Friday, October 31, 2008

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

A friend asked me after I emailed him - so why was this trip so meaningful to you? (See below - The Women's Earth Alliance Transformative Advocacy Trip to the US Southwest) 

I wrote him some garbled email then after I sent it, the reason why clicked in my brain. Let me just say there were a lot of reasons why the trip was amazing - I got to see Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, I spent time with some beautiful people who are all working on issues that need much attention and I got to film - which I love. There was a thundering experience for me though, that really amounts to fully understanding that we can do anything - and if there is something in the world that speaks to your heart you can do it. If you want world peace then go out there and be a leader for world peace. If you want to be a great cook, then take classes, travel and learn new ways to cook and bless the world with the best you-cook that you can possibly be. And if we all took this great reponsibility of being the best versions of ourselves that we could be - which means discipline and reaching out when we'd rather sit at home and be lazy, then this world would tip over onto a brighter pathway - hands down. What I fully understood was this Hopi Elders words, (below) that have been running around the internet, since I think they were on the film - The 11th hour - which I didn't yet see but I'm planning to. I realized fully and completely - as one friend said to me recently - you make your own magic in this world.

A Hopi Elder Speaks 

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.  And there are things to be considered . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time!"

    "There is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.   They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly. 

    "Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.  And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do,  our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.      "The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. 

    "We are the ones we've been waiting for."

-- attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder

Hopi Nation

Oraibi, Arizona

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Verse 11 - Goodbyes

In Albuquerque, the Women's Earth Alliance - Transformative Advocacy 08 group said our goodbyes over searing enchiladas that brought tears to my eyes and cleaned out my sinuses. The heat made me feel alive. To say goodbye we played a game. Each of us had to share what quality of the others had stood out in our minds. It was like a mirror of encouragement reflecting back at you, urging you to be your best version, because that's who you really are.

On the plane back home I met a man who had just flown out to New Mexico to learn about earthships. He was planning to build one on his land in New Mexico. We raged on about the changes we wanted to see, the ills and goods of American society, and then parted ways.

Although I may never see many of these ladies again, I feel strengthened to know they are out there. And, I think this trip has changed me in ways I don't yet understand.

For me - now, the editing of the footage has begun. I'm aiming for the end of the year or the beginning of 2009 for a finished film of the trip. I'll post a note here when its complete.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Verse 10 - Still a National Sacrifice Area?

In New Mexico we met with two very distinct organizations. In the morning we met with members of Dineh CARE (Dineh Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment) who came out in force. Many elders attended, and the meeting was led by Lori Goodman and Dailan Long. The group was well presented and well prepared with an impressive power-point presentation.

In the afternoon we met with Elouise Brown, president of Dooda (NO) Desert Rock Coalition.

Both groups are working to put a halt to a pulverized coal-burning power plant that is scheduled to begin construction in Burnham, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation by next year.
Navajo Nation leaders, including Joe Shirley, Navajo president, support the project for the jobs and revenues it could potentially bring the tribe.

Although the plant is being advertised as a clean coal-fired plant, the facility would add to CO2 emissions in the area (that already has two existing power plants), emit mercury, (estimated at 117-161 pounds per year minimum), pollute the water, and generally add further credence to the designation of the Four Corners area as a "National Sacrifice Area."

I was impacted by the dedication of Dine Care and Dooda Desert Rock Coalition. Elouise's extreme level of commitment extended to sleeping in her car or walking miles just to spread the word about what is happening in her community. Dine Care was very forward thinking with a vision for the future of their lands and for using renewable energies to empower tribal members and sustain Navajo cultural values.

Our last day of meetings with Native American environmental leaders who are pioneering the way for all of America ran short again.

We followed Elouise part way on our long drive to Albuquerque, stopping off to have a quick and late dinner together. She drove away fast, with much to do. I could hardly believe the journey was coming to its end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Verse 9 - Forced Relocation

We met with Louise Benally who I first encountered in the award winning documentary film Broken Rainbow. Our time was very brief. We met outside the office building of the Black Mesa Water Coalition and the Indigenous Environmental Network with great plans for the day, although our first obstacle was a three hour drive out to Black Mesa and the Big Mountain community.

