Category Archives: Indian Country

Demise of 215-Year Old Ute Council Tree Saddens, Angers Utes


The Ute Council Tree, just outside Delta, Colorado, is a 215-year old cottonwood…or was a 215-year old cottonwood. It was cut down Friday. Click here to hear a report from KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh. (photo by AH Marsh, copyrighted. Do not use without permission.)

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KDNK Community Radio Memorial to Northern Ute Elder Clifford Duncan

The late Clifford Duncan, Norther Ute elder, leads a traditional dance in Carbondale, Colorado.

The late Clifford Duncan, Northern Ute elder, leads a traditional dance in Carbondale, Colorado.

Northern Ute elder Clifford Duncan passed away in February, 2014 at his home in Roosevelt, Utah. Clifford often traveled to the Roaring Fork Valley to talk about the history of his people in the area and to share his wisdom. Roaring Fork Valley residents Rita Marsh, Bill Kight, and Dr. Will Evans join KDNK Community Radio public affairs show host and reporter Amy Hadden Marsh for an on-air memorial, recorded in May, 2014. It’s posted on From Western Colorado ‘s audio page. And, thanks for listening…

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Guest Post: Scott Thompson on Overpopulation in the American West

From Western Colorado welcomes Scott Thompson’s return with his essay about the implications of overpopulation in the American West.  A timely warning in light of congressional battles over Title X funding cuts and proposed legislation in Georgia, which passed the state senate last night and would allow wrongful death suits on behalf of fetuses.  Thompson’s essay was originally published in the August/September 2010 issue of the Canyon Country Zephyr and in it, he challenges assumptions about immigration and entitlement.  While Thompson does not discuss abortion or the fervor of the pro-life movement, his words suggest that a women’s right to choose isn’t the only thing at stake. 

Enjoy and…thanks for listening.

Overpopulation and Liberal Taboos: In the Lands of Entitlement

By Scott Thompson

You’re damn right there’s an immigration problem in Arizona: far too many white people have been emigrating there.

If you doubt that, here are the numbers: while the Hispanic population in Arizona increased by 856,000 between 1980 and 2006, the white population escalated by 1.2 million. (Population Brief for the State of Arizona, Western Rural Development Center 2008, p.2).

Yet we don’t hear about Latinos in Arizona strutting around in the dry heat, demanding that the white folks move back where they came from.

Why is that?

I think the reason is good ole white entitlement; an attitude that has complicated if not contaminated the touchy subject of overpopulation. I know more about white entitlement than I care to, having grown up in the small town South before the civil rights movement took hold. The year I spent in Mississippi in 1962 is burned into my mind like they did it with a branding iron. And even though the right wing is (officially) no longer racist, sometimes I hear the same tone of self-satisfied superiority and indignant outrage in the voices of those who fairly spit out the words “illegal immigrants.”

Within these words lies the assumption that we Americans have some righteous claim to the lands comprising Arizona and the Southwest, when the facts plainly show that’s bullshit. That attitude does remind me of the white people in Mississippi in 1962, who thought they were entitled to the de facto slave labor of the African Americans living there.

The only, repeat only, reason all that land is within the territorial United States is because we stole it at gunpoint from Mexico. Which in turn took it from Spain, which stole it from Native Americans, some of whom stole it from other Native Americans.

It’s quite a daisy chain.

A brief recounting of how America came to possess the Southwest is instructive. In 1846 President James K. Polk concocted an excuse for invading Mexico in order to grab as much of their land as he could get his hands on. Some members of Congress did have the integrity to question the necessity for war, among them a young, gangling Abraham Lincoln.

But as is true with power-hungry people, Polk would not be stopped. The crushing blow to Mexico was delivered by General Winfield Scott, who in 1847 invaded the port city of Veracruz and marched toward Mexico City, which he took after six months of brutal fighting. Scott himself admitted that his soldiers had “committed atrocities to make Heaven weep and every American of Christian morals blush for his country.” Translation: they slaughtered civilians.

