Archive for January, 2011

No Relief for Fence-Line Activists in Corpus Christi

No Relief for Fence-Line Activists in Corpus Christi

by Flavia de la Fuente · January 31, 2011, Change.Org,


Only a month and a half after Suzie Canales, a waitress from a fence line community in Corpus Christi, Texas, raised hell in what was supposed to be a self-congratulatory environmental justice forum at the White House, there is still no relief for community members living alongside one of the largest clusters of oil and chemical refineries in the country. Within the past week, Corpus Christi has been hit by a string of bad news:

Yet another study, done by none other than the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has revealed shocking quantities of lead contamination in families’ backyards. One backyard registered 728 parts per million of lead, another registered 679 ppm., and several more registered above 400 ppm.  The EPA’s standard for lead in bare soil in play areas is 400 ppm by weight.

This, on the heels of a proposed demolition plan for the nearby ASARCO/Encycle plant, which according to most accounts is saturated with arsenic. The TCEQ’s plan involves putting up a ten-foot high tarp around the plant, to prevent debris from the demolition flying into the nearby neighborhoods. Yet, as one resident pointed out, “the building is three to four stories tall…how is a ten-foot tarp supposed to protect us?”

But wait, there’s more…the Las Brisas petroleum-coke plant received its fantastically flawed air permit from the TCEQ on Wednesday. If built, it’ll produce 1,320 megawatts a year by burning petroleum coke, a product of refining oil that’s regulated like coal but is actually a whole lot dirtier. The plant would emit 220 pounds of mercury a year and, by Las Brisas’s own estimate, increase pollution in Nueces County by 82 percent. Nueces County, due to the Refinery Row area, also ranked with the highest U.S. refinery benzene emissions by county (1997-2008) and benzene could be prime factor in the elevated birth defect rates.

As the federal EPA fails to act and the TCEQ continues to steamroll over the community, the fence-line problems associated with living near one of the largest clusters of refineries in the country continue.

Suzie Canales writes to the Environmental Protection Agency and to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the two biggest environmental agencies in the world, respectively. “For at least the last two weeks the people of Hillcrest have had to endure frightening sirens in the early morning hours and at night. These sirens are not the typical ones they hear for lunch or for a shift change. These are the ones that go off when something is going on in the plant.

It’s cruel and merciless to have this continue without any intervention. People are not being told what’s going on. One neighbor says she can’t sleep because of the sirens going on and off, and she’s so frightened that she has packed a bag with two days worth of clothing should she have to flee.”

Recall that after the BP spill, accounts began surfacing of workers who had expressed worries about security and safety prior to the explosion. It seems Citgo may be headed down the same path:

“We have heard from people ‘inside’ the Citgo refinery that there is concern, that a unit is unstable and that workers are fearing for their own safety. Someone needs to find out what is the cause of the problems. The people deserve to know.”

Many in the community have come to the realization that something is going to blow soon. As one person put it, “I just hope when it does blow the children are away at school.”

At a citizen’s town hall in Corpus Christi in 2010, local university professor asked, “Why don’t we prosecute environmental crimes the same way we prosecute all other crimes?”

Nobody is taking anything lying down.  Groups opposed to Las Brisas vow to keep fighting, and there is no doubt Suzie Canales will continue to shake down the EPA.

Support them. Ask EPA air chief, Gina McCarthy, to take action in Corpus Christi and support the community. It’s never too late.

Photo: Suzie Canales

Flavia de la Fuente works for environmental justice with the Sierra Club in Texas by day and volunteers as a DREAM-activist by night.

The Bakweri Lands And The Abuse Of A People

Cameroon: The Bakweri Lands And The Abuse Of A People

Louis Egbe Mbua, Monday, 31 January 2011

Indigenous Peoples: Issues & Resources,

The BLCC (Bakweri Land Claims Committee) Easter Resolutions : passed by the BLCC (The Bakweri Land Claims Committee) Council in Victoria, (Limbe) Friday, 17th April 2009, following an Extraordinary Conference attended by all shades of the the Bakweri People in Cameroon and the Diaspora; meeting held at the BLCC Head quarters, Buea, Cameroon, Tuesday, 14th April 2009: Mola Njoh Litumbe, Secretary General of the BLCC presiding; resolutions adopted in Victoria (Limbe), Cameroon at the Palace of HRM Chief Epupa Ekum of Dikolo, and revised in London, 30 January 2011.

The BLCC (The Bakweri Land Claims Committee) intends to bring a land expropriation dating back more than a century to an abrupt end. This conflict has its origins in 1891 when German imperialists attempted to seize native Bakweri lands. They were routed in a war by the Bakweri army in the same year. The contemporary Cameroon Government, based in Yaoundé, has been attempting the same shameful and underhand colonial tactics to appropriate Bakweri lands as the Germans — as the French did after them – despite the entire of Cameroon being under a League of Nations Mandate and eventually under United Nations Trusteeship — through oppression, intimidation, bribery, corruption and fraud. Nonetheless, the BLCC is determined to thwart protagonists of these oppressive legacies with the least possible delay — this objective must be realised.

