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Posts Tagged ‘indigenous’

Photo: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia.
The forested western slopes of Washington State’s Fidalgo Island overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The pandemic may have distracted you and me from the environmental crisis, but many indigenous tribes have tackled Covid while also keeping their eye on the ball. In this article from the Washington Post, Jim Morrison explains that for the Swinomish people, it has something to do with their holistic world view.

“For 10,000 years,” he writes, “the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch.

“The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations. In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

“Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“The Swinomish are rebuilding oyster reefs for the native Olympia oyster. They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve.’ …

“Their plans merge traditional and academic resources. When looking at ways to protect wetlands, Todd Mitchell, the tribe’s director of environmental protection, discovered that knowledge about traditional plantings passed down through the generations was lost. So he turned to the University of Washington, which had archived notes by ethnographers and anthropologists who had interviewed tribe elders in the 1950s and 1960s.

“A tribal member who earned a geology degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree at Washington State University, Mitchell returned to work for the tribe 20 years ago. ‘I think the missing piece [is] how to take this straight-up science in the academic sense and put it together with traditional knowledge.’ …

“Jamie Donatuto, the tribe’s environmental health officer, and Larry Campbell, a 71-year-old tribal elder, have created a tool, Indigenous Health Indicators, that goes beyond typical morbidity and mortality measures and considers ecosystem health, social and cultural beliefs, and values integral to a community. …

“Seen through that lens, restoring ‘first foods’ is important not just for diet and nutrition but for nourishment of the soul. Living somewhere for a long time fosters a sense of place, and a sense of place fosters stewardship.

“ ‘It’s a different worldview,’ said Donatuto, who has a doctorate in resource management and environmental sustainability from the University of British Columbia. ‘The salmon and the crabs and the clams are relatives. They’re living relatives. They’re not just resources. And so you treat them with a symbiotic respect. They feed you because you take care of them. It’s a very different way of thinking about why these areas are important.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Chris Bell/The Culture Trip.
Tourists in La Guajira, a remote part of Colombia. Nowadays the focus is on a vaccine outreach to wary indigenous residents.

John assures me that pandemics always peter out as variants emerge weaker and weaker. I hope he’s right. Meanwhile, some experts are saying we won’t be done with Covid until we vaccinate the whole world.

Samantha Schmidt at the Washington Post wrote recently about an effort to reach a remote corner of Colombia — one step in vaccinating the whole world.

“The vaccination team had spent an hour bouncing and bucking down a dirt road and over train tracks when the van driver issued a warning. The toughest part of the drive was still to come. The two women gripped their seat cushions as the van jolted, climbed a mound of dirt and fishtailed in the slick mud. Driver Toto Girnu honked at passing goats as he followed a path blazed only by tire tracks. In the distance, he spotted dark, menacing clouds.

“If the group was lucky, the drive through this remote desert would take four or five hours. If it rained, as it did when Girnu made this trip a few days earlier, it could take more than 10.

“But this was the only way to reach the Indigenous families who live in this arid swath of land in the northern department of La Guajira, where there are no paved roads, no electricity, no running water and no other access to the vaccines that would protect their communities.

“Travel is only part of the challenge confronting the team, one of many contracted by the Colombian government to deliver vaccines to some of the country’s remotest peoples. There is also a lack of information about the coronavirus, hesitation around vaccines and a general mistrust of authorities.

“The van, ‘Route of Hope’ written across the windshield, came upon a roadblock. Adults and children here string ropes across the road, to be lifted only in exchange for water, food or cash.

“ ‘Are you vaccinated?’ vaccine team coordinator Katherin Gamez shouted to a young man. Girnu gave the man a fist bump, tossed him a small bag of water and translated the question into Wayuunaiki, the language of the local Wayuu Indigenous people.

“ ‘For what?’ he asked.

“Across the Andes, a region that has reported some of the world’s highest covid-19 death rates, teams are traversing deserts, mountains, rainforests and rivers to vaccinate isolated communities.

“Such teams are particularly active in Colombia, a country of more than 48 million people, where about 16 percent of the population lives in rural areas that were often neglected by the government during more than five decades of armed conflict. …

“About 35 percent of Colombia’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry. More than half of residents in major cities — 62 percent in the capital of Bogotá — have received at least one dose.

“But in La Guajira, home to the country’s largest Indigenous population, only 38 percent have received at least one dose. … Years of government abandonment and mismanagement have caused many Wayuu residents to mistrust the health system. Only 4 percent of Wayuu people here have access to clean water, Human Rights Watch reported last year; 77 percent of Indigenous households are food insecure. In Alta Guajira, where the largest number of Wayuu people live, there is only one hospital, and it offers only basic care. …

“ ‘By the time a lot of them get to care, they’re so near death … there’s this perception that maybe the care didn’t help,’ said Shannon Doocy, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins who co-wrote the Human Rights Watch report. …

“ ‘We’re getting close,’ Girnu told Gamez and Eliana Andrioly, the team’s Indigenous leader. They sped down a salt flat, their view miles of sand and the distant bay. …

“A team of nursing assistants and a doctor were waiting. The providers spend 15 days at a time living in a dormitory next door, sleeping in hammocks and showering with buckets of water, to stage daily medical missions to the surrounding communities.

“The organization, IPSI Palaima — ‘land of the sea’ in Wayuunaiki — was founded in 2007 by an Indigenous woman who grew up in the area. It is one of the only providers in Alta Guajira with a permanent vaccine refrigerator, in a medical center powered by solar panels.

“The team member in charge of shots this week was Daniela Vergara, a 21-year-old nursing assistant who had never been to AltaGuajira before she applied for the job. Each day, Vergara aims to vaccinate at least 10 people — a modest goal that often requires a massive effort.

“On this Monday, she had not yet reached her target. She packed her cooler — a blue backpack filled with vials of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot that has been a godsend to rural vaccine teams — and set out for a community across the bay. [Then] they drove to a gathering place where they hoped to meet people interested in the vaccine.

“ ‘There’s no one here,’ Vergara said. ‘We got here too late.’

“A local leader suggested they go house to house. As darkness fell, the team members asked anyone who looked 18 or older if they wanted the vaccine. Soon a woman recounted a rumor they had heard many times: Outsiders were pushing a vaccine that was sickening members of the Wayuu community.

“The woman, a teacher who spoke some Spanish, knew what was at stake. She had contracted the virus a few months earlier, after a trip to the town of Uribia. For a month, she suffered chest pains, headaches, an intense cough and the loss of taste and smell. … She worried about a 66-year-old neighbor who had no interest in getting a shot.

“ ‘Many people are dying from this disease,’ Juan Larrada, a Wayuu doctor in the group, said in Wayuunaiki. He said the vaccine could have side effects, but it would protect them from serious illness. He asked Amaita Uriana why she did not want it.