In the end, the United States paid Mexico $27 million for all that land; a farcical sum in order to whitewash its dishonorable aims.

The great Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail to protest the taxes to support this war, and then went to his cabin to pen his classic essay, “Civil Disobedience,” which championed an individual’s right to oppose an immoral government. Gandhi himself was later inspired by this essay. (See the textbook Out of Many: A History of the American People, by Faragher et al, 2005, pp. 416-419).

In short: we Americans are in no position to wax indignant about “illegal immigrants” from Mexico entering the Southwest, given that we stole that land from them in the first place.

For the irony-challenged reader: I am NOT talking about giving the land back to Mexico. This is about attitude.

The reason I have written first about racial or ethnic entitlement, whoever may perpetuate it, is that it is the one attitude that will make resolving this great problem of overpopulation impossible. If people fear that the call to reduce our numbers is merely a ruse to weaken them in the face of an enemy, their willingness to cooperate will disintegrate.

Unfortunately, Latinos have grounds to fear just such an attitude. Consider, for example, the recent Arizona statute (Senate Bill 1070) that will inexorably lead to the racial profiling of Latinos who are American citizens in order to locate “illegal immigrants.”

But not all entitlement is about racial, ethnic, or cultural prejudice. When it comes to overpopulation, there are diverse layers of entitlement spread out among different groups. Challenging them all is what makes me want to drink twelve Budweisers at the end of the day (and I gave all that up a long time ago).

I would like to explain what’s driving me to get into the turd-laden issue of overpopulation. It’s this: in the late 1960s I fell in love with Arizona. The way it was before its developers, business tycoons, and state leaders systematically destroyed it with their culturally sanctioned avarice. It was as though they had tied a Javelina to a stake and scourged it with tendrils of hairline glass, all the while thinking, hey, this is what good people do.

You don’t forget witnessing something like that.

Edward Abbey had a similar experience. In 1959 he rafted through Glen Canyon on “the golden, flowing Colorado River,” to use his words. Later he worked there as a seasonal park ranger. Ed knew the river and the canyon before Glen Canyon Dam stopped it up like a vast, stinking toilet. He said, “The difference between the present reservoir, with its silent sterile shores and debris-choked side canyons, and the original Glen Canyon, is the difference between death and life. Glen Canyon was alive. Lake Powell is a graveyard.” (The Damnation of a Canyon, pp. 1,3).

Ed loved Glen Canyon the way it was.

In the late 1960s Arizona was a shifting, turning mosaic of brilliant colors; everywhere there were crystalline expanses of space and light; the outline of a mountain peak 80 miles away was as clear and sharp as the verdant trunk of a paloverde that you touched with your fingers.

Arizona was: the pervasive beige of the sun-blasted Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, studded with enormous green stalks of Saguaro cacti; the red and gold evening light atop etched black horizons; the state roads heading north, twisting into sharp green blankets of juniper and pinyon pine and red striped sandstone; the rough black lava rocks and the sweet smooth lava cone near Flagstaff, adorned with spare, regal stands of Ponderosa Pine; the burnt-brown edge of the Mojave Desert, stippled with rough-barked Joshua trees, their limbs curving into clusters of spines.

My microbiologist mother first drove me from Tucson to the Navajo Reservation when I was 18. I had no language of description for the Navajo world; I just I called it “the place with no telephone poles.” It took me a long time to find the words for what I discovered there: that once beyond the telephone wires I was in a sacred land, and that these people knew something about the power of the landscape that my own culture had lost.

In 1971 my mother died of heart failure in Holbrook, Arizona, while driving to the sacred land.

Now here’s what tripling the population of Arizona in less than a generation did.