Louise quickly explained her story in the parking lot; in 1974 a congressional act called public law 93531 (or the "Bennet Freeze") passed, which called for the removal of over 10,000 Navajo's (Diné) from their land. The US congress decided that the land belonged to the Hopi, although the Navajo and Hopi had been living there in peace for centuries and manufactured a disagreement between the tribes to better sell the idea, which was in essence plotted to free up 62,000 acres for expanded mining operations.
Those who did not want to move were faced with starvation as the following the Bennet Freeze, a federal court ordered an "85 to 90 percent reduction in their livestock herds, and banned new construction or even repairs to existing structures."

Our plan for the day was to go out and meet with a Dineh elder still protesting the move and to view the mining site, but a flash flood stopped us short and then time ran out.

As we drove to our next destination we listened to the first presidential debate through a crackling radio with shifting reception as the sun disappeared in the sky. It felt like the world was shifting from all that I had learned.

I strongly encourage you to watch the academy award winning
Broken Rainbow or "Vanishing Prayer", pasted below to learn more about this topic.

Verse 8 - Whose religion is valid?

The sun was low and distinct strands reached out to the earth at the San Francisco Peaks part of the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. The feeling of solemn humbleness grew in me as I felt my small self blend into the greater landscape. I don't have the history or teachings about this landscape embedded inside of me but I could feel its amazing presence. I could feel that this place is a source of strength and no wonder 13 different tribes hold it to be holy and 22 tribal nations consider it culturally significant.

Earlier in the afternoon Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) visited the Save the Peaks Coalition volunteers, Jeneda Benally and Rachel Tso.

The history of the struggle at the Peaks is long. A ski area was built there in the 30's and then in 1979 was expanded significantly against protest and lawsuits (Wilson v. Block).

Save the Peaks formed in 2004 to protect cultural and spiritual rights and is now fighting a new challenge.
The courts recently approved the use of reclaimed sewer water to be used to make snow for skiing on the Peaks. You don't have to be an extremely bright bulb to figure that skiing on sewage water is not a cool idea. As Rachel Tso pointed out in our meeting, no one falls, no one eats snow while they ski, no one scoops snow up in their water bottle for drinking, right?

The Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort plans to clear cut 74 acres of forest to add additional ski lifts, create a 14 mile pipeline up to the San Francisco peaks to a 10 million gallon pond where fake snow will be made out of the waste water. As we all know, anything that goes into a toilet ends up in waste water. That's not a very nice thought. There is also a catchment pond at the bottom of the ski area which will only keep a small percentage of the waste water from getting into the water table.
Rachel TsoJeneda Benally

Aside from the obvious reasons for why you might not want sewer water on an area where people ski, there are culturual and spiritual reasons for the many tribes that hold the peaks sacred. For example, the Navajo use the area for gathering medicinal herbs which are used in healing ceremonies and there is concern about not only the health aspect of the herbs but the a question spiritual integrity of contaminated medicine bundles that are used for reviving health and the spirit.

In our meeting Jeneda touched all of our hearts with her eloquence, I 'll leave you with her powerful words about the courts ruling and what that means to her. Bear in mind the battle is not over, there are plans to take this ruling to the Supreme Court.
"This last court decision for us, told us that our cultural belief, our spiritual belief is not a valid religion. It's subjective spiritual feelings. For traditional people, who have grown up with our identity and who carry on these ways of life, since the beginning of time and want to ensure that our children have these spiritual connections as well, to be told that your ways of life, your culture, is a spiritual subjective feeling is one of the most painful, painful feelings that I think anybody could ever feel, is to be told that your culture is not valid. What you believe, what your ancestors have fought for, what they've carried on, what they've died for is not valid."