“ ‘Because I was afraid of getting sicker,’ she said. ‘I really feel very sick. I carry pains in my body. That’s why I refused when a girl came here for the same reason. Besides, she was very pretentious. And we had already heard about the experiences of other Wayuu who had been vaccinated and become ill.’

“ ‘The vaccine can have those effects,’ Larrada agreed. ‘Fever, muscular pains, that’s normal.’

“Understanding the doctor as he spoke to her in her own language, Uriana assented. She closed her eyes; Vergara emptied the syringe into her arm.”

Read about the many Wayuu who cannot be persuaded and why that is, here. The photos in the article are terrific, but I can’t share them because they’re blocked. If you have a subscription, you are in luck.

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Photo: Kurt Stüber.
Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, says Wikipedia. The Guardian adds, “The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean.”

Here are a couple stories on plants that may hold the potential to feed the world. One is the amaranth; the other is a bioengineered wheat grass called kernza. Pretty sure that one will not go over well with the non-GMO crowd.

Cecilia Nowell reports on amaranth at the Guardian, “Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

“Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently become interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Tsosie-Peña had begun studying permaculture and other Indigenous agricultural techniques. Today, she coordinates the environmental health and justice program at Tewa Women United, where she maintains a hillside public garden that’s home to the descendants of those first amaranth seeds she was given more than a decade ago. …

“Tsosie-Peña and her guests spent the day planting, winnowing, cooking and eating them – toasting the seeds in a skillet to be served over milk or mixed into honey – and talking about their shared histories: how colonization had separated them from their traditional foods and how they were reclaiming their relationship with the land.

“Since the 1970s, amaranth has become a billion-dollar food – and cosmetic – product. Health conscious shoppers embracing ancient grains will find it in growing numbers of grocery stores in the US, or in snack bars across Mexico, and, increasingly, in Europe and the Asia Pacific. As a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a highly nutritious source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants that may improve brain function and reduce inflammation.

“ ‘This is a plant that could feed the world,’ said Tsosie-Peña. …

“ ‘Supporting Indigenous people coming together to share knowledge’ is vital to the land back movement, a campaign to reestablish Indigenous stewardship of Native land, and liberation of Native peoples, Tsosie-Peña said. ‘Our food, our ability to feed ourselves, is the foundation of our freedom and sovereignty as land-based peoples.’ …

“Amaranth is an 8,000-year-old pseudocereal – not a grain, but a seed, like quinoa and buckwheat – indigenous to Mesoamerica, but also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean. Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the Aztecs and Maya cultivated amaranth as an excellent source of proteins, but also for ceremonial purposes. When Spanish conquistadors arrived on the continent in the 16th century, they [feared] that the Indigenous Americans’ spiritual connection to plants and the land might undermine Christianity. …

“Although the Spanish outlawed amaranth when they arrived in Central America, Mexico and the south-western United States, Indigenous farmers preserved the seeds – which grew with remarkable resilience. …

“While amaranth is no longer banned, Tsosie-Peña says ‘planting it today feels like an act of resistance.’ Reestablishing relationships with other Indigenous communities across international borders is part of a ‘larger movement of self-determination of Indigenous peoples,’ she says, to return to the ‘alternative economies that existed before capitalism, that existed before the United States.’ …

“Every year … farmers with [a Guatemalan agricultural community called Qachuu Aloom, or ‘Mother Earth’] have traveled to the United States to share their knowledge of amaranth with predominantly Indigenous- and Latino-led gardens. … In 2016, when Tsosie-Peña and her colleagues at Tewa Women United broke ground on their public garden in Española, Qachuu Aloom was there to plant amaranth once again. …

“Tsosie-Peña says that this exchange between North and Central American farmers isn’t just about amaranth as a crop; it’s also about reconnecting to ancient trade routes that have been disrupted by increasingly militarized borders.

“Maria Aurelia Xitumul, a member of Qachuu Aloom since 2006 who has traveled on exchanges to California and New Mexico, echoes Tsosie-Peña.

‘The goal is to share experiences, not necessarily generate income, like capitalists. What we want is for the whole world to produce their own food. … For the seeds, distance doesn’t exist. Borders don’t exist.’ …

“The week before the emergency declaration of the pandemic Tsosie-Peña was in Guatemala. When international borders began closing, she had to rush home to the United States. But a few months ago, after vaccines were widely distributed in the US, she and a handful of delegates from each of the farms that had begun planting Qachuu Aloom’s seeds traveled back to Guatemala. With them, they brought seeds from the amaranth they had each grown in their home gardens … to plant in a shared plot: a kind of solidarity garden.

“ ‘We’ve always viewed our seed relatives as relatives and kin,’ says Tsosie-Peña. ‘We have co-evolved with them as fellow Indigenous peoples of this place.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile another plant that’s supposed to feed the world was described recently at the Washington Post. Sarah Kaplan reported on kernza, “a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute. … A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife.” More on kernza here.

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Photo: Ramona Peters.
Called “All Four Points,” this piece refers to the points of the compass. Ceramacist Ramona Peters, a member of Massachusetts’s Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, has helped revive 1600s Wampanoag traditional forms in clay.

I was reading about indigenous ceramics in New England at the Tomaquag Museum’s blog when I got interested in the origins of that remarkable institution and its plans for a new home near the University of Rhode Island campus.

First the ceramics post.

“My name is Haley Johnson and I am a Mashpee Wampanoag Ceramicist. I have a BFA in Ceramics from Rhode Island College.[As] an Education Intern at the Tomaquag Museum, I am dedicated to teaching about the past and advocating for the future of Indigenous arts and artists. …

“The Northeast is unique in its ceramic practices as can be seen in the color and textures of the clay, the shapes of our vessels, and the patterns and designs on finished work. … The natural clays that come from the Northeast are rich in minerals and sediments that lend to its bright oranges and deep reds upon firing. These colors then become signifiers of where the clay, and by extension, the vessel is from. …

“Traditionally in the coastal Northeast, cone shaped bottoms and wide mouths indicate cooking vessels. These pieces were designed specifically to heat food like soups and stews evenly. Ramona Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag) is a contemporary potter who creates with a similar shape language. [But usually] she makes the bottom of her vessels flat so that they are more easily displayed.. …

“Pottery adornment is also popular amongst Native ceramicists. By dragging and pressing tools into wet clay, patterns similar to those seen on Southern New England woven splint basketry can be made. Peters does this in her work.”

For a legend explaining how Maushop, creator of Noepe, or Martha’s Vineyard, and his taste for whale meat created the colors of the local clay, click here.

Now for the plan to create a bigger Tomaquag Museum. Nancy Burns-Fusaro at the Westerly Sun writes, “Rhode Island’s first and only indigenous museum is preparing to soar grandly into the 21st century.