It is a basic wisdom; to allow people to decide what they wish to do with their property. However, if a man comes from a far away land, with no apparent notion of the rule of law; or the value of property especially its function in the perpetuation of posterity; and if that man persists in wilful marauding and rampage, greed, and thoughtlessness and arrogance despite having been instructed on the benefits of fair play in this regard, then the BLCC believes that he must be taught how to follow universal and civilised rules of engagement. If this man continues with crude approaches in this very important matter, there is little reason to entertain his folly rather than to teach him a lesson on the vicissitudes of confrontational conflict which he may be unable or unwilling to understand at this point in time. Equally, the BLCC bears no responsibility whatsoever for this ineptitude. Each party must face up to its own responsibilities without the interference of the other in this protracted conflict, until an amicable settlement is reached between the two parties. In this case, therefore, the BLCC believes in the dictum: “each man for himself” as regards the two opposing parties – the BLCC and the Republic of Cameroon.

Accordingly, the BLCC, with an exclusive global mandate to secure Bakweri lands; and in respect of the reclamation of Bakweri private native lands occupied by the CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation) have resolved as follows:

1. No plot, constituting native Bakweri lands, should be put up for sale or transferred without establishment of a legal document for land lease. A uniform template for this legal document will be drawn up. Any non-native who wishes to purchase or receive such land in Fako can apply for such a lease. Acceptance will be subject to intense scrutiny by the BLCC.

2. The Cameroon Development Corporation’s (CDC) lease for Native Bakweri lands has expired, and is therefore no longer valid because the sixty-year period stipulated by the original legal mandate (1st January 1947 – 31st December 2007) has run its full course. The Lease requires that Bakweri natives now take over the Company for the benefit of the indigenes. Any intervening purported extension of the aforementioned Lease on these lands without the knowledge and consent of the natives is, as a result, NULL and VOID in entirety: as, by extension, any prolongation of the said 60-year lease without the consent of the BLCC . As a direct consequence, any transfer of land to any third party as of this date is NULL and VOID; and the CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation) should desist from entering into any land transaction with any other party. Any breach of this legal restraint will be considered a hostile act against the Bakweris and the people of Cameroon; and the BLCC reserves the right to counter such purely naked disregard of native human rights, legal mandate and law with equal contempt. All non-natives who are purported to have bought lands during the original legal mandate of the CDC lease and after 31st December 2007 when the CDC legal mandate expired in these spheres of native influence have done so illegally; and all such transactions are thus rendered NULL and VOID.

3. Those who are currently occupying Bakweri native lands must start paying their rents or risk having their properties seized without warning because their occupation is tantamount to the surrendering of indigenous patrimony. This includes the CDC, The Cameroon Tea Estates at Tole, Del Monte Corporation at Tiko, The Cameroon Armed Forces who forcefully expropriated lands from Bakweri natives at Limbola , Victoria, to build their military barracks so that they may further oppress the natives and extend their land theft, and those who have bought the said native lands from traditional chiefs in Fako or from any other persons. The CDC Lands are private Bakweri property according to the Cameroon land ordinance law which came into force in 1974 in line with legal enactments during the UN Trusteeship of Southern Cameroons that declared the CDC lands to be NATIVE LANDS. These ordinances do not include any provision for sale or transfer of lands to non-natives. Thus, the recent peremptory surrender of CDC occupied lands is in total violation of the said laws; as well as being wholly inconsistent with the Banjul Judgement recommending arbitration.

4. The Ministerial order, Arrete 0000797/2.5/MINUHD200, 03 March 2003, by the then or now Cameroon Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, ADJI Abdoulaye Haman providing for non-natives, including the Anglican and Catholic Churches and foreign governments, to acquire free holds of native lands in Fako is Illegal and a monumental fraud because it contravenes the 1974 land ordinances. The BLCC, therefore, considers this a distraction and a non-issue to our main objectives of securing the Bakweri lands. The BLCC therefore, utterly REJECTS this order. The BLCC are under no obligation whatsoever to comply with fraudulent laws designed to alienate the indigenes from their own land. Consequently, the BLCC has the right to occupy any lands, without due warning, that were acquired under this illegal, undemocratic, authoritarian, fraudulent and expansionist order from misguided and malicious sources.

5. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), sitting in Niamey, Niger, in 2003, passed a Resolution imposing an injunction on the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Mr. Paul Biya, restraining his powers to further alienate the Bakweri natives from their own land. In pursuance of this restraining order, the same ACHPR, with the endorsement of the African Heads of States sitting in Banjul in 2004, ruled that the entire Bakweri Land should be under international sanction and auspices until a settlement is amicably reached between the Cameroon government and the BLCC under the auspices of the African Union Rapporteur. As a result, any land deals entered into by the Cameroon government and any third party after these periods (2003/2004) violate these injunctions and sanction. It follows that any individual who breaks — knowingly –these rulings may be classified as an international CRIMINAL. The BLCC have the exclusive legal mandate to begin international criminal proceedings against these authorities.

