and US Scorched Earth Continuum
By Finian Cunningham
August 28, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "SCF"
- The Navajo and Apache were the last of
the great Native American nations to be conquered at the end of the
19th Century. Using a scorched-earth policy, the tribes were
massacred by Union troops under the command of Washington.
Destruction of settlements and pastoral lands was instrumental in
dispossessing the tribes, leading to their eventual subjugation.
Colonel Kit Carson was
one of the pioneers of the «white man’s» war of extermination on the
remaining rebellious Indian Nations. The Navajo and Apache had lived
unperturbed for millennia in the southwest region of the North
American continent, which would then become the modern states of
Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah in the newly constituted
«United States of America».
Today the Navajo and
their Apache cousins are once again under threat. This time not from
guns and burning of crops, but from the pollution caused by
Earlier this month, on
August 5, a huge toxic spill of waste water from a disused gold mine
in Colorado made international headlines when it flowed into several
major rivers. Less publicised is that the contaminated waterways are
vital for irrigation and drinking water in the Four Corners
territory, upon which the Navajo people depend for their
Some three million
gallons of toxic waste gushed into the Animas River, which feeds
into the San Juan and Colorado Rivers. Over 150 kilometres of river
water were turned into a bright orange sludge as a result of the
spill. The main hazard is from dangerous levels of toxic metals,
such as arsenic, cadmium and lead. These metals were previously used
as industrial leaching agents in the now-defunct Gold King mine.
Farmers downstream from the spill have been forced to shut off
irrigation channels to avoid destruction of crops and poisoning of
their herds. But their crops, deprived of irrigation, are now being
destroyed anyway from
wilting under searing summer temperatures.
It is also feared that
the heavy metals will eventually seep into groundwater sources of
drinking water posing untold risks of human contamination.
The affected area
comprises the Four Corners territory that abuts the state lines of
Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The communities most at risk
are the Navajo who live there and who rely on the rivers.
Environment Protection Agency (EPA) claims that the pollution
has since abated and that river water concentrations of toxic
metals have now diminished to safe levels. Nevertheless, there are
concerns among the affected communities that the danger from these
metals will re-emerge as river-bed sediments get churned up during
future flooding seasons. The fear is that their lands will be
poisoned for decades to come. After all, three million gallons of
toxic metals just doesn’t disappear without trace.
The question is: are
the federal authorities exploiting the Animas River spill for an
ulterior purpose? Namely, to dislocate the Navajo from their ancient
There are several
ominous reasons to believe that an ulterior agenda is being pursued.
First of all, the EPA
has admitted that one of its inspection teams triggered the
spill when it was working at the Gold King disused mine near
Silverton, Colorado. The toxic reservoir at the mine was apparently
leaking for some time, and the EPA sent a team to investigate. As a
result of the inspection work the reservoir burst its banks, thus
releasing an horrendous toxic load.
Secondly, according to
local sources, the EPA was extraordinarily remiss in reporting the
initial spill, delaying an emergency alert by at least one day. Was
the EPA trying to conceal its responsibility for the disaster?
A third cause for
suspicion is that subsequently the federal authorities quickly moved
to get affected communities downstream from the spill
to sign waiver rights on future compensation claims. The EPA has
reportedly been going door-to-door in an apparent all-out effort to
obtain waivers from households.
Russell Begaye and other elders have been urging households not to
sign the EPA legal papers because, they say, if unforeseen damages
were to arise in the future then the communities will have forfeited
any right to claim additional compensation from the federal
government. And if people end up being in possession of poisoned
land and groundwater owing to long-term latent impacts they will
have little option but to surrender their ownership of the unusable
Moreover, crucial to
this story are the interests of big mining companies. These
companies are among the most prominent lobby groups in the US
Congress. Last year in a sleight of hand, and mostly under the radar
of public knowledge, Washington
voted through concession rights for mining companies to begin
excavation of territories in the Four Corners region. Since the
1950s, the region had been given immunity from mining operations by
the Eisenhower administration, owing to the territories being
classed as Native American reservations.
For decades the mining
lobby has been ogling the Four Corners region because it is rich in
natural minerals. Lucrative reserves of copper, uranium and other
valuable metals are reckoned to be stored in subterranean deposits.
One area in particular is Oak Flat in Arizona, which is home to
several Navajo tribes. The Congressional land swap involves the
multinational mining corporation Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto is also a
major financial donor to the political funds of Arizona Republican
Senator John McCain, who sits on the powerful Senate Armed Forces
Committee. That committee works hand-in-hand with the
military-industrial complex of arms companies, Wall Street, Big Oil
and mining. McCain is believed to have been a key mover and shaker
in the Congressional vote to award mining rights to Rio Tinto in the
Four Corners region.
have certainly not been quiet about the future mining plans. Their
land rights have become the subject of
a vigorous contest against the corporations, with local
communities labelling McCain as «an Indian Killer» and a modern-day
«scout» for the mining industry.
In their campaign to
preserve Oak Flat and other ancestral homelands in the Four Corners
region, the Navajo have galvanised support from other Native
American nations, as well as environmental groups, from across the
US. Their resistance to land expropriation has become a thorn in the
side to the mining lobby and political advocates like John McCain.
That brings us back to
the recent disastrous toxic eruption in Colorado and the Animas
River. The full impact of this event has yet to unfurl. But the
contamination downstream in the Four Corners region could eventuate
in whole communities being forced off their lands because of the
poisonous load impacting on farmland and drinking water sources.
Some local activists
and Navajo leaders have already likened the EPA’s toxic «accident»
to a modern-day
scorched-earth policy. The underlying powerful motives of the
mining industry and their incentives to Washington lawmakers are
suggestive of a deliberate act, or at least an expedient reaction,
with the unspoken objective being to dispossess people of their land
and to put an end to the associated environmentalist campaign. That
the federal Environmental Protection Agency is implicated in this
alleged plot is a bitter irony.
precedent is also strongly indicative of a nefarious purpose. The
history of Washington’s dealings with Native American nations is one
of treachery, chicanery and genocide on the altar of capitalist
exploitation orchestrated from corporate-controlled politicians
sitting in Washington. Time and again, supposed treaties and
reservations drawn up by Washington were discarded as soon as Indian
lands were discovered to be resource-rich.
There would seem to be
an unmistakeable resonance with the former times of Colonel Kit
Carson and his Union troops, when the Indians were burnt off their
land to make way for railroads, cattle ranches and mines.
Today, we may be
witnessing another such wave of dispossession of the original
inhabitants of North America, this time in the mineral-rich lands of
the southwestern states. This suggests a continuum of the
scorched-earth war conducted by Washington against the native
peoples. The tragic irony is that the latest «battle» is in the very
region where the last of the native people were subjugated by the
Apache Wars of the late 19th Century.
A wider, global scope
is also appropriate here. Washington’s imperialist war-making down
through history and in every corner of the globe has always involved
war on the land as much as war on people in order to advance its
inherent for-profit corporate interests.
The poisoning of
Vietnam during the 1960s-70s with defoliating Agent Orange is
consistent with the present use of cluster bombs in Ukraine’s
eastern Donbass region by the US client regime in Kiev, where
Washington has future interests for fracking of hydrocarbons. It is
consistent too with the ongoing destruction of water supplies in
Yemen by the US-backed Saudi-led bombing coalition to dispossess
resistant people in that Arab country.
That Native American
communities may once again be subjected to scorched-earth devices
should therefore be of no surprise. The latter instance would only
be different in that it is not being conducted presently in the
context of an all-out military war on indigenous Americans.
However, its intent
and ultimate effect conforms to just another episode of Washington’s
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