Monday, October 29, 2007

Disappearance of indigenous baby boys tied to industrial pollution

By Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Reporter

In indigenous communities, babies that should be born boys are being born girls. Research released this month of only girls being born in the villages of northern Greenland has brought to light earlier studies that found indigenous mothers living in the northern most reaches of the Arctic Circle are having girls – but not boys. The studies linked the skewed sex ratios with human exposures to PCBs and other persistent organic chemicals.

The Indigenous Peoples Organization initiated the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program project in 2004, following a report that some Arctic indigenous communities are among the most exposed populations to persistent toxic substances.

The AMAP report concluded, “Any threat to continued consumption of their foods, including chemical contamination, is not only a potential threat to the health of the individual, but also to the social structures and entire cultural identity of these indigenous peoples.”

Toxic pollutants travel from industrialized countries and accumulate in the marine food chain of the Arctic region, and in the traditional diet of indigenous peoples. Blood levels of such pollutants as PCBs and mercury were several times higher in residents of Arctic Canada and Greenland than measured in residents of industrialized areas of North America.

Perhaps an even darker legacy of the industrial contamination is what has happened to the baby boys in Canada on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, an Aanishinaabek community.

Normally about 106 boys are born for every 100 girls – it’s nature’s way of compensating for males more likely to perish through hunting and conflicts. For years, scientists have been reporting declines in male births worldwide. But the most startling is the sharp drop of boys among the Aanishinaabek of Aamjiwnaang, “a greater rate of change than has been reported previously anywhere,” noted a 2005 study that was published in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

It’s the kind of attention the 850 members of their community never wanted. They could not even conceive what was happening, least of all in their tiny community. Their pain and their questions began five years ago, when the biologist Michael Gilbertson, upon finding elevated levels of PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals on the reserve asked if they had more girls than boys.

Tribal members were first baffled, and then aghast following the realization that yes, they had enough girls for three baseball teams, but not enough boys for even one team. They began to take pay attention. Their anger soon turned to action.

An accidental catalyst release from the Imperial Oil facility in 2002 had prompted Imperial Oil to sample their homes. Then they cleaned tribal homes inside and out. They even cleaned the cars inside and out. Don’t worry, they told tribal member Ron Plain while stirring up dust as they cleaned. “The dust won’t hurt you.”

But Plain did worry, asking incredulously, “If it’s harmful to our houses and cars, what’s it doing to our lungs and our bodies?” Plain and other tribal members began organizing their own environmental investigative committee, a grassroots effort. Meanwhile Imperial Oil offered $300 to each homeowner if they agreed to waive any damages and legal counsel, and many accepted their offer. Last year the company paid $125,000 in fines.

The Aamjiwnaang environmental investigation team uncovered studies done of their lands years before. One scientific report by the University of Windsor in 1986, showed that mercury, a neurotoxin, was present on their reserve at a 100 times greater amount than the Severe Effect Level, set by the Canadian government.

Soon after Sun Oil – now Suncor – announced they planned to build the largest ethanol plant in Canada across the street from the tribal community. Plain and other members of the tribal environmental committee, angry and fed up, closed their roads. For six weeks, they cut off access to the proposed site. Sun Oil trucks could not get through.

“We won,” says Plain. “They agreed not to put the plant in. We shut down a multi-million dollar industry.” The battle had begun.

The Aanishinaabek people of the Aamjiwnaang have occupied their lands at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron for thousands of years, long before the discovery of oil and the boom “oil rush.” Their homelands are integral to their social structure and their entire cultural identity. Today their land, at the border between Ontario and Michigan just south of Sarnia, Ontario lies in the shadow of Canada’s largest concentration of petrochemical and manufacturing facilities. It’s been dubbed “Chemical Valley.” Their land adjoins the St. Clair River Area of Concern, so designated because of its long history of air and water pollution.

Two new reports this month are a dramatic indictment of the industry’s impact on the Aamjiwnaang community. “Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley,” identifies 62 facilities in Canada and the U.S. that have made the area Ontario’s worst air pollution hotspot. Particularly striking, says Ecojustice Canada, who commissioned the study, is the staggering amount of toxic pollutants released.

“What is particularly striking about the air pollution in the Sarnia area is the immense quantity of toxic chemicals emitted,” said Ecojustice senior scientist and report author Dr. Elaine McDonald. “There is growing evidence that the health of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation members and the local environment has been severely compromised.”

