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June 18, 2007

Native Americans speak out about climate change


MT. MOOSILAUKE, N.H. (AP) _ From New Hampshire to California, Native American leaders are speaking out more forcefully about the danger of climate change.

Members of six tribes recently gathered near the Baker River in New Hampshire's White Mountains for a sacred ceremony honoring "Earth Mother." Talking Hawk, a Mohawk Indian who asked to be identified by his Indian name, pointed to the river's tea-colored water as proof that the overwhelming amount of pollution humans have produced has caused changes around the globe.

"It's August color. It's not normal," he said.

"Earth Mother is fighting back _ not only from the four winds but also from underneath," he said. "Scientists call it global warming. We call it Earth Mother getting angry."

At a United Nations meeting last month, several Native American leaders spoke at a session called "Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change. "Also in May, tribal representatives from Alaska and northern Canada _ where pack ice has vanished earlier and earlier each spring _ traveled to Washington to press their case.

In California, Minnesota, New Mexico, and elsewhere, tribes have used some of their casino profits to start alternative or renewable energy projects, including biomass-fueled power plants. In New Hampshire, where Native Americans have become integrated in the broader society, some have questioned the impact of local development.

Jan Osgood, an Abenaki Indian who lives in Lincoln, and who attended the sacred ceremony, said she worries about several proposals that would clear acres of national forest on Loon Mountain for luxury homes. "It breaks my heart," she said.

She approached Ted Sutton, Lincoln's town manager, and gave him a collection of writings by North American Indians that details the history of the U.S. government's unfulfilled promises to their trips.

After reading the book, Sutton said he agrees with the Native American philosophy of life: Use nature respectfully, never taking more than is needed.

"American Natives have been telling us all along that this was going to happen to the earth," Sutton said. "They were telling us hundreds of years ago that what we were doing (to the environment) would come back and haunt us. They have been proven right. But hopefully we've started to listen to them and move back to some better management of our lives."

Those who study Native American culture believe their presence in the debate could be influential. They point to "The Crying Indian," one of the country's most influential public-service TV ads.

In the spot, actor Iron Eyes Cody, in a buckskin suit, paddles a canoe up a trash-strewn urban creek, then stands by a busy highway cluttered with litter. The ad, which aired in the 1970s, ends with a close-up of Cody, shedding a single tear after a passing motorist throws trash at his feet.

"Within the last six months, there's just been a loss of faith in the insistence (by some politicians) that global warming isn't happening, and that we have nothing to do with it," said Shepard Krech III , an anthropology and environmental studies professor at Brown University.

Krech is the author of "The Ecological Indian," which examines the relationship between Native Americans and nature.

Though many citizens will look for "a consensus in the scientific community" to convince them of climate change, Krech said, others will seek "perspectives from Indian society . . . Native Americans have a rich tradition that springs from this belief they have always been close to the land, and always treated the land well."

The New Hampshire ceremony was attended by members of the Passamaquoddy, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Micmaq, Lakota Sioux, and Abenaki tribes.

Thunderbull, a Lakota Sioux, offered a prayer for people who had suffered from recent flooding in the Midwest. Talking Hawk prayed for those who would suffer from natural disasters ahead.

"Think of the people who will die in the cleansing of Earth Mother, all around the world," he said. "Think of their spirits."

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