The Klamath Basin has been the home of one of the West’s most infamous water disputes for more than a century.
Understanding history and fighting inequalities go hand in hand. I want to help stop the Keystone XL pipeline, but I feel like I would create more damage because of the privileges. I am privileged because of my male identity, my parents socioeconomic stability, and the encouragement I received from my family to go to college. Therefore, I struggle internally with ways to help others because others do not have the same privileges as me. I constantly question my motives to help others because I fear that I will blindly misuse knowledge that I gain in college.
The Keystone XL pipeline is an example of this fear I have. When I heard about the “Cowboy and Indian Alliance,” I thought about how I would like to be part of this group, where Native Americans, white people and other people come together in order to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from being built across the Mid-western states. My initial reaction to the delayed ruling of the Keystone XL pipeline had me thinking: “Wow. Now I want to be part of the movement to stop the pipeline.”
I had a “savior-like” complex after I heard about the keystone legislation extension. I wanted to help, but I didn’t understand the history of the pipeline. I still do not have a complete understanding of the pipeline. Regardless, I did not think my identity mattered because Natives and Whites are fighting the Keystone pipeline legislation. Therefore, the only thing that would matter is my drive to seek justice for the environment and Native communities affected by the pipeline.
From my experience with elders in the Diné community, I was told that education is important. I was not prepared for the type of education I would receive. If I wanted to learn about my culture when I was younger, I could have asked a relative and he or she would have explained Diné teachings to me. Now that I am at Columbia, it is harder to learn about Diné culture and teachings through personal interactions. There are not a lot of Diné students at Columbia, and there are few Native scholars at this university to learn from.
So, I often question my interactions with people because I interact with people that are different culturally, racially, and socioeconomically. Since I left my small reservation town at a young age, I constantly think about my racial and cultural identity. Questions that come up include: “What does it mean to be Native American?” “Do others know I was born on a reservation?” “Why do people always think I am from Asia?” and so forth.
I think my college experience is bizarre because I often feel isolated. While people confuse my racial identity, I often feel in a position where I have to explain myself to others. When I told people about my heritage, others seemed to not understand my racial and cultural history. To combat this feeling of isolation, I learn about my Diné heritage from books, articles, and some Native scholars.
It is ironic that I started learning about my heritage after I left my home. However, I aim to remember history through personal interactions. Person-to-person contact is foundational in Native American identity. I cannot get the same experience of story telling, compared to what I can get in my home community in New Mexico.
Even though I am comfortable interrogating my personal identities, I am not comfortable interrogating other people’s identities. If I were to become involved in the fight to stop Keystone XL, I worry if I would say the wrong thing to someone about his or her identity. I worry I will sound too intellectual. I fear if I used words like “colonialism,” people would view me as the guy who shows off his intellectual power over others by using big words.
When I am at Columbia, I “deconstruct” many ideas. When I “deconstruct” an idea, I try to break down the meaning through historical usages, like colonialism. I also try to understand how my identity relates to the idea. For example, I constantly interrogate my identity to see how white culture influences me. Then I try to make comparisons between other broader, theoretical claims, like how colonialism is influenced by thirst for power.
The world changed forever with the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. Billy was a human rights activist, fearless defender of tribal sovereignty and fishing rights, and environmental champion who spoke not only for his beloved salmon but for all natural life that exists within the beautiful Salish Sea region that he called home. Billy was a national treasure.
Billy is undoubtedly best known for his role in the Northwest “fish wars” - the struggle by tribes throughout the Puget Sound to force the State of Washington and the federal government to honor and respect treaties signed in 1854-55 that acknowledged the inherent right of tribes to fish at “all of the usual and accustomed” places. Billy was first arrested for “illegal” fishing at the age of 14, the first of more than 50 such encounters with law enforcement. In the end, the sacrifices made by Billy and his fellow fishermen were successful, and in 1974 resulted in the landmark decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt in U.S. v Washington. Most important in this decision was that tribes were acknowledged to have the right to one half of the harvestable fish. A later U.S. Supreme Court decision would uphold the Boldt decision in its entirety
In 1981, Billy was named chair of the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission, a position he held until his death. Billy’s open personality and willingness to work with all parties, and most importantly the universal trust that all member tribes had in him, allowed him to lead the effort to fulfill one of the goals of the Boldt decision, that tribes assume their rightful role as co-managers of salmon and other natural resources.
