Plant a Tree and Save the World—Easier Than You Think!

A version of this article was first published on the site Rural America In These Times in June 2018.

Don’t despair, if you feel political decisions nowadays are not being made on your behalf—or even against your wishes, says Clayton Apikan Brascoupé, a Mohawk farmer who has lived and worked for many years at Tesuque Pueblo, in New Mexico. 
His solution? “Start by planting trees,” Brascoupé advises. “They are a positive answer to climate change and much more. Trees build up soils organically and increase their water-holding capacity. They sequester excess climate-altering carbon dioxide. They attract beneficial insects that help other crops and produce food, medicine, building material and other useful items. Planting them can transform a community.” 
Brascoupé directs the Traditional Native American Farmers Association(TNAFA), headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tiny TNAFA, with its director and a few volunteers, specializes in projects that are accomplished easily with inexpensive lo…

Forthcoming book: American Apartheid

This short video includes images and descriptions from my forthcoming book:  American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle for Self-Determination and Inclusion
It can be seen full-screen on YouTube at:

Need Climate Change Evidence? A Western Shoshone Basketmaker Has It

“Culture means learning from each other and sharing,” Western Shoshone basketmaker Leah Brady tells me. Nowadays, it also means an intimate experience of climate change and pollution, as she weaves natural materials—willow, cedar, reeds and more—into baskets.

Brady’s Elko, Nevada, home showcases her award-winning work and that of other artisans—several generations of her family and additional makers from Northern Paiute, Goshute and other area tribes. The items' materials evoke the millennia-old relationship between Native people and their rugged desert and mountain homeland.

That world is changing in ways that Brady and other local crafts makers observe first-hand. She shows me how she creates willow-bark thread—biting down on one end of a willow branch to steady it and pulling off three narrow strips of bark. “If my mouth starts tingling, I know the willow has been sprayed with a pesticide or other chemical,” Brady says. “Some basketmakers report getting blisters in their mout…

Lead Poisoning for All! It's Not Just Flint Anymore

Once politicians promised a chicken in every pot. Not anymore. The Trump administration is promising Americans lead poisoning in every blood stream—human and animal. The nation has long banned lead in paint, water pipes and gasoline. Lead poisoning created tragic damage to human health and a national scandal in Flint, Michigan. How soon we forget.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, on Ryan Zinke’s first day in office as Secretary of the Interior, he rescinded restrictions on use of lead-based ammunition and fishing-line sinkers on lands managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Though the restriction was limited (phasing out the toxin on just certain federal lands by 2022), the NRA predictably described it as “an attack on our hunting heritage.” It was also first put into effect by President Obama, all of whose legacy is under attack by the current administration—just because.

Each year, hunters and fishermen pump tens of thousands of tons of lead into the …

Kim Jong-un, the Nobel and the Western Shoshone

Kim Jong-un can relax! We’ve already nuked ourselves! A lot!

The Nobel Committee’s announcement that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has received this year’s Peace Prize has thrown a spotlight on U.S. nuclear policy. Nearly 1,000 nuclear devices have been detonated above and below ground at the Nevada Test Site since it was established in 1951.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, this makes the Western Shoshone, within whose treaty lands the site lies—and by extension, the rest of us—arguably the most bombed nation on earth. And now, the Trump administration wants to ramp up the radioactive poisons in the area.

In June, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry suggested using the test site, now called the Nevada National Security Site, as an interim waste dump. At the same time, Perry would reopen licensing procedures for nearby Yucca Mountain, with a view toward making the mountain— revered as a sacred site by area tribes—the permane…

Flintknapping as a cultural and spiritual journey

This article first appeared in the magazine Indian Country in summer 2017. 
A Western Shoshone grandfather and grandson sit companionably, side by side, in canvas camp chairs. They are in a small valley buttressed by rolling hills covered with golden grasses and gray-green sagebrush. In the palm of the left hand, each holds a piece of rough black stone resting on a small leather pad and, in the right, a length of deer antler. 
More tribal members are camped around them, watching the pair work, chatting, cooking and preparing a sweat lodge. A jackrabbit hops by: “Breakfast,” someone says. Mule deer dash away toward distant mountains.
The valley is in the Tosawihi Complex, a dry, rugged landscape that covers scores of square miles in what is now northern Nevada. It is the heart of the traditional Western Shoshone homeland, where they have camped, hunted, gathered and participated in ceremonies for millennia. Northern Paiutes and members of other tribes revere the area as well.
The grandfat…

After the Fire: Tribe Repatriates Thousands of Acres of Sacred Sites

Joe Holley assesses native-plant population in sacred site.
“It’s done,” said Lydia Johnson, chairwoman of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, shown below right. “The papers are signed, and the land is ours.” It was the late afternoon of August 17, and Johnson had just returned from meeting with attorneys and Klondex Mines, a gold-mining concern. The company had presented the Western Shoshone, a coalition of several tribes, with just over 3,200 acres of ancient sacred sites in the Nevada high desert. The gift stood out as a rare and shining moment in a history that has been, for Western Shoshones, much like that of other Native Americans—massacres, land loss and segregation on economically isolated reservations.

Looking exhausted and elated, Johnson said that day and the next were busy ones for her own tribe, the Battle Mountain Band, which she also chairs. Preparations were underway for an August 18
ceremony and feast to celebrate the land transfer. Some tribal members were cook…