Words

Sacred Ground

Unite the tribes to save the world
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“Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis,” Christian Parenti writes. “The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop one another. Rather, I argue that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.”

The great danger, Parenti argues, is that societies, like people, react to crisis in a manner conditioned by past traumas.

For the United States, trauma is shaped through a military response that extends back beyond wars hot and cold into the genocidal conquest of the American West and the plunder of its resources. The military itself labels climate change a “threat multiplier,” a great pressure to respond to a changing tactical situation with imperfect information. Terrible things have been wrought in the urgency of the expedient.

In a sense, as resources dwindle and options narrow, we come full circle on that crisis of the West; and perhaps the tribes and their treaties provide a path for a different outcome.

In May of last year, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 57 Native American groups in the region, put forward a resolution opposing export of fossil fuels in the region. In numbers, they are strong. Only the Crow Nation refused to sign, and they had their reasons. For them, coal is life.

“The Absaalooka were not born coal miners,” Winona LaDuke says of that nation. “That’s what happens when things are stolen from you—your land, reserved under treaty, more than 30 million acres of the best land in the northern plains, the heart of their territory. This is what happens with historic trauma, and your people and ancestors disappear.

“In economic terms, essentially, the Crow are watching as their assets are taken to benefit others, and their ecology and economy decline,” she notes. Crow Nation needs a friend, and with that friendship comes a bond that can benefit all.

In a sense the final two speakers of the 2014 Fairhaven College World Issues Forum bookend not only the broad topics of climate change and social justice the forum explored, but they bookend each other. In a series of presentations, the forum has addressed the complex, evolving but undeniable science of climate change and its impacts to the natural world and human experience. At the end comes an apocalyptic warning, followed by the offer of a narrow path through the apocalypse.

Through a special film project she helped produce, LaDuke—an activist, environmentalist and author of Anishinaabe descent—and others studied several indigenous communities around the world to learn how they respond to threats to their health, their livelihood and cultural survival.

“In the United States and around the world, indigenous people defend human rights and restore the environment in their sacred places, the original protected areas,” LaDuke notes. “In a growing worldwide movement, their resistance provides the path to our common future.”

The series of films premiered in October 2013. One is featured this week at the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival.

In recent writings LaDuke has suggested the task of fully uniting the Crow Nation with Lummi and other northwest tribes suggests a model for how to ignite a global grassroots response to the mounting chaos Parenti describes, displacing the expedient with the durable and the sacred.

“So it is that the Crow Nation needs a friend among the Lummi and is having a hard time finding one,” she observes. “In the meantime, a 40-year-old coal-mining strategy is being challenged by Crow people, because culture is tied to land, and all of that may change if they starting mining for coal.

“On one level, you want to tell them that what they’re doing is so wrong,” LaDuke continues, “in its spiritual terms, in terms of their own relationship to Mother Earth, and in terms of their denial of people’s humanity. Another facet that I always want to say is: Your plan is bad. You cannot continue to build a society that is based on conquest. We have run out of places to conquer, places to put our flags, new places to mine, new places to dam.

“At a certain point, you have to bring your world into some sort of economy that is durable and you need to do it sooner rather than later because the more you compromise ecosystems and spiritual recharge areas, the harder it will be for us all to recover.”

Christian Parenti and Winona LaDuke will speak at the Fairhaven College World Issues Forum on Climate Change and Social Justice. LaDuke’s film Standing on Sacred Ground screens this week at the 14th Annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival. See page 24 for more details.

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