6. The BLCC is fully aware and informed of the massive and blatant land racket that has been established by the Biya regime; and perpetrated and enforced by enemies of the Bakweri and the Cameroon people in a pre-meditated and malicious scheme calculated to dispossess the natives of their own territorial heritage so as to be replace them with non-indigenes from far away ethnic groups. This, too, the BLCC considers as being CRIMINAL in that it represents a gross contravention of international human rights as stipulated by the United Nations Charter on Human Rights.

7. The BLCC reserves the right to institute CRIMINAL proceedings against agents of land fraud and human oppression in this context. The BLCC is also aware of the unbridled and seemingly unrepentant corruption of government officials who have been drawn, willingly, into the dragnet of land crimes; abusing the power vested on them by the Cameroon people, so as to expropriate lands from the oppressed natives in clear violation of the aforementioned injunctions and sanctions.

8. The BLCC is in the process of seeking legal proceedings to halt the wanton, CRIMINAL and illegal distribution of lands by the Cameroon government and its ceding of lands to Bakweri Traditional Chiefs without due consultation with the natives (BLCC). The BLCC will be seeking financial damages and back rents owed to the natives by the Cameroon Development Corporation from 1st January 1947 to date, 31 January 2011; and for the shameful land theft by the Cameroon government which has a notorious record of grotesque fraud, incompetence and unbridled bribery; and which shamelessly advances blatant lies to the international community in connection to the Bakweri lands. The BLCC is shocked to note that Mbonge, in the Meme division; and Tombel in the Kupe-Mwanenguba division, both in Cameroon, which are entirely hemmed by plantations — cultivated by the Cameroon Development Corporation and the Pamol Corporation – despite having the same Lease as the Bakweri lands have been left intact while the Cameroon government has been distributing native Bakweri lands. Having considered this matter carefully, the BLCC has arrived at the definitive conclusion that this represents a concerted conspiracy and crime solely designed to drive the indigenous Bakweri from their own home so that people of alien origin will possess the land.

9. The BLCC is conscious of the fundamental natural law: that man is made from the earth as decreed by God in Heaven, Creator of all things on earth and in Heaven; and that we eat, live, are born and die on earth; and that the BLCC commits all its work to God, The God of Justice, Companionship, Compassion, and Peace and the Giver of land and life. This Land was given to the Bakweri people by God; and not by the Cameroon Government or by any other agency — human, celestial or spiritual. The BLCC is, therefore, committed to pray to God and fast so that the BLCC organisation should not be infiltrated by corrupt humans and celestial spirits bent on destroying the good work of God and the BLCC. While we may be a minority ethnic group in Cameroon, Africa and the World but we have the Lord before us to fight against agents of destruction, injustice and oppression.

10. The BLCC is, therefore, serving a WARNING to the Biya regime:

(i) To abide to the CDC Land Lease, the UN Trusteeship agreement, the League of Nations Mandate of the British Cameroons under United Kingdom Administration on native land laws as applied to the CDC Lands, The United Republic of Cameroon ordinance law of 1974, the Niamey injunction 2003, and the 2004 Banjul ruling on sanctions on Bakweri land; and

(ii) To engage in an amicable arbitration of the Bakweri land dispute in the presence of the AU Special Rapporter with the BLCC as ruled by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;


(iii) Face an international opprobrium as a pariah state and other criminal charges.


Louis Egbe Mbua, Ph.D., President BLCC Europe.

CC: The Chairman of the African Union

The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama

The President of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The United Nations Organisation Secretary General

The President of the Republic of Cameroon

Dr. Vincent Cable, MP for Twickenham, Greater London, England, UK

The President of the Fako Chiefs Conference

Fako Traditional Chiefs

Amnesty International

President of Fako UK

President of Fako America

The Chairman of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), Bota, Victoria (Limbe), Cameroon

The General Manager, Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), Bota, Victoria (Limbe), Cameroon

A “Green Signal” For The Rape Of Justice And The People: Environment Ministry Decision On POSCO

Orissa: A “Green Signal” For The Rape Of Justice And The People: Environment Ministry Decision On POSCO



Monday, 31 January 2011, Indigenous Peoples: Issues & Resources,


Villages Gadkujang, Nuagaon, Dhinkia; Erasama Block, Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa.


A “Green Signal” for The Rape of Justice and the People: Environment Ministry Decision on POSCO


Jairam Ramesh and the UPA government have shown their true colours with their decision today on the POSCO project. Ignoring the reports of its own advisory bodies and enquiry committees, violating its own orders and the laws of the land, this Ministry has shown that the naked face of corporate greed – not the “rule of law”, the “aam aadmi”, “inclusive growth” or any of these other lies – is what rules this country. The decision today can be summarised in one sentence: “Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will.”


We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project’s fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people’s resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.


