Friday, July 20, 2007

Nuclear Waste Dump on American Indian land in Utah?

Sometimes I'm accused of being a romantic. People have commented that indigenous peoples are not always peaceful, harmonious with their environment, socially responsible, and so on. I agree. You could almost categorize me as being cynical, but that would leave me (and most others) with little options for affecting change in the world - a position that I would like to believe is incorrect.

So, after I posted yesterday about the uranium mining in South Dakota, I get to post today about the opposite side of the nuclear debate. With the development of nuclear energy, the spent nuclear reactor rods need to be disposed of. Well, were else than on indigenous people's land? I'm not a big fan of this alternative, but in the case below, the Goshute tribe of Utah has actually requested that they receive the nuclear reactor waste. Why? So they can make some money (actually quite a bit) and perhaps better their people. If you have never been out to the Goshute Skull Valley area, it is quite beautiful in the typical Great Basin way: sparse vegetation, open stretches of land, few people, and a peaceful silence like few places left in America. In fact, it is one of the more beautiful places out there, but sadly, there is no way to make a living out there. For the Goshute, their options are few: either move away from family, land, and culture to the city, or stay in the area and live in poverty on government checks.

Well, the Goshute tribal leaders came up with their own solution to bettering themselves. Accept nuclear waste. Of course, they won't just be dumping the waste all over the top-soil. No, rather it will be buried deep in the earth in accordance with strict nuclear waste disposal guidelines. I'm not one to judge the regulations about how safe it is to dispose of nuclear waste in the area. It seems safer than Yucca Mountain. Further, it gives the Goshute people a way to bring money to the reservation and potentially create health programs, educational programs, and the like.

So, what is one to do? I'm in favor of the environment. I'm in favor of planet earth. I'm in favor of giving indigenous peoples an equal voice. I'm in favor of alternative energy. Should I fight this? Well, I may not agree with it, but at least this is the Goshute doing it for themselves. It's not like some big nation-state government or giant multinational corporation is forcing them to take the waste (as would have happened at Yucca Mountain). I say let them have it. If nothing else, they may actually be able to work with the spirits of the place so that the waste is accepted by the land and slowly (I'm talking millions of years here) become incorporated back into mother earth.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Uranium mining in the Black Hills of South Dakota

With the increasing push by environmentalists, eco-conscious consumers, and global warming advocates for alternative fuels, there has been a major push to reexamine nuclear power. In fact, there are over 31 states in the U.S. alone that have nuclear reactors or plants, and the list is growing fast. As a result, mining for nuclear plant resources has surged. Hugh efforts are underway in western Colorado for uranium mining and other western states. However, what really gets me is how these big resource extraction companies can basically do what they want with little or no accountability towards how their actions effect indigenous peoples.

Lets look at a recent example. Powertech, a Canadian mining company, began drilling uranium exploratory wells in the Dewey Burdock area northwest of Edgemont, South Dakota, a few weeks ago despite the approval of their permit being appealed in court. THEY HAVE NO PERMIT! This is the standard big-business method: start first and then either ask for permission later or apologize after the fact.

Two environmental organizations, Defenders of the Black Hills and ACTion for the Environment are appealing the decision made by the South Dakota Board of Mining and Environment. Cindy Gillis, lead counsel for the two groups had previously sought a preliminary injunction and a restraining order. Judge Delaney denied those requests and said a "stay" was the proper procedure, and one was filed on April 30. A hearing was held on June 19, 2007, in the Pennington County Courthouse and the Judge denied the stay stating there was not enough environmental information to show harm to the plaintiffs.

Are you kidding! There is not enough environmental information to show harm to the plaintiffs? The Black Hills are one of the most sacred areas in all of the northern Plains. There are more oral traditions and creation myths centering on this area than one would care to count. Sioux, Cheyenne, and many other American Indian tribes regard this area as one of their spiritual and cultural epicenters. If drilling is allowed, especially for something such as uranium, which has a high pollution factor and leaves an enormous environmental footprint, the area will be damaged for generations and generations to come. What is even worse, none of the archaeological aspects of the drilling sites was taken into account. The South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment has admitted that it sent the state archaeologist to the wrong site! Can you believe this!

I'm not explicitly against nuclear power - scientists claim that if handled in the proper way it is clean, efficient, and long-lasting energy. Great. However, that does not mean we need to run roughshod over people to get it. Part of the eco-conscious, global warming, sustainability movement that is slowly growing in the U.S., Europe, and other countries involves not only looking out for the environment, but also looking out for people. Indigenous people are just like you and me. Trying to live their lives as best they can. Can't we just give them an equal voice, listen to their concerns, and perhaps take them and their culture into account? I doubt such actions would harm "progress."


Here are a couple of links on the issue. The central movers on this issue are the Defenders of the Black Hills.

For more late breaking news check out The Silkwood Project.

