Tag Archives: Native Americans

11/17/2011 Mining and American Indians Still Don’t Mix

11/17/2011 Indian Country Today: Mining and American Indians Still Don’t Mix by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva The Native American community has a long, troubled history with mining interests, and today that history is catching up with us in Arizona. From a new push for uranium mining at the Grand Canyon to the ongoing battle over Resolution Copper, it’s not too much to say my home state tribes are under siege.

Many of us remember the decades of cancer deaths and cover-ups the Navajo Nation endured during the Cold War uranium boom. The risks today are different, but the story is the same: big mining interests want to cash in on minerals under some ground they don’t own, and the rest of us are going to pay the price.

Let’s start at the beginning. Resolution Copper has proposed to exchange 4,500 acres of land in northern Arizona for the 3,000 federally owned acres it wants to mine. The land the company wants includes not only Oak Flat Campground, a protected site since 1955, but the nearby Apache Leap area sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Once you take a good look, it’s not even a good deal on paper. Current mining law says the public would receive no royalties on the estimated 1.6 billion tons of copper the company would extract and sell. Worse, Resolution Copper is jointly owned by troubled mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Both have long been accused of undermining native rights around the world to increase their profit margin. The latter, based in Australia and London, has faced a decade’s worth of especially credible allegations of human rights abuses. Neither cares about the local economy or has shown an interest in Indian sovereignty.

Rio Tinto’s role is especially disturbing. The company faces major potential sanctions in Sarei v. Rio Tinto, a case pending before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that focuses on its alleged abuses in Papua New Guinea. (The Australian news program Dateline in June aired credible allegations of the company’s role in a violent separatist movement in the province of Bougainville.) A company with such a dark history shouldn’t be trusted with the sensitive land Resolution Copper is seeking.

Resolution’s parent companies send their profits overseas and market their product to the highest bidder. This isn’t about providing copper for American industry—it’s about cashing in on public resources and leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess. Native communities don’t need a long memory to know what that means.

Then there’s the Grand Canyon. There are about 1.1 million acres of public forest land surrounding the canyon currently subject to a moratorium on new mining claims set by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Salazar said in June he would recommend withdrawing the land from new claims for 20 years by the end of 2011. This recommendation comes after two years of study by Interior Department land conservation and natural resource experts.

No one seems to want new mining up there. The withdrawal is supported by local tribes. It’s also supported by Coconino County, which includes the canyon, and just about everyone else. But the new Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011 asks Congress to block the withdrawal. If it becomes law, mining prospects could open as soon as companies are ready, regardless of the ancestral Havasupai territory that would likely be affected. The likeliest company to file new claims is Canada-based Denison Mines Corp., in which South Korea’s largest energy producer owns a twenty percent stake.

The lawmakers responsible for this assault – Sen. John McCain and Reps. Paul Gosar, Jeff Flake, David Schweikert, Trent Franks and Ben Quayle of Arizona and Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, all Republicans – have wanted to open this land all along, and are now cynically selling their plan as an economic stimulus. In reality, it’s all about profits for a handful of uranium mining companies that don’t hire local labor, don’t keep their profits in the state (or in some cases the country) and don’t sell their product domestically.

The Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute, Navajo, and Hopi have banned uranium mining on their land, for good reason. But we need to go further, which is why I introduced the RESPECT Act in this Congress to ensure that we require nation-to-nation consultation and signoff prior to any land trade impacting Native American nations or filing a bill in Congress to process those trades. Tribes should be an integral part of the decision-making process whenever federal activities could affect tribal life, and this bill makes that happen.

It’s unfortunate that mining has become such a controversial part of our economy and our community. I’m hardly opposed to mining on principle – I recognize the need for mineral goods in our economy. But they shouldn’t come at the expense of Native American rights, worker safety or the law.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva has represented Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District since 2002. He co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Before his election to Congress, he served on Arizona’s Pima County Board of Supervisors and led the effort to create the landmark Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

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ABC World News: Spirit Bears: The Next Environmental Superstar

ABC World News: Spirit Bears: The Next Environmental Superstar: REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK By DAVID WRIGHT (@abcdavid): GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST, British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 13, 2010: The Great Bear Rainforest is not an easy place to get to. It’s a wilderness area the size of Switzerland, all but cut off from the rest of civilization. Our ABC News team traveled by float plane. There are no roads here and no landing strips except for the flat stretches of water along the fjords. What brought us to this remote corner of Canada is the spirit bear — “Canada’s panda” — black bears with white fur because of a genetic variation.

With no more than 500 of them on Earth, spirit bears are more rare than pandas.

Click here to see a slide show of spirit bears

The spirit bear is the marquee species for a region that’s also crowded with whales, wolves and eagles.