We note the following about today’s decision:

  • The Orissa government has been asked to give an “assurance” that the people of the area are not forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, after which the “final forest clearance” will be granted. The Orissa government has already lied on this count on numerous occasions. Indeed, the majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee said “The Committee finds that the government’s own records such as census reports and voters list confirm that there are both other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) and forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes in the project area and the statement of the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur to the contrary is false” (para II.1, Conclusions and Recommendations). Even the dissenting member agreed that the Act had not been implemented. The same finding had been reached by the subcommittee of the Saxena Committee earlier. After the Ministry’s own enquiry committees have found the Orissa government guilty of lying, what is the meaning of saying the project can proceed if the liars repeat their lies?
  • This Ministry has earlier made a song and dance of respect for people’s views and environmental laws. Under the Forest Rights Act, the consent of the gram sabhas of the area is an essential requirement, and this was confirmed by the Ministry’s own order. Three different committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee – all therefore said the clearance should be withdrawn. The Minister today claims that the project can go ahead if he and the Orissa government decide they want it to. So much for the law and for people’s rights.
  • On the environment clearance, we recall again the words of the majority Enquiry Committee, which said “Potentially very serious impacts …have not even been assessed, leave alone planned for…. The cavalier and reckless attitude of the concerned authorities to such potentially disastrous impacts is horrendous and shocks the collective conscience of the Committee….There appears to be a pre dominant belief that conditionalities in the EIA/ CRZ clearances are a substitute for comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact by the authorities. Imposing vague conditionalities seems to be a way out for the various agencies from taking hard decisions on crucial issues.” Again, it is not us who said this – it is the Ministry’s own Committee! And yet this is exactly what the Minister has chosen to do.
  • Independent reports and studies by reputed academics have confirmed what we have always said – this project will be of no benefit to anyone except POSCO’s profit margins. But yet we find this being called a project of “strategic importance.” To whom? Today the veil stands ripped open; the government stands exposed before the nation, a mercenary willing to put its regulations, officials and security forces at the disposal of the highest bidder. Let the UPA and the Central government answer: where is the rule of law today, in the name of which you crush struggles across the country? Where is your much vaunted love for the people and for the environment? What do you stand for if not for corporate greed?


Prashant Paikray Spokesperson,

PPSS 09437571547

How Clean is The Air We Breathe?

How Clean is The Air We Breathe?

More industrial and manufacturing facilities are emitting toxic substances than show up on state and federal databases.

By Mark Vallianatos, January 29, 2011, Eagle Rock Patch,

cancer risk from air pollution new cancer risk from air pollution

“To pretend that the world is a garden is … a turning away from the woes that keep it from being one.” —Rebecca Solnit.

Environmental justice organizations in Los Angeles recently launched a Clean up, Green up campaign to reduce existing toxic pollution in neighborhood suffering from heavy toxic burden and to encourage investments in new green businesses.

The campaign draws upon the findings of community members who conducted “ground truthings” of pollution sources in Boyle Heights, the Fugueroa Corridor, Wilmington, Pacoima, Commerce and Maywood. By “truthing,” they mean walking the streets and using mapping tools and hand-held sensors in an effort to verify the accuracy of government databases of major pollution source such as oil refineries, chemical companies, and chromium plating facilities. Their research results are summarized in a report, “Hidden Hazards: A Call to Action for Healthy, Livable Communities,” issued by the Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice. Occidental College professors Martha Matsuoka and Jim Sadd helped community organizations conduct and analyze the research.

The community surveyors found that there are more in-the-real-world facilities emitting toxic substances than show up on state and federal databases. This is because government right-to-know and toxics inventory programs exclude facilities that use, manufacture or release less than a minimum threshold of chemicals or that have a small number of employees. The problem is that many of these smaller sources of pollution cluster in neighborhoods that also have a few larger emitters, resulting in higher cumulative impacts on people working in or living near such small facilities.

Eagle Rock is a primarily residential area. There are no major chemical factories or power plants located in Eagle Rock proper. But there are smaller potential sources of toxic substances, including auto body shops and gas stations.

Close to Eagle Rock, for example, along the Los Angeles River, are light manufacturing and warehouse zones and rail yards. The neighborhood is also bordered by the 134 and 2 freeway and is close to the 5 and 210 freeways. Wouldn’t it be great if students from Occidental or Eagle Rock High—or, indeed, concerned residents—conducted some “ground truthing” of our own in Eagle Rock and surrounding areas?

I checked out some of the existing databases of pollution and toxic releases—which, for all their imperfections, are valuable sources of information—to see how clean is the air we breathe.

Baseline data from state monitoring sites in Los Angeles, Burbank and other areas allows scientists to estimate the cancer risk from a lifetime of breathing the air in the L.A. region. (See the map image in the photos section.) In Eagle Rock, for example, the cancer risk is between 800-900 per million, somewhat lower than the average risk in Greater Los Angeles. If the entire country had air as contaminated as we do in the 90041 zip code, there would be more than 260,000 cases of cancer from breathing the air in Eagle Rock.

