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Indigenous People: Endangered Species in Face of Western Development
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What is happening on Mauna Kea is nothing new to the history of indigenous people. Back in 1967 the Hopi went to the United Nations to try to prevent the Peabody Coal Company from mining their sacred Black Mesa.
But even now, according to Avaaz, “The U.S. government is about to hand over a beautiful stretch of national forest held sacred by the local Apache tribe — to a giant foreign mining company. The Oak Flat area of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona has had protected status since the Eisenhower Administration, out of recognition of its natural beauty and cultural significance. A massive 2-mile-long copper mine at Oak Flat would destroy a holy site that Apache have used since time immemorial. It boggles the mind that in 2015 the U.S. government is still stomping on Native American rights like this, at the behest of foreign mining interests to boot.”
It’s difficult for most Westerners to think of a place in nature as sacred. Just think about what would happen if some powerful company decided to put a huge telescope in the middle of the Vatican. And think about how environmentalists would rally if these sacred places were the primary nesting area of some rare and beautiful bird.
Indigenous people are just as endangered as animal species, yet few organizations protect them. I believe that the greatest threat to the existence of Native Americans, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians is the dishonoring and desecration of their spiritual places and their spiritual values.
If you doubt that Native Hawaiians and Native Americans are an endangered species, consider these statistics. Hawaiian youth have the greatest incidence of thinking about committing suicide and one of the highest rates of actually committing suicide as youth in any state in the entire country. Native American youth have 3 times the national average of suicides and up to 10 times as high on some reservations, according to a 2014 article in the Washington Post. All of these people suffer from record levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, sexual assault, alcoholism and drug addiction.
“The circumstances are absolutely dire for Indian children,” said Theresa Pouley, chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state and a member of the Indian Law and Order Commission. “One-quarter of Indian children live in poverty, versus 13 percent in the United States. They graduate high school at a rate 17 percent lower than the national average. Their substance-abuse rates are higher. They’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24. They have a 2.3 percent higher rate of exposure to trauma. They have two times the rate of abuse and neglect. Their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder rivals the rates of returning veterans from Afghanistan.” Hawaiians have similar statistics.
According to Sari Horwitz in the Washington Post (March 9, 2014), the U.S. Justice Department recently created a national task force to examine violence and its impact on American Indian and Alaska Native children, part of an effort to reduce the number of Native American youth in the criminal justice system. The level of suicide has startled some task force officials, who consider the epidemic another outcome of what they see as pervasive despair. I believe that Hawaiian children should be included in this task force investigation.
Byron Dorgan, co-chairman of the task force and a former senator from North Dakota, who chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said that Indian youth suicide cannot be looked at in a historical vacuum. The agony on reservations is directly tied to a “trail of broken promises.” He cited treaties dating back to the 19th century that guaranteed but largely did not deliver health care, education and housing. Just as the Oak Flats area was given protective status which is now arbitrarily being handed over to a foreign mining company.
At the first hearing of the Justice Department task force, in Bismarck, North Dakota, Sarah Kastelic, a member of the native village of Ouzinkie in Alaska, said, “Youth suicide was once virtually unheard of in Indian tribes. A system of child protection, sustained by tribal child-rearing practices and beliefs, flourished among Native Americans, and everyone in a community was responsible for the safeguarding of young people. Child maltreatment was rarely a problem, because of these traditional beliefs and a natural safety net.”
Whatever we can do to restore indigenous people’s innate sense of self-worth and self-value will help to remedy this dismal situation. We must begin by protecting and restoring these sacred places.
All of this is also true of the Hawaiian culture, as is the following.
Kastelic says that these child-rearing practices were often lost as the federal government sought to assimilate native people and placed children — often against their parents’ wishes — in “boarding schools” that were designed to immerse Indian children in Euro-American culture.
In fact, I know that at one point, all of the Hopi men were put in prison until they agreed to let their children be taken away to the missionary schools. I also know that neither American Indian nor Hawaiian children were allowed to speak their own languages in these schools. It was even illegal for Hawaiians to chant their sacred chants during this time in history.
Kastelic says that in many cases, the schools, mostly located off reservations, were centers of widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse. The transplantation of native children continued into the 1970s; there were 60,000 children in such schools in 1973 as the system was being wound down. They are the parents and grandparents of today’s teenagers. All of this is also true of Hawaiian children.
Whatever we can do to restore indigenous people’s innate sense of self-worth and self-value will help to remedy this dismal situation. This does not mean sending them to universities to become scientists (though some may want to do that). Disregarding what is sacred to their people is simply not acceptable.
We must begin by protecting and restoring these sacred places. Once that vibrational frequency is in place, it will strengthen all of the Original People. It will cause a shift toward the Aina, toward true protection of the deepest values. From there, all that must happen will occur.
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world. Whatever occurs here can be heard throughout the Universe.
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