“The Tomaquag Museum, which began inside the small Ashaway home of anthropologist Eva Butler more than 60 years ago, will move to an expansive, 18-acre site off Ministerial Road in South Kingstown, on the very land where ancestors of the Niantic and Narragansett tribal nations lived and worked for millennia prior to the arrival of European settlers.

” ‘We are so excited and so thankful,’ Executive Director Lorén Spears said [as] she discussed plans for the new museum and research center, which is scheduled to open in 2023. The plans include four new buildings and plenty of room for exhibits, area hikes, property tours, visitor parking, gardens full of native plants, medicinals, berries and herbs, new classrooms, performance space, a fully functional kitchen, gift shop, restaurant, pavilions, sculpture gardens, a replica of an early Native village, and a long house. …

“For Spears, a Narragansett tribal member who has worked tirelessly to educate the public on Native history, culture, the environment and the arts for more than a quarter of a century, the project is a dream come true.

” ‘It’s an exciting time,’ said Spears, who has taught at Brown University, the University of Rhode Island and in the Newport Public Schools and continues to teach classes and workshops designed to promote thoughtful dialogue about indigenous history. …

“Spears said the museum staff and members of the board of directors have been searching for the right location for years  now, and this piece of land, steeped in history and owned by the University of Rhode Island, is more than ideal. …

“Spears said the new site is visible yet rural, centrally located and accessible by car, foot and bicycle, but ‘the cherry on the top’ was the existence of viable public transportation.  

‘It’s accessible by public transportation,’ said Spears. “[Buses] run by all day and all night. It’s accessible from the north, south, east and west.’

“The property, which lies just south of Route 138 and north of Route 1, is a few miles away from the Kingston train station and adjacent to the South Kingstown bike path. …

” ‘Tourists will be able to find us,’ Spears said with a small laugh, noting that the museum’s current location is not as accessible. …

” ‘It’s a game changer,’ said Elizabeth Francis, executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. The new facility, she said, will allow the museum to more fully share its programming, collections and archives, will help usher in a new era and help introduce a new generation to all the museum’s ‘wonderful material.’ …

“The project, ‘is a testament to how current and present Rhode Island’s indigenous community is,’ Francis added. ‘They  are not locked away in a distant past … they are not static but are here and essential.’ …

“Constantly praising the museum’s staff, board members and collaborators, Spears also pays tribute to her ancestors, especially the women who founded the museum. 

“In 1958, she said, Mary E. Glasko, better known as Princess Red Wing, Narragansett/Pokanoket-Wampanoag, founded Tomaquag Museum, Rhode Island’s first and only Indigenous Museum, with the help of a friend and colleague, anthropologist Eva Butler. When Butler died in 1969, Tomaquag moved to the now-legendary Dovecrest Restaurant, owned by Ferris and Eleanor Spears Dove, the matriarch of the Narragansett Tribe who died in 2019 at the age of 100. After Dovecrest closed, Tomaquag moved to its current quarters in Exeter.

“But now, Spears said, it’s time to focus on the future.”

More on the new museum at the Boston Globe, here, the Providence Journal, here, and the Westerly Sun, here.

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Photo: Randall Hyman.
The Christian Science Monitor: “Activist Nicole Horseherder, who heads a nonprofit that seeks to protect water supplies on the reservation, stands on a ridge near Black Mesa in northern Arizona, the site of past disputes over coal mining.”

I’m grateful for the environmental leadership of indigenous people. They were environmentalists centuries before anyone used that word, and I think that paying attention to them will help us learn how to protect our planet.

Randall Hyman reports at the Christian Science Monitor about Navajo women who instinctively understand the importance of the natural world and their community’s place in it — and who don’t give up.

“One who has a master’s degree in linguistics,” Hyman says, “has made green energy a crusade on a reservation where coal, gas, and uranium have reigned supreme for decades, leaving tainted groundwater in their wake.

“Another returned to the Navajo reservation from Chicago to find that fracking had marred large sections of her native land – something she now works to stop in one of the largest methane hot spots in the United States. 

“A third was so distraught by the lack of ballot access on the reservation that she organized getting voters to the polls on horseback – her version of saddle-up democracy. 

“Two others have immersed themselves in politics directly – one as the youngest member of the Arizona State Legislature and the other as one of three women on the 24-member Navajo Nation Council. …

“Their efforts come at a particularly fraught time. Last year, from the vermilion sands bordering the Grand Canyon to the oil-rich scrublands east of Chaco Canyon, the Navajo Nation was hit by a perfect storm – a convergence of soaring pandemic deaths, dwindling energy revenues, and rising unemployment. Amid the chaos, Native women stepped up in what some see as an unprecedented wave. While one COVID-19 relief group raised $18 million in a matter of months, other women redoubled efforts to dismantle policies that have left Navajo (Diné) people vulnerable. 

“ ‘I think that you’re actually seeing a return to the way that Diné society has always been,’ says Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání (Sacred Water Speaks), an organization pushing for new energy policies and water protection across the Navajo Nation. ‘Women are coming forward and saying, “I am a leader too. I can make these decisions. I can make better decisions.” ‘ …

“Underneath all the narratives is another factor – the dominant presence of women in Navajo society, where taking charge is rooted in a matrilineal culture. 

“ ‘When you see the destruction in your community, you realize you have to do something,’ says Wendy Greyeyes, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. ‘So, women are empowered. A lot of that harks back to our own creation stories. Changing Woman was a very powerful deity who reflected thinking about the longevity of our existence, of the Diné people. This ideology is baked into our DNA as Navajo women – our need to care and nurture and protect our communities, our families.’ …

“A year ago, on a chilly December morning, Nicole Horseherder marked an explosive turning point in her long battle against coal mining. Standing on a slope overlooking the towering smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona, Ms. Horseherder set her cellphone on livestream and gazed at the 775-foot monoliths glowing in the sunrise a mile away.

“The stacks had been a landmark of the high desert for nearly half a century, symbols of fleeting prosperity and persistent pollution. The power plant serviced major cities of the Southwest and ran the huge Colorado River pumps supplying much of their water, but was among the top 10 carbon emitters in the United States. At precisely 8:30 a.m., a thunderous rumble shattered the clear morning and clouds of smoke mushroomed as 1,500 pounds of dynamite collapsed the stacks. …

“When I caught up with her last August on the Second Mesa of the Hopi reservation deep within the encircling borders of the Navajo reservation, [Horseherder] recalled her journey’s start. Driving to an overlook, she pointed north toward distant Big Mountain. For her, it stirred painful memories. 

“Ownership of the hardscrabble land surrounding Big Mountain, called Black Mesa, had long been an unresolved intertribal treaty issue. It remained in limbo until the 1950s and ’60s, when a Utah lawyer named John Boyden persuaded a minority of Hopi litigants to take it to court.