Check out this great film, "The Snowbowl Effect":

Verse 8 - Pancakes in Flagstaff

We shared a pancake breakfast at Ihop in Flagstaff with Valencia Herder, who is involved in numerous grass roots organizations (though she said she's learning to say no) including North Leupp Family Farms, a sustainable agriculture project in Leupp Arizona. Valencia grew up on the Navajo reservation with sheep, cattle, horses and farming. Now she works in sustainable agriculture centered around
topics like health information (free range grass fed animals), reinvigorating farming, and plants as medicine, with her focus moving towards water, such as how to set up water catchment systems, how to restore erosion, and control erosion.

She said about 60 to 70% of her community in hard rock Arizona do not have running water and 10% do not have electricity although there's a coal mine 30 miles away. At home, Valencia, her family and fellow community members travel long distances for water. The well is 10 miles from her home and she has to haul water in 55 gallon drums over a 10 to 15 mile radius to water their crops, which are largely corn, beans and squash.

Her sisters work along side her to bring sustainable economics to their communities. One of her sisters, Nicole Herder is featured in the film Weaving Worlds, that explores weaving as it relates to Navajo identity and the way the artists are being taken advantage of by the traders who sell the rugs.

The meeting was brief and left me and the Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) group with a strong desire to see including North Leupp Family Farms and to see where Valencia grew up, to learn more. No doubt WEA will have to go back soon!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Verse 7 - Grand Canyon Dreaming

I went to the grand canyon in a bus full of tourists, with a driver named Tye who was part of 5 documentary's as an animal trainer. After the overwhelming beauty filled my heart with wonder and peace I slept awaking the next morning with catastrophic nightmares that included floods and earthquakes. The nightmare shook me. It took me by surprise. If anything I had expected good dreams after such a wonderful day. I didn't know what to think until later (in Verse 7) when Jeneda Benally shared that she had a wonderful dream that the mother earth would provide and take care of her. In a flash I felt I understood what my own dream meant - those close to the earth would know how to react in times of change in our environment and land. Although, this may be a very logical thought, I feel it is a powerful message for white folks like myself, living in our little urban clusters. It felt like a warning. And it makes me think of the Tsunami in 2004; because of their kinship with the land, the indigenous people in the areas affected, were able to avert disaster.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Verse 6 - Dirty Energy Bootcamp

We met with Wahleih Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) and Jihon Gearon of Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in Flagstaff Arizona. The walls were plastered with defiance that washed over me as a sign of hope. This meeting was, for me, like the first day in dirty energy 101, bootcamp style. The disturbing news I'd read about on the internet or at work surrounding mining and oil were suddenly right there, in the room - two young beautiful bright women about the same age as me, whose lives are directly impacted by the effects of mining in their back yard. The connection I felt was penetrating.

In a story that goes back to the inception of Arizona and questions of how to power the growing urban areas of Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Peabody Coal began mining on Navajo land before Wahleih was born. Using pristine ground water from the Navajo aquifer Peabody built the longest pipeline and the only of it's kind in North America for transporting coal 300 miles away from Black Mesa and in the process using about 3.3 million gallons a day of drinking water.

Black Mesa Water Coalition formed to protect the Navajo ground water.

Due to pressure from the Black Mesa Water Coalition and other community groups in 2005 the Black Mesa Mine was shut down and for a time the misuse of water was halted. Now, the entire issue has been reopened. At stake is the reopening of the Black Mesa Mine, merging it with the Kayenta Mine, and allowing Peabody Western Coal Company the right to mine coal until there is no coal left.

Something Wahleih said sticks with me, she said that the elders reminded her that as long as their communities live on top of precious resources the battle will never stop. That is true for now, but Wahleih and team have plans that could side step that with proper support. They have formed a green jobs initiative and the future looks bright!

Indigenous Environmental Network works with groups across the USA and Canada such as The Black Mesa Water Coalition to connect them and to serve as a watch dog on national and international policy, mobilizing their network when needed.
The bulk of their focus is on:

  • Tribal campus sustainability projects, such as community gardening, solar installation, etc..

  • The red oil network (resisting environmental destruction on indigenous land) which is focused in Alaska

  • The Tar Sands in Canada

Jihan's work specifically focuses on several other campaigns that do not fall into these areas, connecting all of the varied groups together, and aiding in providing the support and training they need to launch their own campaigns.

