Monday, October 05, 2009

Environmentalists Kicked Off Hopi and Navajo Reservations

A core myth of the environmental movement is that of the Ecological Indian, which I've talked about here before. Environmentalists think Native Americans are their "natural" allies, with natural having more than one meaning in this context. But what happens when indigenous people don't act like environmentalists think they should? What happens when they invite corporate development of their resources? Often, environmentalists accuse them of betraying Indian values, whatever that means, or even of not deserving to be called Native Americans. And sometimes, the tribes get pissed:

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., said Wednesday that he strongly supports the Hopi Tribe’s resolution to declare local and national environmental groups unwelcome on Hopi land.

“I stand with the Hopi Nation,” President Shirley said. “Unlike ever before, environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence.”

“By their actions, environmentalists would have tribes remain dependent on the federal government, and that is not our choice. I want the leaders of all Native American nations to know this is our position, and I would ask for their support of our solidarity with the Hopi Nation in the protection of their sovereignty and self-determination, as well as ours.”


“Environmentalists are good at identifying problems but poor at identifying feasible solutions,” President Shirley said. “Most often they don’t try to work with us but against us, giving aid and comfort to those opposed to the sovereign decision-making of tribes. They support tribes only when tribes are aligned with their agenda, such as our opposition to renewed uranium mining in the Grand Canyon and on Native land.”

“Environmentalist actions led to the demise of Navajo logging and the closure of our sawmill at Navajo, New Mexico but did nothing to replace the 600 jobs that were lost,” President Shirley said. “Environmentalist actions led to the closure of the Mohave Generating Station and the shutdown of the Black Mesa Mine but did nothing to replace the 400 paychecks that were lost or the tribal revenue that was not replaced.”

“Now, environmentalists are doing all they can to prevent the development of the Desert Rock Energy Project, which includes misleading the public by saying Navajos oppose it and failing to mention it is the cleanest coal plant the EPA has ever evaluated, or that its twin is being built right now in Duisburg, Germany, one of the greenest countries in Europe.”

This brings up very interesting issues. I don't really have any problem with environmentalists fighting these things because coal plants and logging are generally very bad things. At the same time, it's really hard to oppose tribal sovereignty. Like with the developing world, a lot of white people want to keep Native Americans in a bucolic and romantic past, not giving them chance to develop like the First World. And environmentalists are doing a terrible job in identifying other job opportunities for Native Americans. The reservations are poor places. People there need work. Or some kind of economic assistance. This is particularly true of tribes that have not embraced gaming, like the Hopi and Navajo. If we don't want them logging and mining, we need to have some real alternatives for them.