Finally, for one of the best photo shows I have ever seen - and to get a really good idea of what this looks like on the ground - check out Uranium Mine Photos.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The United Nations and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

I have never been a big fan of the United Nations, primarily because of its track record and its non-binding status for affecting change. I know that it does a lot of positive things, but from my basic understanding of how it works, it seems to be more of a puppet organization for the U.S. and other nations as they manipulate markets, resources, and money around the world for their betterment. Personally, I have been more of a fan of Sol Tax and his arguments for Action/Applied Anthropology when it comes to affecting change in the world. This is one of the purposes behind this blog. The real change in how we work with indigenous peoples will come from my generation and the next. But this post is not a rant against the United Nations or the current state of the world (that would be an endless diatribe). Instead, let us look at what the United Nations are currently doing concerning Indigenous peoples.

Currently the United Nations is working on a draft proposal, that if eventually adopted, would declare the United Nations' stance on the rights of Indigenous peoples. Sounds great in theory, but how is it working out on paper? Well, here is a "non-paper" that outlines some concerns with the current working text of the declaration. This "non-paper", sent to my by an anonymous source, apparently was crafted by seven governments and submitted to the representative of the President of the General Assembly: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Guyana, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, and Suriname. These countries all have fairly decent indigenous populations, as well as currently being on the upswing of economic and resource development. As such, the "concerns" outlined below are the standard political, power-based double-talk of governments that we have come to expect from the U.N. and other Nation-State organizations. I've gone through and analyzed a couple below, highlighted in a different text color:


United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Summary of Key Areas of Concern

The General Assembly agreed to further consultations on the Draft Declaration to give the international community (can I comment on this Draft, and if so, will it be considered or just ignored?) the opportunity to try to adopt a Declaration that all countries could support as a genuine standard of achievement to live up to. The President of the General Assembly has recently appointed the Permanent Representative of the Philippines, H.E. Mr. Hilario G. Davide, Jr., to facilitate an open and inclusive process of consultations to reach the broadest possible agreement on the Declaration, taking into account the views of all parties (What parties are allowed to play in this game? How can indigenous peoples play? Do they have to have bank accounts and be able to afford plane trips to D.C. to be part of the discussion?).
In this context, this non-paper is the result of informal and on-going consultations between a significant number of States with indigenous populations, and summarizes their key areas of concern (Read carefully, these are the concerns of States, not Indigenous peoples. So of course the States are going to be critical of the declaration, it would theoretically hamper their potential economic growth and resource exploitation possibilities) with a view to supporting the objective of reaching agreement within the 61st Session of the General Assembly. These areas of concern are not necessarily shared by all States with concerns about the text. Amendments to the current text of the Draft Declaration will be required in order to secure support for adoption.

Self-determination, self-government and indigenous institutions:
The current text could be misconstrued so as to threaten the political unity, territorial integrity and stability of States, and confer a right of succession upon indigenous peoples. Provisions dealing with the need to achieve harmony with other levels of government are insufficiently developed. Of course, giving Indigenous peoples' their rights, granting them access to land and resources, or even acknowledging that they have rights could "threaten" the political unity of the State. But is not that the purpose of this declaration in general?

Lands, Territories and Resources:
The text on lands, territories and resources is broad, imprecise, and not capable of being implemented, and asserts rights of ownership to all lands, territories and resources, whether owned currently or previously occupied - wherever there is a traditional connection. For many States, this might encompass all of the lands, territories and resources of the State, including those considered a national common good. Again, is this not the implied definition in "indigenous"? Indigenous peoples, by the very definition, currently or previously occupied lands, territories, and resources prior to their removal by the State or some other colonial process.

Redress and Restitution:
The text on redress and restitution is broad, and asserts that States should provide redress for property taken without free, prior and informed consent. The text could be interpreted as promoting the re-opening of settlements already reached between States and indigenous peoples and does not take adequate account of the different situations facing indigenous peoples and States. Well, I don't know if the text would promote the re-opening of old settlements. It would force states to deal with their continuing colonial process. Even in the United States, where American Indian tribes signed treaties over a hundred years ago granting them continued access to land, territory, and resources, the U.S. government continues to take land when it is in the best interest of the U.S. This continued policy of "take what is needed when" would have to be addressed. Of course that would force the State to deal with indigenous peoples on a government-to-government relationship, one that most States don't want to engage in.

Free, prior and informed consent or a veto power:
The text currently includes an unqualified right of free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples on all matters that may affect them, which implies that indigenous peoples may exercise a right of veto over all matters of the State including the laws and reasonable administrative measures democratically enacted by the State. Again, another misleading concern. Is it so hard for States to ask the people it is about to disrupt for their concerns? It is not as difficult as States pretend to allow indigenous peoples to voice their concerns over proposed actions that will disrupt their culture, lifeways, and sustainability. Further, you don't have to grant them veto power, just grant them a voice (that actually is heard).

