Friday, July 27, 2007

Navajos and Environmentalists Split on Power Plant

BURNHAM, N.M. — For the Navajo nation, energy is the most valuable currency. The tribal lands are rich with uranium, natural gas, wind, sun and, most of all, coal.

But two coal-fired power plants here, including one on the reservation, belch noxious fumes, making the air among the worst in the state. Now the tribe is moving forward with plans for a bigger plant, Desert Rock, that Navajo authorities hope will bring in $50 million a year in taxes, royalties and other income by selling power to Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The plan has stirred opposition from some Navajos who regard the $3 billion proposal as a lethal “energy monster” that desecrates Father Sky and Mother Earth and from environmental groups that fear global warming implications from its carbon dioxide emissions.

New Mexico, which has no authority over the tribal lands, has also expressed misgivings and has refused to grant the plant tax breaks.

The struggle is a homegrown version of the global debate on slowing climate change.

Developed countries are trying to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the most ubiquitous gas usually linked to climate change, and argue that rapidly growing nations like India and China should avoid building coal-fired power plants. The critics’ targets say it is unfair to keep them from powering their way to prosperity with cheap and abundant coal.

The Navajo president, Joe Shirley Jr., said his tribe felt similar pressure. Mr. Shirley said the plant here would mean hundreds of jobs, higher incomes and better lives for some of the 200,000 people on the reservation. The tribe derives little direct financial benefit from the operation of the existing coal-fired plants and it has not yet invested heavily in casinos.

“Why pick on the little Navajo nation, when it’s trying to help itself?” he asked.

The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, teaming with local groups like the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, point to environmental shortcomings in the federal government’s tentative blessing of the plant, as laid out in a 1,600-page draft environmental impact statement and an analysis by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The staff of Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential aspirant, recently issued a statement saying that the plant “would be a significant new source of greenhouse gases and other pollution in the region” and that Mr. Richardson “believes, as planned, it would be a step in the wrong direction,” undoing his proposed reductions in emissions.

In 2003, the Navajo invited Sithe Global Power, a merchant power company based in New York, to build the $3 billion 1,500-megawatt plant with the Navajo-owned Dine (pronounced dee-NAY) Power Authority.

In most respects, the plant would be relatively clean, with emissions of mercury, soot and smog-forming pollutants lower than most such operations. But each year, it would emit 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of adding 1.5 million average cars to the roads.

Coal-fired electricity contributes more than half of the 57 million tons of annual carbon-dioxide emissions in New Mexico. Together, the two existing plants emit 29 million tons.

Tom Johns, a vice president of Sithe Global Power, said he, too, was concerned about climate change. Desert Rock, Mr. Johns said, would be part of the solution.

“Carbon is emitted when we use energy,” Mr. Johns said. “By not building one plant but another or by using older inefficient plants instead of new ones, we don’t solve the problem. The solution to carbon issues is to be more efficient in how we use energy.”

Worries about pollution from a new plant build on lingering concerns about the ill effects of previous energy exploitation on the tribal lands. Navajos have been sickened and killed by uranium tailings, leading the tribal government to ban uranium mining. Mercury contamination has led New Mexico to warn children and pregnant women against eating large carp and catfish from much of the San Juan River, which passes through the northeastern end of the 26,600-square-mile reservation. And the ozone levels in San Juan County, which includes the eastern part of the reservation, have exceeded suggested new federal standards.

Elouise Brown, a Navajo whose family is from the area around the proposed plant, has led a group called Dooda (pronounced dough-DAH) Desert Rock, Navajo for “No to Desert Rock,” in a seven-month protest at the site.

The tribal council voted overwhelmingly to back the project, but Navajos are divided, with each side claiming to speak for the majority.

“It’s not just that it’s so close to my house or my family,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s the pollution and what the impacts are going to be from the pollution to all the people that live there. Not only the people that live there, but it adds to global warming. So it’s going to be a worldwide issue.”

The fight, in one of the emptiest regions, echoes in many respects the debates over the more than 100 proposals to build coal-fired power plants.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Aboriginal Art Industry Booming In Outback

ALICE SPRINGS, Australia (Reuters) - Aboriginal art in Australia is booming and improving the lives of poor black communities, but unscrupulous dealers are ripping off artists and fraud from China and India is undermining the industry.

Artwork of ancient "Dreaming" stories, painted on canvases in the outback dirt and hung from trees to dry, regularly fetch thousands of dollars in urban galleries and sometimes millions.

"Earth's Creation" by the late artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye's, a vivid painting recounting a "Dreaming" creation myth, set a world record for an aboriginal artwork in May, selling for A$1.056 million (US$910,345).

Sotheby's in Australia will this month auction up to A$9.8 million worth of aboriginal art, with Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's 1977 masterwork "Warlugulong" expected to fetch A$1.8 million to A$2.5 million.

But while well-known artists are reaping the rewards, some aboriginal artists are being targeted by "carpetbaggers" -- dealers out to make easy money.

Some dealers are paying only a fraction of the retail price to artists who often speak very little English and have never ventured off their remote traditional lands, said a recent Australian parliamentary report.

"Carpetbagging has become a problem through the combination of the great success of indigenous art and the weak economic bargaining position in which indigenous people frequently find themselves," said the report on the indigenous art industry.

One dealer reportedly paid A$150 for a painting that took a week to produce and was worth A$1,500, it said, while others paid for funerals in return for relatives producing art, sometimes worth A$30,000 or 15 times the cost of a funeral.

In one incident, aboriginal artists were forced to live in "squalid conditions" in a motel in the outback town of Alice Springs and produce paintings, said the Senate report.