“True to its name, Black Mesa is underlain by rich coal seams. It is also sacred to the Navajos and Hopis, many of whom opposed outsiders tapping their minerals. But the lawsuit prevailed, eventually forcing the removal of some 10,000 Navajo residents while dividing mineral rights equally between the tribes. Boyden subsequently leased land and mineral rights for Peabody coal company. A half-century of coal mining and environmental controversy ensued. 

“Ms. Horseherder’s epiphany came when she returned home from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a master’s degree in the 1990s and discovered that her dream of leading a pastoral life had turned to dust. The springs that her family’s livestock depended on had run dry. ‘My whole attention and focus shifted,’ says Ms. Horseherder. ‘It became, “How am I going to protect the place where I live – how am I going to bring the water back? And where did the water go in the first place? ” ‘

“Ms. Horseherder became a vocal activist and founded Tó Nizhóní Ání, or Sacred Water Speaks. At the time, Peabody was pumping billions of gallons of water from deep aquifers, mixing it with pulverized coal, and sending the slurry through 273 miles of pipeline to a Nevada power plant. It assured tribal officials that the technology was safe, and many supported the operation because coal mining was a pillar of the Navajo and Hopi economies for nearly 50 years, providing tax revenues and well-paying jobs. 

“But environmentalists contended that depressurizing the aquifer was lowering the water table. While Ms. Horseherder fought Peabody for years – and others lost scores of animals to stock ponds they said were tainted by slurry – the power plant and related activities were only closed when the economics of the operations no longer worked. Wells never recovered, and impacts endure to this day, critics say. ‘What we’d like to see them do first,’ she says, ‘is fully reclaim those lands that they’ve mined, and reclaim the water as well.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Washington Post.
The city of Anchorage sits on the homeland of the Dena’ina tribe. The Anchorage Museum installed “This is Dena’ina Ełnena” on its facade as part of its land acknowledgment efforts to recognize the Indigenous people of a place.

Now that more of us are paying attention to those who were living in North America before First Contact, a tool has been created that lets us check which tribes lived where we live now.

I sent my zip code by text to (907) 312-5085 and learned I live on former Nipmuc and Pawtucket land. The return text (enabled by land.codeforanchorage.org) also taught me how to pronounce Massa-adchu-es-et. Now I need to look up how the Nipmuc and Pawtucket tribes are or aren’t related to the Wampanoag, as I always thought it was Wampanoag land in this part of Massachusetts.

You can find information about the land initiative in an article called “We’re Still Here” at the Washington Post.

I was also interested in an article at the74million.org about the history that Rhode Island’s indigenous children get in public school.

“Growing up in Charlestown, Rhode Island, Chrystal Baker remembers reading a textbook in history class that said the Narragansett Indigenous people, who have lived in southern New England for tens of thousands of years, were extinct.

‘We’re not extinct,’ the young student ventured, nervous about contradicting the lesson, but feeling she had to speak up. ‘I’m a Narragansett.’

“No response came from her teacher or classmates, recalls the Chariho Regional School District alum, who graduated in 1986.

“ ‘It just didn’t matter,’ she told The 74. ‘You were insignificant.’

“Now, decades later, Baker has two children in the same school system who have navigated similar experiences of hurt and invisibility. …

“ ‘In history class, it’s mostly the history of the colonizers,’ said her daughter Nittaunis Baker, 19, who graduated from Chariho High School in spring 2021 and now attends the University of Rhode Island. 

“ ‘We didn’t really talk about Native people that much.’ …

” ‘There is no United States history, there is no Rhode Island history, without Indigenous history,’ the West Warwick mother told The 74.” Read how the state is now handling indigenous history at the74million.org.

Photo: Asher Lehrer-Small/ the74million.org.
Chrystal Baker and her daughter Nittaunis on the water at the University of Rhode Island’s bay campus, where the 19-year old studies marine biology. They belong to the Narragansett tribe.

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Photo: InsideNova.
A scene from the sixth annual Refugees’ First Thanksgiving Dinner, held Nov. 18, 2018, and sponsored by the Ethiopian Community Development Council in Virginia.

Thanksgiving can be a fraught holiday not only because of occasional family feuds but because, as more of us now know, the story of our First Thanksgiving story has been distorting reality. It was not all about Pilgrims and Indian people sharing wild turkey and pledging eternal friendship. For indigenous tribes, the first European contact was the beginning of endless tragedy.

This year Edward Fitzpatrick at the Boston Globe added to our knowledge after interviewing a member of a New England tribe called the Narragansett.

Lorén Spears, also Tomaquag Museum executive director, says, “There’s no US history without Indigenous people’s history. [People] really need to dig in and come visit places like Tomaquag Museum. … Go to the Mashpee Museum, go to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, go to the Pequot Museum, and find out the real history.”

Even if Indigenous people spend Thanksgiving with family and festivities, she says, “They still know that this isn’t always a happy time for us because it reminds us of all the trauma and loss that our communities have felt due to the conquest that took place here and how it still affects us today economically: health disparities, educational disparities, the list goes on.”

I have read other accounts of indigenous people gathering with family, making it a day of gratitude for the harvest and for community. Immigrants also make the occasion their own.

When I asked students in one English as a Second Language class about Thanksgiving, a young woman from Egypt said that last year, her first US Thanksgiving, she didn’t know anything about the holiday, but she prepared a turkey along with the family’s favorite Egyptian dishes. I said, “Well, if you had a turkey, you had Thanksgiving.” But what do I know? It’s about being thankful. Turkey not necessary.

Plenty of people don’t like turkey. When my family went to a restaurant one Thanksgiving, my Swedish son-in-law ordered beef. And Latinx immigrants have told me they like to serve ham and pineapple, with or without turkey.

Our family tends to stick with turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, another vegetable, cranberry sauce, salad, and a dessert using apples. But before Covid, my sister and her husband always brought bagels and lox. And if we had a guests from another country, they would bring national dishes. Does your gathering have dishes that are unique to your celebration?

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Dance at a Powwow

Photo: Linda Dulan.
In July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at New York’s Queens County Farm Museum. Seen here, an old-style men’s dance.

I’ve always wanted to get to the Narragansett tribe‘s summer Powwow in Rhode Island. And I will do it yet — never mind how busy summer gets.

In today’s post, Dance magazine whets my appetite even more with wonderful pictures from a “dance powwow” in New York State.

“Over the course of three days in July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at Queens County Farm Museum. Founded in 1963 by members of the Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and Kuna (San Blas) tribes, Thunderbird is the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York, and puts on the city’s largest powwow, drawing dancers from more than 40 tribal nations for a series of performances and dance contests, as well as crafts and food stands.

The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well.

Dance Magazine joined [a] sunset bonfire to capture some of the competitions, and asked Thunderbird director Louis Mofsie and company dancer Michael Taylor to share their insights on the place of dance within the powwow.”