Over the years Billy emerged as one of the most powerful voices in Indian Country - a voice with national and increasing international recognition. He was the recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, an honorary degree from Northwest Indian College, and the Indian Country Today’s American Indian Visionary Award. And while Billy spent much of his time traveling back and forth across the country, he always remained a man of the Salish Sea. He never forgot his initial calling, “to speak for the salmon.”
Billy was part of that “greatest generation” of Indians who changed not only the face of Indian Country, but of a nation. They did so with courage and humility. They took the issues seriously, but never themselves.
The Billy that I knew was the most generous, gracious, caring person I’ve ever known. To meet Billy was to know him, to know him was to love him. He always greeted you like a long lost brother with the warmest of handshakes or a massive bear hug accompanied with loud, “It’s good to see you!” that made you feel the center of the universe. These greetings were dished out to first time acquaintances as generously as to old friends. Billy was the ultimate “people’s person” whose caring for others was true and genuine.
I remember sitting in the back of the room with Billy at one of our annual Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposia—an event he never missed. We were in between speakers when one of my students, a tall young woman sporting a rather colorful and flamboyant Mohawk—complete with nearly shaved head—entered, walked across the room, and took a seat. Billy’s eyes focused on her immediately. He stared very intently for the longest time at her before nudging me and asking me who she was. He continued to look at her before finally bursting out, “God damn it, I love her hair!” That was Billy. Always looking at the person, seeing the beauty and promise in everyone. Later I introduced Billy to the girl—Billy was, of course, her hero—and the two talked for quite some time. Every time I saw Billy after that, he would inquire as to how she was doing.
I met Billy through my relationship with Vine Deloria, Jr. Vine was one of Billy’s closest and dearest friends. Vine’s pet name for Billy was “Billy Jack,” a reference to the iconic movie character of the 1970s played by Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack, The Trial of Billy Jack), who like Billy, always seemed to be getting beaten up by law enforcement and thrown in jail for defending the helpless. At the 2012 Deloria Symposium we presented him with an authentic Billy Jack hat- the old Navajo style hat - and Billy wore it the rest of the day!
Billy was one of the people who pushed me to leave my beloved Arizona and accept a faculty position at Northwest Indian College. One of his selling points: “Think of the hell we could raise!” Unfortunately Billy and I never had the chance to raise much hell, but I did have the opportunity to work with him on a number of occasions. Billy was a friend to Northwest Indian College—a part of our family—he often volunteered to speak to my classes, especially my class on fishing rights. Billy in a classroom—or anywhere for that matter—was a force of nature. He held nothing back when he spoke. Well known for his “colorful” language, he always spoke with fire and passion. He would bring to an end many of his talks by thrusting his index finger in front of him and reminding his audience to always “stay the course.”
Soon, we begin the third of our River Water Walks. The Ohio River Water Walk begins April 22 in Pittsburgh. The Ohio is the most polluted river in the United States. Once it ran pure and clean and at times the water level was so low, our ancestors could walk across it.
One year ago today, March 11, 2013, Governor Scott Walker signed into law Act 1, the ferrous mining bill that was written by Gogebic Taconite (GTac) and financed by over $1 million in political contributions to Republican legislators.
Droughts have long been a part of California’s history, and the Winnemem Wintu have songs about the water trails drying up and our need to pray for them to fill up again.
The mood was festive and spirited on the Crow Nation last year when they signed a deal on Jan. 24, 2013 with Cloud Peak Energy Inc. that sold 1.4 billion tons of coal from beneath their land.
The Lummi, Swinomish, Suquamish and Tulalip tribes of Washington, and the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam Nations in British Columbia stand together to protect the Salish Sea.
Since November 27, 2013, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been receiving public comments on Flint Hill Resources’ request to reduce its liability to clean up drinking water at its North Pole refinery that is seriously contaminated with sulfolane, an industrial solvent
Part of the debate about how to approach pollution cleanup at the big Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near the Grand Canyon has always revolved around jobs and revenues for the Navajo Nation. Federal regulators heard more on this in recent public hearings.
Two weeks ago at the 2013 White House Tribal Leaders Conference, tribal leaders stood side-by-side with President Obama and 13 of his cabinet leaders, and raised climate change as a top priority of Native Nations. Tribes are on the front lines of climate change reality.
Native Nations are asserting land and resource rights in an increasingly vigorous and unambiguous way.
The bottom line is survival: Survival of our Diné people, mankind and our planet.
In 1947, former U.S.