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Path to sustainability misses Bush White House


On his 75th birthday in 2006, Nisqually sage Billy Frank Jr. reflected on his legacy - as a fisherman. ''Salmon fishing is the true heritage of the Northwest,'' wrote Frank, who is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. ''It has been our lifeblood for a thousand generations.'' A respected elder, Frank represents the Native voice in his loving calls for conservation and long-term well-being. ''The message is the same as it has always been: Respect mother earth and father sky and they will continue to sustain you, and your children, forever.'' They are words echoed by the traditional lifeways practiced throughout Indian country.

Juxtapose that sentiment with the one spewing from the Bush White House, which includes a toxic melange of pro-industry environmental and energy policy threatening the lifeblood of peoples trying valiantly to live in harmony with the natural world and to teach their children those ways. Each day it seems another fiasco involving top-level members of the Bush administration is uncovered via testimony aired during congressional investigations. To no one's surprise, most of the revelations involve abuses of power and cronyism by the president's top staff.

Details have emerged of late regarding Vice President Dick Cheney's hands-on approach to governance. Cheney in 2001 donned his ranch-issue Carhart and went out to Oregon to protect the GOP's agricultural base in the state, where the Republican ticket lost by less than 1 percent in the 2000 presidential election.

To build support for a Republican senator running for re-election in 2002, strategist Karl Rove set up a bogus cabinet-level task force to ''study'' whether diverting water from Klamath River to aid drought-stricken farmers would hurt the endangered salmon population. Forcing a reversal of Interior Department policy in his favor, Cheney was able to sidestep opposing evidence from tribal, state, federal and independent scientists that a massive fish kill was imminent and that the tribes of the basin that depend on salmon for their livelihoods would be harmed. The water was diverted to farms; Sen. Gordon Smith was re-elected, and an estimated 30,000 dead coho and chinook salmon washed up on the banks of the warm, bacteria-infested river - a fish kill of unprecedented proportion.

It is difficult to imagine a more graphic illustration of man versus nature. Images at the time portrayed dead fish, but what has not been publicized is the devastation of the fish kill on the well-being of people who traditionally looked to the salmon for physical and spiritual sustenance.

It is clear now that efforts by Cheney and Rove were made not in the interest of protecting endangered species, but of industry. Policy to Bush people is but a ball of clay, to be manipulated and molded to suit corporate and private interests. As the imperialism act wears thin and its methods become more transparent, the voices of critics must rise to the occasion. Public support for the policies of the Bush administration is dwindling and a paradigm shift in the coming cycles seems imminent. Policy-makers and public officials must be educated on what is important to the continuance of Indian lifeways. They must be told to ''listen to the salmon,'' to listen to the message of respect and sustainability.

Sustainable prosperity must become part of the national vocabulary, and it is Indian peoples who can best herald the message to the world at large. Indian country is acting now to, as Frank put it, ''pursue a vision of harmony.''

On 7/7/07, the National Museum of the American Indian will be a venue for a special concert event, ''Mother Earth,'' in the spirit of the Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis message. The preeminent gathering place for Native people on the Washington Mall, the museum joins major cities around the world to raise awareness of global climate change. ''There is no more important matter before us than the question of how to live sustainably on the Earth,'' said Tim Johnson, Mohawk, acting director of the museum. Headlining the day's events will be Henrietta Mann, Ph.D., Cheyenne, professor emeritus at Montana State University; and Katsi Cook, Mohawk, traditional midwife and founding director of the First Environment Project. Their international work gives a voice to the natural world and its gifts.

The world will buzz with sounds and images of stewardship, conservation, alternatives, and policy initiatives. For one day, a vision of harmony will come into clear focus. We must not forget its lesson; it is said that our descendents will judge us by the world we leave behind.