Friday, July 16, 2010

Alice goes on the road: a reflection

Walk for a Nuclear Free Future: As a child, I believed that the world would be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust before I could grow up. As a result, the "what do you want to be when you grow up, dear" questions took on an abstract quality for me.
Well, I am happy to report that, all of these years later, I'm still alive and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up! I am much less happy to report that the world, which was not destroyed when I was a child, is still in peril. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the possibility that they could be used also exists. Despite my lifelong dread of a nuclear holocaust, I have never protested against nuclear weapons. Until I went to the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, in April of 2004, for crossing the Fort Benning fence while protesting against the School of the Americas (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), I had never met anyone who had been involved in protesting against nuclear weapons. There, I had the good fortune to meet Sister Ardeth Platte, who was serving a 41-month sentence for a Plowshares action at a nuclear weapons silo in Colorado. Ardeth quickly became a mentor and an inspiration for me. She explained to me that her action was an expression of love and of faith. That faith is also expressed by the World Council of Churches in its statement: "The production and deployment of nuclear weapons, as well as their use, constitute a crime against humanity."
Since becoming friends with Sister Ardeth, I had wanted to do something to express my hope for a nuclear-free world as a way of honoring her determination and her sacrifice. So, when the opportunity presented itself for me to join a Walk for a Nuclear Free Future this year, I was happy to participate. I couldn't do the entire 700-mile walk, but I was able to join this group for a little more than half of the walk. In March, I walked from Buffalo to Rochester, a distance of 100 miles, in one week. From April 11th until the first of May, I walked from Utica to New York City. This was a distance of approximately 265 miles. It took me through the Mohawk Valley and the Hudson River Valley into New Jersey and, finally, over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. Part of the mission of this journey was to visit all six nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). I visited half of the nations: the Tuscaroras in Lewiston, the Senecas in their Tonawanda territory near Akron, and the Mohawks in their Kanatsiohareke community near Fonda.
Also, many of my fellow walkers were from Japan. I learned from them that people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still suffering the effects of the nuclear attacks. These people, called Hibakusha, survived the initial bomb blast but suffered from illnesses due to radiation exposure. Among them, there is a high rate of leukemia and other cancers, as well as thyroid problems. Their children have suffered, too, with birth defects and other health issues.
Similar health problems also plague people in places where nuclear weapons were developed and tested, both during World War II and later, during the "cold war," which was called "cold" only because it didn't involve direct conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The cold war claimed many victims throughout the world.
I heard terrible stories of birth defects in the Tuscarora territory, where leakage of waste materials from the Manhattan project was found. One of the walkers, Al White, a Cayuga who lives in the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus territory, talked of a baby who was born in the Tuscarora territory with two rectums. He said that people in the Cattaraugus territory are exposed to toxic materials that have leaked from the West Valley plant. "The biological and chemical warfare done to our people continues today and our people are suffering." 
When I arrived in New York City on May 1st, I went to the Riverside Church, where a conference was being held on the topic of a nuclear-free world prior to the start of talks on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the United Nations. These talks are held once every five years. I heard a presentation called "Global Hibakusha."
Claudia Peterson, a medical social worker, said that people in her community in Utah drank contaminated water and they ate contaminated meat and vegetables. The contamination, which affected parts of Nevada and Utah, was caused by nuclear weapons tests that had been conducted at the Nevada test site, located in the Nevada desert. Between 1951 and 1962, more than 100 nuclear bombs were detonated at this site.
"The U.S. government assured us that everything was safe. People were living downwind from the tests. We watched loved ones suffer and die." Claudia's father-in-law, a uranium miner, died of cancer at age 63. Claudia talked about the many family members who died of cancer. She said that she remembered holding her six-year-old daughter in her arms when the child died of cancer. She said that her sister died of melanoma at age 36.
"I wished that I could die," Claudia said. "You are changed by loss and suffering. The heartache never goes away. The wound never heals. I never dreamed that I would have to do this. My story never changes."
Abbacca Anjain Madison is a former senator of the Marshall Islands from Rongelap Atoll. She talked about the disastrous results of above-ground testing done by the United States in the Marshall Islands. She said that 67 atomic and hydrogen bombs were tested there. One of the most devastating tests was done over the Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. "At the crack of dawn, we saw a bright light in the west," the former senator related. The light was accompanied by a loud noise. Small children cried. A strong wind blew. A bitter rain fell on everything. People washed in the rain, thinking that it was soap. Their skin became itchy, and they suffered pain in their eyes. The water was poisoned but the people didn't know. No warnings had been given to them. Their bodies were covered in painful wounds. Their hair fell out. People suffered from lung, thyroid, stomach, and brain cancer.