They write, “The powwow is a social gathering where we get together to dance and sing, to meet old friends and make new ones. Originally a Western/Great Plains tradition, it does not have any religious or ceremonial significance — our religious and ceremonial dances and songs are restricted and closed to outsiders.

“Dancing is the major activity. Over the weekend, there are dance competitions and also what are called intertribal dances, where the dancers from all tribes are invited to participate. Our bonfire each evening during the gathering is there to help us travel back in time to the days when we had no spotlights. It reminds us of our past, our connection to our heritage and how it has survived through all our hardships to this day.

“As Native American people, we start dancing at a very young age. Dancing at powwows is how we learn the different styles of dances and what they represent. It helps us to connect to our roots and reinforces our awareness of who we are. It also reminds us that Native American dance is the original dance in America—and is still alive today. …

“Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance. This dance dates back to around 1945, right after the Second World War. Native American women and men had volunteered for the armed services and traveled all over the world. During their travels they observed how the women in many different countries were dancing. When they returned home, they decided to introduce a different style of dancing. Traditionally, the women did a very slow, graceful movement around the outer edge of the dance circle, and the men would be doing more vigorous movement on the inside. The Fancy Shawl Dance is much faster in rhythm, more vigorous and permits them to dance on the inside of the circle. The women wear shawls with very long fringe along the edges, and as they move, the fringe reminds you of the feathers that the men wear. Although the women do not wear the feathers and bells on their legs like the men do, their footwork and movements are very similar.

“Men’s Fancy Dance. They say this dance also originated around the end of the Second World War. When the men returned home from the war, they also wanted a more vigorous style of movement. Fancy dancing is much faster than traditional men’s dancing. Each of the dancers tries to create as many fancy steps as they can while keeping time with the singing and drumming. The men wear feathers with ribbons attached to each end, and they carry dance wands that are decorated with ribbons and feathers.

“Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. This dance tells the story of its origin. There was a mother who had a very ill daughter. One night she had a dream, and in it she had a vision: She was told to show the women how to make a special dress with little cones or jingles on it, show them how to do a special kind of dance and sing them a very special song. If she did all these things, it would help her daughter get well. The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well. The dance started out as a healing dance but has come down to us as one of the more popular competition dances at the powwow gatherings.”

I never thought about it before, but why should any community have an art form that never evolves. I love the idea that indigenous people who returned from WW II incorporated new influences into traditional dance. More at Dance, here.

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The year there was no Boston Marathon.

October 11 is a little different this year. Some people will still be celebrating Columbus Day. (Time, here, explains why some Italians feel positive about the explorer.) Others will recognize Monday as Indigenous People’s Day, honoring the tribes who were here before the arrival of Europeans and the devastation they brought. Rhode Island, for example, plans to use its the PRONK parade to celebrate Native Americans.

And here’s something that hasn’t happened in October before: the Boston Marathon. Erik is running again, so my husband and I will be there, cheering him on.

The Boston Marathon is usually run at the April holiday New Englanders call Patriots Day, the day that in 1775 the “embattled farmers” stood at the North Bridge in Concord “and fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

In 2020, Covid cancelled the Marathon. And 2021 was touch and go, too, until organizers at the Boston Athletic Association decided the pandemic might be under control by October.

Well, it is and isn’t. So there are unusual Marathon protocols in place.

Says the BAA, “Entrants in the 125th Boston Marathon, scheduled for Monday, October 11, will need to either provide proof of vaccination or produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to participate in the fall race. It is strongly recommended that all entrants, staff, and volunteers are vaccinated. Masks will not be required while running the 26.2-mile course, but will be enforced on participant transportation and in other areas in accordance with local guidelines.

“We understand that COVID-19 related-travel restrictions may prevent many international participants from toeing the line in Hopkinton. In recognition of this unique and extenuating circumstance, any Boston Marathon participant who resides outside of the United States can move their entry to the virtual race and be refunded for the difference.

“Prior to bib number pick-up, Boston Marathon participants will be required to either produce proof of a complete vaccination series of a World Health Organization-certified vaccine or produce a negative COVID-19 test, which will be administered on site in a Boston Marathon medical tent.”

According to the Boston Globe, “there will be 14 former champions in the field, with a combined 32 first-place Boston finishes, including two-time men’s winner Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, as well as countryman Asefa Mengstu, who has the fastest personal best in the field and the 23rd-fastest marathon ever at 2:04:06.

“The women’s field features nine sub-2:22:00 marathoners, including Ethiopia’s Yebrgual Melese, whose 2:19:36 personal best ranks fastest in the field. Melese will have some tough competition from fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba, the 2015 world champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist.”

If an aspiring runner hasn’t run the required number of previous races at the required times, she or he can still participate if sponsored by a charity and willing to raise money for it. The Globe says, “There are 41 charity organizations, with 2,090 runners, participating. Over the past 32 years, more than $400 million has been raised for charity.”

And here’s an interesting note: “For the only time in its history, the Boston Marathon will take place on Oct. 11 — which is recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day in cities and towns on the route.

“Patti Catalano Dillon, a three-time Boston runner-up and a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe, will be interviewed at Fan Fest Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. about setting the American marathon record at Boston 40 years ago. She also will serve as an official starter.

“A ceremony will be held Oct. 8 to commemorate the 85th anniversary of Ellison Brown’s first of two marathon titles. A banner will be presented to the grandchildren of Brown, who was a member of the Narragansett tribe.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Image: Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation.
2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. The Squamish First Nation has set a goal of housing every member within a generation.

Just before the pandemic, I read at the Guardian about an indigenous-led development for Vancouver, Canada. And yes, it’s still going forward. The market-rate aspect of the development is supposed to fund the parts that benefit the First Nation providing the land. I found a more recent story from the Daily Hive.

Kenneth Chan reports, “By the end of this year, site preparation for construction could begin on the Senakw development. … Squamish First Nation members overwhelmingly voted to approve the massive development on their 12-acre Kitsilano reserve in late 2019. Thus allowing band leaders to seal the partnership with local developer Westbank and continue their work with refining the design concept.

“In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, Khelsilem, a spokesperson and councillor of the First Nation, said the heights of several buildings have been increased, including the tallest tower, now up from 56 storeys to 59 storeys at 172 metres (564 ft). … The first of four construction phases will target the westernmost parcel of the reserve — a narrow strip of land between the bridge and Vanier Park. …

“He said, ‘Some of the motifs of the building have been refined to incorporate Squamish culture and identity, and there is starting to be a bit more imagining of where the public gathering spaces will be.’

“The ground plain commercial space component of the project has changed too, with open public courtyards sunken into the landscape, activated by retail, restaurants, cafes, and potentially grocery stores and fitness centres.

“It also takes advantage of the space under the Burrard Street Bridge, using the structure as a cover for an ‘outdoor restaurant,’ gathering areas, a playground, and basketball courts.