“It’s a magnificent bear,” said Ian McAllister, director of the nonprofit conservation group Pacific Wild.

Today, the Great Bear Rainforest faces a threat — a massive oil pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, Canada. The plan would turn the spirit bear’s home into a superhighway for supertankers.

“They want to bring Big Oil to this coast,” McAllister said. “The only thing that’s standing between that is really the spirit bear, the concerted efforts from conservationists and the First Nation [native] people.”

Conservationists Call in the Cavalry: So the naturalists who long fought to protect the rain forest called in the photographic equivalent of the Green Berets — the International League of Conservation Photographers. “It is a SWAT team of photographers that are deployed to an area that needs immediate media attention,” said the organization’s president, Cristina Mittermeier.

“Some of them do large-format landscapes. Others are extraordinary wildlife photography shooters,” she said. “We have an underwater photographer. The idea is to create a snapshot of this area.”

Thomas Peschak, a photographer with Save Our Seas Foundation, spent most of his time in the frigid water eye-to-eye with the fish.

“There’s large sea stars, colonies of Steller sea lions, humpback whales, orcas,” Peschak said. “This place is just bursting at the seams with life. It’s one of the richest systems on this planet.”

Landscape photographer Jack Dykinga waited for hours for just the right light as aerial photographer Daniel Beltra worked from the open door of a helicopter.

Beltra spent the summer over the Gulf of Mexico, documenting the Deepwater Horizon spill in dazzling camera shots that make environmental disaster look like modern art.

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen’s assignment was to capture images of the spirit bear.

“You have to have patience and passion,” he said, sitting quietly in the woods. “You have to have both of those. There are very few spirit bears, so if you want to see them you have to put in the 18-hour days for six days at a time just to see a glimpse of this white bear.”

Marven Robinson, our guide, is a bear tracker for the Gitga’at Nation tribe, which is native to the region. The Gitga’at Nation consider the spirit bear sacred.

“We call it ‘moskam al.’ Moskam means white and al means bear,” he said.

Robinson said that until recently, his tribe spoke about the bears only in whispers.

“We weren’t even allowed to talk about it,” he said. “If we were sitting at the dinner table, you know, and someone mentioned that they’d seen one. … They’d tell you, ‘Shh, keep it quiet.'”

Pipeline Through the Rain Forest: The residents of Hartley Bay, Robinson’s hometown of 150, held a potluck dinner for the visiting photographers. Among the delicacies was fresh seal meat and smoked sea lion.

Helen Clifton, a tribal elder, said the elders strongly oppose the pipeline.

“We, the red race, were to be keepers of the land,” she said. “We need all of you to help our spirit bear that we have out there.”

But proponents of the pipeline say there’s no cause for alarm, that the pipeline would skirt the Great Bear Rainforest. The oil would travel through the region only in modern, double-hulled tankers and guided by tugboats. They add that the pipeline would bring jobs to the region.

“We believe the potential for a spill is remote,” said John Carruthers, president of the Northern Gateway pipeline project. “We’ll also put in very thorough plans in the event of a spill, but the public needs to know we can respond very effectively if there is one.”

The Enbridge oil company, unfortunately, has had some practice. An Enbridge pipeline in Michigan burst this summer, spilling 1 million barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River, which flows into the Great Lakes. Last month, one of the company’s pipelines in suburban Chicago started to leak.

It’s little wonder that the fishermen are skeptical and worried that an oil spill could destroy their way of life. “This is my bread and butter,” one said.

The Search for the Spirit Bear Continues: The second day of our hunt for the Spirit bear involved a strenuous hike into an even more remote patch of woods. Robinson, our bear tracker, said the area was off limits to everyone. Only he and his guides were allowed to enter.

The moss was so thick and soft, it could be used as a pillow. The place was so quiet that the only sound, besides the rapids, came from the salmon swimming upstream and the ravens flapping their wings overhead.

There was plenty of evidence that bears recently had been there — fresh salmon killed on the rocks of the river and fresh bear droppings in the woods.

We hid quietly by the side of the river.

“This is where the bears are most likely coming to feed on salmon,” Robinson said. “[With] the carcasses all over, you know, there’s good signs.”

The Search for the Spirit Bear Continues: Almost immediately, a white form emerged from the woods — a lone wolf surprised to see humans. Black bears arrived. We waited and waited until the light faded. Disappointed, we trudged out of the woods. On our last day of shooting, we set off early in hopes of better luck. And suddenly, there he was in an open field at the edge of the woods.

“It really feels like a ghost,” said National Geographic photographer Nicklen. “You feel like you’ve seen a ghost — the way they so seamlessly slip back into the forest and they’re gone again. You have to look at your pictures to realize what you’ve just seen. It’s just amazing.”