Moving to specific sources of air pollutants, the California Air Resources Board maintains a Community Health Air Pollution Information System. The three largest sources of reported air pollutants (particulate matter, benzene, and chromium 6) within a 3-mile radius of Eagle Rock are power plants operated by the City of Pasadena’s Pasadena Water and Power, the City of Glendale’s Glendale Water and Power and PRC-de Soto International, a manufacturer of sealants and coatings used in the aerospace industry.

A query of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s “Toxic Release Inventory” program, the main national right-to-know database, shows Baxter Bioscience and Mission Kleensweep products as major local emitters of thousands of pounds of glycol ethers, which the EPA lists as solvents having “unknown” health effects, and methanol, a form of alcohol used as a feedstock for formaldehyde and other chemicals. The blue markers in the attached map from this database shows facilities that are required to report their emissions. The grey markers indicate facilities that are not required to report, but which may release toxic substances and are part of other EPA programs. You learn more from the EPA about your “Right to Know” of emissions from nearby facilities by clicking here.

The California Air Resources Board also administers an Air Toxics Hot Spots Program. My employer Occidental College is the only registered emitter in 90041. I asked my colleague, Bruce Steele, who works on campus health and safety compliance as well as sustainability, about the college’s major emissions. He told me that much of the reported substances, including ammonia, toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde, mainly come from exhausts from the fleet of campus vehicles, from natural gas combustion, or from evaporating vapors from the college’ underground fuel storage tank.

Even though Eagle Rock is not a toxic hotspot, as some communities definitely are, there is room to identify and reduce emissions from major facilities, smaller companies, and cars and trucks. I hope that some of the students at Oxy, not to mention other educational institutions in areas where pollution is relatively more pronounced, will advance the cause of green chemistry after graduation, helping eliminate the need for many toxic substances currently in use.

Enlightening Quechan v. BLM

Enlightening Quechan v. BLM

By Ryan D. Dreveskracht, Posted by Terri Hansen on 1/30/11 • Mother Earth Journal,

Example of solar array, this one in Ft. Carson, Colo. Courtesy 

Recently, Native American tribes’ opposition to solar projects has been well – although inaccurately – documented. The media coverage is the result of a San Diego Federal District Court’s decision[1] where the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation (Quechan) sought and successfully obtained an injunction against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s approval of a 709-megawatt solar farm planned for more than 6,000 acres of public land in the desert in California’s Imperial valley.

If built, the project would have been one of the largest solar facilities in the Nation.  Today, the “Imperial project” is dead in the water.

Quechan v. BLM (S.D. Cal. 2010)

A storm of media criticism has been levied upon the Quechan for not “supporting” the project. After all, as stewards of the earth, Indians are supposed to love alternative energy, right? Some commentators[2] have used the fact that the tribe’s casino uses traditional energy to vilify the tribe’s environmental record. One article in the Solar Home & Business Journal,[3] suggested that the tribe does not actually care about its cultural resources, as the site of their “casino was considered sacred and contained precious cultural artifacts” but the “[b]ulldozers ‘roared into action’ despite the elders’ objections . . . .” Other coverage appears to be more evenhanded. A recent article in the San Diego Daily Transcript[4] characterized the Quechan suit as “clearly epitomiz[ing] how the conflicting priorities of ancient tradition and modern urgent necessity are juxtaposed.”  Ultimately, that author concluded that his “sympathies are divided between the legitimate needs of the tribes” to preserve their ancient sites and artifacts “and the imperative to quickly respond to climate change.”

These analyses are over-simplified and create a false dichotomy that has nothing to do with the issues involved in the Quechan suit.

The lands at issue in Quechan involved public lands managed by the BLM, containing an estimated 459 “cultural resources,” many of which were of significance to the tribe. All parties agreed that the cultural resources were legitimate, and that the lands had a “history of extensive use by Native American groups.”  The tribe’s complaint alleged that the BLM “reached its approval decision prior to evaluating the eligibility of cultural resources identified in the project area and without engaging required consultation with tribes” pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and various other procedural laws.

The fact that the laws invoked by the Quechan were procedural and not substantive is important, because it means that, by definition, the tribe was not objecting to the implementation of the Imperial project. In other words, the tribe was not valuing their cultural resources at a higher level than global warming, clean energy, or “modern urgent necessity” – as the media have portrayed. Rather, the tribe was objecting to the procedure used by the BLM in granting the developer, Tessera Solar, the permits necessary to implement the project.

That procedure requires that federal agencies consult “meaningfully” with tribes if there is any possibility that their off-reservation properties of cultural and religious significance will be affected. To be “meaningful” the federal agency must schedule a meeting with a tribal decision maker, during which the federal agency notifies the tribe of the proposed action and justifies its reasoning. At that point, the tribe may issue a motion of support for the decision, or a rejection of the decision, pursuant to tribal law or procedure. According to federal regulations,[5] this consultation must “commence early in the planning process” – that is, before any decision is made or implementation plan is initiated – “in order to identify and discuss relevant preservation issues.”

