‘Upstream’ book review: any hope for salmon?
The author of “The Mushroom Hunters” takes on the Pacific Northwest’s signature environmental issue.
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The accusation of racism, the labeling as racist, have been much used of late in America against political enemies. No doubt in many cases the charge is accurate, for it is human nature to distrust and perhaps fear people not of your tribe. But aren’t we in post-tribal America, where all are equal and in saluting the flag are joined in the super tribe that is the United States? The equality of citizenship is truly a noble ideal, which is so eloquently inscribed in the Declaration of Independence: ” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is rather ironic that the man who penned these words owned humans who were definitely not permitted liberty but rather were property who could be bought and sold at the market. Was Thomas Jefferson then a racist? We dance around this - for he is a Founding Father, a saint in the hagiography of the Republic. How could he be a bad guy?
Flying in to SFO one fine day in conversation with a writer, a liberal North Beach kind of fellow, who I was picking away at on the topic of race. As we flew over Candlestick (Not 3Com or Monster), I asked him if he would live in South San Francisco South of Candlestick. “Of course not”, he said. “It’s a bad neighborhood”. I asked him what kind of people lived there and he hemmed and hawed and would not answer - for the SSF demographic is African-American - it’s a black neighborhood. And for him to say that fact would in his mind make him a racist.
And so the topic has become taboo - as the French say, “c’est peut-etre vrai mais ce n’est pas poli de le dire”. Well, politeness be danged! It seems to me that forced non-discussion, racism’s relegation to epithet and insult on the most simplistic and meaningless level, is avoidance of honest societal discussion that needs to happen. Does the existence of black neighborhoods, Mexican neighborhoods, really need to be denied or swept under the carpet because even to discuss it would be racist? Because not talking about slavery and the descendants of slaves, or the current slavery of the 12 million undocumented, surely causes slavery to continue in America’s corporatist command agriculture system.
We are similarly unable to talk honestly about who we are in relation to the native people - colonisers, and in some cases, deliberate genociders. What once was their land is now ours. As a native man said to me on the ferry to Vancouver Island - “Keep our land - just keep the checks coming”. Because we did make treaties that made the native people dependents of the United States in perpetuity - if we are a nation of laws surely we must keep our treaties? Keep the checks going?
The breaking of treaties is at the root of the native action at the DAPL in North Dakota. The Missouri was dammed by eminent domain and the Standing Rock Sioux flooded out of their best land by the resulting Lake Oahe. And the Corps of Engineers land in Cannon Ball where the main protest camp is located (although they have received an eviction demand with one week’s notice from the Corps effective Dec 5) was originally part of the Standing Rock Sioux treaty lands, but taken away by what the Sioux consider unjust shenanigans. And the final insult was the routing of an oil pipeline, which was originally routed north of Bismarck but moved due to fears of polluting Bismarck’s water supply, right across the Standing Rock Sioux water supply. Is it racist to consider potentially polluting white people’s water supply worse than potentially polluting native people’s water supply?
The situation is so unjust that to support the Standing Rock Sioux is the least we can do. We are effectively cheating them of even the pittance we granted them by treaty.
I visited the Standing Rock camp in early November, bringing donations from B’ham, observing, visiting with people, showing respect for their work. Hopefully the presence of so many people - I mean, the thing is like a rainbow gathering with cars and campers (and no “A” camp) - the spiritual vibration is strong - will prevent the worst form of police riot from happening. But there is a pervasive police presence - I counted fifty police cars just at the barricade they have put up across the highway - and positions are hardening. We need leadership to step in - and move the flipping Pipeline!