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Whisper n Thunder Launches Webinar Format: Stolen Lands; Poisoned People

~ Sarah King, WNT Board Member

Whisper n Thunder’s first webinar, entitled

“Stolen Lands; Poisoned People: Environmental

Challenges to Native Lands,” aired on May 22nd 

before a small audience of 43, but before the

week was over it had received 149 views,

increasing viewership to a total of 310 as of

June 21st —a real-time testament to the

extraordinary speakers and the power of their

presentations. Panelists Shannon Rivers,

Vernon Masayesva, and Rebecca Balog shared

their knowledge of environmental impacts on native lands in the 1 ½ hour program, underscoring the many and diverse threats to indigenous communities due to air and water pollution, and the ongoing assault on the lands and the people by extraction industries. Mr. Rivers opened the discussion with a short history of the colonialist mentality that led to the hostile takeover of indigenous lands by invading settlers who wanted to lay claim to the riches under the soil. He described the development of a legal system that favored the rights of white settlers over the historical claims of the original residents, a legal system that— centuries later—still denies indigenous peoples access to important resources and spiritual spaces so important to the stability of their cultures. Mr. Masayesva talked about the devastation that has been wreaked upon Sipaapu, located close to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Sipaapu is considered to be the birthplace of the Hopi, and its waters are diminishing under the strain of the huge demands placed on both rivers to provide drinking and irrigation water for populations all along the Colorado River watershed. Ongoing drought and climate change exacerbate the situation. Ms. Balog’s discussion of the toll the extraction industries has taken on the health and welfare of native women who live in close proximity to the “mancamps” (temporary living quarters of men who provide labor at mines and drilling locations) highlighted the collateral damage to people as a result of the fossil fuel frenzy.

This webinar represents the first of a series of panel discussions related to environmental issues on Native lands...and how Native Americans are responding to those challenges. It is a well-known fact that continued burning of fossil fuels is driving the global warming process. It’s also a well-know fact that much of the extraction of these fuels occurs on or near reservations, causing degradation to the land and impacting the health of those who live nearby. Native Americans are rising up in increasing numbers to voice their concerns about damage to their communities. History has taught them how to design societies specifically to be adaptive to changing environments. In fact, “climate change” has always been a core part of ceremonies, cultural life and even politics. There is much indigenous wisdom out there that can benefit not only Native American communities as they campaign for clean air and water on their lands, but others as well. Through this webinar series, Whisper n Thunder will explore and document the challenges and the responses as Native communities utilize their traditional knowledge to address this existential crisis.