Conservation has long been about the protection of wildlife, land, water and air. While the fight has continued, the concentration of wealth has persisted in the US and globally. Consumption has become the drug that is literally killing our planet.
The goal for many is to have millions of dollars, with little regard to what can be done to change the world for the better. However, this week a First Nation in Northern British Columbia said NO to a billion dollar offer that would have allowed the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal on their ancestral lands.
This band of 3,600 Tsimashian First Nation members turned it all down. Their reasoning is that such development could harm salmon runs that are vital to the tribe’s way of life. While they remain open to discussion, many in our culture would find turning down a billion impossible, no matter what was at stake. Certainly land or salmon would stop few. It has been inspiring to hear this story in the midst of an atmosphere of such greed and plunder that a voice of sanity can be found in the far north amongst a group of people that understand land and salmon mean far more to their way of life, than an instant infusion of cash.
There remains another group that puts the value of land above that of money, seeking justice more than financial gain. They are known as the Oglala Sioux. In a piece written in 2011, Maria Streshinsky points out the grim statics facing 17 reservations scattered from Montana through the Dakotas to Minnesota. Today they remain some of the poorest people in our country. Drugs, booze and suicide ravage the tribe. With 80 per cent unemployment, “rape” in Ms. Streshinsky’s words, is “pandemic”. Many in the tribe over 40 years of age are experiencing diabetes along with some of the lowest life expectancies in the Western Hemisphere (men 48, women 52).
Tribal members believe that the 1877 Act of Congress that moved the Sioux from their sacred Black Hills was not valid and that the land itself was never for sale. In 1980, the courts affirmed an original settlement of $102 million. That settlement now stands at one billion dollars, and despite their troubles and concerns about managing such funds appropriately, the tribe has said no to the money. That’s NO to the money. The Sioux do not want money; they believe the cure is the return of the land that stands in the shadows of the four presidents carved in the rocks that helped to destroy their way of life.
What is the cost of losing lands? What is the cost of losing precious waters? What does it do to destroy a culture that values spirit and nature above the currency of capitalism? Capitalism has crushed spirits, cultures and land for generations, gaining control of its dark underside is essential for the healing of a planet in dire need of support.
We can all talk about the importance of the environment to our soul, to our sense of quality of life. It is these Native American’s that are truly putting meaning to that sense of what wild nature means to our lives. They stand proudly and groups such as Bold Visions stand with them in their efforts to find justice for the lands lost and for their conviction that life and happiness can be defined more by healthy lands and waters than by cash.
They set the standard that we must understand when we take on BIG OIL or a Congress that is controlled by oil and gas or coal. Nothing is as important as our land and waters. They are beyond value; they represent what we are as a people. Nature in its wildest form is justice in an unjust world. These stories represent the clarity of conviction that is rare in our modern world.
The earth needs more such heroes.
Bold Visions Conservation