Native Americans Protect America
A month ago, President Barack Obama ended a decades long fight over the name of a mountain in Alaska. He sided with Native Alaskans and declared that Mount McKinley will now be called by its original name: Denali. Although Ohio statesmen — the state former President McKinley called home — fought the name change, the move was pretty politically innocuous. A mountain by any other name is still a mountain (to most of us), right?
But is the United States government willing to side with Native Americans when the stakes are higher? The Apache in Arizona and the Northern Arawak in Pennsylvania would say no. Both tribes are fighting corporations that want to mine and develop their land, and the federal government that is on the side of miners and developers. Money is harder to say no to than Ohio statesmen.
The United States government’s behavior toward Native Americans is shameful for many, many reasons. But when I read stories, like the three below, I’m even more ashamed. Native Americans protect America. If we get out-of-the-way, they can teach us how to care for the land we want to shine for future generations of Americans.
They Bring Back the Grain and Restore the Water
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa originally inhabited the land along the St. Louis River, near the present-day city of Duluth, Minnesota. While the river used to provide food and sustenance to the tribe, today it is highly polluted. The river includes a Superfund site contaminated by steel and cement manufacturing, former coal docks, chemical plants, and shipbuilding. The conservation group American Rivers, designated the St. Louis one of the nation’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers.
But on a lake nearby, the waters are once again providing for the band. The tribe has successfully planted a sacred native grain, called manoomin, in the reservation lakes. Huge swaths are growing for the first time in more than 100 years and approximately 30,000 pounds of manoomin will be harvested this year. Families will not only eat the grain, but serve it at ceremonies as the grass that was prophesied by their ancestors.
The growing manoomin doesn’t just benefit the tribes, though. Tribal members have been so successful growing manoomin that they are now leading the first major state, federal, and non-profit collaboration to restore part of Lake Superior’s vast wild grain ecosystem. Their hard work is cleaning up the land Americans have polluted and restoring its beauty.
They Bring Back the Salmon
For generations people of the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes relied on fish from the Columbia River for food and cultural purposes. Today, the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest is one of the most heavily dammed and industrialized rivers in the United States. Like the St. Luis, it’s on the American Rivers’ 10 Most Endangered Rivers list.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a coalition of tribes with fishing rights on the river, adopted a “gravel-to-gravel management approach” that focuses on all the issues salmon face in their life. Working with state and federal biologists and conservation groups, the tribes have restored habitat and taken other steps that have helped Chinook and other populations rebound.
The Bring Back Meadows and Drinking Water
California is currently struggling with one of the most severe droughts on record. Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. Water shortages are especially hard for farmers in the state’s rich agricultural valley. People everywhere in the state are praying for rain and conserving water in their homes and houses of worship.
But in the Madera County foothills, not too far from Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, members of the North Fork Mono Indians have a solution. They are chopping down trees and restoring meadows to the area so that when precious rain or snow falls it gets soaked into the aquifers instead of sucked up by the trees. And the water is indeed flowing thanks to the tribe’s efforts — even in late July.
There’s a lot we can learn from Native Americans, if our government gets out-of-the-way and lets them teach us.
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