As January came to a close, the staff and leadership of IEN found ourselves assessing our collective efforts of the past year. At the same time, we endeavored to plan for 2024 in the face of ongoing genocide in Gaza, an escalating and broadening US military role in the Middle East and news of more mergers and acquisitions in the US oil and gas sector. Also, throughout January, on public television the Ken Burns two-part documentary, “The American Buffalo,” was repeating its fall 2023 run.
The documentary opens with the quote, “Stories hold the power to draw us closer together and shape our tomorrow. If we are courageous enough to look, lessons are written in our history.”
In the first part, Burns recounts some 10,000 years of the animal’s history on Turtle Island where it numbered in the tens of millions when the first White men set foot in its territory that once ran from northern Mexico into what is now Alaska. The Crow Medicine Woman Pretty Shield is quoted as saying she was born into a happy time when there was plenty of fat meat for everyone.
Using quotes and experiences of Meriwether Lewis, Buffalo Bill Cody and other characters from American history to relate the awe at viewing seemingly infinite numbers of bison across the Plains, Part One focused primarily on the late 1800s and early 1900s when bison were nearly wiped from the face of the Earth by the growth of empire and greed.
In the documentary, what began as a demand for buffalo rawhide for leather pulley belts for machinery in Europe, among other uses such as warm robes for White society’s winter carriage rides, for North American Indigenous Peoples the unchecked slaughter meant longer and farther hunting expeditions for the many Indigenous Nations needing to feed, shelter and clothe their families. While maybe not written as US policy, the documentary acknowledges that politically, no actions were taken by Congress to halt the slaughter, though it was advocated by many like early conservationist, editor, writer, anthropologist George Bird Grinnel. It was reasoned that without the buffalo tribes would be forced to abandon our cultures and assimilate into white colonial society. By 1878, few if any bison could be found on Turtle Island.
Burns relates the heartbreaking, shameful history (that is as American as our part in Gaza will be recorded), and in some cases, starvation of Indigenous Nations and societies that revered and depended upon the magnificent animal they regarded as a relative for food, shelter, clothing, implements. Many maintained a spiritual relationship with the bison within their belief systems and ceremonials.
The Kiowa could not hold their sacred life-sustaining Sundance without a buffalo bull skull, and they called the year 1879, the “Horse-eating Time,’ when they were near starvation, as were many other Indigenous Peoples. Comanche leader Quanah Parker – his people going hungry, confined to a reservation, unable to find any bison – finally received permission to take a handful of hunters off-reservation only to find rotting bison corpse after corpse, so many that the piles of decaying flesh could be smelled for miles – but no live buffalo for meat.
During the winter of 1883 – 1884, nearly 700 Blackfeet people starved to death. In 1887, a US National Museum of History hunting party was sent out to find bison to mount for display before they were gone – none were found. Indigenous academics and culture bearers comment throughout the documentary and lend Indigenous perspectives to the history that profoundly altered their Nations and cultures. Some of them became emotional at recalling the history that is still painful to recount. George Horse Capture, Jr., Aaniiih, tried to relate to viewers a perspective that does not seek to dominate Mother Earth but to live within a delicate balance.
In an interview with Ken Burns he said that this history is especially relevant today. And that was a reason he was glad he waited and didn’t make this in the 80s. We also recommend this “Ken Burns’ Latest Chronicles the Slaughter and Revival of ‘The American Buffalo’” re-published by Indian Country Today, written by Erika Fredrickson and originally published by Montana Free Press –
You can watch individual episodes of The American Buffalo HERE
As an Indigenous person, one is hard-pressed to not relate this relatively recent past to the present fast tracking of oil and gas permitting despite 2023 being the hottest year ever recorded, amidst continuing signs and warnings of imminent climate catastrophe. Carbon capture and other methods of carbon removal from the atmosphere are not proven to be answers to climate mitigation. Climate refugees are increasing due to extreme weather phenomena, and water shortages are increasing in places like the US Southwest and other sites around the world, especially the Global South.
Yet, a greedy, insatiable sector of humanity drills for more and more oil and gas, like there’s no tomorrow.
Will history again record that humans continued to devour and plunder, continued to burn fossil fuels, continued to explore despite warnings that our current and continuing use would likely lead to decreased food and water supplies in the coming near decades – that humans drilled and drilled, and built and permitted, and drilled, until there was not a drop of oil left? For the benefit of a few humans, but at the expense of most of all other life on Mother Earth.
There are some hopeful signs that perhaps we can become courageous enough to write a different, sustainable history. But, time is running out.
Internationally, for the first time ever, the final text of the UNFCCC COP28 called for the “transitioning away” from fossil fuels, though it avoided calling for their phase-out. As we continue to move forward into 2024, let us continue to demand more from elected leadership and corporate executives. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Still, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #6 which deals with accessing clean water for all was deemed in 2020 to be backsliding, by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In 2022, data from 120 member states the UN reported the rate of progress needed to increase six-fold, on average. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Further, it should be noted that the US Supreme Court, in June 2023, refused to hold the United States accountable for water rights it holds in trust for the Navajo Nation, where many Indigenous Navajo are forced to still haul water for drinking, household use, farming and livestock. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
In some potentially disturbing health news, the proceedings from the National Academies of Science recently reported the average liter of bottled water contains nearly a quarter million pieces of tiny nanoplastics – much smaller than the previously reported microplastics – detected and categorized for the first time by a microscope using dual lasers. The small plastic pieces are believed to be coming from the bottle itself. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Our communities continue to be at the center of the exploitation for unwanted false solutions that destroy precious biodiversity, pollute and waste water resources in the name of profit and control. If you’ve been following our campaign to stop the WNY STAMP mega-industrial site, you already know that construction of the site’s wastewater pipeline has been a disaster since drilling began in July. Today, ]they] say: “this outrage must end.” Join the Nation and take action to halt construction once and for all.
There’s a lot of work we all must continue to do.
On a proactive note, two Indigenous tribal governments on the Northwest Coast of Washington State are suing major oil and gas companies for their role in causing disastrous changes to the climate which tribes say have forced their communities to relocate to higher ground. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
In other positive news, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is taking steps to become the first city in the nation to seek tribal input prior to development in or around sacred Tribal areas or land. It is a joint effort between the mayor’s office, the Planning department, Office of Native American Affairs, City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn and Council Services department to make changes to the Integrated Development Ordinance. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Choctaw women during the Choctaw Trail of Tears would sew seeds into the hems of their dresses to hide them in order to preserve their traditional foods. Today, in an exercise of Indigenous Just Transition to a sustainable future, the Choctaw Nation keeps those traditional foods alive through its heirloom seed distribution program, Growing Hope. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
And continuing positive work in their Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians community and Southeast region of Turtle Island, IEN’s Just Transition Organizer Mary (Missy) Crowe and EBCI member Lavita Hill’s efforts to change the name of Clingman’s Dome back to its original Cherokee name, Kuwohi, has moved forward. The EBCI Tribal Council unanimously passed Res. 72 (2024) to approve the submission of an application on behalf of the Tribe to restore the name of the mountain to its original name. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
We congratulate Mary and Lavita on their tireless work and all hard working staff of IEN, and others across Turtle Island and Mother Earth. We must keep a positive mind, a strong heart and bold determination to continue the path of not mere survival, but the will to THRIVE in spite of all the negative forces and actions heaped upon us, for the continuation of our peoples and cultures – GOOD ways to live in balance with the Universe and Mother Earth!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS! AND STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES COMING SOON!