A few days after the nuclear test, a research study, called Project 4.1 (Study of Response of Human Beings exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation due to Fall-out from High-Yield Weapons), was organized. It was done so without the consent or knowledge of the "human guinea pigs." According to the final report of Project 4.1, people in the Ailinginae, Utirik, and Rongelap atolls experienced "significant" exposure to radiation, from 14 rads in the Utirik atoll to 175 rads in the Rongelap atoll. After the nuclear testing, "women gave birth to 'jellyfish' and to deformed and dead babies," Abbacca siad.
"People are dying of radiation and cancer," Abbacca explained. "The future is so bleak."
She shared the story of the Marshall Islands as a cautionary tale. "Learn from our experience. Let us help each other."
The United States ended its above-ground nuclear tests in 1962 and its above-ground nuclear tests 30 years later. The nuclear threat, however, still exists. An aging stock of nuclear weapons is maintained by several countries throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Depleted uranium, which is made from nuclear waste products, has been implicated in increased numbers of leukemia cases in Iraqi children.
Grand Island walk: It has now been two months since the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future ended. Since then, I have been walking around my own community. On Friday, July 2nd, I walked along the Niagara River. I picked wild raspberries and I watched boats in the river. After several hours, I reached Beaver Island State Park, where I met a group of archaeology students and their professor, Dr. Lisa Marie Anselmi. They were busily digging for artifacts of the early- to mid woodlands period. I got a tour of the site and an explanation of the project by a student named Jess. She showed me the "test pits" that were dug to determine if there was anything there of interest. If there was, then larger holes, called "units," were dug. Jess showed me how the students sifted the dirt for artifacts. It was a lot like panning for gold! After I left the archaeology site, I walked to the beach, where I saw many people having fun in the sand and in the water.
It was a peaceful and educational walk. But I couldn't forget that even this close to home, I was still affected by the dark legacy of the cold war. The fact that nuclear waste, as well as other waste products from the heavy industry on the Niagara Falls side of the river, has been identified in the Niagara River means that any fish caught there probably is not safe to eat. And, yes, people do go fishing in the river.
My experiences this spring and early summer have taught me that it's long past time to get rid of the nuclear weapons.
Bertrand Russell once said: "War doesn't determine who is right -- only who is left." Nuclear war changes that reality, too. In a nuclear war, it doesn't really matter who is right because, when it's over, no one will be left.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, located near Buchanan, New York, is a source of much controversy and conflict for people in the Hudson Valley. This power plant is now due to be relicensed for twenty years. Opponents of the plant are hoping that the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission will deny the plant relicensing.
There have been a number of issues surrounding the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant for a number of years, and a wide variety of people and governmental agencies.
The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is owned by Entergy Corp., a large New Orleans-based corporation that specializes in electrical power. It owns more than 40 power plants of all varieties: natural gas, nuclear, oil, and hydroelectric power. According to Marilyn Eile of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network, Entergy owns four nuclear power plants in New York State, in addition to plants in other states. One of its other plants is Vermont Yankee, a 38-year-old plant that has seen numerous leaks of radioactive tritium and other problems. In 2007 and 2008, a cooling tower collapsed.  On February 24th, Vermont's State Senate voted to order the plant to be closed.
People who live near the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant are hoping for the same result.
Recently, Entergy Corp. has suffered some setbacks. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied Entergy's application for a water quality permit for Indian Point. The DEC's criticism of Indian Point was that it was destroying too much marine life.
Marilyn explained the process to create nuclear energy. She said that the process, in simple terms, can be described as "splitting atoms to boil water." It is not especially efficient. Only thirty percent of the energy generated can actually be used. The hot water that gets dumped into the river after the process is over causes havoc to fish. "It's a four to five degree difference in temperature but it can kill fish," Marilyn said.
In addition to hot water, tritium has been leaking from spent fuel rods. Marilyn explained that the amount of leakage has been small so that this is not a big issue. "Not for me but for them, it's OK."
The presence of a nuclear power plant near a highly populated area, which includes metropolitan New York, is a concern both for Marilyn and for Lawrence, another activist who focuses on issues related to nuclear power.
Although it is a federal requirement to have an evacuation plan that would encompass a 50-mile radius of the plant, "it's a joke. This is expensive historical and cultural real estate. It's irreplaceable. There is no evacuation. You'd have a parking lot on major roads," Marilyn said.
Lawrence commented that the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is "a beast at our backs. It discharges its poison into the blood of the region... the river. The river becomes poison. We live in fear. Catastrophe is our metaphor.... but you (the walkers) remind me that this is not a given destiny. We can change it."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mohawk Community near Fonda