In the summer of 2005, as Gail [Thompson’s wife] and I flew into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, we glided over forty contiguous miles of tract houses; the many thousands of tiny yards and blue dotted swimming pools were packed against each other like cells in a massive tumor. We sped north on the interstate in our economy rental car, but even sixty miles beyond the metropolitan melanoma of Phoenix, scattered human structural litter occluded the adamantine splendor of the land.

On it went like this. North of Prescott a shapeless growth of bright green golf courses and oversized luxury homes had metastasized far beyond the once compact, historical shape of the town. It went on for miles. The primordial majesty of the Arizona landscape did not open up until we neared the Hualapai Reservation in the far northwestern corner of the state. A territory for refugees, it now seems. For people like me.

In Arizona, you ought to be able to go outside any city or town, look out over the crystalline vastness of the land, and feel something dazzling inside. I call this the enchantment of the land. That’s what’s been destroyed in Arizona. Now you can only find it in special spots: in the national monuments, wilderness areas, Indian reservations, and remote corners of the state.

The enchantment of the land is not some trifling pleasure. It is the fundamental signal the landscape has always given our species that the relevant ecosystem is in adequate health. It is infinitely more significant, more real, than the Gross Domestic Product or growth in consumer spending or construction starts or even the unemployment rate. Its absence in the landscape is a blunt warning, like a mass in our lungs on a CT scan.

But our culture, through its self-perpetuating frenetic activity, much of which is crazily entertaining, has long tuned out this signal (witness the Dust Bowl of the 1930s). The destruction of the enchantment of the land in Arizona was specifically caused by massive overpopulation, overconsumption, and overdevelopment.

For me it’s clear: no human being, whether White, Latino, African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Australian, African, Middle Eastern, European, Asian, or whatever, has a right to overpopulate any ecosystem, be it in Arizona or anywhere else. The main point is not whether people cross a border or a state line, but whether the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for humans is being exceeded. If so, the population there needs to be gradually lowered by reducing birth rates, emigration from other states, and immigration from other countries, until our numbers are within the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. Probably over several generations.

Which is a politically incorrect position to take. 

That’s because a series of perceived human entitlements have grown up over time that are in conflict with the health and well being of our ecosystems. That’s why it’s politically incorrect to broach the subject.

Let’s look at some of these entitlements.

But first, I ask you to bear in mind that that a trend that characterizes a group – think of a bell curve – will often not apply to many of that group’s members.

Epistemologically challenged readers may find that fact a bitch to deal with.

The basis for liberal entitlement is a compassionate, but ideologically utopian worldview, often rigidly held, which aims to protect people perceived as oppressed or otherwise vulnerable. I think that as a group, liberals have been avoiding serious public dialogue about overpopulation because they are afraid that efforts to reduce it will be used as an excuse for persecuting vulnerable groups. That’s an understandable fear, but silence isn’t a rational strategy for them in the long run. By silencing each other and most of the rest of us, liberals may well be endangering the lives and well being of the very people their ideological commitments have sworn them to protect.

Liberals may have another problem with addressing overpopulation. For decades the foundation of their politics has been wealth redistribution based on continuing economic growth: they claim that everyone should get at least a narrow slice of the pie. Certainly including themselves. Radically reducing our numbers, however, will bring an end to cornucopia economic expansion. It will mean a satisfying but far less materialistic way of life; something many liberals may not be prepared for.

Right-wing business entitlement is barefaced; right-wingers see themselves as the realists, after all. In order to maximize business profits, and therefore growth, and therefore spiraling profits, they need hordes of frightened, desperate, and therefore compliant laborers to hire and underpay. Cheap labor is to soaring profits as warm ocean water is to growing hurricanes. Reducing the human population will make inexpensive workers more difficult to find, therefore making wages climb, therefore reducing profits, therefore dampening business growth. And it will reduce consumption, exacerbating the downward cycle. Our metaphorical hurricane will transmogrify into an unremarkable series of thunderstorms, perhaps with interesting displays of lightning.

I enjoy a good thunderstorm.