One area of her work that stands out for me is the Tar Sands in Alberta Canada. One world's largest deposit of tar sands occur in Canada in Fort McMurray and the situation there is like the gold rush, but for oil.

Extracting oil from Tar Sands requires an enormous amount of energy including oversized machinery to knock down forests and then scoop up two tons of sand to extract the bitumen, to then upgrade to remove impurities. "Making one barrel of oil from the sands generates two barrels of toxic waste."

The resulting destruction and environmental degradation there is massive. If you're like me and you find your nuggets of truth these days on blogs and late shows do visit the green peace spoof site to get a glimpse.
Planned development in the area to meet US addiction to oil (about 16% of US oil comes from northern Alberta) is the size of Florida.

Already Native communities that live down stream from the Tar Sands are being affected. The animals are getting sick and the communities who live off of the land and hunt animals for survival and are being contaminated by animals with tumors and illness and toxic water.

That is true insanity.

Check out this resource:

Canada's Highway to Hell

Toxic Eden - Verse 5

On a short tour through Gila River Indian community near Chandler Arizona, and just outside of Phoenix, the skeleton of a casino rose against the sky, high class hotels and spas clustered nearby led to what was the grand finale for me, a cowboy town! According to its website Rawhide offers attractions such as, Arrest-a-guest, desert train rides, shotgun weddings, sundown cookouts, a shooting gallery and much more.

Just nearby this flash back to the wild-west, in Lone Butte Industrial Park is a chemical waste recycling plant - Romic Environmental Technologies Corporation. We drove by and stepped outside our minivan rentals to observe a thick white mist spew from it's roof piping. One of the WEA staff began sneezing uncontrollably. Lori Riddle of GRACE (Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment), shared her story with us that day in a church hall where a painting of Mother Theresa hung over her shoulder. It was fitting.

Lori and GRACE aim to shut down Romic, and are building on a successful track record. In 2002 GRACE was instrumental in closing Stericycle, a medical waste facility also located in the Lone Butte Industrial Park .

The effects of these facilities, has had a large price. Lori's health is poor and she has sacrificed everything to put the health of her community first.

Her work is paying off.

In 2007 the Gila River Indian Community (as landlord) voted to shut down Romic by refusing to approve it's permit. The waste management facility has been operating without a permit for over a decade. Now more permanent steps are underway to close the plant.

Even if the plant is closed it doesn't address the larger issues of waste management and environmental racism. And It doesn't give Lori or her young daughter back their health.
Lori RiddlePollution

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Imaginary Borders - Verse 4

In verse 4 we drove to the border town of Sells on O'odham land to meet with Ofelia Rivas of O'odham solidarity project.

The presence of the border patrol could be felt like a thick web. Installed behind plump saguaro's, angled high atop hills, the steel of their patrol vehicles glinted in the sun, almost benignly restful but I learned them to be capable of lashing out unforgiving violence - as they did with Angelita Reino Ramon's son. The border patrol murdered her son, running him over several times. She shared her story and the pain her family has gone through to seek justice.

We learned of ongoing harassment of O'odham by the border police, and of Ofelia's own experience with harassment, no doubt a result of her activism. Ofelia formed the O'odham Solidarity Project to raise awareness about the Department of Homeland Security's plans to build a wall across the Arizona/Mexico border that will cut through Tohono O'odham land, restricting access to family and creating a barrier to maintaining their traditional culture. In july 2009 tribal enrollment cards will no longer be accepted at the border. The O'odham will need a passport, and since many do not have birth certificates, I'm not sure how or if they could get a passport to take part in ceremony at Quitovac, Mexico where they gather annually.

I left the meeting with an argument in my head. Should I cry or get angry? I decided to get angry, but that wasn't the end of the emotion. Where do I put the anger? What use is the anger? Anger is dwarfed without action. So I will act. What will I do? What will I do?

It's a humbling thought that comes at me again and again in this day. As the war in Iraq blazes, as a walk through the city is a reminder of those left behind by our system, as the environment is polluted and the animals we share the earth with go extinct, I think, what can I do.