The Mohawk Community, located about seven miles west of Fonda, New York, near the beautiful Mohawk River, was a peaceful, glorious place to spend a rest day. In the distance, we could see tree-covered hills. We were surrounded by pastures with horses and cows. Not far away was a spring with refreshing cold and very clear water.

We were made to feel very welcome by Tom and Alice Porter and by all of the other members of the community. I even had the opportunity to experience cleaning my laundry in the same way that people in previous generations cleaned theirs, by using a bucket and a washboard. People in previous generations must have been strong! That's much more work that merely throwing the clothes into a washing machine!

At the Mohawk Community, we enjoyed delicious traditional Mohawk foods, including corn soup, fry bread, and mush. I also went to the gift shop while I was there. I enjoyed looking at all of the beautiful crafts that were sold at this store, especially the clothing and jewelry. It was beautiful but, alas, a wee bit beyond my budget. I ended up by purchasing a newspaper that provided a history of the Iroquois Confederacy and a CD of traditional Mohawk music.

I also spent a good deal of time sitting with Alice Porter and her sister Ida Mae. It was interesting to listen to them converse with each other. On the walk, I had become accustomed to hearing people speak in a variety of foreign languages, especially Japanese. I found out that Alice and Ida Mae spoke to each other in Choctaw, a language spoken by approximately 10,000 persons. Most of them live in Oklahoma. Before the Choctaw were forcibly relocated in the 1830s, they lived in the American southeast.

On the morning that we were to leave the Mohawk Community, Tom Porter told us about himself and Alice.

"I'm working for the enemy," Tom said simply and gently. "I never wanted to. My leaders asked me to do it."

Tom is one of two chaplains for Native American inmates in the New York State prison system. The other chaplain is an Onondaga. In the past, Tom said, Indians in jail went to court to try to force the government to provide them with religous services. They pointed out that services were available in penal institutions for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, but not for inmates who practiced traditional Native American religions. "They had no religious freedom," Tom said. The court mandated that the prisons provide religious services. Hence, Tom's job, providing Native American inmates with hope, support, and a connection to the Creator.

"No one has helped them. They cry. They are frustrated and angry," Tom said of the inmates. "We try to be their uncle, their grandfather. I don't see jail people. I see grandsons, nephews, and nieces. When they get out, a lot of them try to follow traditions."

In the prisons, Tom cooks traditional foods for ceremonies. He cooks corn into such dishes as bread, soup, and mush. The corn is considered sacred. "It came thousands of years ago," Tom said.

Tom can do this work now, traveling to 72 jails and prisons in New York State to tend to the spiritual needs of Native American inmates, because he is strong and healthy enough to do so. It wasn't always this way. Tom and Alice both live with diabetes. Alice was well on her way to going blind from cataracts. She could not have surgery because her diabetes was not under control.

Tom said that a woman named Amanda came to help Alice by teaching her how to change her diet.

"We ate a typical American diet. It was killing us," Tom said. He added that Amanda cried about Alice's plight. She then went to the cupboard and cleared out all of the food that she deemed unhealthy. Some of the food was brand new. It all ended up in the garbage can. Amanda cooked for Tom and Alice for one month. At the end of that time, their diabetes was well under control and Alice was able to have surgery for her blind eye. Three weeks later, the surgeon fixed Alice's other cataract. She can now see.

Tom told us that he was thankful for the dietary change that Amanda introduced that saved Alice's eyesight. He told us also about being thankful. He said that, when he was a small boy, he lived with his grandmother in a house that had no electricity. His grandmother, who spoke only Mohawk, used to get up early to cook the oatmeal. She asked Tom, when he awakened, if he thanked the creator. She told him that, while he was asleep, the creator came through the window and held him in his arms. The creator also hugged the cows and horses and the trees and everything on mother earth.

"He is our father and we are his children. We have a good father and a good mother earth. They are our parents and we must respect them. Say Nya-weh. Thank you. You are the one who made me. I send to you my thank you, greetings, compassion and love. Say it before you get out of bed," Tom related. He added that the rays of sunlight that come through the window are the fingers, hands, and arms of the creator.

"All that the creator wants is to be told thank you with love. He clears obstacles from the road," Tom said.

Tom added that his people have faced many obstacles. They have been colonized for ten generations. "It is the worst thing. It goes into your mind and your heart. You cannot distinguish real life stuff. We can't even help ourselves to eat healthy."

He said that he and others continue to share the message of the Iroqouis Confederacy to counter the violent message of the government and corporations. He told us to tell all people. Go back to your original teachings to find the truth. Do not kill each other. Share one another.

"We are older and tired," Tom said. "We still try to do what we can do. We go as far as our trail takes us. It's OK. We must leave something for our children and grandchildren. Right now, the children are being held by the big power. They have no time to listen to grandpa and grandma."

"We still have lots of work to do yet. America is changing and starting to act more like Mohawks, Lakotas, and Senecas.But they killed the teachers.

"Until America changes and sets a good example, the world will not change," Tom said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Back to the walk

On April 10th, I got on an Amtrak train heading east. I got off at a beautifully restored train station in Utica and rejoined the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future that day.

It has been quite the adventure, rejoining the walk after leaving it in Rochester. The scenery had changed greatly. I was out of Western New York and had entered the Mohawk Valley. Later, we were to walk into the Hudson River valley, which is where we are now. Unlike the Buffalo to Rochester experience, which took me through familiar territory, I had come to a part of the state that I really did not know well.

But there has been one common thread that has linked Western New York with these other parts of the state, which is the rivers. I have always been drawn to water. I remember that,on Saint Patrick's Day, we walked along the shores of the Niagara River to Niagara Falls. We were amazed and intrigued by the enormous volume of water flowing over the falls. Rainbows formed above the falls. It was a stunning sight.