Right-wingers revere individual property rights. I cannot imagine them putting the health of an ecosystem first if that will limit the profits they can derive from their investments in private property, or will reduce the market value of that property. They will see changes of this nature as de facto communism (some will decry climate scientists as henchmen in a sinister Marxist plot and hack into their e-mails).

Yet another entitlement is pronatalism, the perceived right to have children up to one’s biological capacity. This has been the predominant tradition since the end of humanity’s hunter-gatherer days.

Pronatalism is backed by big time Western religion. Consider, for example, the Old Testament’s “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28). In general, Judeo-Christian religious authorities have felt entitled to perpetuate the credibility of their traditional teachings and scriptures, despite Sinai-sized evidence that their pronatalist stances are a disaster for living systems (the Catholic teaching against birth control deserves its own Flat-Earth award, with a free coupon for all the credible books on climate science and climate change biology Pope Benedict and the College of Cardinals are willing to read).

Given that mainstream religions do have a lot of good teachings, why can’t they figure out that to “fill the earth” with homo sapiens means up to, but not exceeding, each ecosystem’s carrying capacity? That they refuse to figure this out in the face of escalating danger to us all is religious entitlement.

Nevertheless, there is a helpful trend. It’s become clear that as more women are educated and given opportunities outside the home, as well as access to birth control, birth rates predictably drop; at least they have thus far. If humanity does somehow avoid a series of population-related catastrophes, women and the women’s movement will deserve the credit.

The danger, as ever, is complacency. It’s easy to forget that even with lower fertility rates the world population will continue to grow at an alarming rate, simply because there are more people around to reproduce. And that the climate is now unstable for the first time since the beginning of the Holocene 11,000 years ago, and that it will steadily grow more unstable for centuries to come, imperiling fresh water supplies, agricultural production, and of course the ecosystems that vitally sustain us.

Centuries from now, as teams of archeologists turn their trowels through the debris of our ex-civilization, I wonder if they’ll conclude that we trivialized the most important signal of approaching disaster: the loss of enchantment of the land. Perhaps after a scorching day sifting through the ruins, one of them will lean back and say to her team mates, “You know, it’s like a critical mass of Arizonans way back then, certainly the most influential ones, were walking around with their eyes shut. They literally didn’t see what was happening to the landscape.”

The crew will nod and smile sadly.

Over the years Gail and I have visited the following Indian reservations: Mescalero Apache, Wind River Shoshone, Arapaho, Flathead, Blackfeet, Taos Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai, Acoma, and Zuni. On every one of these reservations, wherever the tribe has retained enough land and political power, it has carefully preserved the enchantment of the land. While the tribes may explain this differently according to their own paradigms, that’s what they’ve been doing.

My opinion? Native Americans are walking around with their eyes open.

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Crow Elder Howard Boggess Speaks Out for Pryor Mountain Herd on YouTube

NOTE: The link to this video  has been repaired. If you are not directed to Howard Boggess, please leave a comment and we’ll get right on it. 

Crow elder, Howard Boggess, spoke with the Cloud Foundation on Sunday, August 30th, about the connection between the Crow Nation and the Pryor Mountain mustangs.  The Pryor Mountain herd area is on traditional Crow territory.

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The Longest Walk II

lw-4A year ago this month, close to 200 people left San Francisco, California on a five-month journey that ended in  Washington, DC last July.  The  Native American-led Longest Walk II  visited sacred sites and Native nations all across the country, raising awareness about continued environmental degradation of Native lands and political marginalization of Native people.  The Northern Route retraced the steps of the original Longest Walkers, whose 1978 cross-country walk resulted in the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  Another route headed south through Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana before heading north to DC. 

I invite you to go to my audio page and listen to Making the World Aware: The Longest Walk II Crosses the US, a documentary about my time with these courageous walkers.  If you missed the Walk last year, travel now with the Northern Route as it enters Western Colorado and the Southern Route as it crosses Navajo Territory in Northern Arizona.  Join longtime activist, Dennis Banks, Jimbo Simmons, Hualapai Apache and Dine elders, as well as walkers from all over the world for this historic cultural and spiritual journey.  And, thanks for listening.