This was simply not done in Imperial Valley, California – and, as an unfortunate result of the federal government’s carelessness, the Imperial project will likely never be.

To be clear, pursuant to the procedural laws at issue in Quechan, tribal consultation requires that the federal government respect the desires of Native Americans to be involved in decisions that affect them, but does not bind federal agencies to anything resembling a commitment to the application of tribal input. The tribe can object to a project ad nauseum, but as long as the federal agencies follow the correct consultation process under the letter of the law the project will go on without a hitch.  So what’s the point? Why does a tribe chose evoke its consultation right at all? As applied in Quechan, the purpose of the federal consultation requirement is largely twofold.

Tribal Sovereignty

First, the federal government has a duty to respect tribes’ position in the federalist system as sovereign nations. A necessary aspect of tribal sovereignty is having the inherent responsibility to promote and protect the welfare of tribal people – including the right to protect cultural and religious properties and to be treated with respect by other sovereigns. In fulfillment of this duty, beginning in the 1970s (yes, it took until 1970) the federal government initiated a slew of laws and dynamic government policies requiring that federal agencies interact with tribes on a government-to-government basis – as opposed to the pre-1970s model where tribes were treated as afterthoughts, if they were thought of at all.

Although tribes are still among the poorest minority groups in the Nation, pre-1970 it was much worse.

Once the self-determination era, as it is now named, came into effect, tribes began to see real improvements in not only their economies but also the welfare of their citizens. According to research conducted by Stephen Cornell and Joseph Kalt,[6] this is because exercising sovereignty through government-to-government relationships is a necessary element of sustainable tribal development. As former Director of the Office of Indian Affairs, Regis Pecos,[7] explains, “[t]hroughout history, the conceptualization of Indian policies has been driven by others and usually not for [tribal] benefit.” Where the tribes “were not directly involved, even the most thoughtful and well-intended considerations often had unintended consequences.”

And what could go wrong usually did. Indeed, a recent United Nations Report[8] noted that as non-Indian investment projects in Indian Country come to fruition, “which may take several years depending on their characteristics, the concerns of indigenous peoples, who are seldom consulted on the matter, take a back seat to an overriding ‘national interest,’ or to market-driven business objectives aimed at developing new economic activities, and maximizing productivity and profits.”

But where tribes are treated as sovereigns – that is, given the ability to object to the actions of federal agencies and outside developers that affect their traditional lands – sustainable tribal development has a chance to thrive. In this way, tribal governments have not only a right, but a fiduciary duty to tribal citizens to exert the consultation right when federal agencies fail to comply with the law.

Amicable Resolutions

Second, the consultation duty comports with the federal government’s general aspirations to foster a government-to-government relationship with tribes. As embodied in President Obama’s 2009 Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation[9]:

History has shown that failure to include the voices of tribal officials in formulating policy affecting their communities has all too often led to undesirable and, at times, devastating and tragic results. By contrast, meaningful dialogue between Federal officials and tribal officials has greatly improved Federal policy toward Indian tribes. Consultation is a critical ingredient of a sound and productive Federal-tribal relationship.

For practical reasons alone, this type of relationship – as opposed to the complex and bifurcated relationship of the past – is mutually beneficial. The fact is that, despite federal hubris otherwise since day one, Indian tribes know best how to manage their lands. The Tulalip Tribes’ Snohomish Basin BioGas project[10] exemplifies this contention. By the 1970s, salmon stocks in the Tulalip Tribes’ traditional fishing waters plummeted to dangerously low levels, mostly due to the untreated cow manure runoff from local dairy farms. Local farmers, blaming the tribes’ treaty fishing rights for restrictions on their ability to expand their operations, did not respond to the tribes’ concerns. Eventually, however, threats of urban development convinced the farmers to consult with the tribe in order to form a collaborative effort to ward off urban encroachment that would surely sound the death knell for both fish and farms.

The solution: turning livestock waste into a salmon and fish friendly source of renewable energy. Today, the tribal/farmer partnership, now known as Qualco Energy, runs a renewable energy plant that pumps livestock manure and associated wastes away from the farms to a nearby facility that uses anaerobic digestion to create methane, which is then used as fuel for electricity-producing generators.

Litigation in federal courts is drawn out and costly, and, for what it’s worth, rarely caries the desired results for either party. As opposed to the adversarial model of yesteryear, many tribes are now building upon their legally enforceable consultation right to forge formal partnerships with federal agencies and corporate interests that advance mutual objectives. In this way, the succeeding purpose of federal consultation is to nip valuation conflicts the bud before they arise.

Back to Quechan

It is thus that the conflicts alluded to in the media coverage of Quechan – conflicts that never actually existed – are almost ironic: the federal consultation obligation seeks to avoid these exact types of valuation conflicts by forcing tribes and outside interests to formulate plans of implementation that are mutually amicable. In Quechan, this would likely have included the tribe pointing out areas that are very important to their members, and others that can be sacrificed. Or, it may have led to the tribe leasing a portion of its reservation land to Tessera at a reduced rate in lieu of the project going forward on sacred lands. Or, most likely, it may have meant that the tribe agreed to the exact plan proposed by Tessera and accepted by the BLM.