When I rejoined the walk, we were walking along the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. We crossed and recrossed the river on those bridges that I truly don't like! One of the most wonderful experiences of the walk occurred outside of Fonda, when we stayed at the Mohawk Community with Alice and Tom Porter. We ate traditional corn soup and mush (very yummy) and learned quite a bit about the Mohawk culture.

I was sad to leave the Mohawk Community, where I felt at peace. We were surrounded by the beautiful hills and waters of Central New York. I could see horses and cows and I could walk through the woods to a cold stream. It was good.

I have to admit that one of the reasons that I chose to rejoin the walk after having been away for two and a half weeks was to see the Hudson River. I had seen the Hudson many times through the windows of a train and I very much wanted to see it within touching distance, much as I had the Mississippi River when I participated in the Witness Against War walk in 2008.

The river was beautiful but I have learned that it is full of sorrow, much as the Niagara River is full of sorrow. Radioactive waste has been found in the Niagara River, byproducts of the Manhattan Project of the 1940s. This radioactive waste has been found all over Western New York: in Lewiston, West Valley, Tonawanda. It has resulted in birth defects and all sorts of cancers. In the Hudson River, we were told, there is radioactive waste resulting from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

We walked to the western shore of the Hudson River and could see the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the far shore. We all dropped to our knees, praying and crying. We cried for the river and for the children who would inherit this wounded earth. We cried for the victims of depleted uranium. Tears kept flowing for the damage that uranium mining does to the earth. Our tears fell for the harm that the heated water does to the fragile ecosystem of the Hudson River.

Water is life. That is probably why I am so attracted to it.

The walk is about to end. I will write more when I come home.

Bye bye for now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Orleans County

After breakfast on March 20th at the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory, we all got into cars and rode to Middleport. If we had walked from the Tonawanda Territory to our end point in Albion that day, we would have walked thirty miles. My opinion on walking thirty miles in one day is "let's not and say we did!
Visiting the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory was a good experience for me.  I am very grateful for the generous hospitality that I received there. I was reminded that the Senecas (who call themselves Onöndowága,' meaning "People of the Great Hill") have a land claim on Grand Island. Their name for Grand Island is "Go-Weh No-geh. I said, "I'd be happy to give it to you!"
Everyone laughed at my eagerness to give away Grand Island, which I suppose I can't do since I don't own even a small part of it.
One interesting note: the room where I spent the night is used also as a classroom, where children are taught the Seneca language. According to Wikipedia, there are currently only about 200 speakers of the Seneca language. It is an Iroquoian language and is linguistically related to other Iroquois languages. Certainly, the efforts of the Indian boarding schools, which I described in a previous post, has had a terrible effect on indigenous cultures throughout the United States and Canada. According to James Estes of the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, approximately 300 languages were spoken in North America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. After that event and the arrival of other Europeans (which is also termed the "European Invasion"), half of those languages are now extinct and many others are described as "moribund," meaning that they have few speakers and all of those speakers are elders.
The most widely spoken indigenous language in North America is Navajo with 148,530 speakers. Navajo was used as a code during World War II. The Germans never broke that code. Other widely spoken languages are Ojibwa, Western, with 35,000 speakers; Dakota with 20,355 speakers;  Choctaw with 17,890 speakers; Apache, Western, with 12,693 speakers; Cherokee with 11,905 speakers; Papago-Pima with 11,819 speakers; and Yupik, Central, with 10,000 speakers.
It is my hope that more work can be done to preserve endangered languages, that more schools are opened for people to learn to speak and to communicate in those languages.
As I walked into Orleans County, I thought about the little school where the Seneca language is taught to children in the Tonawanda Territory.

