Category Archives: Nature

The sacred landscape: DAPL, tradition, & profit

For somebody like Donald Trump, who sees a stretch pristine coastline as merely the opportunity of a golf course and a landmarked historic building as an inconvenienced to be bulldozed to make way for a new hotel,  nothing must get in the way of turning a quick buck.

So it was only natural that he’d reverse the freeze on the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to keep the profits flowing for his campaign contributors.

But for many Native Americans, the landscape through which the pipline passes is a sacred text, a living presence integral to the stories of their origins and being.

Rosalyn R. LaPier, a Native American scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University, explains in an essay for The Conversation, an open access academic journal written for the lay reader:

For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.

But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.

On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,

“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”

As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”

What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?

Meaning of sacred spaces

I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.

My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.

In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.

My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.

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Kansas/Oklahoma fracking quakes erupt anew

The latest from the U.S. Geological Survey, showing the earthquakes in the Kansas/Oklahoma border region over the past seven days, quakes now conclusively linked to fluids from fracking oil and gas wells as well as underground wastewater disposal from conventional oil and gas conventional   [click on the image to enlarge]:


Headline of the day II: Come hell or high water

In California, where we’ve lived these last five decades, it’s one extreme or another. . .as in epic drought, or this, via the London Daily Mail:

‘A hazardous situation is developing’: More than 162,000 residents near America’s tallest dam are told to leave as water continues to burst through an eroded spillway – prompting fears of massive floods

  • Residents in Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties in Northern California are under mandatory evacuation orders
  • Authorities fear the collapse of the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville Dam
  • Releases through the dam’s main, heavily damaged spillway have increased to 100,000 cubic feet per second in a frantic effort to drain Lake Oroville below 
  • Oroville lake depths are decreasing rapidly
  • Water should stop flowing over the emergency spillway in several hours
  • This doesn’t mean the dam won’t collapse from severe erosion

DroughtWatch: Another week, more relief

The latest map from the United States Drought Monitor reveals another week of major changes as the five-year old California drought continues to fade. This week’s biggest change came in the Severe Drought category, which fell by nearly half.

All told, 41.46 percent of the Golden State is now free of the drought, with all of the North official relieved, though the drought remains in the Central Valley and at its strongest in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties.

Click on the map to enlarge:


Map of the day: Genetic geography patterns

A look at the patterns of ancestrally linked genes reveals population links in the U.S., as well as a map of migrations past. From “Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America” [open access], a new report in Nature Communications co-authored by researchers from and faculty from Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon University.  We have darkened the graphic from the original because some of type was too pale to read otherwise.

Click on the image to enlarge:


Is Duterte, unlike Trump, a green populist thug?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte [previously] may be a murdering populist thug who says Donald Trump makes him “feel like a saint,” notorious for his personal participation in one of more of the thousands of police and vigilante murders of alleged drug users and dealers that have characterized his rule since he took the helm last June, but is a green murdering populist thug as well?

That possibility was raised today after his environmental secretary announced the closure of more than half of the country’s notoriously dirty mines, declaring it a matter of social justice, especially for the island nation’s original inhabitants.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the murder of an indigenous anti-mining activist, 27-year-old Veronico “Nico” Lapsay Delamente, a member of the Mamanwa tribe.

The story from teleSUR English:

In a move to address the environmental and human costs of the mining industry in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s secretary of the environment and natural resources, Regina Lopez, has ordered the closure of 23 of 41 of the country’s mines.

The move has perturbed the mining industry — which has threatened to fight back through legal action.

“My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is social justice,” Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, said at a briefing that showed footage of damage from mining activities, especially in Indigenous communities.

“Why is mining more important than people’s lives?”

The announcement has raised the price of global nickel prices, as the Philippines is the world’s largest nickel ore exporter. Lopez has also ordered for the suspension of five other mines as well, after having conducted an official standards audit.

The suspensions include the country’s top gold mine, operated by Australia’s OceanaGold Corp., which has threatened to take legal action if the mine is closed. The corporation’s CEO, Mick Wilkes, said the decision was unjustified.

Scientists call an Earth Day march vs. Trump

And about damn time.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

U.S. scientists will mark Earth Day by marching on Washington in protest at U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance on climate change and on science they consider under threat from ideology, organisers said on Thursday.

“This long-simmering history of anti-science is on a freight train that’s barrelling down on all of us,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, the Washington-based non-profit that coordinates Earth Day.

Since launching a website for the anti-Trump march on Monday, more than 40,000 people have registered interest, saying they planned to attend the march or a satellite event.

Some 325,000 people have also liked a Facebook page announcing the “March for Science”.

“The election of President Trump and the Republican party – which has adopted more often than not an anti-science platform -has certainly inspired some of the viral explosion that we’ve seen come out of this movement for a march for science,” Ted Bordelon, acting spokesman for the march, said in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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