8/4/2011 IPS: Climate Changes Bring Harsh Reality for Native Americans

8/4/2011 IPS: Climate Changes Bring Harsh Reality for Native Americans By Elizabeth Whitman: NEW YORK, Aug 4, 2011 (IPS) – In Shishmaref, an Inupiaq village on an Alaskan barrier island north of the Bering Strait, a way of life is gradually disappearing due to higher temperatures, rising sea levels, declining numbers of sea animals to hunt, and shrinking shorelines wrought by climate change. The effects of climate change may be felt across the globe, but in the United States, compared to the general population, indigenous peoples feel the impact disproportionately, a report published Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation concluded. Because they are dependent on it for their social, cultural, and economic welfare, “indigenous people… have a unique relationship to the natural system in which they live,” Kim Gottschalk, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, told reporters Wednesday.

As a result, “they are the first to be affected” by changes in the climate and physical world, he added.

The average 45 percent unemployment rate among Tribes means that the added costs and damage, both social and economic, resulting from climate change only exacerbate the struggles for communities facing high rates of poverty. Some 565 federally recognised Tribes exist in the United States, which has an American Indian and Alaska Native population of 3.2 million.

In several tribal areas of the U.S., such as Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, and sections of Washington state home to Hoh, Quinault, and Quileute Tribes, and other sections of the Pacific Northwest inhabited by Tulalip Tribes, changing water flow or glacial melting patterns leading to flooding or shifts in river flows are damaging fisheries and agricultural infrastructure, not to mention homes and buildings.

Funding increases urged

Because the future promises the intensification of extreme weather – bigger snowstorms, for instance, or more serious droughts – rather than its mitigation, the report suggested greater funding to Tribes as the most effective means of dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“Increasing the resiliency of public and private infrastructure… can provide a cushion when extreme weather and climate events occur,” the report recommended.

But climate change adaptation planning requires significant financial resources, as do programmes to educate Tribal youth who will ultimately deal with the impacts of climate change.

Furthermore, in certain programmes, funding for Tribes is managed by the state, so if a state rejects federal funds, Tribes in that state can only obtain funding if they prove to the federal government that the state is not meeting Tribes’ needs – an additional hindrance.

“There has been a history of a lack of funding in order to give Tribes the… financial capacity to participate as they need to as sovereign partners in addressing this global problem,” Gottschalk said.

Not only would additional funding for programmes to manage the effects of climate change benefit Tribes, but some also say that Tribes use those funds more efficiently.

Gary Morishima, a founding member of Our Natural Resources (ONR) – a coalition of over 30 Tribes and Tribal organisations developing a strategy to conserve natural resources – pointed out in an interview with IPS that credible research has shown that “the funding that’s spent to support the efforts of indigenous communities is far more effective” than pouring dollars into government-run, bureaucratic mechanisms.

The report also suggested increasing the energy efficiency of Tribal houses to reduce energy costs for Indian Tribes, who incur some of the highest energy costs in the country.

Native Americans as partners

Native Americans have lived in harmony with nature for generations, with “a tremendous accumulation of knowledge that has been transmitted and shared” through those generations, Morishima said.

“Interconnection between people and land and resources… is really the tribal way,” he added.

That knowledge is precisely the reason groups such as ONR argue for involving Tribes and their perspectives when discussing how to deal with climate change. What Tribes can contribute are time-proven practices that are “sustainable, bountiful and cost effective,” Aguto told reporters.

“When you combine this knowledge… with modern natural resources management practices, you will find a highly effective partnership,” he explained.

A World Bank study declared that in Latin America, lands under the control of indigenous people are less prone to forest fires than other protected areas. This example is outstanding proof, Aguto told IPS, that giving funding to indigenous peoples is an extremely effective way of preventing forest fires.

Those promoting the inclusion of Tribal perspectives in climate change discussions argue that this type of knowledge of indigenous peoples should be applied in other areas of environmental protection.

Still, obtaining funding for indigenous peoples so that their accumulated empirical knowledge can become part of the discussion is a “crucial component” in climate change discussions right now, he added.

Tribes’ way of life follows the concept of reciprocity – one takes resources from the earth but gives back respect and care, Morishima said. Current debates on climate change lack that perspective, he remarked. For these reasons, the viewpoints and beliefs of indigenous peoples need to be considered when discussing climate change.

Cooperation between Tribes, NGOs and the government is essential to combat climate change not only to pool information but also because Tribes are sovereign nations, Gottschalk emphasised during the briefing.

“It is absolutely crucial that they be treated as sovereign partners at nations,” particularly when addressing the effects of climate change, he added.

On Aug. 9, the United Nations will celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. First celebrated in 1995, International Day will focus this year on indigenous designs to highlight the need for preserving indigenous cultures.

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