New findings from researchers at Ontario's IntrAmericas Centre for Environment and Health confirm that more girls than boys are born in some Canadian communities. The cause of the phenomenon is airborne pollutants called dioxins that can alter normal sex ratios, even when the source of the pollution is kilometers away.

Industry spokesmen failed to respond to the Ecojustice Canada report, while the industry-funded Sarnia-Lambton Environmental Association initially responded with no comment. Following their period of silence, the association’s Dean Edwardson was quoted as saying, “We want an open and transparent process…something that is scientifically valid, peer-reviewed and is meaningful.” He said industry would help pay for such a study.

But Plain says there has already been a scientifically valid, peer-reviewed study done. “The 2005 study was reviewed by top scientists and was published in the highly regarded scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives."

Edwardson said data released in September from the County of Lambton Community Health Services Department shows that the birth ratios of the Sarnia-Lambton area are similar to those for the rest of Ontario. To that, Plain answers, “For years, we have been asking the County of Lambton for a research program establishing the birth ratios by affected regions as opposed to the blanket wide study where those farthest from the plume are blended into the ratio.” So far, the county has refused, he said.

The findings by Ecojustice Canada reveal pollutants are having significant impacts on the cultural lifeways of the Aanishinaabek, impacting hunting, fishing, medicine gathering, and ceremonial activities.

The Aanishinaabek have reported chemical releases and spills as a primary concern. Their most common concern, however, was fear.

For more information on these reports: Exposing Canada's Chemical Valley

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Yakama Nation buys Lyle Point, ending decades-long struggle over fishing rights

By Terri C. Hansen
High Country News


On maps it is called Lyle Point, but to tribal fishing people it has always been Nanainmi Waki Uulktt, “the place where the wind blows from two directions.”

The rocky promontory overlooks the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia rivers, providing spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge as it cuts through the Cascade Range. To the west, Oregon’s Mount Hood stands sentinel over magnificent canyon walls rising to 4,000 feet above the river.

The gorge was the center of trade for tribes from the Plains to the Pacific. Lyle Point was home to a Cascade and Klickitat village, and provided an important fishery and meeting place for over 10,000 years. But like many tribal lands in the Northwest, it was lost when white immigrants moved to the area in the mid-1800s. The drowning of Celilo Falls, another traditional tribal fishing place, under the waters of The Dalles Dam 50 years ago was a further blow. Now, at least one of those lost fishing grounds will be restored to the tribes that once depended on it. On May 8, the Yakama Nation announced the $2.4 million acquisition of Lyle Point from the Trust for Public Land, ending a long-simmering battle with would-be developers.

“This is a great day for the Yakamas — to get the land returned back for access to our fishing right areas,” announced Yakama Tribal Council Chairwoman Lavina Washines. “The younger generation will continue to exercise their Creator-given right to our very important salmon.”

The same winds that made Lyle Point a primary salmon-drying area for thousands of years also made it a world-class windsurfing mecca in the late 1980s. Klickitat County approved a 33-lot subdivision in 1992, threatening to turn the area into a gated community.

Yakama Margaret Saluskin was the first to raise the alarm about the subdivision plans. One day while she was drying salmon that her husband, Douglas, caught at Lyle Point, she noticed bulldozers carving the first roads into the promontory. Protests by tribal members and environmentalists swiftly ensued. When vandals destroyed a fishing scaffold at the point, the protesters began a nine-month encampment on the site. The tribe’s access to traditional scaffold fishing, protected by the Treaty of 1855, was at stake, Saluskin said.

Conservation groups joined the protest, saying Lyle Point was a resting place for bald eagles. The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit specializing in conservation of real estate, began negotiations to purchase Lyle Point and held discussions with tribal members about ways to protect and manage the sacred site.

By 2002, the trust had purchased most of the lots, paving the way for conveyance to the Yakama. But tribal councils could not reach a consensus until the current administration, led by Washines, accomplished the acquisition.

Word spread like wildfire among Columbia River tribal peoples when the land deal finally became official. Nearly 200 tribal members and their supporters gathered at the point on May 15 to celebrate their long-awaited victory.

“Today marks the return and protection of sacred land,” said Charles F. Sams III, director of the trust’s Tribal and Native Lands Program and a member of the Cocopah, Payuse and Assinoboine Sioux tribes. “My grandfather took me up and down the river and showed me what we had lost. He told me I had a responsibility to the People, and to the salmon, to ensure their existence so they would continue to feed the People.”

