NATIVES, FIRE, AND EQUALITY

[HUNTER GRAY   APRIL 11, 2002]

 

NATIVES, WHALES, INDIAN POLITICS -- A DISCUSSION [HUNTER GRAY  APRIL 16, 2002]

 

 

NATIVES, FIRE, AND EQUALITY

[HUNTER GRAY   APRIL 11, 2002]

Note by Hunterbear:

It's about as egalitarian as any phenomenon in the Cosmos:  fire.

Fire doesn't give a damn about your race or culture -- or your politics.
And, unless you're talking about a friendly campfire or very carefully
controlled ecological burning,  fire is something to fight -- and you won't
give a damn about a fellow worker's background when you're all together
doing that.

I was barely into my mid-teens on a hot, dry June day -- a big kid
already -- when the A-I Mountain Fire exploded just west of my home town of
Flagstaff, Arizona.  Its huge column of smoke -- black from Ponderosa Pine
with a massive red base -- roiled and boiled.  An Anglo friend rolled up in
his dad's pickup at our out-on-the-edge  house.  "Let's go fight it," he
yelled -- and, grabbing my wide-brimmed hat, I joined him.

The Coconino National Forest fire headquarters on the northern edge of
Flagstaff was milling with guys of all ages and races. Interpreters were
working with non-English speakers -- many of them Navajo and Hopi and
Chicano.  My buddy and I were signed up fast by one of several men at
outdoor tables.  He looked at us from under his Stetson.  "You got to be 18,
boys," said he, adding suggestively,  "You sure look it."

We assured him that we were.  As we gave our names, a man signing guys up at the adjoining table suddenly jerked and looked at us, grinning.  It was one
of our teachers, a  really great  person, who I suddenly remembered worked
summers for the Coconino.

He didn't blow our age cover.

Within minutes, a truck was taking us and others into combat -- very, very
dangerous combat.

By the time we got to the fire lines, the mushrooming  A-1 horror had
already destroyed over a thousand acres of Ponderosa Yellow Pine -- some of
which had taken hundreds of years in the dry Southwest to grow up.  We
stopped it just before it could burn down Lowell Observatory, situated up on Mars Hill, just above Flagstaff on the west.  By that time, lawmen were stopping tourists on Highway 66 which went through town as Santa Fe Avenue, and pressing any reasonably fit males into fire duty.

That launched one of my greatest work experiences -- and also one which
brought me into maturity very fast. I had tasted smoke, felt danger and
death -- and I worked the rest of that summer on various burns. Some were
massive.  No one cared about my race and ethnicity one way or the other.    I
was big and tough and fearless -- good with a Kordick [combination rake/hoe]
and with a Pulaski [combination axe/hoe] and great with a double-bitted axe
and crosscut saw. In some situations, where we dynamited trees to make super quick fire lines in settings where Cats couldn't go, I proved my worth in
demolition  -- something that I did very effectively in other work settings
in the years that followed.

At the end of that summer, I was a fire vet -- and I'd made  far more money
than my peers who'd followed conventional mid-teen work stuff in town.  And
I'd learned that fire can be the great equalizer.  Everyone -- Native,
Chicano, Anglo, Black, Oriental -- gets sweaty-black from wood-ash and smoke
within minutes.

"Come back next summer," the Coconino fire dispatcher told me, "and we'll
put you on the regular summer payroll."  I did -- I was 18 again -- and 18
again another summer, until I was finally 18 in full reality. Then, not long
at all thereafter, I went into the Army -- and it was another time and
another world.

But long before that, I was handling fire lookout work -- initially
replacing one of the veteran lookouts, an old family friend, Bill Pratt -- a
Laguna from New Mexico -- when Bill took a few days off from his far up and
far away perch.  Then, with his strong recommendation, I had my very own
remote lookout: overlooking some of the most critical areas in the Coconino
National Forest -- along with an extremely complex radio set-up.

It was a high responsibility job -- couldn't have been higher. It would be
years before I could legally vote or  legally buy a drink.

And all over the West, there were Natives fighting fires.  Natives of all
tribes.  Long before I came along and long afterward -- right to the present
moment.

In those tough old days when I was growing up, many of the restaurants in
Flagstaff -- and in the other reservation border towns -- had signs:  "No
Indians or Dogs Allowed."

But I never saw those at any forest fire camp -- never did.  And never will.

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( social justice )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´

====================================

American Indians answer call to fight Western fires  [April 10, 2002]
BY TOM RAGAN The Gazette
LAKE GEORGE, Colo. - KRT NEWSFEATURES
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/nation/3034670.htm

(KRT) - They drove a rickety yellow school bus through the night to get
here. It took 12 hours, going 55 mph all the way. Nicknamed the "gutless wonder" by its driver, the bus barely made it up Ute Pass.

But the 21 members of the Oglala Lakota tribe made it in time to help
contain a wildfire that started in the Pike National Forest last week in south Park County.