The artists were paid very little and charged rent they could not afford, keeping them in a "debt-trap obligating them to produce more paintings," it said.


Australia's aboriginal art industry is worth an estimated A$100 to A$300 million, with about 6,000 artists in more than 80 remote outback communities, said the Senate report.

The value of aboriginal art has risen 40 to 50 percent a year for a decade and mass-produced fake aboriginal paintings were now entering the market to cash in on the boom, it said.

One Indian dealer drove a hire car to the remote Yuendumu aboriginal community, 600km (372 miles) northeast of Alice Springs, and bought every piece of art he could find. He then shipped the artwork back to India to be reproduced and sold the fakes on Australia's tourist Gold Coast, said the Senate report.

Paintings labelled "aboriginal styled" art and craft were being imported to Australia from China and Taiwan and sold in capital cities with fake certificates of authenticity, it said.

"It is obviously worrying. Fraudulent work is coming in from China," said Josh van Haaren, manager of the Mbantua Gallery in Alice Springs which bought "Earth's Creation."

Concerns over the authenticity of aboriginal artwork has led the Mbantua Gallery to introduce micro-chipping of artwork.

IndenteArt is a three-tiered security label system which consists of a microdot, encrypted with multiple lines of code relating to the gallery name, artwork and artist, and a "chemical barcode" impregnated in label and glue.

"If you remove the label, which is quite hard to do, there will still be a trace element there on the painting," explains van Haaren, as he applies a security label to a painting.

The third level of security sees the label's serial number linked to a global database detailing a photograph of the artwork, its origin and buyer.

"If it gets stolen you can jump onto the IndenteArt website and red flag it. If it does turn up it will find its way back to you much more easily," said van Haaren.


For the past 21 years the Mbantua Gallery has sourced its artwork from Aborigines living in the Utopia lands northeast of Alice Springs. Every fortnight the gallery drives to 10 black communities, loaded with canvases, paints and brushes. Two weeks later they return and buy the artwork hanging from the trees.

There is no commissioning, the artists create whatever they like, from small artwork you hold in your hand to wall hangings.

"We deal direct with the artists. We know everyone we deal with very well. We negotiate a price with the owner and pay them straight away," said van Haaren, adding the gallery has created a foundation to improve the lives of the Utopian artists.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up 2 percent of the 20 million population and are the most disadvantaged group in the nation. They have a life expectancy 17 years lower than white Australians and have higher rates of heart and kidney disease.

Aboriginal artists are paid about 60 percent of the sale price of their artwork, with much of the proceeds shared in extended-families. Often the sale of paintings is the only income in the community, as there are no jobs in these desert lands.

"The indigenous visual arts and craft sector provides very significant economic, social and cultural benefits," said the Senate report, citing jobs and funding of medical services.

In the past six years the Papunya Tula artists have funded a dialysis unit at the Kintore community and raised A$900,000 for the construction of a swimming pool, which helps reduce eye diseases amongst children who swim in the chlorinated water.

Aborigines do not view their art as a commodity, but more a communal asset to be shared. The "Dreaming" stories belong to all their people, passed down from father to child.

"To be an indigenous artists or artisan is quite a different calling than to be an artist in the European tradition," said the Senate report.

"For many indigenous artists, visual art and craft is not seen as a commodity but rather something akin to a family member -- it represents a multi-layered connection to the past, present and future."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Indians Widen Old Outlet in Youth Lacrosse

ONEIDA TERRITORY, N.Y., July 9 — Tim Glass’s mother tells him that he was born with a lacrosse stick in his hand, because his ancestors invented the game. Tim, 14, and his two younger brothers sometimes practice their chosen sport in T-shirts that say, “It’s in our blood.”

Here on Oneida land, roughly 25 miles east of Syracuse, they are part of a new generation of American Indians reasserting their heritage through a game that was invented by their ancestors but in recent decades has been perceived mainly as the province of prep schools and elite colleges.

Over the past four years, the North American Minor Lacrosse Association has grown into a league of six American Indian teams, each with different age divisions, in upstate New York, with 1,000 players ages 3 to 20. Some upstate Indian tribes, newly prosperous from gambling profits and keen to preserve their past, have hired coaches and referees, bought equipment and refurbished playing fields.

Last month, the Seneca tribe spent $97,000 on artificial turf to upgrade a lacrosse stadium on the Allegany Reservation, about 50 miles south of Buffalo. In Lewiston, just northeast of Niagara Falls, the Tuscaroras are building a lacrosse park with six playing areas. The popular contests often draw hundreds of spectators for daylong picnics and festivities, helping unite disparate tribes in a culture often splintered by ancient and modern rivalries.

“It’s not an elite sport to us, it’s a way of life,” said Randi Rourke, editor of Indian Country Today, a leading native newspaper, who pointed to a tradition in which fathers and grandfathers present lacrosse sticks to baby boys. “You play it the moment you can walk. We call it a ‘medicine game’ because it makes people happy to watch, so it’s a kind of medicine.”

Brian Patterson, president of the United South and Eastern Tribes, which represents 24 tribes primarily east of the Mississippi River, said the renewed interest in lacrosse was part of a broader movement to revive Indian languages and traditions in a younger generation. He said he had encouraged young people like his 11-year-old son, Schuyler, who plays for the Oneida Silverhawks, to draw strength and courage from lacrosse, as their ancestors did, to ward off modern-day pressures and problems like drugs and alcohol.

“It’s more than a game; it’s truly an identity for us,” Mr. Patterson said. “With new resources available to the tribal nations, we’re able to provide a future for our people by securing our past.”