“The residential component of the project still carries a total of 6,000 units, possibly enough to house as many as 9,000 people. …

“The housing tenure composition has not been finalized, but Khelsilem maintains purpose-built market rental housing will likely account for at least 70% of the homes. The below-market rental housing component dedicated to Squamish members has grown slightly to roughly 300 units. …

“The First Nation has set a goal of housing every member within a generation, defined as in 25 years. More than half of its 4,000 members live on reserve, and over 1,000 are on the housing waitlist, with the most recent housing allocations offered to members who have been waiting for over three decades.

“Senakw’s non-market housing component for members will help achieve some of this broader goal directly. The real win is that the revenue generated by the market housing will provide the First Nation with the capacity to pursue greater self-determination. It will greatly enhance their ability to provide current members and future generations with more services, such as eldercare, education, and language and culture support. It would also help fund more member housing initiatives beyond this reserve. …

“Khelsilem adds many members have also expressed excitement about the trades training and employment opportunities that will be offered by the construction project.

“ ‘It is important for the public to understand that this is an economic development venture, it is not an affordable housing project. It is an economic development venture so that we can generate significant amounts of revenue to be invested into our community because we’ve been without the means to do it otherwise,’ said Khelsilem. …

“The infusion of thousands of market rental homes at Senakw will serve to improve overall housing affordability in Metro Vancouver by filling some of the demand from moderate-income households.

“ ‘The reality is new market rental housing is affordable for middle class workers and families in Vancouver, and that’s who this housing will be for,’ he said, adding that strong demand for rental housing has persisted even under COVID-19 conditions.”

More at the Daily Hive, here.

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Photo: Chelsey Geralda Armstrong.
An aerial shot of the Sts’ailes forest garden. These forests demonstrate the way that First Nations people in the Pacific Northwest have actively managed natural ecosystems to increase the accessibility of preferred food near their homes.

Today’s story is about how indigenous people in Canada have created “forest gardens” to be able to harvest the traditional food the tribes value.

From the radio show Living on Earth:

“BOBBY BASCOMB: British Columbia is home to lush forests that cover almost two-thirds of the Canadian province. And for some ten thousand years, First Nations peoples made the forests their home. The trees provided much of what the people needed to survive and thrive. After asking permission of towering cedars, Coast Salish and other peoples would harvest bark for weaving and wood to carve canoes and totem poles. But they also carved out special gardens in the forest to grow food and medicinal plants. And new research shows that these forest gardens are still home to abundant biodiversity. …

“DR. CHELSEY GERALDA ARMSTRONG: We live in the Pacific Northwest where you have very contiguous conifer dominant forests … cedar and spruce and hemlock and firs. [But the forest gardens are] broadleaf forests, which are very rare here … maple and birch and then sub canopies of hazelnut and crabapple, all deciduous species. One of the big things that kind of sticks out when you’re in these places is at the right time of year, it’s just like a fruit paradise. There’s so many fruits going, kind of around late August, early September. It is an edible forest without question, and also a lot of medicinal species as well in that understory, things like wild ginger. …

“BASCOMB: And these were gardens cultivated by the Indigenous people that lived there, how did they create them? It sounds like they must have had to travel quite far to bring these different species together in one spot. …

“ARMSTRONG: We don’t know exactly how they were started, or when, how old they are, although we are getting closer to some dates. … Hazelnut, for example, [is] a native species to British Columbia, but it’s found far outside its range in certain forest gardens. But also, people were managing for succession. These types of forest management practices are basically utilizing and capitalizing on natural ecosystem processes. So things like wild raspberries, black huckleberries, Alaska blueberry, oval-leaf blueberry, all these kinds of plants that grow in forest gardens are locally available. And so it’s just about letting those things come back, keeping the competitors out, and then enhancing them with new species. …

“ARMSTRONG: Comparing forest gardens with the surrounding conifer forests, or what we refer to as peripheral forest, it was very clear that overall, forest gardens [were] a lot more biodiverse. … So you can imagine that, in fact, the edge between these two ecosystems are incredibly productive areas.

“BASCOMB: Well, that totally makes sense. I mean, you would expect more biodiversity in an area with, say, maybe a field, next to a forest, with a river running through it. If you have several different ecosystems all in one spot. ….

“ARMSTRONG: We found that forest gardens have a higher frequency of animal-dispersed and animal-pollinated species. So what this means is that forest gardens are the result of animal movement. And of course, humans are included in that category. But on top of that, what this suggests is that after humans left these gardens and villages, in some cases a couple hundred years ago, forest gardens began providing really unique habitat for animals and pollinators seeking food. So what we see here is an example of human land use that actually provides and increases functions across the landscape, rather than depleting it. …

“BASCOMB: Can you tell me about the First Nations people that lived in this area and created these gardens? …

“ARMSTRONG: I worked with two communities, Kitsumkalum, and Kitselas. And, you know, the archaeological record of people living in this area is very, very rich. People have been here for, you know, 10,000 plus years. And for Kitselas, we know that [families] have been in the same canyon area for at least 7,000 years. [But] people were forcibly removed from their communities. A lot of times they moved to the coast to work in canneries, which were, you know, kind of slave-like conditions for people. But they returned, a lot of them, to their communities in the ’50s and ’60s. …

“There are elders in Kitselas that always say, ‘Old villages are really good places to hunt,’ … But basically, these places have not been maintained for, you know, 200 years. … A huge part of our research is actually employing different management strategies, clearing the forest garden areas and getting them back to a place where they can be producing lots of food for people locally.

“BASCOMB: And what did you learn about these forest gardens from the First Nation elders that you spoke with? …

“ARMSTRONG: The elders had pointed me in [the direction of hazelnuts, which I was studying], saying, well, it’s not just hazelnut. [It’s] Pacific crabapple, it’s Saskatoon berries, it’s soapberries. And so, you know, they’re the ones that were leading a lot of this inquiry. And of course, we know from them all the different ethno-botanical uses of plants. … A lot of our research is kind of being led by them and the questions that they have about these places that we can answer.

“BASCOMB: Chelsey Armstrong directs the Historical and Ethnoecological Research, or HER, Lab at Simon Fraser University.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm.
Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm in upstate New York that raises and distributes “life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid.”

Having blogged about this forward-thinking farm in 2019, here, I thought I would go back and check on how it’s doing today. Its focus on food apartheid and climate change are more relevant than ever.

Darryl Fears at the Washington Post interviewed Leah Penniman, a founder of Soul Fire Farm in rural New York.

“A heavy snow was falling here in the Taconic Mountain Range outside Albany when Leah Penniman moved to the farm she bought with her husband. It was the day after Christmas, Penniman recalled, ‘and I cried.’ They were not tears of joy.