When they left their homes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest
South Dakota in the early evening, it was beginning to snow. Later, they
learned, it turned into a blizzard.

By the next morning, with only two hours of sleep, they were hefting shovels
and pickaxes, digging lines in the thick of the national forest, struggling
to keep the 250-acre fire from spreading out of control.

On the reservation, they're mechanics, construction workers, security guards
and casino cashiers.

Here they're hardworking firefighters who've been called to duty by the
federal government in a capacity that's similar to the U.S. Army Reserves. The only difference is, they're protecting federal land, not defending their
country - although sometimes the stakes are just as high. Property and lives have been saved because of their efforts.

It's not uncommon for American Indians to fight forest fires across the West
during the summer. The U.S. Forest Service has relied on them for decades.
And it's a highly coveted part-time job that pays as much as $16 an hour, a
princely sum compared with some of their jobs back home.

But it's not all about the money, they say. It's about getting off the
reservation once in a while, even if it means taking life-threatening risks
and mixing it up with dangerous elements like wind and fire.

"We get to see parts of the country that some of us can only dream about,"
said 31-year-old Alan Backward as high winds fanned the flames of tiny fires
around him.

In the late 1980s, Backward was so enthralled by the idea of fighting fires
he lied about his age on an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs so he
could be shipped out immediately.

Since then, he's fought forest fires in every Western state except Nevada.

So has Felix Rodriguez, another American Indian firefighter called to the
Pike National Forest wildfire. He's been battling flames for more than a decade.

When a wildfire began in the Okanogan National Forest in July last year in
Washington state, Rodriguez was among hundreds of firefighters sent.

"At one point, we were up so high we saw Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainer," said Rodriguez, 33. "A storm was coming in. We saw the sky change before us. It was beautiful. I don't think I'd ever been that high up before and seen something that beautiful before."

Fighting fires, however, is about more than great scenery.

Wildland firefighters for the Bureau of Indian Affairs must pass basic
training, which includes strapping 45-pound packs on their backs and walking
three miles in less than 30 minutes.

A strong lower back is important because most of the time the crew is
stooped over, digging lines, clearing dead and downed trees, making sure the fire doesn't get into the tops of trees in what is referred to as "crowning."

Many times, the crew has faced close calls.

Last summer, Lisa Lamont, 32, the crew's only woman, thought she was going
to die as she and Backward drove their tanker straight into a fire in Fort
Yates, N.D.

"I panicked," said Lamont, a construction worker on the reservation when she
isn't fighting fires. "Now I don't panic. I do what I'm told."

In another week or two, the Lakota tribe will drive back to the reservation,
where 30,000 other residents live.

They'll wait for their next call to another part of the country. When it's
their turn, they'll head out once more.

---

© 2001, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).



Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( social justice )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´

 

NATIVES, WHALES, INDIAN POLITICS -- A DISCUSSION [HUNTER GRAY  APRIL 16, 2002]

Sorry, Eric. On this one -- Makah whale hunting -- we just see things from
opposite rims of a Grand Canyon.  I see Native people, societies, cultures,
history, survival and enhancement, and certainly sovereignty  -- as far more
critical than the extremely tiny number of carefully and respectfully
selected whales involved. I'm posting this -- along with our earlier
correspondence [at the bottom of this] -- on several interested lists.

People are my highest concern. I strongly support the Makah. I have my own
special relationships with certain animals. I handle those with respect.

The Makah are dealing well with all of their many significant challenges.
At this moment, I'm particularly concerned about the fact that there have
still been no arrests -- or meaningful interim law enforcement reports of
any kind -- on the matter of the three Native men murdered last September
2001 at and immediately adjacent to Grand Forks, North Dakota.  All news
media in the region have been miserably derelict in covering any of this.
I'll have much more on this critical matter shortly -- and publicly.

You've mentioned  that "It also suggested that the Makah are far from
unified on this issue, and that many of the tribal members oppose the
killing, and have been shut out of council meetings."

It's also extremely difficult for non-Indians -- unless they are especially
versed in depth in a specific tribe's history and sociology with all of its
family and clan and other kinship relationships -- and traditions -- to make
analyses and value judgments on intra-tribal factionalism.  It's tough
enough for Natives to do that across tribal lines. Indian politics can make
something like, say, ASDnet discussion list look like the proverbial Sunday
School Picnic. [But, I should add, there is always a very basic unity in
tribalism that ultimately prevails -- and transcends all.]

A quick insight on this one: any Native person visiting his or her home
reservation or reserve from afar -- say, coming during the summer when many
special and/or celebration doings are underway -- is carefully briefed
pretty quickly by senior family folk on precisely  with whom The Family is
and isn't talking and relating to at that specific point -- and why.  Many
of the issues -- and their tribal political connotations -- have great and
readily visible substance.  Some are controversies that initially appear as
somewhat murky.  In other instances, the roots -- perhaps very well known --
go back many generations.  And sometimes it's a purely interpersonal
situation that's flared and may be gone a year hence.  In any case, you
don't buck that lightly -- and probably not at all.