But none of that happened here, because the tribe was not adequately consulted.

This essay is a contribution to Mother Earth Journal. The author is solely responsible for its content.

Ryan D. Dreveskracht is an attorney licensed in Washington State, where he focuses on issues critical to Indian Country. He can be reached at or by phone at (360) 430-3783. All rights reserved.

From Brother to Brother

From Brother to Brother

by Brendan Fearn on 30. Jan, 2011 in Kogi, One Earth One Tribe,

Following on from last month’s post about the Kogi, I’d like to share another message that has been passed on to me by Sarena Webb, author of ‘Serene Dawn – Healing Earth’. The Kogi call the Sierra Nevada mountains in which they live ‘The Heart of the World’ because it is home to almost every known climate and according to the Kogi, represents the state of health of the entire planet. Over the years, they have seen the effect that The Younger Brother’s lifestyle has had on their mountain and indeed the earth. Now brother to brother, they come to us offering their wisdom so that we may come together and live in harmony and balance with each other and our Mother Earth.

“Part 2- Indigenous knowledge and prophecy from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

During my stay, the Indians taught me a lot about their world view. Rather than being focused on development and technology, the Kogi have pursued other lines of thought – thoughts that could be beneficial to an over exploited world they believe is headed for destruction. Most important to them, is why it is essential to maintain balance in all aspects of life. This concept is the key to their sustainable lifestyle.

Their principals of sustainability are based on the way nature works. They see themselves as part of the ecosystem rather than an external force exploiting it. They recognise the need to respect and preserve the earth’s resources and give back to the earth appropriately. Glamour, possessions, drugs and money are of little value to these tribal people. They believe it diverts attention away from what is important- the understanding of balance.

As Mama Manuel puts it, “We are all still brothers; it is just that The Younger Brother (meaning civilised society) does not well understand our Mother Earth and her ways. If you don’t give something back when you take from the Earth, eventually she will stop bearing fruit. A payment must be made for everything we take from the land, even the air we breathe and the water we drink. As she is robbed of balance and vital force she will no longer be able to sustain us. Stealing her minerals is like taking her blood. Gold has a function in the Earth, but is of no use in a museum where it cannot serve its true purpose.”

The Kogi have a profound scientific understanding of the world; though for them science and spiritual understanding are not separate modalities. Instead, they complement each other, contributing validity and insight to the other. Illness means something is out of balance and is not only limited to people but the earth as well. Healing is a matter of bringing the body back to its own harmonious state rather than merely treating symptoms. They believe that our spirit, including emotions and thought processes, need to be healed before there can be any healing of the body. The same concept is applied to the earth, except it is humans that cause the earth’s illness and imbalance.

The good news is however, the Kogi believe it is not too late for us to change our ways. Being deeply concerned for the future of our planet they want to share their knowledge about maintaining the delicate balance of life on earth. They want to teach us a fundamental understanding that will enable us to avoid contributing to natural disasters, famine, disease and global chaos. If enough people start to care for the state of our world and contribute what they can to save it, our species will go on. But where do we start?

Living out their principals of balance means they only take what they need and leave the least impact on the environment as possible. They always work with nature rather than against it, preserving the earth’s resources. The Kogi are a living example of how to achieve a sustainable life that is balanced and fulfilled. Is that not what we all desire?

They believe it is achievable if we listen to the elders who know the laws of nature and life itself – knowledge that we have long forgotten.

People may well be the problem they say, but we are also the solution.”

One Love * One Earth * One Tribe

Federal Appeals Court Rules DOE Not Responsible for Navajo Uranium Cleanup

Federal Appeals Court Rules DOE Not Responsible for Navajo Uranium Cleanup

Tuba City Abandoned Uranium Mill

Tuba City Abandoned Uranium Mill

By LAWRENCE HURLEY of Greenwire,

Published: January 28, 2011, New York Times,

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Department of Energy does not have to remediate two sites on Navajo Nation land that are adjacent to an old uranium mine.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled (pdf) against the Navajo Nation and the El Paso Natural Gas Co., the successor company to the mine operator, on technical grounds.

Under the 1978 Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation and Control Act, which was enacted to address uranium cleanups, Congress specifically stated that decisions on which sites to remediate were not subject to judicial review.

The mill itself, in Tuba City, Ariz., was one of the properties DOE initially agreed to remediate.

The Navajo Nation only became aware that the two sites nearby were also contaminated in the early 2000s.

In 2003, DOE denied a Navajo request to remediate the sites. In doing so, the government questioned whether the pollution came from the mill.

The natural gas company subsequently filed suit in 2007 over concerns it would be left to foot the bill (Greenwire, May 18, 2007).

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the suit, saying the court had no jurisdiction.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the appeals court, Judge David Tatel said that was the correct outcome.