I was also fascinated by my surroundings. We walked past dormant corn fields and horses running in fenced-in fields, and broken down barns. We were never far from the Erie Canal. It didn't take us too long to walk into Medina. An old town with many beautiful structures, Medina, like other towns in this area, were boom towns in the years after the Erie Canal was built and before the Welland Canal was built. We walked through the streets of Medina and were then out of town, back on Route 31, headed east. Three miles west of Albion, we ate our lunch.
We arrived in Albion and found that the church where we were to spend the night was locked. Before long, a locksmith had been called. The locksmith, who was also a photographer, came to open the church for us. The church where we were to stay was called the Pullman Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church. It is an historic church that was built by George Pullman as a memorial to his parents. The church was dedicated on January 31st, 1895. Two of George Pullman's brothers participated in the service. Both the brothers, Dr. Royal Henry Pullman (1826-1900) and Dr. James M. Pullman (1836-1903), were Universalist ministers.
George Pullman (March 3, 1831 – October 19, 1897) was famous for being an inventor and an industrialist. He invented the Pullman sleeping car, which, according to Wikipedia, were modeled after the sleeping arrangements in the packet boats that traveled the Erie Canal. The first sleeping car was finished in 1864. People paid considerably more money to ride in sleeping cars than in coach. A Pullman sleeping car even carried the body of President Abraham Lincoln to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.
George Pullman hired many people to work in the sleeping car, providing excellent service. Many of the employees were newly freed slaves from the south. Pullman also built a "company town" for his employees to reside. His company owned everything in the town. According to Wikipedia, the town was run almost like a feudal city state.
George Pullman, however, became infamous in the mid-1890s, when the workers went on strike. Their complaint was that, in the wake of a bad economy, their wages had been cut and their working hours had been increased. Also, jobs had been cut. At the same time, there had been no changes in rents and prices in the company town, where you shopped at the only store around (the company store). The strike was violently crushed.
The Pullman strike was a sad event in the history of U.S. labor relations.
But... back to the church...
Inside the church, we held an interfaith afternoon prayer service to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the U.S. launching of the Iraq war. We remembered everyone, both members of the military and civilians,  who had lost their lives in the war. We also held the prayer service in solidarity and support of the march that was held in Washington, D.C. Later, I found out that Cindy Sheehan and seven others had been arrested on the sidewalk in front of the White House. Six persons, including Cindy Sheehan, were taken to jail and held until they were arraigned on Monday, March 22nd, because they were from "out of town."
Our hosts in Albion prepared a delicious pot luck dinner.The pastor, whose name is Kelly, offered a beautifully worded prayer about hands. I enjoyed sitting with new friends, including Margaret and Monica, and sharing this wonderful meal. I don't know how it is but, at every place we visited, I was always served my favorite foods!
The next morning, we were served a wonderful breakfast, courtesy of Gerald and others. Feeling well-fed and happy, we continued our trek east and stopped for lunch at the First Presbyterian Church in Holley. My first introduction to Holley came in the form of a Holley police car. It seems that a few walkers fell behind when they stopped to talk to a woman who had come out of her house when she saw us marching down Route 31. As we were walking into Holley, a police car pulled up beside us. Two walkers hopped out of the back seat. The car left. Shortly afterward, the police car pulled up beside us for a second time. Another walker hopped out of the car. The police car left. Those walkers truly traveled in style!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Seneca Nation -- Tonawanda Territory

Two days after we left the Tuscarora Nation in the Town of Lewiston, we arrived at the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory. This territory straddles two counties -- Erie and Genesee -- and the town closest to it is Akron.

When we left Lewiston, we traveled east through Sanborn until we arrived in the City of Lockport, where we spent a night at the YWCA. Lockport is located right on the Erie Canal and is named for the locks that were built in the 1840s. The next day, we left Lockport and walked to the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory. Mostly, we walked on either Akron Road or Old Akron Road.
At the edge of the Tonawanda Territory, we were welcomed to the Seneca Nation by Chief Hill and by several clan chiefs. Chief Hill offered a prayer for peace in the Seneca language. This prayer was then translated into English. Jun-san then translated the prayer into Japanese for the benefit of the Japanese members of our group. After we had been welcomed, we walked to the Long House, where we had another welcome. I learned that there are two entrances to the Long House. One is for men and the other is for women. We also were told that the building behind the Long House was where we would have our dinner and where the women would sleep for the night. The men were to sleep in the Long House, which is a bigger structure. We have more men than women in our group, I found out. proved to be very delicious. We had our choice of bean burger or buffalo burger. I had a buffalo burger, as I had never tasted one of those in the past. I was told that buffalo burger is very low in cholesterol, unlike the more typical hamburger, which can boast a very high cholesterol count. I was happy to put fresh tomato slices and lettuce on my burger. We also had sweet potatoes, salad, and applesauce. For dessert, we ate strawberries.
After dinner, Darwin Hill offered us some interesting information. We were told that this flag is a replica of a 1,000 year old Hiawatha wampum belt. It is now the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. They are also known at the Iroquois Confederacy. The six nations of the Confederacy are the Seneca (Keepers of the Western Door), Tuscarora, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Mohawk (Keepers of the Eastern Door). We also learned that, before the European invasion, the Senecas had been located in the Genesee valley, which is east of their current location. Two hundred years ago, Darwin Hill said, the Senecas were pushed away from their homeland by the settlers.
"Very few people stayed in their original land after the European invasion," Darwin Hill said, adding that the Senecas were fortunate that they did not move too far from their original home, unlike some other nations. The Cherokees and the Creeks, for example, were forced off of their ancestral land in the southeast and made to walk all the way to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Take a look at the history of the Trail of Tears. During this forced march of well more than 1,000 miles in the 1830s, many men, women, and children died. It was one of the cruelest and saddest moments in U.S. history.
Darwin Hill also told us that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has been trying to get a resolution to the issue of stolen land for years. Currently, they are working on resolving that issue in the United Nations, where they are recognized as nations, rather than as "NGOs" (non-governmental organizations). He explained that, since the 1980s, there has been a working group on indigenous populations in the United Nations. The Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples came about in 2007. Take a look at the declaration . Only four nations did not vote for it. Those four nations are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
The United Nations also has a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
"The United Nations has no police force. It is a very slow acting body but, at least, we have a forum," Darwin Hill said, adding, "We are recognized in the United Nations but not in the United States or in Canada."
Another topic of discussion that evening at the Long House was the whole issue of war versus peace. In the 1960s, many Native American men were drafted into the Army and were sent to fight in Vietnam. Currently, many are serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a conflict that we have to deal with," Darwin Hill said. "It conflicts with our message of peace."
Darwin Hill said that, 1,000 years ago, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy buried their weapons of war.
Yukio, who is one of the walkers, offered a Japanese perspective. He said that, after World War II, Japan adopted a peace constitution, which prohibits Japan from having a military or from fighting wars. Now, he said that the United States wants Japan to have a military. Yukio does not like this so he decided that he would walk for a nuclear-free future and to bring a message of peace to the United Nations.
Another walker, Al, is a Cayuga who lives in the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus territory. He said that, during the Vietnam War, he made the decision that he would not fight in the war. He took a man named Mad Bear with him and went to the FBI. He told the FBI that they could arrest him but that he would not fight in the war. He was not arrested.
He talked about the Creator as a peacemaker and said, "There will be no more wars from us. We're all the same people on Turtle Island. We need to have peace again. That's why I walk with you."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Niagara Falls pictures and story

