A Difficult Week In Indian Country

After a light snow.I recently read Bill Read’s book of collected writings, Solitary Raven. Bill Reid was a Haida sculptor and poet, who wrote lovingly about traditions and the creative process. Were he alive, he might remind us that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the coming of Small pox to the people of the Northwest Coast. Within a few weeks of it’s arrival, up to 90% of people in some Native villages were dead. Germ warfare lead to the demise of traditional practices among the Haida, and other Northwest Native peoples. Many villages were simply abandoned. With the Small Pox also came the end of the “Golden Age” of Haida art and ceremonialism.

Unfortunately, acts of betrayal and cultural genocide against Native peoples in the Americas continues.

For much of my adult life I have heard stories of the Huichol [Wixarika]. Their arduous ritual journeys, astoundingly beautiful artwork, and profound spiritual teachings have become legendary. Now, as Intercontinental Cry reports, their ancestral homeland, and sacred universe is again threatened with destruction.

Wirikuta is a desert valley in the North of Mexico, in San Luis Potosi.

It not only has been recognized by UNESCO as a natural and sacred area, Wirikuta is the most sacred place for the Huichol [Wixarika] people….

The Mexican President, earlier promising to safeguard their culture and territory,has just yielded 22 concessions for open pit mining to the Canadian enterprise First Majestic Silver Corp.

Perhaps we should no longer be surprised that a Canadian Corporation is the threat to the Huichol’s lands. After all, the Canadian government, long known for humanitarian leadership, was soundly criticized this week by the UN, as a result of it’s treatment of Native people. As Causes noted:

Canada’s international reputation came under fire in Geneva on Wednesday as a UN expert panel delivered scathing criticisms over the government’s treatment of First Nations and recent changes to the country’s immigration system.

Native News Network reported earlier this week on two determined attacks on Native sacred sites in the Western U.S.:

SAN DIEGO COUNTY – In a story unfolding this afternoon, a group of 50 American Indians, including tribal council members and elders, are prepared to step in front of bulldozers to stop the further desecration of an ancestral burial ground at a construction site some 55 miles north of downtown San Diego.

Today the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians joined the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians to stop Palomar College from grading activities that are sure to disturb and irreversibly damage ancestral cultural resources, archaeological data and unnecessarily unearth human remains.

Some 20 human remains have already been uncovered and recovered at a known tribal burial site. Tribal officials maintain over 100 fragments of human remains have been disturbed and improperly handled by construction crews.

SAN FRANCISCO – In what is considered a major setback for several Southwest American Indian tribes, a three member panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled unanimously in favor of Arizona Snowbowl. This highly publicized case was argued last month. The tribes want to stop the ski resort’s plan to install a snowmaking system using sewer water turned into reclaimed water.

Lastly, KPBS briefly addressed the complexities of environmental issues on Navajo lands. One one hand, smoke and toxins from coal burning and a variety of mining operations have been linked to illness on the reserve. On the other, mining and coal powered electrical production provide jobs for many Native people. (I remember many years ago, speaking with friends on the Hupa Reservation about the terrible choices they had to make: to clear cut sacred lands or to have no viable sources of income.)

KPBS reports:

Environmentalists have filed an appeal challenging Peabody Coal’s mining permit in northern Arizona.

At the same time, a new economic impact study shows Arizona, as well as the Navajo and Hopi Tribes, stand to lose millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs in the future unless agreements can be reached to keep the Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Coal operating.

Difficult choices.

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