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Update: Western Shoshone Await US District Court Decision

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks heard testimony from attorney, Roger Flynn, on behalf of the Western Shoshone and environmental group, Great Basin Resource Watch, lawyers representing Barrick Gold Corporation, and others in the struggle for Mt. Tenabo. Western Shoshone communities, the Western Shoshone Defense Project, and Great Basin Resource Watch, filed an injunction several weeks ago to stop further destruction of Mt. Tenabo, sacred to the Western Shoshone people, by Barrick’s Cortez Hills mining operation.  The hearing at the Federal Court in Reno, Nevada, began on January 20th. Two days later, Judge Hicks extended a restraining order until Monday, January 26th, when he will decide whether or not to stop the Cortez Hills operation until a full hearing on the project’s merits is held.

Stay tuned…

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Western Shoshone Sacred Site More Precious Than (Barrick) Gold

Just two months ago, while many of us enjoyed a hearty Thanksgiving meal before a cozy fire, Western Shoshone grandmothers, Carrie Dann and Mary McCloud, along with other Western Shoshone supporters, stood in the cold on the flanks of Nevada’s Mt.Tenabo. They were – and still are – protesting the devastation of a mountain at the heart of Western Shoshone spirituality. Mt. Tenabo is home to Western Shoshone creation stories, medicinal foods and plants, and site of spiritual ceremonies. It is as important to the Western Shoshone as the San Francisco Peaks are to the Navajo/Dine. Much as the Navajo/Dine are fighting the use of treated sewage water for snow-making at a ski resort on the flanks of the Peaks, the Western Shoshone battle Barrick Gold for the life of Mt. Tenabo.

Barrick Gold has operated mines on and around Mt. Tenabo since 1969.  The company website states

the claim that the Western Shoshone people have been denied access to traditional use areas is false. Cortez Gold Mines respects the cultural and religious significance of traditional use areas. We have committed to the Western Shoshone communities that, with reasonable notice, we will continue to provide safe access through or around the mines to federal lands where the Western Shoshone may wish to conduct traditional ceremonies or engage in spiritual or other cultural activities. The top of Mt. Tenabo and most traditional plant gathering areas are accessed by privately constructed mining and exploration roads, which Cortez Gold Mines regularly makes available to Western Shoshone.

What Barrick Gold doesn’t get is that “making access available” trivializes Native American values.  In his book, God is Red, the late Dr. Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote “as long as Indians exist there will be conflict between the tribes and any group that carelessly despoils the land and the life it supports.”  He argued that the paradigmatic split between the Native American concept of the sanctity of the web of life and the Christian concept of man’s dominion over Nature is the bedrock of all conflicts between Native and non-Native people.  Deloria said the roots of this schism first appeared in the papal bull of 1493:

The status of Native people around the globe was firmly cemented by the intervention of Christianity into the political affairs of exploration and colonization.  They were regarded as not having ownership of their lands but merely existing on them at the pleasure of the Christian God who had now given them to the nations of Europe (p. 256).

Deloria also wrote about  a 1988 Northern California court decision, the spirit of which is echoed by Barrick’s ignorance.  Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association involved upholding the visitation rights of traditional spiritual leaders to sacred sites in the Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California.  The US Forest Service wanted to build a logging road through the area. Lower federal courts prohibited this under the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  The US Forest Service appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Before the Court could hear the appeal, however, Congress passed the California Wilderness Act, rendering the road proposal moot.  The Supreme Court could have left the situation alone but proceeded with its decision, which was not in favor of the tribes.  According to Deloria, Justice O’Connor said:

A broad range of government activities – from social welfare programs to foreign aid to conservation rights – will always be considered essential to the spiritual well-being of some citizens, often on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.  Others will find the very same activity incompatible with their own search for spiritual fulfillment and with the tenets of their religion (p. 269).

