The Modern Enemies of Native Americans
North America’s native tribes are as complex and diverse as the immigrants which now populate the continent. Historically, the federal government sought devious and violent means to control indigenous populations, and ultimately segregated most tribes by ‘giving’ them tribal lands and reservations. This social experiment has failed many Native Americans, yet many more have successfully assimilated into contemporary life and economic activities. But universally valued by native tribes are their ancient cultural identities and ancestral lands. Despite “progress,” the 21st Century finds the federal government still warring with some native tribes, while the American Left, namely the environmentalist movement, exploits their grievances, real or fabricated, to advance a progressive agenda.
Stories illustrating ongoing conflicts between Native Americans and federal agencies, environmentalist groups, and each other, are many and often heartbreaking.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai
Once in a blue moon, the federal government tries to do something right, as in Montana with the effort to pave the way for transferring control of the National Bison Range to regional Native tribes.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife historically partnered with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of northwestern Montana for the care and management of bison herds occupying public lands. Earlier this year, the tribes persuaded Fish & Wildlife to consider transferring the lands and management of the bison to the tribes, where they would continue to maintain a herd of 300-400 animals. With the issue still in discussion, and with no formal action taken to finalize the transfer, on May 23, an environmentalist group, "Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility," filed a lawsuit against Fish & Wildlife in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. In typical fashion, the environmentalist group cited the lack of an "environmental review" as the basis for their lawsuit, in spite of the fact that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, along with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, have sustainably managed the lands and herds for years.
Navajos of Northern New Mexico
All too often, Native tribes find themselves at odds with federal land management agencies, or, as in the following case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In August of 2015, operators with an EPA mine cleanup crew caused a breach that spilled millions of gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River in western Colorado. Downstream, thousands of people, including members of the Navajo and Southern Ute Tribes, were imperiled by the toxins flowing into the river and its tributaries. A week later, Navajo leaders discussed suing the federal government for losses stemming from the toxic spill. With water sources polluted beyond utility, the Navajos' livestock, crops, and people were left in dire need. The EPA promised to send fresh water and supplies sufficient to meet the tribe's short-term needs.
Approximately two weeks after the spill, the EPA delivered water in storage tanks to the Navajos near Shiprock, New Mexico. Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation, posted pictures of the water tanks, one of which was marked with the words "filtered oil," which appeared to be filthy and smeared with grease. Outraged, Begaye said he had been lied to about the cleanliness of the water tanks and that, despite further promises from the EPA, those tanks would be confiscated by the Navajo Nation and held as evidence against the agency.
Shoshones of Nevada
Another federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is the villain in the saga of the Shoshone cattle ranchers the Dann sisters. Northwestern Nevada is the historic home of the Shoshone people, and the tribe never formally ceded the land to the federal government, which now lays claim to over 85 percent of Nevada's surface acreage. The Dann sisters, like their ancestors, were of a mind that federal claims to the land, water, sub-surface minerals, and other resources are illegitimate, so they refuse to comply with what they deem governmental theft.
Predating the Bundy Ranch standoff, the Dann sisters, in 1973, stopped paying grazing fees as a form of protest against federal control of the lands that historically belonged to their people. A standoff between the BLM and the Dann sisters and their brother, Clifford, ensued in 1992. In protest, the brother doused himself in gasoline and was arrested and sent to prison, and 250 of the Danns' horses were subsequently sold at auction.
Getting on in years, the Dann sisters continued fighting the BLM for decades. Over the years the agency seized hundreds of their cattle and charged them $50,000 in fees and $3 million in trespassing fines. Mary Dann died on the ranch in 2005. The surviving Dann sister, Carrie, has continued to spar with the BLM, and their story taken on legendary proportions among those who have also battled "illegitimate" federal control of ancestral lands.
Makah of the Pacific Northwest
If it's not federal agencies, it might be well-funded global environmentalist organizations and animal rights groups launching assaults on the lives of Native tribes.
Efforts to revitalize their traditional, centuries-old whale hunts have placed the Makah of the Pacific Northwest in the crosshairs of animal rights and environmentalist groups, including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). The whale hunt served important ritualistic and social roles and also provided survival necessities including food, tools, fuel, and clothing. Makah leaders have struggled to reinstitute this important cultural component of their tribal community but have met relentless protests and attacks.
