Sacred lands must be preserved, not bombed

Greg Anderson

Congress must permanently ban the Nevada Test and Training Range expansion

Greg Anderson

Chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge, and the Sheep Mountain Range within, are known as Tuhut in the Nuwu (Southern Paiute) language, a landscape and mountain range that holds special meaning for our people.

A landscape central to our Nuwu history, stories, culture and beliefs, this is a landscape that has been under constant attack by the United States Air Force for decades.

Cultural sites, bighorn sheep, the endangered desert tortoise, among many other things central to our culture that have been within the bombing practice area by Air Force pilots. Now the Air Force is pushing to ramp up its destruction of our people’s history and culture that is inseparable from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

If the United States Congress caves to the threats of President Trump and do not pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as is currently written, our people would lose irreparable pieces of our history, identity, culture, and even a piece of hearts forever.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes drafted and passed Resolution #M-18-03-07 which opposed the expansion of the Nevada Test and Training Range into the refuge on March 12, 2018. The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe also passed Resolution #19-005 on March 11, 2019. This resolution rejects the expansion by the US Air Force for its land use or exercise jurisdiction within the DNWR. These resolutions were both passed unanimously by the tribal councils and are the words and will of the tribes.

Sovereignty must be acknowledged and respected.

Utah Representative Rob Bishop slipped an amendment into the NDAA that would have permanently give away 850,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge lands to the Air Force to expand the National Training and Testing Range (NTTR).

This is a grave injustice to our ancestors and the Moapa Band of Paiutes. Tuhut, is a place where our brother, the Nah’gah, (Bighorn sheep) live, we are connected as one. He gives us the puha (power) of life through sustenance, healing, songs, knowledge and strength.

Let the Nah’gah roam free without the threat of removal, bombing or cages as his brothers the Paiute people have gone through. The Air Force already controls nearly 3 million acres of land in Nevada. Is that not enough then to take away more land and now steal the air for their testing needs?

We thank Congress for striking Robert Bishop’s language from the legislation. We were encouraged when members of the Nevada Congressional delegation worked to ban the expansion of the bombing range in a previous version of this legislation but were appalled by Bishop’s moves to completely undo this collaborative process.

We cannot allow these belated steps forward to be tainted by the destructive seizure of wildlife refuge and sacred tribal lands. It was shameful that Rep. Bishop worked behind the backs of tribal nations to force through this amendment.

Now the President is weighing in to threaten a government shutdown if the Air Force doesn’t get its way. Leaders in Congress must continue to hold strong against these threats.

Rep. Bishop’s amendment would not have increased access of Indigenous peoples to the land. His proposal carries out the largest wildlife refuge and land giveaway in American history for bombing, weapons testing and leaves it to the will of the Air Force.

Rep. Bishop’s action shouldn't come as a surprise. Back in 2015 when Congressman Bishop was asked about the storied rocks of the Southern Paiute People—Nevada’s Indigenous people—he dismissed our history.

The Air Force has not upheld their promises to the tribes and acted in trust as stewards of our people, lands and culture. That has been made abundantly clear by not protecting Pintwater Cave on the Base.

An unexploded bomb still sticking out of the ground and debris of others that have exploded right below the cave, were witnessed by tribal members who reported it. Yet they tell us they are protecting this cave and other sites, we have yet to visit these other sacred sites, and were given excuses to only visit the same ones over and over.

Pintwater Cave (Kaitsi) on the inside used to be huge and was accessible to walk in, but now is filled with back dirt from the many times the land has shaken from the bombs and collapsed in, making it impassable. This sacred cave was where our men went to pray and get their Puha (power) for healing the sick, our young men can no longer take this path to receive their gifts from the spirits residing on their vision quest for puha to give back to our people. Bombing our sacred sites is the opposite of stewardship.

We have from time immemorial buried our young hunters umbilical cords wrapped in buckskin on Tuhut, (the Sheep Range) so they can grow up like the Nah’gah and become strong and powerful like them and be great hunters. We have always buried our young women’s umbilical cords on Tuhut, so they may know the plants, the animal, the springs, and be as one with nature, so they too may grow up strong knowing their heart comes from this land.

How will our children be able to visit the mountains again if this is ripped from our grasp and if no children are allowed?

Our message to Congress is clear, we thank you for having stripped Bishop’s language from the NDAA, but now we urge Congress and the United States government to live up to its trust responsibilities and act as proper stewards of our sacred lands in the Desert Wildlife Refuge.

Uphold your overdue commitment, stop killing the land as well as our people by removing that connection we have with nature, spirits, power paths, sacred waters and wildlife, so we may continue passing down our culture, traditions, history and knowledge, given rightfully to us.

We will continue to fight even as an invisible people whose voices are drowned out by the winds from the many bombs that blast through where our umbilical cords lay, that connects us to this land we call home.

Greg Anderson is the Chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes

Comments (1)
No. 1-1
Yosemite
Yosemite

Thank you for writing this OpEd. You have said it succinctly: Congress must ban any further expansion of the DNWR. Inside the base are 846,000 acres of wilderness, and outside, 769,000 which will be reduced to 467,000 if the Air Force's South Range bombing range is expanded. The Sheep Mountains are the heart of the DNWR, that which is protected by refuge status. Their plan is to fence off 227,000 acres if added. Unexploded ordinance, lands contaminated by uranium—that's what's behind the fence now, and nothing will make that whole again.


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