Although courts generally assume that statutes are subject to judicial review, including some instances in which Congress says it is not, the remediation law is clear on the issue, he wrote.

The lawsuit “falls squarely within” the statute’s bar on judicial review, Tatel wrote.

Click here (pdf) to read the opinion.

Copyright 2011 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

North American native permaculture

North American native permaculture

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

by The Walden Effect,

Native Americans from the Archaic period preparing hickory nutsBefore eastern Native Americans domesticated the crops in the Eastern Agricultural Complex, they still relied heavily on plants for their nutrition.  Between 8000 BC and 2000 BC (the so-called Archaic period), Native Americans in our area ate a variety of un-domesticated native plants, including the fruits of sumac, blackberry, grape, hackberry, hawthorn, plum, pawpaw, cherry, mulberry, and persimmon; the nuts of hickory, oak, hazel, walnut, chestnut, beech, and pecan; and the sweet insides of honey locust pods.  They also ate the fruits, leaves, or tubers of Jerusalem artichoke, two wild beans, groundnut, maypop, black nightshade, amaranth, pokeweed, carpetweed, dock, chickweed, ground cherry, purslane, carpetweed, panicgrass, hog peanut, and a spurge.  Most of these plants continued to be important in the Native American diet for thousands of years thereafter.

Native Americans used fire to encourage edible plantsIf you’ve ever picked up a book on eastern North American edible plants, you’ll have noticed that most of the top edibles are listed above.  So the Native Americans just figured out what was edible and they wandered around all day looking for them, right?  In Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America, William E. Doolittle makes a strong case for the hypothesis that most or all of these “wild” plants were cultivated to some extent, even though they weren’t domesticated.  You’ll notice that nearly all of the woody plants listed aren’t old growth species and instead require some space and extra sunlight to produce plenty of fruits.  Native Americans cut the competition away from favored plants, burned out the undergrowth, pruned trees and vines to make fruits larger and easier to harvest, and transplanted edible-fruited trees to the edges of their fields after they began growing domesticated crops.  A great deal of evidence exists to suggest that grapes were propagated by cuttings and planted in vineyards, mulberry trees were planted near homes, and chickasaw plums and pecans were carried east from their natural range to plant throughout the South.

Indian gardenSmaller edibles were also encouraged in much the same way that a modern gardener might let a volunteer vegetable alone once he recognizes its worth.  A wide range of small plants weren’t completely dependent on the Native Americans for their care (like the Eastern Agricultural Complex was) but still benefited from a bit of encouragement and were then eaten.  Many of the plants listed in the last sentence of the first paragraph are weedy species that require some disturbance in order to grow, so they sprang up in the Native American’s cultivated fields.  At the time of European contact, it was common to see maypops, Jerusalem artichokes, and other “weeds” allowed to grow in the corn fields, to be harvested for food.

Although the native North American systems of encouraging wild plants weren’t as intricate as the forest gardens you see in the tropics, the widespread range and abundance of many of the species mentioned in this post can probably be linked back to the continent’s earliest human inhabitants.  It begs the question — are you really wildcrafting when you harvest the ubiquitous pokeweed growing behind your house, or are you just eating the remains of a Native American garden?


This post is part of our Native American Paleoethnobotany lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

“Mussel Gel” Will Give Muscle To Medical Implants And Tissue Repair

Mussel byssus enables mussel to surfaces even in water: Credit: Tara Fadenrecht, Niels Holten-Andersen, image via

“Mussel Gel” Will Give Muscle To Medical Implants And Tissue Repair





by T Goodman, Inventor Spot,

Mussel byssus enables mussel to surfaces even in water: Credit: Tara Fadenrecht, Niels Holten-Andersen, image via A new gel that the inventors say you can play with like Silly Putty, can repair torn skin, bond implants, or act as an adhesive for underwater machinery.  The invention, under development for several years, is now patent pending, and it’s all thanks to the biomimicry of a mussel’s byssus, the hair-size filaments that form a sticky foam enabling the mussel’s fierce attachment to rocks, substrates, and beds on the sea walls and floors.

Like the gecko, the mussel’s ‘sticktuitiveness’ has been admired by scientists from many disciplines, and several attempts have been made to biomimic the strength of the byssus, but prior agents have compromised either the strength or the brittleness of the glue.  Nevertheless, each experiment was built on the findings of the past, as was this accomplishment built on the finding that an amino acid known as ‘dopa’ was the key ingredient in the adhesive protein of the byssus.

The research chemists Neils Holten-Anderson and Ka Yee Lee from the University of Chicago, leading an international team of colleagues, dealt with the strength versus brittleness factors in their version of ‘Silly Putty,’ a gel that can be made firmer by changing the pH values, and less brittle by adding metals, such as iron, titanium, or aluminum, into the mix.

“Our aspiration is to learn some new design principles from nature that we haven’t yet actually been using in man-made materials that we can then apply to make man-made materials even better,” said Holten-Anderson.

That’s biomimicry! And that’s progress!

sources: Science Daily, Wikipedia The full paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Early Edition (1/24/11)