We got to explore Niagara Falls on March 17th! It was another beautiful day for a walk. We walked from the corner of 84th Street and Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls, to the Tuscarora Nation in Lewiston. It was a very long walk, but the places were very significant. On Buffalo Avenue, we walked through an old industrial section. There had been many chemical plants in that area, which had produced a great deal of toxic waste. Much of that waste ended up in the Niagara River. There is still some functioning industry along Buffalo Avenue but I hope that they clean up the waste in a safer way than was done in the past.
Niagara Falls is well known for toxic waste. One of the neighborhoods in Niagara Falls, Love Canal, was built on land that had been a burial site for some really dangerous toxic waste, including dioxin and benzene. The business that had buried the waste was Hooker Chemical. In the late 1970s, it was discovered that people who lived in Love Canal were suffering from various forms of cancer at an unusually high rate. The toxic waste had leached from the drums that were supposed to contain it into the soil and the ground water. Eventually, due to the efforts and Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association, the residents were evacuated from that area. It was considered to be a great tragedy. The houses in the Love Canal neighborhood were built to be the dream homes for the young families who moved there. But when the children began suffering from leukemia, the dream turned into a horrifying nightmare for those families.
After we left the industrial area of Niagara Falls, located along the Niagara River, we saw downtown Niagara Falls and we also stopped to look at the Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. And a wonder it is. There are always rainbows directly above the falls. We saw some ice and snow still on the ground and the water, despite the warmth of the air and the brilliance of the sunshine.
We then walked along the general area of the gorge, which is a fault line, although, fortunately, a very stable one so earthquakes in Niagara Falls are very unlikely occurrences. We had our lunch at Whirlpool State Park and we saw the very blue water of the whirlpool that is another part of Niagara Falls.
Before long, we were out of Niagara Falls and in the Town of Lewiston. We walked through Niagara University and started heading east. We walked and walked and walked...

When we arrived at the edge of the Tuscarora Nation, we were welcomed by Chief Stuart Patterson. We continued walking well into Tuscarora territory and finally arrived at our destination at about six o'clock in the evening. We were welcomed with a traditional ceremony and were treated to a delicious potluck dinner. As we had walked for about twenty miles, we were very hungry and footsore. We were shown a video about boarding schools for Indian children that were run by various entities, such as the federal government, states, and religious missions from about the late nineteenth century to the 1950s. 
The first Indian boarding school was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was founded by Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 at a deserted military base (the Carlisle Barracks) in central Pennsylvania. Pratt's goal was to destroy indigenous culture in North America. He said, "Kill the Indian, save the man." Pratt had a military background; he had served in the Tenth Cavalry from 1867 until 1875 and was stationed in the Indian territories. Thus he created the school according to the model that he knew best, which was the military model.
Other schools were founded in different areas, based on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School model. Children who were sent to these schools were taken away from their families and were forbidden to speak their native languages or to learn about their own cultures. They were forcibly assimilated into American culture. As an example, a barber was brought to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School to cut the children's long hair. This caused much distress among the children. According to an article titled Carlisle Indian Industrial School History, "For the Lakota, the cutting of hair was symbolic of mourning and there was much wailing and lamenting which lasted into the night." 
In Western New York, many children were sent to the Thomas Indian School in Irving, New York. The children spent more time working as free labor than they spent studying. Children worked hard. They had to clean the school constantly. Also, many of the schools had adjoining farms. The children worked hard in the fields. They did not enjoy the results of their labor. For example, children at a school with lots of chickens never got to eat any of the eggs that the chickens laid.
At the Mush Hole School in Canada, the children were so hungry that they foraged through garbage dumps for food.
Children at the Indian schools also suffered from all types of abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. When they complained of being abused or even of being raped, no one believed them. Many tried to run away, as they were very desperate to return to their homes and their families, to places where they could speak their own languages. 
Many of the children did not survive the experience.
It was truly a very sad and shocking story about the effort of many people to destroy indigenous cultures in North America
Canada issued an apology a few years ago for the cruelty that occurred at the school. At the time, there were pending lawsuits, which Canada settled. Survivors of the schools were able to collect some money as a result of the settlement of the lawsuits.
The United States has never apologized for this very dark period in its history, when it basically declared war on children.
In addition to learning about the Indian boarding schools, which have since been closed, we also learned about the effect of waste from the Manhattan Project on the Tuscarora nation. A great deal of radioactive waste had been buried by the U.S. government in Lewiston during the 1940s. Some radioactive waste has been found in the Niagara River. The result of all of this exposure to radioactive waste is an increase in the rates of various types of cancer.
Japanese people who had survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were called hibakusha. People in Lewiston and other parts of Western New York, who were exposed to the radioactive waste created by the Manhattan Project, can also be called hibakusha. I know of one woman, Rita, who died of lung cancer. My mom knew Rita because the her husband worked with my mother at Niagara University. Rita never smoked. The cancer that killed her was a cancer of the lining of the lungs. It was not the kind of cancer that smokers are prone to develop. It is very possible that prolonged exposure to radioactive waste caused Rita's cancer.
These atomic bombs can be said to have continued to kill years after they were detonated.