“Penniman was having second thoughts. ‘I was, like, can we just stay in Albany?’ Her family had left that city’s impoverished South End community because it was a food desert — devoid of grocery stores with fresh produce or sit-down restaurants. But she worried about losing friends she made there. ‘I wasn’t so sure about this rural thing.’ …

“But as the first seedlings grew at the new Soul Fire Farm, so did she. Today, Penniman, 41, is a leading spokesperson for the movement to increase the ranks of Black, Brown and Indigenous farmers. Hundreds of people are on a waiting list to attend her classes on regenerative farming that reduces carbon emissions and mitigates climate change, refuting a belief that Black people and other underrepresented groups do not want to farm. …

“Leah Penniman’s 2018 book, Farming While Black, a guide to regenerative farming that called America’s paucity of Black farmers ‘food apartheid,’ turned heads. …

“According to its 2019 annual report, Soul Fire Farm Institute trained 120 people of color at week-long farming immersions and 905 activists at workshops. The report also said 675 youngsters learned about farming and food justice.

“Four new small farms are in operation partly as a result of those internships: High Hog Farm in Grayson, Ga., 40 miles northwest of Atlanta; Harriett Tubman Freedom Farm in Whitakers, N.C., 15 miles north of Rocky Mount; Catatumbo Cooperative Farm in South Chicago and Sweet Freedom Farm, about 60 miles south of Soul Fire in New York. …

‘What I’m particularly excited about is the capacity for Afro Indigenous regenerative agriculture to participate in carbon drawdowns,’ Leah Penniman said as she dug up potato plants recently at Soul Fire. ‘So we are demonstrating how to capture carbon in the soil using our ancestral methods of no till and composting, all these fabulous ways of growing food and medicine.’ …

“Penniman is part of a cadre of farmers who are teaching new ways of farming, said Ricardo Salvador, who runs the food and environmental service at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“ ‘Her efforts with Soul Fire Farm are an argument that you don’t have to exploit people, you don’t have to exploit nature and still produce abundant, nourishing food for communities,’ he said. ‘She’s training people who come to the farm, who take short courses or do internships … to rethink access to land.’ …

“Soul Fire Farm, a cooperative with several owners, is a member of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, 30 farming and food activist groups run by Dara Cooper. …

“Fighting discrimination in American farming is central to what the network does, Cooper said. But so is offsetting climate change.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture accounted for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Research has shown that traditional farming practices such as tilling and plowing release carbon dioxide when they cut into the earth. …

“Cooper said activists should be wary of lionizing a single person, a mistake the civil rights movement made with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But she praised Penniman.

“ ‘There is something very special about Leah,’ Cooper said. ‘She’s a farmer, she’s studied, she’s brilliant, she’s an amazing teacher and educator. Anybody who’s attended her talks are fired up and ready to go afterward.’

“Penniman … plunged her hand into the dirt and held it eye level. ‘There’s worms in this soil,’ she said as one inched toward her bare fingers. ‘There’s nematodes in this soil, all kinds of beneficial organisms.’

“She smiled as she admired the habitat — creepy crawlies, bugs and microbes living healthy lives on her family farm, which rejects using pesticides that kill them.

“The worms and millions of tiny organisms have a symbiotic relationship with dirt, and plants sequester greenhouse gases and convert it to an organic form. Trapped in the ground, the gases cannot rise into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. …

“A Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground noted the finding that a 1 percent increase in organic matter in an acre of soil pulls down about 10 tons of carbon dioxide.

“ ‘Agriculture is the biggest way humans impact our landscape,’ Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us, says in the film. ‘We have unleashed through agriculture over the centuries millennia of carbon from the land, and now it’s part of that legacy load of carbon dioxide.’ “

Read more about Penniman’s intriguing backstory at the Post, here.

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Photo: NPY Women’s Council.
To combat coronavirus in Australia, “For the first time, Aboriginal health workers were given contact-tracing powers usually reserved for state health authorities.”

Recognizing that plagues of the past had wiped out whole indigenous communities, Australian authorities took action to get ahead of the coronavirus plague — with a particular focus on protecting elders.

At the Washington Post, Rachel Pannett reported on where their results stood in early April.

“From Alaska to the Amazon, Indigenous people are more likely to get sick with or die of covid-19, as the pandemic magnifies deep-rooted health and socioeconomic inequities. That is not the case in Australia.

“Not only have Indigenous Australians recorded far fewer infections per capita than their global counterparts, they are six times less likely than the wider Australian population to contract the coronavirus, government data shows.

“There have been no cases in remote communities, and not a single Aboriginal elder has died. Of the 149 cases involving Indigenous people since the start of the pandemic nationwide, few were serious enough to require hospitalization. …

“The vaccine rollout is also proceeding more smoothly in many Indigenous communities than elsewhere in Australia, where some clinics are complaining of empty vaccine fridges. Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are being prioritized for vaccinations because of their higher risk of developing serious illness if infected.

“On the first day of the vaccine rollout in Sydney, one Aboriginal clinic booked all of its appointments in an hour, according to Aboriginal health officials. In the remote Australian-controlled islands of the Torres Strait — near Papua New Guinea, which is battling an outbreak — over 80 percent of adults have been vaccinated, officials said.

‘This is a most amazing response to the pandemic from a community that is so marginalized,’ said Fiona Stanley, an Australian epidemiologist specializing in public health. ‘This is probably the best evidence we have that if you put Aboriginal people in charge, then you get better outcomes.’

“First-nation people globally have a painful legacy of disease and its impact on elders, those most responsible for the survival of Indigenous culture. Europeans introduced smallpox and other diseases to the New World starting from around 1500, wiping out much of the Indigenous population. The 1918 flu pandemic destroyed entire villages. …

“The first case of the coronavirus in Australia, in January 2020 — a man from Wuhan, China, who arrived in Melbourne — was a wake-up call for the country, but especially for Australia’s Indigenous leaders. The new virus was striking older people, particularly those with chronic conditions. And being highly contagious, it was likely to spread like wildfire through remote Indigenous communities where overcrowding is common. …

“Pat Turner, chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization, wrote to state and federal leaders in March 2020, asking them to use their powers to order the closure of remote communities to stop visitors from entering. Accordingly, the communities were sealed off.

“Lawyer Teela Reid kicked off efforts to protect elders in Gilgandra, a rural town 270 miles northwest of Sydney. ‘I could clearly see how catastrophic it could get in the country, if we got one case in our town of 3,000, because we don’t have the health resources,’ Reid said.

“The local municipality compiled a list of elders and made sure they did not need to leave their homes for food or medicines. Reid’s grandmother Stella, the town matriarch who presides over traditional ceremonies, went against her natural instincts and padlocked her gate.

” ‘It was hard for us,’ Reid said. ‘Our grandparents are often the people who raise children. But they also hold our story lines. They’re passed down orally. If you lose that, it’s gone.’ She added, ‘The ways in which many communities acted was through the natural instinct to be a survivor and to protect elders.’