Deloria wrote that the decision treated “ceremonies and rituals that had been performed for thousands of years…as if they were popular fads or simply matters of personal preference based upon the erroneous assumptions that religion was only a matter of individual aesthetic choice” (p. 269).  The commodification of nature suggests a disregard for its implicit value  and, by extension, Native American religious values.  At its worst, this paradigm, when applied to land use, implies environmental destruction and subsequently Native American cultural genocide.

Barrick Gold is not doing the Western Shoshone any favors with its patronizing approach of piecemeal access to Mt. Tenabo.  In fact, it’s missing the point.  Barrick’s recent Collaborative Agreement with the Western Shoshone claims to “build greater mutual understanding” between the corporation and the Western Shoshone but what that really means is that they’re working hard to make the Indians see it Barrick’s way.

This Collaborative Agreement creates an education fund for Western Shoshone children but it leaves out one key component: the traditional connection with the land that is the foundation of Native American life.  This week, Western Shoshone communities, the Western Shoshone Defense Project and Great Basin Resource Watch are seeking an injunction to stop further destruction of Mt. Tenabo by Barrick Gold Corporation.  The Federal Court in Reno has scheduled a hearing for January 20th and 21st.  Meanwhile, on the flanks of Mt. Tenabo, Carrie Dann and other Western Shoshone people and their supporters are making sure that the world does not forget their struggle to keep the connection to the earth alive.  It is more precious than gold.





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US Deceit and Theft of Navajo Water Rights

The following article and accompanying link (Navajo Water Rights: Truths and Betrayals, below) are copied with permission from the blog, Censored News, posted on that site 13 November 2008. They are in response to a story by Matt Jenkins, published in the High Country News on 17 March 2008. Thanks to Brenda Norrell. 

US Deceit and Theft of Navajo Water Rights
By Brenda Norrell
Today I received one of the most important documents that I’ve ever received as a journalist in Indian country. It details the loss of Navajo water rights, the role of non-Indian attorneys and how uninformed non-Indian journalists come to Indian country and follow the mandates of those they believe to be the “good guys.” Too often, the “good guys” are actually driven by politics and personal motives.
The document is “Navajo Water Rights: Truths and Betrayals,” written in response to an article published in High Country News and Navajo Times, written by Matt Jenkins.
Among the authors of “Navajo Water Rights: Truths and Betrayals,” is Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald.Many years ago, in the 1990s, I was a stringer for Associated Press and covered federal courts. During the federal trial of Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, I realized that the US government would stop at nothing to remove him from office and put him in prison.
“Why?” I asked a Navajo businessman, during a court recess in Prescott, Arizona. “Was it about oil and gas, or coal?” No, the Navajo businessman said. “It is about the water.”
Now, a decade and a half later, I read and understand the importance of Navajo water to the United States, in this document. Navajo water and the electric power made with it, light up the Southwest cities. While the people of the Southwest light up, water their lawns and golf courses and turn on their water faucets, many Navajos haul their water and read by lantern light.
It is a long and corrupt history of US colonialism and deceit, a history with truths now being revealed like maggots on a rotting corpse. From the formation of the Navajo Tribal Council, as it was called then, to sign energy leases in the early Twentieth Century, to the current day machinations to usurp Navajo water rights and resources, the ploys of the United States government and its agents is a long and nauseating history of deceit, which includes the murderous legacy of the Long Walk.
Read for yourself, “Navajo Water Rights: Truths and Betrayals.” Water attorneys will gain a great deal from the analysis of Indian water rights.
Hopefully, journalists and editors will discover red flags and avoid condescending and inaccurate articles in the future.
As George Orwell said, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Thanks to all of you out there devoted to this revolutionary act of truth-telling.

Read “Navajo Water Rights: Truths and Betrayals”

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