whoever else at the time was checking out these FOBs and going “Oh, HELL no!  HAHA!”  I mean, do I even have to describe any of the past styles of clothing?  Men with their shoes, their hair, their hats, their restrictive and uncomfortable clothing?  Women with their bodies completely tied up, sometimes in corsets, with layers upon layers of clothes to render them even less useful in daily tasks?  Sure, they managed to make some massive boat (Do you want a high-5?), but then a lot of them died in the journey and now what are they gonna do?  (And imagine the first time a native saw a blonde or a ginger…Maybe it’s just a disease?  Maybe that’s why they’re so pale and avoid the sun?)

My  point: They’re different.  This creates a lack of understanding.  Not understanding things generates fear.  Well, the immigrants largely acted on that fear and took advantage of the different cultures they encountered in ruthless means – for the sake of Christianity.

Now, how do they feel entitled to do this?  I’ve already made my point that no one is more or less civilized than the other, they’re just held to different standards, different values, and different opinions on what is right and wrong.  This entitlement surely comes again from this Manifest Destiny where these Christian people are the “chosen ones”, but how in the world do their lifestyles affect their Christian-ness?  If a native person retains his native identity with the exception of his Christian practices, is he not a Christian?  Is it because he lives in the tribal, “backwards” state that he is considered a “heathen”?  This state which respects the land rather than destroys it because he has dominion over everything and so he’s allowed to (and God will fix it)?

Let’s not forget that the Bible – especially the Old Testament – is transfixed on tribal status.  I mean, TRANSFIXED.  There are books just dedicated to genealogy and delegating work based on tribal status.  The twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?  Oh, and how about burnt offerings?  I mean, seriously?  Dancing a ritual dance in thanks for a harvest is a heathen thing to do, but sacrificing “unblemished” goats every day is totally normal and okay?  It’s that very wastefulness, a mentality reflecting man’s “dominion” over other animals that was practiced widely in hunting the Colonies, which places “Christians” in the “heathen” category to those otherwise dubbed as “heathens”.

And finally, it was not that long ago that Europe was divided by tribes.  I’m very familiar with this considering my Celtic background.  Not only am I accustomed to tribal rituals in America, but I’ve also done Scottish Highland Dance since I was 8.  (We literally dance over swords as superstitious ritual.  And the Highland Fling?  It’s danced on one spot because soldiers danced on overturned shields in the marshes – another superstition before battle.)  I’ve been to more Highland Games than I can remember.  I’ve performed the Scottish fiddle, learned the penny whistle, and played the bagpipes in three different military bands.  When I come to the Games, I run off to the Celtic jewelry stands, buy Empire Biscuits, and see if my Clan (Douglas) tent is on-site.  I have designated tartans and a family crest.  My tribal peoples had their own dialect and ancestral lands with “pagan” traditions and monuments, many which came to embrace Christianity and Christian symbols.  (My Scottish family has its most ancient roots in the Presbyterian church.)

How is that any different than competing in dance at a Pow-Wow, representing the Potwatomi or Shawnee, buying beaded jewelry, and eating fry bread?  It’s not.  In fact, I love the similarities and I love recognizing the tribal roots of peoples all over the world.  So suck it, hypocrisy.  You’re ridiculous.  Boo, go home.

And with that…I’m going to end with an excerpt.  In 1995, Sr. Juanita, enrolled in the Mescalero Apache tribe, wrote this piece:

“My grandfather was captured by a band of Apaches near the Chihuahua area in Mexico when he was six years old.  They brought up my father according to Apache ways.  My mother is San Juan Pueblo.  I really consider myself a real New Mexican.  My grandmother was a Spaniard and I’m really proud of that fact because we have a little bit of all the cultures of New Mexico in our family.  The Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo, and Apache.  Now our younger members in the family are marrying non-Indians and when we get together, we are quite a nation.  It is lovely.  It is beautiful!”

Hashtag, BURN.

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

indian-reservation-squalor-shanty-hut-hovels-poor-poverty1-1

Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.