It’s time for us to take another seat in the circle.
Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a member of the Navajo Nation and a Kossack, is running for Congress in Arizona’s CD-1, encompassing much of northern, eastern, and central Arizona, and a huge percentage of the state’s tribal lands. That seat is currently held by Republican Paul Gosar, teabagger, tool of corporate interests, and [predictably] exploiter of tribal nations and lands. Gosar is leaving CD-1 to run in a different district, and thus far, no Republican candidate has mounted a credible campaign. However, Benally Baldenegro has a tough primary fight on her hands: Former CD-1 Rep Ann Kirkpatrick wants her old seat back.
Those of you who read my diaries on Apache Leap back in 2010 may remember that I called explicitly for an Indian candidate to primary Ann, who sold her soul to transnational mining interests while she sold out the tribes and the environment. Well, now’s our chance. Over the jump, learn why Ann Kirkpatrick must be defeated, and why Wenona needs our help to win first the primary, and then the general election.
Diarist’s Note: This diary is not sanctioned by Wenona Benally Baldenegro’s campaign in any way. I’m writing this because I feel so strongly about the need 1) to have Indian representation at all levels of government; 2) to keep anti-environmental and anti-Indian Blue Dogs away from the levers of power; and 3) to have a truly liberal, “progressive” representative from Arizona with the potential to do tremendous good for the entire state, including its underserved and underrepresented populations.
MEET WENONA BENALLY BALDENEGRO
Meet Wenona, at a farm outside Leupp,
From Kayenta, Arizona, Wenona is the daughter of a Navajo schoolteacher. She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class, and the first Indian graduate of Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College. From college, she went on to Harvard, where she earned both a Master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and her law degree. She returned home to work for the InterTribal Council of Arizona (ITCA), focusing on public policy issues for a consortium of more than 20 Arizona tribes. Since then, she has worked as an attorney in private practice, in both Arizona and Washington, D.C., focusing on public interest issues and helping underserved populations.
If elected Wenona would be the first American Indian member of Congress from Arizona, and the first Indian woman ever elected to Congress. That alone is inspiring. But to have the opportunity to send to Congress its first American Indian woman member – and to have her be a true liberal Democrat? This is an opportunity we can’t let slip by us, folks. Take a look at a few of the policy positions she supports:
On Jobs and the Economy:
Transportation and Infrastructure
Small Business Development
Fair Tax Reform
Fair Wages and Workers’ Rights
The DREAM Act
On Healthcare and Retirement:
Social Security Protection
On Energy and the Environment:
Clean Energy Investment
On Equal Rights and Civil Liberties:
The last – giving – is especially important.
Why? Because she has a primary opponent: former Blue Dog and corporate shill Ann Kirkpatrick. And Ann is way out in front in the money race, having reported a war chest of just under $700,000 as of December 21, 2011, compared with only $51,400 for Wenona in the same period.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Meet Ann Kirkpatrick, and you’ll see why.
As noted above, a year and a half ago, I wrote at length about three transnational mining corporations – BHP Billiton, the Rio Tinto Group, and Resolution Copper – and the threat they posed to Arizona’s fragile environment and the sacred lands of numerous Indian nations in that state. You can read here about the plans BHP Billiton and the Rio Tinto Group have for Arizona’s ecosystem – and about their brutal records of damage inflicted on indigenous populations the world over. Today, I want to focus on some passages from my diary about Resolution Copper’s plans – and Ann Kirkpatrick’s role in aiding and abetting them.
OF SACRED LANDS AND “LAND SWAPS”
Here’s what I wrote at the time about the lands in question:
HISTORY OF THE LAND The land after which Resolution Copper lusts so greedily includes three major areas: Apache Leap, Devil’s Canyon, and Oak Flat. All three include areas that are sacred to area tribes, but perhaps the most affecting bit of history surrounds Apache Leap. As I noted last week:
The elders tell of a time when invading U.S. soldiers sought to abduct the Apache people, herd them onto reservations, and steal their land. The people fought valiantly, but were woefully outnumbered. When the end came, the Apache warriors chose to retain their honor rather than surrender to thieves and thugs: They leapt off the peak to their deaths below, joining the spirits of their ancestors and depriving the Army of prize captives.
