Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ojibwe Environmentalist Gopher Was Green Before it Was Cool....

He warned of a day that the complications of big industry, fossil fuels, and the effects of greenhouse gases would force us to make radical changes.  He used to putter around our small and humble home on Hill 57 and wonder, "We may see a time when we go back to the horse and wagon."  I used to look at him and think that could never happen.  Our supply of oil is unlimited.

His point was that humanity would reach a critical point where decisions would have to be made about whether we wanted to survive.  He used to say, "Mother Earth will go on forever, but if we mismanage our place here, we will only hurt ourselves, over a long time, the Earth will heal.  We will not be here."

He was against the use of anything nuclear, whether it was energy, and mostly nuclear weapons.  He was dedicated to his message so much, he used our traditional round dances to spread his message.  He hosted peace conferences to go with his round dances.  He trained a crop of native environmental leaders.

He spurred activists to take their message to a broader level.  He would never set aside the original culture to appease anyone.  Our culture was our universe, it is who we are.  He would never abandon his identity, or embrace the models of mainstream society.  He insisted our culture provided us the knowledge, and wisdom we needed to survive.

He was always ON, he was worldly for a man beyond what life handed him.  He had vision at a time when Native people were re-discovering their identity, and finally embracing their new found self-awareness.  He never assimilated, never tried, and never was an apologist for being a traditionalist Ojibwe.  His parents rejected Christianity to the point of not allowing symbolism, even crosses, to be brought into their household.  There was a complete rejection of Christianity in the Gopher household.  They understood colonialism was rooted in the religious-economic dominion ethic of the European.

He was raised in, and lived with the simplicity of his culture.  My late Grandfather, Jim Loud Thunder Gopher, was labeled a "Bolshevik" by census workers in the earlier part of the century for his rejection of modern conveniences.  He would haul his water the old way, he told census workers, he wouldn't have any of this piped-in-water business.  There have been, and still are those that misunderstand the Native view of co-existence on Mother Earth, like these census workers who negatively labeled my late Grandfather.  He was not backward, but had a deeper understanding of the delicate balance of creation.  It is not something to be tampered with, native people have always understood there are consequences of upsetting this balance.

It is not a coincidence, that uranium mining, and other forms of mining, drilling, etc., often occur on or near native communities.  The corporations and complicit government officials will often tout the short term benefits to the community, but will never level with a community about the long term consequences.  It is a tried and true model.  It has been my experience, in particular in dealing with the Zortman Landusky mine my Father worked on; that only a committed, informed and active community can effectively combat this kind of hard sell.  Industry/government complicity is hard to beat, but it can be done.  Citizen action is vital, it is the last line of forcing accountability.

We have to decide what we want for a future.  The situation in Japan is a chilling reminder, maybe a message from Mother Earth to rethink how we use her valuable resources.  People are only now thinking about smart grids for wind energy, but we need to think larger about a broader based grid that parcels out and allocates what is here now, while creating renewables.

As these four damaged reactors seep out their deadly contents and threaten the lives and future generations of those on the Island of Japan and their region; we must acknowledge nuclear energy must be taken out of the mix.  This is not safe, and it is foolishly being put on the front burner over other safer and renewable energy sources.  We are not lacking for technology and know-how, what is lacking is the will.  Something we all need to think about the next time we recharge our cel phone~~where is the energy coming from?  Is it safe and sustainable?  Is is renewable?  We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure they have a healthful environment to live in.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brucellosis: Cattle Industry & Federal Negligence

Governor Schweitzer will be meeting with the new head of Yellowstone Park to discuss the fate of 500 bison who left the park and were tested for brucellosis.  Some have apparently tested positive, and the governor has so far, stopped the slaughter of the infected animals.  Throughout these past several years, the issue of brucellosis in bison and elk has been contentious, emotional, and thorny.  There has never been a sound management plan deployed that will protect Montana wildlife.

One major issue has been overlooked in all of the back and forth between state and federal officials, as well as conservation groups and the cattle industry:  the culpability, negligence and denial of the cattle industry itself.  I am a politician, I am also a pragmatist.  This issue for too long has been determined and predicated by the desire of either political party, and their respective politicians and party leaders' political interests.  What party desires the financial and other support of the Cattlemen's Association and other industry groups?  This question has always dictated the fate of the Yellowstone bison and elk herds.

