Native Heroes Defend Mother Earth

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

One of the most magnificent creations of Mother Earth, the Endangered California Condor, soarsabove great gorges like the Grand Canyon. Its survival in part is because of the dedicated, spiritually based activism of a powerful Seneca elder, Robertjohn.

Knapp has been involved in sacred ceremonies that honour creation. These have been performed at release sites for the return of the world’s champion glider, the California Condor. Following Robertjohn’s prayers and sacred songs the Condors are released from cages to soar over spectacular great canyons and mesas.

The California Condor’s ability to survive has emerged as one of the most remarkable tests of the purity of the environment. It cannot persist in a landscape that has become a dump.

The leading source of Condor mortality is the tragedy of parents feeding trash to their young while still in their nests. The state of California recently took a major step forward for survival of this relic of the vanished Pleistocene epoch, by banning lead bullets.

Robertjohn took action to have poisons such as antifreeze removed from the Condor’s sacred habitats. His concern for natural purity alerted Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, to team up with him at a period of crisis.

The great crisis faced by Beaton was in Simcoe County, posed by a proposed waste area, Dump Site 41. Beaton secured Robertjohn’s participation in a press Conference at Queen’s Park when this dump proposal threatened the world’s purest water.

The world’s purest water resides in rocks deep in the earth in a formation known as the Alliston Aquifer. Robertjohn took Beaton’s call to speak to power to alert the Ontario media to threats to the world’s purest water.

Before Robertjohn spoke the threat to the Alliston Aquifer was a cause that would not catch on. It obscurity endured despite all Beaton’s determined efforts to bring it to the public’s attention.

Before Robertjohn spoke Beaton and his partner Alicja Rozanska had organized a week long march from the Dump 41 site to Queen’s Park. He had only succeeded in getting publicity on the evening news of the CBC Ontario French language station.

Danny Beaton’s media work on the line against the would be dump builders had been effective. Public opinion became outraged when the police breakup of the blockade and subsequent excavation caused sediment to appear in what had been the world’s purest water. When the contamination was exposed councillors became deluged by outraged phone calls. Immediately what cynics had excused as a “done deal” soon fell apart.

Beaton’s work with protecting the Alliston Aquifer with Robertjohn roughly paralleled his achievements in safeguarding the Niagara Escarpment. Again here he worked with native elders having a deep spiritual bond with Mother Earth. Here Beaton was helped by a collaboration with an Onondaga Chief, Arnie General, a sacred healer with the False Face Society. General and other Confederacy elders such as Lehman Gibson and Harvey Longboat, connected Beaton to the earth respecting values of his own culture, expressed in the ways of the Longhouse faith.

The Niagara Escarpment was Threatened by two expressways termed the NGTA East and West corridors. They would have cut across its old growth forests and caves which provide habitat for Endangered species, such as bats. At very sacred location Mount Nemo migrating birds gather to benefit from the great thermals that assist their glides across Lake Ontario. Here soar spectacular flocks of Turkey Vultures, Canada’s smaller version of the mighty Condor.

Business lobbyists for the expressway lobbies were having a major influenced in the Ontario government to justify the slashing of the Escarpment. Their message was arrogantly announced in the Onondaga Longhouse the capital for the world’s longest function government, the Iroquois Confederacy. This was that they were the official representatives of the Ministry of Transportation, whose acronym was MTO.

Hearing the words MTO, General saw a great opportunity to knock out environmental destruction with well aimed ridicule. He said that in reality the representatives of the colonial government were not concerned with mere transportation. What the acronym represented in reality was a “Major Take Over.” The Confederacy broke up in laughter, the expressways were cancelled, and the Niagara Escarpment saved.

Another amazing achievement of Beaton was to publicize the work of the remarkable Haida spiritual leader, Guugaaw. Beaton brought Gugaw to Toronto for a great gathering the Project Indigenous Restoration. It was held at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall.