Arriving with my offspring for a summer visit on a northeastern reservation,
the children would take off with peer cousins and I would engage in a long
and very pleasant ritual visit with an old and close relative -- an
extremely influential tribal matriarch -- at whose large home we stayed
[massive library on a wide variety of issues -- as well as fine fictional
works and excellent art.]  After the basic discussion on who-is-where in
various health and  marriage and academic and work etc. situations, we would
get down to the matter of local friends and foes -- and the subtle and
implied "thou shalt nots" for all family members.  This could take about two
hours at least.  She is gone now -- bless her hard-fighting Indian Catholic
soul -- but there are others who now play that signal role.  And there
always will be.

While, to some extent, this complexity and attendant ritual would
characterize any primary-relational gemeinschaft society, Native tribalism
goes back countless centuries and generations.  A Native American tribal
society is both One Big Family [clan and related structures regulate
marriage] and a uniquely distinctive Nation in every sense.  Vitally alive,
its internal relationships and many of its external ones are ancient in the
deepest and highest sense.


Here are two worthwhile links:

The position of the Makah Nation:

http://www.makah.com/whales.htm


And a very contemporary article from the Seattle Times -- indicating, among
other things, that the challenges faced by the Makah Nation involve many
dimensions.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/134436718_makah15m.html

And here is the earlier correspondence on the matter:  First, yours [Eric's]
and then mine of yesterday with respect to the news item, and finally the
initial news story.

====================================================================

Eric:

I will type more thoughts on this later, because it is a very complex and
touchy issue.  However, the greens in this case are being misrepresented.

Basically, some feel that the whale is simply too inteligent a creature to
be hunted.  Period.  It's not a matter of whether they are endangered (which
they are).  It's not even a conventional ecological issue.  The question is
whether there is a level of inteligence and self-awareness in a species that
earns it more consideration than other species, at least in terms of
killing.  I would say the same for all primates, and maybe even a few other
species.

We know that the difference between humans and other species in terms of
inteligence is a matter of degree, not kind.  We know that the whale is
capable of extremely complex emotions and reasoning capability.  We did not
know this a hundred years ago, or most of us didn't.

So the ethical question here is more complex.  Do we allow the killing of a
super-sentient species because of tradition rooted in knowledge of
antiquity?  Or do we take responsibility for the power our own inteligence
has unleashed?  It's not about the Makah.  It's about the whales.

I came across some interesting sites a while back, including some very
reflective thoughts on the part some of the protesters, who fully recognize
the irony of their situation.  They weren't accusing the Makah council of
striking deals with Japanese corporations, although a memo was uncovered
that suggests the same.  It also suggested that the Makah are far from
unified on this issue, and that many of the tribal members oppose the
killing, and have been shut out of council meetings.

We talk about "rights."  But we have to appreciate every context in which
they arise.  Should a super-sentient species foot the bill for the sins of
one race of our species over others?

Now if you want to argue that whales are no more self-aware than the average
cow or goat, fine.  That's another issue.  But if you accept the contention
that whales are inteligent enough for complex emotions, culture, and
possibly even language, some very uncomfortable questions are raised.

Eric



----- Original Message -----
From: "Hunter Gray" <hunterbadbear@earthlink.net>
To: "Rad-Green" <rad-green@lists.econ.utah.edu>; "Red Youth"
<Redyouth@ypsl.net>; "Socialist Lists"
<socialistsunmoderated@debs.pinko.net>; "ASDNET" <asdnet@igc.topica.com>;
"RedBadBear" <Redbadbear@yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Monday, April 15, 2002 5:42 AM
Subject: [Redbadbear] Makah Whale Hunt -- and protests



> Note by Hunterbear:
>
> This is another instance where the complex Human Family divides on an
> issue -- this one pitting some [I say, some] environmentalists against
> Native Americans.  The Makah have every right -- culturally, historically,
> and legally -- to hunt the grey whales.  Like other special entities for
> other Native people -- e.g., the Bear --  Makah whale hunting is done with
> great respect and care.  It encompasses and engenders and strengthens very
> deep religious/cultural dimensions -- which, in turn, play a significantly
> positive role in the socio-cultural survival and enhancement of the Makah
> Nation.
>
> Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
> www.hunterbear.org  ( social justice )
> Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
>
>
> Whale-hunt protests
>
> The Province
> Sunday, April 14, 2002
>
http://www.canada.com/vancouver/news/story.asp?id={133BA16B-905A-4AF3-B7F1-F
> 243F\
> 0A89459}
>
> Protesters against the resumption of the Makah whale hunt held
   simultaneous demonstrations yesterday outside U.S. offices, consulates and      embassies in Canada, Germany and within the U.S. itself. The protesters are     angry that the Makah band in Washington state is preparing to hunt                migrating grey whales off the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
>
> © Copyright 2002 The Province



Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( social justice )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´


Note by Hunterbear:  More, undoubtedly, on this later.

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