Lack of clarity as to who are "Indigenous peoples":
There is uncertainty as to the text's application or non-application with respect to tribal groups, ethnic groups, minority groups, and indigenous peoples. This, I agree, could be defined a little better.

Military Defence issues:
The text could be misconstrued so as to be inconsistent with existing legal obligations and to restrict the ability of the State to protect its population and territory, including efforts for civil defence and emergency preparedness. I have never seen a State not protect itself because of an Indigenous population. This is the same type of tactic that the U.S. is using to claim that almost anyone is a terrorist these days. I'm sure if there was a real emergency, the Indigenous population would want the help of the State, as long as the State didn't then end up continually occupying the area.

Protections for the Rights of Others:
The text suggests that Indigenous rights prevail over the rights of others, without sufficiently taking into account the rights of other individuals and groups, and the welfare of society as a whole. No, it just says that Indigenous peoples should be given an equal voice. No group of peoples rights should trump another.

Intellectual Property Rights:
In stating that indigenous peoples have a right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, cultural expressions and traditional knowledge, as well as rights to human and genetic resources, the text goes well beyond current and evolving intellectual property rights regimes and could undermine complex negotiations in other fora. This is a tricky one, and there is no easy solution. Biophrama companies don't like this because then they would have to work with Indigenous populations in their quest to make new drugs. Likewise, researchers and the like would have to ask permission and be much more transparent about their actions when doing various types of studies (the current IRB-based system is not a sound solution).

The current text could be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with national and sub-national educational systems. The text does not take into account the diversity of culture and language within many States, or the need to meet applicable educational standards. Beyond the standard colonial process that this sets up, it seems rather short-sighted in terms of education in general. Why not adopt Indigenous knowledge and educational techniques into the "applicable educational standards?" Is there only one way to be educated? It seems like rather than being a worrisome clause, this could be beneficial, at least in terms of education.

Well, you get the picture. Directed and manipulated by States, the U.N. has little impact in terms of actually helping Indigenous peoples around the world. All of these "concerns" will be more than likely adopted into the declaration, making it rather weak in terms of its action (beyond the non-binding status of the declaration in general). That is why I prefer to be a little more grass-roots in my approach. The State will never put anything before its own interests. Thus, Indigenous peoples will never get any rights that may potentially hamper the State, at least not from a top-down approach such as the U.N. The only way I see it to really affect change is from the bottom-up. The Internet is perfect for this. Send this blog around, get it listed all over the place. Tell your friends and family. Tell your congress person. There are only a few thousand political power brokers in the world; there are billions of people. If you get the people behind you, then the politicians will eventually follow. Lets get involved!

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Ancient Obsidian Tools from the Great Basin

Archaeologists and others have been cautious about ancient claims of American Indians in the Great Basin region of the American west. Most contend that there were people moving about, using some of the resources beginning around 9,000-8,000 years ago. When I wrote my book on cultural affiliation in the region, I pushed some of these dates back based on emerging evidence.

Well, today in the journal of Nature I was corroborated. Scientists have now found obsidian tools that they have dated to 10,000 years or earlier. Because the tools are made of Obsidian, they can date them more accurately than lithic tools made from other materials, primarily because obsidian hydration analysis allows for such a precise dating.

"WE have dated some of the oldest examples of obsidian use yet known in America. The obsidian originates from a new location, the Mostin site, which contains about a dozen burials and is located near the Borax Lake site in northern California. There it is thought that man lived as long ago as 10,000 yr and perhaps even at the end of the Pleistocene."

This evidence would seem to do two things for indigenous peoples of North America: 1) give them more time depth in the Americas, and 2) supply further proof for the Northwest Coast route of entry into the Americas. When Monte Verde was formally recognized, the Clovis-first theory was finally disproved. Now there is further evidence, this time from North America. Likewise, because these lithics come from Northern California, they add further weight to the hypothesis that the first Americans migrated down the Northwest Coast to get below the Pleistocene ice sheets, at which point they began to move inland (most likely along river valleys).

This evidence gives indigenous peoples of the Americas even further strength, for it demonstrates that they have been on this continent for over 10,000 years. Whether we can find direct evidence of cultural or biological affiliation, linking these points to a contemporary tribe is most likely impossible. However, one should not have to find such a linear connection to accord contemporary American Indians, First Nation, and Alaskan Native peoples equal say in terms of items their ancestors made.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blog Directories

To get linked in various blog directories (and thus to be found on the internet), you often have toprovide a link back to the directory. This is a mutually benefitial process, as each site gains a link and thus a step up in the search engine link rankings. I will be adding more directories here, incase anyone wants to know what blog directories this blog is found in (and that worked for me).

LS Blogs

Blogs Directory
Technorati Profile

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