I ask:  when will the cattle industry be held accountable for damaging our wildlife?  Brucellosis is not an indigenous disease, it was brought here and wreaked havoc on our wildlife.  It was brought here by cattle ranchers, and they should help pay the cost of cleaning up their mess.  Its simple.  They get no free pass from me.

There is something else our elected leaders are not telling us:  brucellosis, in all of its variant forms, can also be contracted by dogs.  Therein, we can see the underlying effort to once again, eradicate the wolves.  Wyoming legislators have already expressed concern about the possibility of wolves transmitting the disease.  Instead of allowing the cattle industry to run the policy in our statehouses, and deploy scare tactics to dance around the Endangered Species Act--when will our politicians hold them accountable to clean up this disease?

It is a painful reality that some animals will be slaughtered in the course of eradicating this disease.  If politicians, Schweitzer included, really cared about this issue:  he would hold the cattle industry's feet to the fire.  They created this, its time to fix it.  They have been allowed to vaccinate their cattle but leave the wildlife festering in disease, with no industry accountability.

The cattle industry is only one group that must contribute to ridding our ecosystem of this disease, the brucellosis bacteria was once a biological weapon used by our government.  These are the primary propagators of disease, they should do the work and provide the resources for clean up.  It is astounding to me that our federal elected Senators and Congressman have been sitting on their hands this long, with no questions, no accountability, no public pressure.  It is time for some truth telling, not only on the issue of the bison, but the real motivations behind the wolf issue.  It is time to do something about this for the sake of our wildlife heritage.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aboriginal Human Right to Exist


We began so many years ago, to begin a long journey to heal outselves and restore our sense of nationhood as Anishinabe people.  We found ourselves on Hill 57, and it has taken this long to regain a sense of self-understanding.  My late father, Robert Gopher, had asserted so many times in leading our organization; that all tribal nations had the right to exist, this is not a right that is pre-determined by Europeans to fit a colonial model of conquest and dominion, but a pre-ordained Creator-given right.

We are on the road to rebuilding, we have had many victories along the way.   To build on our own empowerment efforts, and on this 25th anniversary of the national holiday to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, we found the much discussed Aboriginal Human Rights Network, on this day, January 17, 2011.

This network is self-directed, under the non-profit corporation of Loud Thunder to foster a renewed commitment to the continued struggles of aboriginal people of the Western Hemisphere.  Our activism over the past twenty years has given us the experience that is needed to address the many criticual issues that affect aboriginal people today.

The mission of the AHRN is to address the growing invisibility of the human suffering of native people.  We seek the means to effectively address policy failure at every level.  We are witness to token resolutions of long standing problems, only to find these falling far short of the desired liberty, freedom and right to exist of native communities.  The Cobell Settlement in the U.S. is an example of policy shortcoming on its face, purports to address long standing grievances of native landholders, our view is the settlement is unconscionably low.  This is a legal standard of failure.  This is problematic in terms of future claims of Indian nations and sets the low bar in terms of damages affirmed.  This is movement in the wrong direction.

There will be a portion of the AHRN that will address the need to now, "bust open the settlement" and this is something that requires new leadership, direction, insight and commitment. For that reason, the AHRN will closely monitor the proceedings in which the Cobell settlement funds are to be distributed, as well as the outcomes of the litigation settlement terms.  The AHRN calls for a new day of affirming tribal existence.

To that end, the AHRN is addressing the rights and needs of the unenrolled tribal descendants of all nations to experience the inalienable right to tribal citizenship.  And for those non-recognized tribes, over 226 in the United States, the AHRN will foster awareness of the tribal groups, bands, corporations that seek their rightful exercise of their God-given sovereignty.  We support and advocate for a broad recognition bill in the U.S. Congress to restore federal obligations to honor our sovereignty.

Tribal people are now on the front line of global energy policies, this presents grave challenges now and in the future.  To this effort, the AHRN adds our voice to the growing outcry of the tar sands development that threatens the existence of our northern relations.  We understand we are all one human family.

We will stand with national, and international Latino leadership to force the end to inhumane immigration laws that have favored people of Euro-descent since this nation's founding.  We will seek broad-based coalition building to honor the human dignity of all aboriginal people of the Western Hemisphere.  We must resist governmentally entrenched policies that create second and third class citizenship as the means to a race based end.  The AHRN will seek to protect the U.S. Constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship that has withstood the test of time.*