Some visibly struggled to maintain composure as memories were brought to life. “We fought for this,” Cascade Chief Wilbur Slockish said. “It almost came to actual blows! So they can recreate? Make money, and windsurf? It was because we were standing in the way of economic progress. Progress.”

He brought out a chuckle when he told the crowd, “Progress always involves our homes, our cemeteries, our fishing grounds. There would have been coffee shops, cheese shops, wine tasting here.”

In 1945, Nisqually Billy Frank Jr. was arrested at age 14 for illegal fishing, starting a fight with the state of Washington that culminated in the 1974 Boldt decision affirming tribal fishing rights as reserved in treaties with the United States. “When I started singing today, I started thinking about all my partners,” he said. “All the good times here. All the bad times.” He paused in reflection. “I’m happy to be here to witness this great occasion. It feels good.”

Even as the tribes and the Trust for Public Land celebrate, the nearby town remains divided. There are those who still hope to see Lyle Point developed. “We need the tax basis for schools and fire departments and so forth,” resident Don Smith said. Others, like Pam Essling, support the return of the land to the Yakama. “We honor the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of this place,” she said. “We’re here to congratulate the Yakama people for reacquiring their land to preserve, protect and enhance their cultural and natural resources for all people. It can be a place for healing old wounds and misunderstanding.”

The purchase of Lyle Point ensures that thousands of years of tradition will continue along the river. Supporters from nearby communities will continue to be invited to tribal gatherings and feasts, Yakama leaders say, aiding cultural understanding and reconciliation.

After those who’d gathered finished a dinner of salmon and dried venison, Margaret Saluskin, who had fought so long and so hard, said with a peaceful smile, “Whatever you had in your hearts and minds for saving this land where the wind blows two ways, I want to thank you.”

© High Country News 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Udall Legacy Tour highlights Native American projects across the country

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Writer

News from Indian Country
Native American Times

WASHINGTON, D.C.--He championed the rights of Native Americans.

He was a fierce advocate for tribal sovereignty.

He sponsored the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Former Congressman Morris K. Udall, better known as Mo, saw 184 bills affecting Native American interests enacted during his 14 years as chairman of the House Interior Committee. He served 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1991, when Parkinson’s disease precipitated a fall causing irreversible brain damage and loss of speech. The following year Congress established the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Protection Foundation in honor of his distinguished congressional career.

Scholarships, internships and fellowships totaling $4.6 million have been awarded to students pursuing careers related to the environment and Native Americans engaged in health care or tribal policy studies. The Udall Legacy Bus Tour is drawing attention to the programs laudable accomplishments and mark the 10th anniversary of the Udall Foundation’s education programs.

Thirteen Udall scholars embarked from Washington, D.C. on an 8,600 mile, 54 day journey June 12. “This bus tour is about honoring Mo Udall's legacy by bringing attention to young people nationwide who are finding solutions to pressing environmental and Native American issues,” said Udall Scholar Bob Filbin, the tour photographer.

“At a time when we are faced with so many problems, we felt that this bus tour could tell a different story – a positive story about young public servants leading the country in new directions.”

Projects related to Native communities will be highlighted during much of the Tour. They arrive at the Penobscot Nation June 19, where Boys and Girls Club members will be given digital cameras and lessons on digital photography on nature hikes featuring Arcadia’s natural history.

Members of the Cornell American Indian Program and representatives of local tribes will host a dinner there June 23, followed by a presentation by the Transboundary Indigenous Waters Program Initiative and a discussion of healthy environments to Native Peoples.

The United Houma Nation is sponsoring the Legacy Bus stop July 6, where several tribal members will join the Udall scholars in exploring the swamps, bayous and canals of southern Louisiana by boat, learning the importance of these local ecosystems in the Houma culture. The afternoon will be spent touring the United Houma Community. Scholars will meet with tribal council members to discuss the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the Houma Nation.

In Haskell, Kansas the group will tour the Haskell/Baker wetlands July 9 to learn the historic, cultural and ecological importance of the site and the environmental justice issues and concerns surrounding it.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde hosts the Legacy Bus July 25. Scholars will join tribal members in helping develop a number of campsites on the reservation in order to mitigate environmental damage and facilitate enjoyment of the reservation’s natural beauty. Other tribal outreach includes a Native American Healthcare Symposium in Oklahoma City, and an irrigation and tree planting project with Salish and Kootenai College students on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

These projects were made possible by alumni of the Udall Foundation scholarship and internship programs. Udall intern Brian Mercier coordinated the Grand Ronde venture. The Salish and Kootenai College project involved connections made by Udall Scholar Lauren Caldwell.