I always come back full circle - become the best version of you, that you can possibly be. Choose your goals, your cause to work for in this life and live every moment in the present. To honor Ofelia and the rest that I have met on this trip I will do my very best.

Fireworks - Verse 3

The next morning we flew to Arizona. My first sunset in Tuscon was a fireworks across the sky outside the airport.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bug Dust - Verse 2

Our van rooted itself in the bug dust on our first trip outside of Elko Nevada. It was stubborn so we left it on the edge of the beaten road of fine earth and drove on our flat tire (we didn't know at the time) all the way to rock creek where the sunrise ceremony's are performed to speak with members of the Western Shoshone tribe and the Western Shoshone Defense Project.

The day was a shock of information that touched on military testing on native land, gold mining and toxic heap leaches.

In 1863 the US government and the Western Shoshone entered into the Ruby Valley treaty, which was known as the treaty of peace and friendship, and allowed the US safe passage through Shoshone lands. Over time white settlers moved into the lands.
Fast forward to 1962. Through some deceptive maneuvering the Department of Interior persuaded a group of Western Shoshone to  seek compensation for their lost land. It was decided that the Western Shoshone had been deprived of their land by 'gradual encroachment' and that they should be compensated. Compensation was based on a date 9 years following the Treaty of Peace and Friendship.  The Western Shoshone refused to accept the payment so the Department of Interior received the money on behalf of the Western Shoshone.

The Dann sisters, two Western Shoshone elders (Mary and Carrie) became tangled up in this mess of who owns what piece of the earth when the Bureau of Land Management, a branch of the US department of the interior confiscated 700 horses and 200 cattle from the elderly Dann sisters, fining them $564,000 for allowing their cows and horses to graze on lands outside of the boundaries of their homestead.

Their story became the subject of a powerful documentary "Our Land Our Life."

Women's Earth Alliance had the great opportunity to meet with Carrie Dann and Julie Fischel, the attorney for the Western Shoshone Defense project. We were invited as guests at Julie's home, where we scarfed down a late night pasta and later were graced with words of wisdom from Carrie Dann.

I wished the camera was running. But it was seated on the couch in the nearby living room...some moments are just that, moments.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Song - Verse I

 At one time there were no cameras to tell stories and there was no youtube where now we can find anything that we might imagine. Instead, we had song and story. I have a story that I would like to tell here - a journey to the US Southwest to meet with Native American environmental activists and bring them together with a team of women public interest attorneys to build a network that will confront the destructive practices of corporations, extractive industries and indoctrinated patterns of thought made into law. Convened by Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) in September 2008, I was invited into this story as a videographer who comes from a background of working with disadvantaged youth and on indigenous issues. The camera I took with me has captured this story into digital, and it will eventually be set free into the hyperspace of the Internet. Before that can happen long weekends spent culling through the material and chopping and fixing is necessary. In the mean time the story calls to come out here, almost as a song with high notes, somber low notes and the spirit of hope. May this song sets you afire as you read. I hope it lights one of your matches inside, so that you will burn even brighter, so that we will all together light up the sky.

In Verse I, the women of women's earth alliance met the 5 delegates who are all law professionals with an interest in working for environmental justice. In a stark white hotel conference room introductions took place and a low rumbling was heard in the distance, the sound of drums. Now, I don't know how you hear it - do you hear it as drums or bagpipes or bees? The it I am referring to is very peculiar. You can only hear it, if you are very quiet and still. It is the steady march of oneness. The march of we are not alone (ness). The remembrance that all life on earth is interconnected and made of the same fabric at which the base is love. So yes, the drums became more apparent to me as Jennifer, Genesis, Meredith, Libby, and Stephanie the delegates and Melinda, Caitlin and Shannon the WEA staff introduced themselves and that triggered my ears. I did have headphones on through amplifying equipment, so that may be an unfair advantage. Since this first day, I continue to hear the drums, as a reminder of all that we know deep inside us. I am strengthened by these amazing women.