Walking through Buffalo with Walk for a Nuclear-Free Future

On my first day walking with the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future 2010 Northern Route, we walked from the east side of Buffalo to downtown. Afterward, we headed north through the city and into the town of Tonawanda.  We spent the night at First United Methodist Church in the city of North Tonawanda, close to the Erie Canal.
Much of the east side of Buffalo looked devastated, with broken down buildings and vacant, waste-strewn lots. That is a common sight, unfortunately, in many American cities. The inner cities were left to their fate when many city dwellers moved to the suburbs.
In downtown Buffalo, we made a few brief stops. One of those stops was at the Erie County Holding Center, described by the Erie County Sheriff's department as a "pre-trial, maximum security detention facility." That's kind of a fancy way of saying that the detainees in that jail have not actually been convicted of any crime. This facility has had some serious problems in the past few years. Recently, it has been on the news on a regular basis because of the shockingly high suicide rate.

I remember when I spent a night inside the Erie County Holding Center in January of 2003 after an anti-war protest at the downtown Air Force recruiter's office. It was a bizarre, almost surreal experience... being in downtown Buffalo, yet being completely separated from the life of the city. I was on a holding room with a group of other women. We had thin mats to place in blue plastic "boats" on the floor. These were our "beds." The lights were never turned off. It seemed like a waste of electricity to me. Despite the bright lights, the Erie County Holding Center was a very dismal place.
I spent only one night there. I cannot imagine the hopelessness that people must feel when they are in there for an extended period of time. 
We, who stood outside of the jail, hope that those inside know that they are not alone.
From the Erie County Holding Center, we walked to City Hall, which is a very interesting art deco structure in the middle of downtown Buffalo. We were greeted by Mayor Byron Brown, who expressed his support for our walk and for the message of peace and a nuclear-free future that we are carrying throughout New York State in anticipation of the Nonproliferation Treaty talks to be held at the United Nations early in May.

After we left City Hall, we walked north on Elmwood Avenue though Allentown. This is one of Buffalo's historic and well-maintained neighborhoods. It is full of interesting little shops and older houses. We were enthusiastically greeted outside of an Elmwood Avenue by a teacher and her students. They gave us a peace flag. The teacher said that she was very supportive of what we were doing. "It's for them," she said of the young students, who were happily running and playing during their outside time.
We continued north and stopped for a lunch break at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. That church maintains a soup kitchen, called "Loaves and Fishes," five days a week. People who need a meal are always welcome to get one there. We set up our meal well after the Loaves and Fishes time. It was a nice space to eat.
Another highlight of our day in Buffalo was our stop at the Japanese garden at Delaware Park. The Japanese Garden was designed in 1970 and completed in 1974 as an expression of the friendship between Buffalo and its sister city, Kanazawa, Japan. It was relandscaped and rededicated in 1996. It's a great place to relax and it's also good for photography and for drawing and painting.
We just stayed there long enough to look at the beautiful garden and to take some pictures.
We continued north, heading out of the city. Eventually, we left Erie County and entered Niagara County. The last highlight of our day was the wonderful potluck meal provided to us by the ladies of First United Methodist Church in North Tonawanda.
It was a wonderful day in many ways. People with whom we came in contact in Buffalo were very warm and friendly and supportive of us and our message. I was thrilled to share both the beautiful and the struggling parts of Buffalo with my new friends. And the weather was glorious. It was a warm, sunny March day. It was a great day to walk and explore and to share a positive message of a nuclear free future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day Two in the nation's capital

