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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Native American Activist Conference

Air Date: Week of

Dick Brooks brings us the voices and stories of Native American environmentalists attending a meeting of the Indigenous Environmental Network, held on the Sac and Fox Reservation in Northeastern Oklahoma.


CURWOOD: The Native American knows how to live in harmony with nature, or at least that's the popular view, and more and more non-Indians are looking to Native peoples for guidance on environmental problems. At the same time, some Indians are themselves combining traditional and contemporary means to meet ecological threats to their ways of life. Producer Dick Brooks traveled this month to the Sac and Fox reservation in Oklahoma, where he was a guest at a meeting of the Indigenous Environmental Network. He sent us this report.

(Sound of birds in campground)

BROOKS: The big oak trees of the Sac and Fox reservation shade more than 200 tents, vans, and teepees. Across the prairie grass dance ground, a sacred fire lodge maintains a vigil over the proceedings, as Native peoples from the Arctic, Florida, Canada, and the Great Southwest join in circles large and small. They are recounting battles and sharing strategies in their fight to protect their lands and way of life. Their words reflect many accents and dialects, yet they are all speaking with one voice.

WHITEHAWK: There is a war going on, a conflict of two different types of value systems. One is the profit motive, and one is a reciprocal relationship with the environment. It's a spiritual battle and the results are environmental damage, cultural degradation, the loss of spiritual values. Because these spiritual values are the underpinnings that hold us together and to the earth that we stand upon.

GOLDTOOTH: Welcome to this, our workshop session on environmental regulations and laws. What we've done . . . (fade under)

DANNY BILLY: In the circle of life, wherever it may be, it may be a piece of grass or it may be a little insect that's in that circle, and if you destroy that one thing, it can create the destruction of the whole circle, and so like with we go into courts, and cases where we're fighting for our rights, it may be a land claim or it may be self-determination, it's all involved because it's in that circle. And so if we lose a case, the Red People, the Indian people lose a case in court, it's a loss for everyone.

WALT BRESETTE: Well, it's obvious, it's an ultimate truth and it resonates, this larger reality of destruction. And it's really a message to the rest of us. And it's not just to those white people. It's to the Lake Superior Chippewa and everyone else who is taking that path which will ultimately lead to the extinction of the traditional Seminole or the Purple Warrior Band Clan [sic] or the spotted owl. We're next, once we allow that to happen.

ANNA FRAZIER: You become protective of these things, that's your environment and the land you live on and your family and your people. Your people, you know, you're just kind of like the eyes and ears of your elders who are uneducated, don't know how to speak the white man's language. So you begin to talk for them, see for them, read, you know, the different types of material that come about that has to do with all these contaminating stuff, you know, toxic waste and asbestos plants.

AMOS JOHNSON: If you went back, like, 200 years ago, we were the warriors. But today we're fighting a different kind of battle. It's like, you know, we're fighting chemicals companies, landfills and so on. And although as today's warriors, which has always been the role of the warrior in the old days, is to protect the young, the old, the land, the tradition, the culture.

SCOTT MORRISON: And we're winning victories. Look at all the hazardous waste either incinerators or landfill proposals have gone on, very few have actually come about and it's because of the grass-roots people. You know, you look at the statistics: we are the poorest, uneducated or undereducated, the most disenfranchised of the United States, yet these people take on multinational corporations and win.

BROOKS: What are their strengths? We know the weaknesses.

MORRISON: With my tribe, or with myself and my family, I was always taught that the land is not something you own, that you just borrow it from the future generations. Choctaws have lived and died and fought and died for that land. We have to honor their contribution to me. If they had not done that, I would not be the person I am.

(Sound of drum song)

MARVIN STEVENS: It kind of bothers me that, that in the Holy Bible it tells the people to go and take dominion over the Earth. I can't help but think that in the translation from the original language that the wrong word was used. If it had said, go and take care of the Earth, I could believe that. But when it said, go and take dominion of the Earth, I don't go along with that.

ARNE CALF BOSS RIB: I ask you in closing that we stop and think about what was said here, so that hopefully in the future those little ones that are coming up can see what we see. Hopefully, these little few words will carry from this crowd here out into the whole world, and that those ones that are coming here, the ones that want to mine our land, the ones that don't care right now, will start caring that we'll always have our Mother Earth to walk on.

(Sound of drum song and bird chirping)

CURWOOD: Voices, in words and song, from the meeting of the Indigenous Environmental Network on the Sac and Fox reservation in Oklahoma, included Tim Whitehawk, Seneca; Tom Goldtooth, Navajo/Dakota; Danny Billy, Seminole; Walt Bresette, Lake Superior Chippewa; Anna Frazier and Amos Johnson, of the Dine; Scott Morrison, Choctaw; Martin Stevens, Elder of the Sac & Fox and Kickapoo; and Arne Calf Boss Rib, Blackfeet. These voices were produced for Living on Earth by Dick Brooks.



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