My children are the third generation of our family to live apart from all the rest of their relations. We are used to leaving home and making our way across the country. I’m not recommending it. I so envy my friends – mostly not middle class white folks – who have their family members close by, and have ongoing relationships and even daily encounters and support.
I’ve moved not only away from my family of origin, but have moved many times over, pursuing jobs or just a change of scenery, and in more recent years, my spouse.
But for those tied to the land it’s a much more traumatic experience to move away from your home – and your ancestors’ home. And it’s been egregious how indigenous people have been uprooted from their traditional homes and killed outright or relocated, often to barren lands that have nothing in common with where they came from, like the native Americans from the verdant southeast US who were forced west to what became Oklahoma.
A modern day disaster is the project an Australian company, Rio Tinto, is proposing that would dig a huge pit to mine copper -- the Resolution Copper mine -- on land traditionally belonging to the San Carlos Apaches, but now considered federal land. The federal government has engineered a swap of land sacred to the Apaches – Oak Flat – for some other land nearby. Hey guys – it’s not the same!
I covered a rally back in 2015 that was the culmination of a caravan from Arizona to Washington, D.C., where members of the San Carlos tribe and many others demanded that their land not be taken and the copper mine not be built. I interviewed the former tribal chairman, Wendsler Nosie, Sr., who is now camping out on the sacred ground to try to stop the land swap. (He is on the left in the photo above, with tribal leader Naelyn Pike and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who introduced a bill to try to reverse the swap.) There was a heartbreaking article in The New York Times about several projects the Trump administration is pushing through during the lame duck session, including this one. Things look grim. For more info or to help fight the project, visit www.apache-stronghold.com.
Another project, this one by a Canadian company, is a proposed uranium mine near the Black Hills, traditional and sacred land of the Oglala Lakota Nation, whose reservation abuts the proposed project. The Times article describes the terrible contamination that would accompany the mining across almost 13,000 acres, and it’s not clear there would even be a market for the amount of uranium the mine would produce. As the article says, “The project would inject a chemical called lixiviant into more than 1,461 wells, sending the chemical into an underground water supply.” Mni Wiconi, Water is Life, was the cry of the thousands of indigenous people and their allies who gathered to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016-17 on Lakota land. (The pipeline was built and began operating in 2017, but a judge this year ruled it had to stop until the company reapplies for a critical environmental permit. Legal challenges are ongoing.) For more info or to help fight the project, visit www.bhcleanwateralliance.org.
This project can’t be approved before Trump leaves office, so there is a good chance it will be stopped when President Biden takes over. One of his most exciting appointments is Congresswoman Deb Haaland as head of the Interior Department, which oversees millions of acres of “federal” land and also houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She would run a very different ship. As this annus horribilus 2020 draws to a close, I hope for brighter, and more equitable, days ahead.