When I was in college, I was a political science major. I truly felt that I could work within the system and help to effect long-lasting change.  I spent a semester here in a Washington semester program. I was a part-time intern in the office of Rep. Dan Marriott of Utah. He was a conservative Republican. I was not. I had to write letters to constituents on his behalf. I simply wrote the opposite of my own position. I startled myself by how persuasive I could be at disagreeing with myself.
Unfortunately, after I graduated, I could not find a job on Capitol Hill.
Despite being shut out of the system, I still believed that the system could work.
Over the years, however, I have learned otherwise. 
I met torture survivors and found out that my government had been responsible for training the military personnel who carried out the torture. I learned that my government had given these military personnel training on the most advanced weaponry that they then used on their own people.
I started becoming very disillusioned with my government.
How could this happen?
We have a constitution. We have laws. Americans helped to write all sorts of human rights legislation.
How could our government get so much out of control?
In 2002, the government that I had once believed in opened a prison for "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo. Everything about it was secret. I wondered what was going on. 
In 2003, President George W. Bush got us into a war after telling us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And, for the most part, Americans believed him. Even members of Congress believed him.
I was absolutely sure that President Bush was lying.
I wanted to emigrate.
I didn't want to live in a country with a president who lied. I didn't want to live under a government that was accused of torturing "enemy combatants" who didn't even get the same privileges as "prisoners of war."
I didn't understand how our country, supposedly the best and most civilized in the world, could stoop to torture. After all, we have computers. We are technologically advanced. Therefore, we must be civilized.
Well, no.
Today, when I was standing in an orange jumpsuit and a black hood in front of the Hart Senate Office Building, I thought about these things. We have technology but it does not make us civilized. In fact, it makes us even less civilized. As an example, we can bomb people by remote control (drone bombing). Is that the action of a civilized people?
Today, I learned that three detainees at Guantanamo, who were said to have committed suicide while in detention, were placed in a secret CIA prison within Guantanamo and were allegedly tortured to death. They died, said Joe Hickman, who had been a sergeant of the guard at Guantanamo in 2006 because they were tortured to death. Rags were stuffed down their throat and they died.
I would like to think that the system would work and that these horrendous deaths will be investigated and the culprits punished appropriately.
But I am not sure that I have enough faith left in the system to believe that it will do the right thing.
So, tomorrow, I will be outside with people from Witness Against Torture and Voices for Creative Nonviolence's Peaceable Assembly Campaign to dramatize to the government that it is time for it and for all of us to be accountable for our actions. 
I hope that someone will listen and that the names of those three men -- Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani -- are not forgotten. 
That is why I will be outside tomorrow, to remind those in government who still believe that the system can work to please, please... make that system work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Washington, D.C., day one

I arrived in Washington, D.C., today after traveling by plane, bus, and train. I settled in at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house, which will be my home for the next two weeks. At about 4:30 p.m., I hopped on the Metro and headed to the White House. As I walked to the White House from the Metro station, the sun started to set. At the White House, I joined the Witness Against Torture group, who were holding vigil. Most of them were dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods. Some of them held up signs demanding that Guantanamo and Bagram be closed immediately. Others carried a huge banner that called for the closing of Guantanamo. Unfortunately, Guantanamo is still open, despite President Barack Obama's promise to close it within a year. That promise was made last year.
I stood with Sister Ichikawa, a Buddhist nun, who comes to many of these events. She has a drum, which she beats rhythmically. I joined in the chanting of "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" with her and with the others standing in front of the White House. I also stood with Buddy Bell, who was part of the Walk for Peace last summer in Wisconsin. That was the 22-mile walk from Camp Douglas to Fort McCoy from August 7th through the 9th. It was a wet walk. That was the one where nine of us were arrested for "crossing the line" at Fort McCoy. Four of us "repeat crossers" were taken ninety miles away to the Dane County Jail in Madison. Strangely enough, Fort McCoy issued a federal hold, despite the fact that all four of us were civilians. I was told that the military cannot issue a hold against civilians. We were held overnight and released the next day, without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. To this day, there are no pending charges against any of the nine of us who "crossed the line."
But that was five months ago.
So today, I am in Washington, D.C., with the orange jumpsuit crew.
News media people came to photograph and interview people in orange jumpsuits.
At about 6:15 p.m., Sister Ichikawa and I followed the group in jumpsuits as they marched down the street in single file. It was a silent procession. The only person who spoke was Carmen Trotta, a Catholic Worker from New York City, who played the role of the guard. He issued the command to the "detainees" to march or to stop and stand still. He also handed out the signs for them to hold up.
The orange jumpsuit vigil and parade was a very striking display under the street lights. The plethora of lights that make the White House glow in the dark also added to the dramatic effect of the group in orange jumpsuits.
I'll write more tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Getting ready to go...

In two days, I'm going to get on an airplane and go to Washington, D.C. Do you think that I am all packed and ready for the trip?
I'm not blessed with that level of organization.
More later!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Washington, D.C.

I'm going to Washington, D.C., in just two days!
More later!