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"Native Nations Won't Rally Around "One Nation" Concept,"

by Lillian Wilmore November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

The Report stresses common ground of shared values and goals. Many Native Americans are dubious about the extent of their shared values and goals with the mainstream culture. They see a materialistic culture, driven by greed, detached from nature or pursuing the illusion that it must and can dominate nature, excessively individualistic, always in a hurry and untrustworthy.

This view is a product of our experience. The mainstream culture has for 500 years been attempting to destroy or assimilate Native Americans and has not yet learned that it cannot. "Indian-ness" resides in the teachings of the Old Ways and our native languages. The view of the world that our traditions teach has integrity of its own and represents a sensible and respectable perspective of the world and a valid means of interpreting experiences. In a great many areas, tribal religion defines culture. Yet in the Advisory Board's section on The Role of Religious Leaders it fails to even mention the need for protection of American Indian religious freedom and sacred places. It is the principle of respect for the sacred that is important. For all these reasons, the native nations still here are not likely to rally around a "One America" concept.

However, our elders have taught us that all things are alive and connected. Groundwater contamination knows no boundaries; acid rain falls on all our relations; the disappearance of herbs and medicinal plants can cost lives and add to pain and suffering. Perhaps the best common ground is the ground itself. The spirit of this ground calls for relief from the constant burden of exploitation. The Advisory Board at least identified the "Lack of Environmental Justice" as a critical issue, and that is good.

Native nations are disproportionately impacted by the mining and petroleum industry. They are vastly under funded in their efforts to protect their lands, air and waters. Drinking water quality in Indian Country is often abysmal. Native nations are disproportionately impacted by the current crisis of inadequate resources for rural and small drinking water systems. The ongoing devolution of environmental authority to the states, without equal opportunity for the tribes, threatens tribal sovereignty, makes mockery of the federal trust responsibility to the native nations and is a continuing breach of treaty rights.

The development of indigenous peoples' capability to manage their own natural resources and enforce tribal law, if adequately supported, will produce models of sustainability for all peoples. It is significant that it is native peoples who have, as a group, been among the first to actively organize to address global climate change.

Vine Deloria, Jr. has written: "As long as Indians exist, there will be conflict between the tribes and any group that carelessly despoils the land and the life it supports." Insincere efforts to bring people together and heal conflicts, the preservation and restoration of the land and the life it supports should be central, and not peripheral.

Lillian Wilmore is an attorney of Kiowa/Scots heritage and director of the Native Ecology Initiative in Brookline, MA, which works with American Indian and Alaska native tribes and nations in developing their own environmental protection programs and environmental justice efforts.

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