Thursday, 25 April 2024

Fantasy Rules in Tribal Land Disputes


The news story reads like a classic land dispute between government and business interests against the claims of Indian tribes. Two massive projects are about to be started near a vast reservation in Arizona. The first is a power line that runs through an ancestral valley, and the second is a copper mine that sits atop a sacred mountain.

Some local tribal members, not all, claim the projects will destroy these sacred lands and want the projects stopped. The government claims the projects are needed to provide energy to neighboring cities and even the nearby Indian reservations.  

On the part of the Indians, the press collects individual testimonies of the old ways that the new developments will destroy. As usual, the liberal media always sides with those Native Americans who have embraced leftist causes.

A Postmodern Twist Where Facts Don’t Matter

However, this particular story is different from past ones. It has been updated to reflect postmodern times. It contains contradictions and imaginings where facts don’t seem to matter. The script no longer follows the old logic of territorial claims and greedy developers.

Anything can be affirmed in these dramatic new narratives. And everything will be believed by woke activists eager to find causes to support. Moreover, the same liberals who would do anything to keep Christianity out of the public square and policy do everything to defend Native American spirits "inhabiting" public lands. 

In this new legal wasteland, it does not take much to stake a claim. A few artifacts or pottery chards suffice. Based on these shallow claims, multi-billion dollar projects can grind to a halt to the detriment of everyone, including nearby Native American tribes.  

Claims to Non-Tribal Lands

The two projects are examples of such wild claims. Some left-allied tribal members object to the 550-mile power line that will go through the valley, bringing electricity from massive wind farms in northern New Mexico to faraway cities. In the case of the copper mine, some left-allied tribal members claim Indian spirits occupy the mountain.

However, the problem is that the local tribes have made no territorial claims to the valley or the copper mountain. The cactus-studded San Pedro Valley is not part of their lands, and the power line will not cross through any tribal territory. The valley has long been occupied by public and private properties. The copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains never figured as part of any nearby reservation; it lies inside a national forest. Nevertheless, these tribal activists claim the land is theirs.

Power Line Story Shift

The demand to stop the power line case mystified electric power officials who suddenly saw claims appear in the courts and media this last year. Over the years, the company visited the area to consult with the tribes and other residents about the best course for the power line path. The results were finalized in 2015. Officials at Pattern Energy say claims about the sacredness of the whole valley only started appearing last year just as construction was set to begin. 

The proofs for the claims could not be more tenuous. Tribal activists now claim that the centuries-old pottery shards, burial grounds, and other artifacts found in some parts of the valley established their presence and, therefore, some kind of sovereignty over the area.   

However, the valley already has several power lines running through it. It is unclear how yet another line on non-tribal lands will endanger anything. Other non-indigenous cemeteries in the area are certainly respected.

Liberal Short Curcuit

Indeed, the whole power line debate is confusing liberal activists and the present administration since it causes a clash between defending indigenous peoples and the environment.

The big wind farms in the North are heralded as a success story supporting the green agenda. However, it depends upon the power line to deliver clean, renewable energy to hundreds of thousands—including the Native American communities along the way.

A few pottery shards might stop the SunZia power line if these tribal activists have their way.

 Massive Copper Deposit Endangered

The mountain project is even more problematic. The mountain contains the largest deposit of copper in North America -- the third largest in the world. The eco-agenda calls for a lot of copper if the U.S. is to reach a net zero carbon emission goal by 2050. Activists must decide which causes to embrace, realizing they cannot support both.

Some tribe members claim spirits inhabit certain mountains; thus, the copper mountain is not the only one they use for their rituals.

Resolution Copper, the mining company that will develop the site, has offered to preserve large areas of cultural significance, even at the cost of not mining half a billion tons of copper ore. It has published an impressive list of answers to the tribal objections to the project.  However, that is not enough for the liberal or tribal activists who have taken up this cause. It must be the whole mountain or nothing.

The Apache primitive beliefs hold that powerful spirits inhabit animals, plants, rocks and mountains through which they communicate with magic and rituals. Based on such pantheistic superstitions, just about any place can serve as a location for spirits to gather -- and for staking a claim to sacred lands.

Tribal Life in the Modern World

Yet another bizarre element to the debate is that liberals assume the Native Americans in this area are still somehow frozen in time in an idyllic tribal life in harmony with nature, reminiscent of Rousseau’s noble savage. They assume that all follow the old tribal rituals of times past.  

However, the Indians themselves are divided over the issue of the power line and the mountain. To many, stopping the projects does not make sense.

Many tribal members have been Christians for generations. They do not believe in and have renounced the pagan gods of their ancestors. Many reservations have adopted Christian morals to the point that such tribal lands are the only parts of American territory that still ban same-sex “marriage,” much to the chagrin of liberals.

For the most part, tribal members have adopted modern ways. They are engaged in agriculture and business. Many see the new projects as a way of improving lives on their reservations, providing plenty of good jobs for the area. They resent the vocal minority of tribal activists who, by their protests, keep food off their tables. The notion that the whole tribe is united over this issue is absurd.

All that does not matter in the postmodern world, where reality is whatever one wants it to be. It is a surreal world where the least claim takes on enormous proportions. This is a battle of narratives that must be soundly rejected.


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