Tactics employed by the environmentalist groups in 1996 divided dissenting Makah against those in favor of preserving the culturally significant whale hunt. Keith Johnson, president of the Makah Whaling Commission, addressed the issue in a Seattle Times article:
The leader of the pack attacking us is The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They have been responsible for a steady stream of propaganda aimed at inflaming the public against us, some of which has been repeated by other anti-whaling groups, who have assumed it was factual.
Who is Sea Shepherd? They are a California-based organization that has for years operated on the fringe of mainstream conservation groups.
The letter continues:
Recently, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) distributed a brochure in which they implied we have lost our cultural need for whaling because we have adapted to modern life.
These attacks on our culture and our status are foolish. No one can seriously question who we are; we are a small Native-American tribe whose members were the whalers of the American continent. We retain our whaling traditions today[.]
The last notable Makah whale hunt occurred in 1999 and resulted in thousands of scathing hate letters and patronizing and degrading commentaries aimed at the tribe from left-leaning environmental activists. In April of 2000, then Makah Tribal Council Chairman, Ben Johnson, was quoted:
Liberals seem always to want to fit Indians into a safe, acceptable ideal of the noble savage, and are uncomfortable when modern methods can be adopted to achieve ancient aims. Times change and we have to change with the times. They want us to be back in the primitive times. We just want to practice our culture.
To this day, the Makah are fighting to preserve their annual whale hunt, and a 2015 determination from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) may give them the green light to resume the centerpiece of their cultural identity.
Elwha of Washington State
The coastal Elwha of Northwestern Washington ran a tribal salmon hatchery for an economic base and to rebuild the salmon populations in the Elwha River and its tributaries. In 2015, three environmentalist groups, including the Wild Fish Conservancy, sued to stop the Elwha from releasing the baby salmon into the river. The hatchery managers and cooperating federal agencies were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The environmentalist plaintiffs argued that the hatchery artificially bred genetically inferior fish and that the release of the inferior fish into the Elwha River constituted a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Although struggles among the Elwha Tribe, environmentalists, sportsmen, and various state and federal agencies over dams and fisheries have been raging since the early 20th century, tribal members contend that they are fighting for their right to manage and protect the resources that belong to then in ways that most benefit their people.
Grassroots Navajos of Southeastern Utah
The left has not been reluctant to exploit Native Americans in order to push their politically correct agenda related to what words or names can or cannot be used because of the possibility that someone might be offended. As you read this, environmentalist operatives, who are at best sympathetic to the federal control of public lands and at worst in full-blown collusion with federal agencies, have managed to pit Utah's Navajos against one another.
President Obama's sweeping use of the Antiquities Act to create – and lock up – millions of acres in the form of new national monuments greatly overshadows that of previous presidents, including Bill Clinton, whose creation of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument took place during a secretive signing session in Arizona. The push by out-of-state environmentalist groups to "protect" the Bears Ears region of southeastern Utah by designating its 2 million acres as a national monument has opened a deep and painful division between factions of the Navajo Tribe in San Juan County.
Headed by Gavin Noyes, an entrenched activist who has worked for several environmentalist groups in Utah, the Dine Bikeyah Navajos, who are pushing for a new national monument, are at odds with the grassroots Navajos. The Utah think-tank the Sutherland Institute has documented the grievances of the grassroots Navajos, who fear that granting national monument designation to their native home in and around the Bears Ears region will prohibit the activities upon which they depend for food, water, heat, light, and traditional rituals.
With President Obama and environmentalist groups – many from outside Utah – eyeballing the Bears Ears for a 2-million-acre federal land grab, the cultural, spiritual, and survival needs of the grassroots Navajos have been cast aside.
The modern environmentalist movement in America is tightly interwoven both in policy and personnel, with federal agencies charged with land management and environmental protection. The leftist regard for Native American tribes in various regions of the country is dictated by the expediency of political agendas. There seems to be no consideration for these tribes, as exemplified by the Navajos of Southeastern Utah, for the damage and divisions caused by those political agendas.