“Before the pandemic, Aboriginal health organizations had been talking with government officials about plans to address a syphilis outbreak using local Indigenous health services. Australia’s chief medical officer at the time, Brendan Murphy, supported the approach, an endorsement that [Dawn Casey, who co-chairs a government task force established to develop a virus plan for Indigenous communities], says helped smooth the way for a community-led approach to the coronavirus.

“On Facebook, TikTok and Vimeo, Aboriginal health agencies launched coronavirus messages — including instructions on cough etiquette and hand hygiene — and interviews with trusted health officials, translated into local languages.”

More here.

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Photo: Landis Brown/The Archive of Healing at UCLA.
The Archive of Healing describes cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning two centuries.

My daughter-in-law and I got interested in a kind of tumeric tea that we bought at the farmers market before Covid. Since then, I’ve tried other kinds of tumeric tea just because I like the weird flavor. And as today’s article points out, tumeric has long been known to reduce inflammation.

At Hyperallergic, Valentina Di Liscia wrote recently about similar tried and (sometimes) true traditional remedies that are featured in something called the Archive of Healing.

“The digital archive features hundreds of thousands of entries describing cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning two centuries, with a focus on protecting Indigenous knowledge from for-profit exploitation.

“The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Archive of Healing, one of the most comprehensive databases of medicinal folklore in the world, is now accessible online. The interactive, searchable website boasts hundreds of thousands of entries describing cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning more than 200 years and seven continents.

“The site … focuses on the preservation of Indigenous traditions and customs related to wellness.

“The project started five decades ago, when former UCLA professors Wayland Hand and Michael Owen Jones led teams of students to document medicinal practices described in university archives, published sources, anthropologists’ field notes, and their own family folklore.

In 1996, the school received a grant to digitize the research — encompassing more than a million handwritten four-by-six note cards — and transform it into a searchable database then known as the ‘Archive of Traditional Medicine.’

“But somehow, the massive trove remained a little-known resource until 2012, when a librarian at UCLA came across the database and alerted Dr. David Delgado Shorter, Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Shorter, who had just published a book based on fieldwork with the Yoeme communities in northwest Mexico and launched a digital tool to help Indigenous people preserve their languages, was ‘blown away’ by the archive.

“ ‘It was just sitting there probably for years without people knowing about it,’ Shorter said in an interview. … ‘In some ways it’s fantastic that no one knew about it, because in this day and age, someone could have created a mining program and simply just pulled all the material from the database,’ he added. … His team safeguarded the data in a secure server.

“One of Shorter’s priorities is protecting Indigenous knowledge from exploitation by for-profit entities, such as pharmaceutical companies. For that reason, some entries in the archive do not mention specific plant names or recipes unless that information is already widely known.

“As dangerous health-related disinformation surged during the coronavirus pandemic, many have become wary of alternative medicine. The archive’s initial compilers were folklorists, not medical doctors, and the website includes a disclaimer that the entries do not constitute medical advice. … Users can flag entries they deem inappropriate. …

“Most importantly, these spices, plants, and other healing methods can deepen our understanding of how different cultures view the body, wellness, and community.

“ ‘The whole goal here is to democratize what we think of as healing and knowledge about healing, and take it across cultures in a way that’s respectful and gives attention to intellectual property rights,’ said Shorter.”

Hooray for librarians who alert people to “treasure troves”! More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: US Department of the Interior.
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, is the first Native American to become a cabinet secretary. She served as a representative for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021.

Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, recently moved from Congress to her pathbreaking role as US Secretary of the Interior. Indigenous people around the country hope she will be able right some wrongs of the past.

In March, National Public Radio (NPR) and the show Living on Earth had stories about this beautiful gift to America from the Laguna Pueblo tribe.

At NPR, Kirk Siegler said, “With so much land under federal control in the West, it’s long been said the secretary of the Interior has much more of a direct affect on most people’s lives than the president. This experience could arguably be multiplied tenfold on reservations.

“In her confirmation hearing earlier this year, Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico nodded to the fact that the department she now leads was historically used as a tool of oppression toward tribes.

‘This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the Interior once proclaimed his goal to, quote, civilize or exterminate us,’ Haaland said quoting an Interior report from 1851. … ‘I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.’

“[Haaland made history] by becoming the first indigenous Interior secretary. She’s promising to begin repairing a legacy of broken treaties and abuses committed by the federal government toward tribes. It’s one pillar of a long and ambitious to-do list of reforms the administration is planning at the sprawling agency that is the federal government’s most direct contact with the nation’s 574 federally recognized — and sovereign — tribes. …

” ‘It feels like we are moving and we are claiming what we could have done a long time ago,’ said Mary Jane Miles, 81, a member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee in Idaho.

“Miles said a traditional song was sung and there was an impromptu celebration at her tribe’s headquarters the moment Haaland was formally confirmed by the Senate.

“The Nez Perce, or Nimiipuu in their native language, consider much of the Northwest their ancestral land. But through a series of treaties they’re now confined to a small slice of remote Idaho river country. Like most tribes, their land is held in trust by the federal government and leaders here say the U.S. has long shirked its obligation to protect the land, its wildlife and other issues of cultural importance to the tribe.

“Today, the salmon and steelhead trout that were once abundant on the Snake and Clearwater rivers are nearing extinction. Miles also pointed to a legacy of toxic messes from mining that occurred on ancestral Nez Perce land often with little or no consultation by the tribe.

” ‘Sometimes when we look at some of the things that the past has done for our tribe, we’ve noticed that maybe we’ve been taken,’ she said.

“Nationwide, tribal leaders believe the injustices of the past might start to be reversed under Haaland. …

” ‘Protection of this government-to-government relationship is all important to the tribes,’ said Jon Echohawk, executive director and attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Colorado.

“Echohawk said that relationship is fraught because Interior agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been chronically underfunded. He says the previous administration also spurned tribal input on major lands decisions like the opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, the Keystone Pipeline and the 85% reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument.

“There is already pressure on the new administration to reinstate Bears Ears in Utah or possibly even expand it beyond its original boundaries. The land is rich with artifacts and other cultural resources considered sacred to many tribes. Haaland has said only she’s planning to travel there next month for a listening tour.

“Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, said she expects Haaland to take a measured approach on a lot of controversial issues at Interior given the historic nature of her appointment.

” ‘If she goes in and is radical, you know, who comes behind her, what native comes behind her, all of us will get judged by what she does,’ Morris said.”

Bobby Bascomb, speaking with Haaland at Living on Earth, brought up the subject of fossil fuels because the resistance to the new secretary’s appointment came from supporters of that sector in Congress.

Haaland said, “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed. Together we can work to position our nation and all of its people for success in the future.”

More at NPR, here, and at Living on Earth, here.

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