Guujaaw at Project Indigenous connected what means to be a Haida to the wonders of the earth where the nation lives, Haida Gwaii. (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). He has said that if its wonders of nature cease, such as the magnificence of towering old growth forests, the Haida nation would be no more. This has become recognized in the Haida’s national vision. It states that maintaining the “environmental integrity” of Hadia Gwai is essential to the Haida’s “cultural survival.”

Critical to the cultural survival of the Haida under Guujaaw’s leadership has been the protection of its remarkable stands of cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce. The first step in this strategy of protection of the land and Haida identity was securing the southern third of the nation’s traditional territory in Gwaii Hannas National Park. Here Haida are permitted to gather medicinal plants and harvest trees for ceremonial purposes, such as the construction of sacred Longhouses and totem poles. The Haida manage the Gwaii Hannas National Park through the remarkable network of Haida Watchmen. They protect the park from illegal plunder and waste dumping, They also tell the great story of Haida culture to visitors.

Under Guujaaw’s leadership the Haida have also been stopped clear cut pillaging in logging operations. Logging now takes place with the consultation of the Haida nation. The lower volume of logging now seeks to be geared to higher value products such as musical instruments. The Haida have also increased protection for wildlife, most notably eliminating all bear hunting in their traditional territories. The Haida have also protected their ocean waters from nonrenewable resource extraction, most notably oil drilling.

Beaton also worked successfully to share the message of Sarah James a representative of the Alaskan Gwich’in people who has struggled successfully to prevent oil exploration on the ecologically sensitve calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The nation has been able to keep industrial extraction out of the herd’s 250,000 square kilometre habitat in Alaska and the Yukon. Their voice in bi-national co-management efforts has strictly limited hunting to four per cent of the herd. Consequently the herd has been able to maintain a stable size of around 200,000 animals. This success is in vivid contrast to most caribou herds on Turtle Island. In most of our continent petroleum extraction, hydro development and logging has caused caribou numbers to crash by ninety per cent.

The earth revering wisdom of Sarah James is in vivid contrast to the manipulative cunning of two native politicians whom Beaton worked with in the past before they betrayed his earth protecting message. One of the areas where caribou numbers have crashed is the vast Ungava peninsula. It is divided between Quebec and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ungava is the traditional territory of the Cree and Innu people. In Ungava caribou numbers have been devastated by roads, hydro dams, clear cutting and open pit mines.

In the past Beaton worked closely with Cree leaders Matthew Coon Come and Innu Chief Peter Penashue to protect the wilds of Ungava. He later split with them when they embraced logging, mining and hydro development projects. Penashue later served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which introduced changes to the Indian Act (still in effect), which made it easier to cede band lands.

Beaton played an important role in the defeat of Coon Come from his previous position as Assembly of First Nations.(AFN), Grand Chief. This followed Coon Come’s “Peace of the Braves”. In this cowardly pact Coon Come endorsed hydro dams along the Rupert River, and stopped litigation against clear cutting. At the very meeting that Coon Come was seeking reelection as AFN Chief, First Nations Drum circulated an article Beaton and I wrote exposing Coon Come’s embrace of the pillage of resource extraction and dams.

It is revealing of what Iroquois elders tell about The Good Mind that Beaton has upheld the values of the ancient league of peace. His work with native elders who champion the protection of Mother Earth in the content of nature respecting traditional wisdom gives hope. Often the defence of traditional earth respecting cultures as a strategy for eco-justice is ignored. Many are lulled into ignoring reality, or are trapped in sensationalist, ultimately nihilistic tactics of rock throwing.

Beaton’s work with elders who guard ancient traditions was well summed up by his friend Arnie General in a revealing tribute to his colleague the Cayuga earth protector Norm Jacobs. He said that Norm will be “mourned by many, but not by all.” The many are those who appreciate the wonders of the natural world around us. The minority are the tiny one per cent who profit and gloat over their destruction. Beaton’s life shows how with native elders who seek to protect the ecological integrity of their nations ancient territories provides an opportunity to stop their schemes of destruction.