Tribal coordinator Martina Gast, Ojibwe and a 2006 and 2007 Udall Scholar said she really wanted to be involved in the Native American aspects of the tour. “I hope to bring more Native people doing awesome work into the public eye since so often they are not.” Gast plans to network with people throughout the tour to further her insight into their tribal nations. Future plans are law school to further her career in tribal public policy.

Jennifer Vazquez joined the tour as a tribal coordinator while working at traditional farms, community centers and eco-villages in Japan. “I was so amazed at the network of people and ideas that I became part of, then the opportunity came up to do the same thing in the U.S.” Her work with tribal communities in Wisconsin was some of her most rewarding experiences, so the tour “presented me a way to continue working within Native communities, only now, all over the country.”

The Legacy Bus is “not your average bus.” It runs on B-20 biodiesel and ultra low-sulfur diesel, and is equipped with real time emissions-monitoring hardware. Their goal is a carbon-neutral tour—carbon dioxide being the pollutant that is contributing to global warming—by purchasing carbon offsets from Native Energy, a corporation largely owned by Native Americans.

Udall Foundation programs have provided hundreds of awards and opportunities to Native American student leaders. Any Native American student interested in learning more about the scholarship or internship programs can find information along with applications on the Udall Foundation web site:

© Terri Crawford Hansen 2007

Monday, June 4, 2007

Successful appeal to keep hiking trail off burial ground disregarded by port district

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment Writer
News from Indian Country

Cathlamet, Wash.--Thirty years ago, the eternal resting place of the Chinook Chief Skamokawa was plundered.

Skamokawa was unearthed for the peace medal he received from Lewis and Clark. Other artifacts were stolen along with the medal.

Skamokawa's body, too, was stolen.

Circa 1805

Wahkiakum Indians waiting atop basalt cliffs
over Cathlamet, looking for the white men
they had heard were coming. When they spotted
Lewis and Clark's Corp's of Discovery they sent
out canoes to lead them to their village to trade.

The Chinook Nation fought Wahkiakum County Port District No. 2 to stop the trail from accessing the site, used by tribal members for religious ceremonies. And they prevailed.

Or so it had seemed.

In March, the state Shoreline's Hearing Board ordered the trail rerouted and shortened, if necessary, so that no point would come within 400 feet of the perimeter of the site, to be designated by an independent archaeologist hired by the port. Further, no access from the trail to the site would be permitted, and no signs allowed except for general information at the trailhead concerning the history of a site "in the area."

The port voted April 19 to move ahead with the trail without contracting for an independent archeological survey, as required by the Board's order, Tarabochia said. Instead, the Chinook Nation received a map from the port with a revised trail route allegedly allowing for the 400-foot buffer zone roughly marked in. Their revision is based on an old survey, leading the tribe to question how the port could determine the new trail route with no new information.

Carol Carver, a port commissioner, said that the port was undecided about hiring an independent archaeologist. The Commissioner suggested that the Chinook Nation should think about paying for the survey themselves. Carver said, “They,” the Chinook Tribe, “should think about paying part of the cost of any archaeological survey.”

But the port's latest plans for the trail are in violation of that order, says Chinook tribal spokesman Tim Tarabochia. "We feel the port hasn't met the conditions ordered by the Shoreline's Hearings Board," he says. "The tribe is opposed to the trail. It still provides access to the site."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Celilo Falls Legacy Blog Launched

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Launch Celilo Legacy Blog

March, 2007

Portland, Ore.—The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) unveiled a new online blog as part of its Celilo Legacy project. The blog will serve as a clearinghouse for public discourse, information, events, activities, and memorials in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the inundation of Celilo Falls on March 10, 1957.
"There is tremendous interest in Celilo Falls right now among the educators, media, arts communities, historians and the public," said Jeremy FiveCrows, CRITFC editor and webmaster. "By hosting this blog, we hope to provide links between these groups and open a dialogue among them. By coordinating these efforts and offering this resource, we can show how meaningful Celilo Falls was to the tribes, indeed to the entire region."
A blog is an online journal providing opinion, commentary or news on a particular subject. The Celilo Legacy blog features an online journal, photo album, and calendar. The journal will include announcements, historical stories and essays, a photo album of Celilo Falls photographs, and a calendar listing Celilo-related events happening throughout the region leading up to beyond the March 10th anniversary. "Celilo Falls evokes images, emotions and passions for many people in this country. This blog is intended to give people an accessible forum to express as well as listen," added FiveCrows. "Visitors have the ability to make comments on the entries and are encouraged to add their own perspectives, stories and announcements."
Located between Oregon and Washington, Celilo Falls was a unique natural feature formed by the Columbia River approximately 100 miles east of present-day Portland, Oregon. During high water, nearly one million cubic feet of water per second -five times the flow of Niagara Falls - would pass over the basalt rocks, creating a roar that could be heard many miles away. For centuries, the salmon caught here drove tribal economies and created one of the Western Hemisphere’s great market places.
On the morning of March 10, 1957, the gates of The Dalles Dam closed and choked back the Columbia River. Six hours later Celilo Falls was gone.
Primary contributors for the Celilo Legacy blog are: Jeremy FiveCrows (Nez Perce), CRITFC publications editor and webmaster; Charles Hudson (Mandan-Hidatsa), CRITFC public information manager; Elizabeth Woody (Warm Springs), renowned author, poet and the director of the Indigenous Leadership Program at Ecotrust; and Carol Craig (Yakama), author and outreach director for the Yakama Nation Fisheries Department.
CRITFC's Celilo Legacy project is an outreach effort that uses the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Celilo Falls' inundation to educate people about the past historical importance of Celilo Falls and gather oral histories from those who fished there, discuss the effects of the falls’ inundation on the tribes and salmon today, and open a region-wide dialogue in the hopes that we can all work together to prevent such an act of environmental, cultural, and biological violence from ever happening again.The blog is accessible by going to and clicking on the "Celilo Legacy blog" image, or

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pesticide exposures stop ability of second-generation Yaqui girls to breastfeed babies

by Terri Crawford Hansen
Environment and Science Reporter
Native American Times

SONORA VALLEY, Mexico—The problems began ominously with the Yaqui pueblo peoples who accepted pesticide practices during the 1950s.

Long-term research led by Professor Elizabeth Guillette, Ph.D., of the University of Florida found compelling proof that exposure to pesticides has produced negative health impacts over the years to the exposed Native American Yaqui communities.

Her latest research findings indicate some pre-adolescent daughters of mothers exposed to pesticide spraying will never be able to breast feed their babies—ever.

With others there is uncertainly. Although there is breast growth some daughters have not developed the mammary tissue needed to produce milk, or have developed a minimal amount.
As the pesticide-exposed girls matured breast size became much larger than normal, yet they had less mammary tissue and often none at all, while the unexposed girls were normal.

“Some of the most devastating injustices [are] visited on indigenous farming communities around the world,” an article in the Magazine of Pesticide Action Network said in response to the study. “High exposure to pesticides suffered by many indigenous peoples is a frequent indicator of these injustices.”

Guillette, whose research was published in the March 2006 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives said, “A large study, using my techniques, was done in India showing the exact same results.”

“The results underscore the importance of women protecting themselves from manufactured chemicals beginning at birth because they stay in the body,” Guillette told the University of Florida News Bureau.

The study proves pesticide exposures can cross generations and that daughters of mothers exposed to the spraying of agricultural chemicals can be affected.

The intensive industrial agricultural pesticide approach, called the “Green Revolution,” was born in the Yaqui homeland in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora’s Yaqui Valley. The poverty-stricken Yaqui were split between accepting pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural toxicants. The valley Yaqui agreed to grow wheat treated with pesticides for export and for other purposes. The other Yaqui removed themselves to the foothills, avoiding pesticide use or exposure.

Guillette, who frequently consults with Theo Colborn, Ph.D., lead author of “Our Stolen Future,” a book that brought widespread attention to hormonal changes called endocrine disruption being wrought to wildlife and humans by common contaminants, said her own interest was piqued by the changes Colborn noted in wildlife. Another anthropologist referred her to the Sonoma Yaqui Valley, where research was promising with two groups virtually identical except for their exposures to pesticides.

Her first long-term study, published in the journal EHP in 1999, tested Yaqui children aged four and five. Study results indicated key differences between the two populations in fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, balance, short-term memory, simple problem solving and even the ability to draw a human figure.

Concluding her interview Dr. Guillette stated, “The future of our society depends on today’s children. Preventative action to protect them from contamination must occur now, including individual, national and global levels.”

Copyright © 2007 Terri Crawford Hansen