At the base of the formation, a nearly-translucent brown-black obsidian is found. The stones are called Apache tears, and as the story goes, when the surviving women found the bodies of their men at the base of the leap, they mourned so deeply and bitterly that Spirit turned their tears to beautifully, lethally sharp stone, so that no one would forget the crime against the people that had happened in that place.
Devil’s Canyon includes similarly sacred lands, home to specific spirits, and also home to an array of ecologically important plant and animal species. Among those animal species are fish – sections of Devil’s Canyon include a protected watershed and a riparian habitat found nowhere else in Arizona.
Oak Flat is a federally protected area that includes a public campground. First placed under federal protection by then-President Dwight Eisenhower, the land again received special protection – specifically from mining interests – from Richard M. Nixon during his presidency. For half a century, Oak Flat has occupied a special niche in Arizona’s outdoor culture.
The lands that Resolution Copper assumes it will get – lands that are under federal protection – include Apache Leap, Devil’s Canyon, and Oak Flat. These lands are sacred to a number of area tribes, particularly the Apache; they include areas where, since time immemorial, the people have gone to commune with the mountain spirits and those of their ancestors. These lands also include of some of the most unique, delicately-balanced ecosystems in the Southwest, including a riparian area that is home to a number of distinct animal and bird species, migratory and otherwise. And these are lands that sit atop what may be the largest copper deposit in North America – and perhaps anywhere on the planet.
The Hill reported the measure as follows:
The measure would see the federal government give Resolution Copper 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in exchange for 5,500 acres of ecologically valuable property across Arizona.
Which is flatly wrong – but you’ll never see a correction.
You can get a look at images of the lands in question here. The land that Resolution Copper proposes to give in exchange is not “ecologically valuable” – it’s the barren, overgrazed desert scrub of abandoned cattle ranches that were given artificial labels like “[Insert Name Here] Creek,” which make it sound as though they may include riparian habitats. They don’t.
It’s not a land swap; it’s a swindle.
THE LAND SWAP BILL
The current incarnation of the land swap bill is HR 2509/S 409. HR 2509 was introduced on May 20, 2009, by alleged Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (S 409 was introduced simultaneously by John McCain). More about Kirkpatrick later.
The Resolution Project was the catalyst (along with numerous other ethical and legal problems) of his downfall.
You see, Resolution Copper has no objection to
shaking downlobbying members of Congress and state pols for valuable resources, but it gets a little testy when a Congressman tries to shake it down. In exchange for introducing the land swap bill and shepherding it through to Bush’s desk, Renzi tried to force Resolution Copper to include – and thereby purchase – his friend’s land, which would have given his friend a hefty addition to his bank account. Unfortunately for poor Rick Renzi, Resolution Copper not only got mad, but got even – and Renzi not only lost his cushy congressional sinecure, but is currently under indictment on numerous corruption charges, including fraud, embezzlement, and extortion. Oh, and the name of one of the firms from which he allegedly embezzled? “Spirit Mountain.” That’s a really sick sacrilegious touch, Rick.
But all was not lost for Resolution Copper – not by a long shot. Enter John McCain. Of course.
McCain is infamous for engineering land swaps, to the detriment of the environment, the tribes, the public – to anyone but himself and his wealthy corporate pals. Of course, Indians who’ve followed McCain’s career have always known that his “friend of the Indian” persona is a load of crap, but the rest of the population seems to take it at face value . . . completely missing his other face. Two-headed snake, forked tongue – all those old spaghetti Western metaphors fit McCain to the proverbial T.
So McCain very happily picked up where Renzi left off, reintroducing the land swap bill in the Senate. And while Kirkpatrick faces open opposition from Congressman Grijalva, who is reportedly crafting a different bill, McCain is by all accounts “frustrated” with Grijalva:
In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, McCain expressed frustration with Grijalva and indicated the bill is a priority for him.
I think, based on what we learned of John McCain throughout and after the 2008 election, that it’s safe to say that “frustrated” is a euphemism for “enraged.”
A METAPHORICAL “‘FINGER IN THE FACE”
If you’ve spent any time at all among Indians, you know that there are few cultural taboos that are pretty universal. One of those is the taboo against pointing directly at another person. Granted, with the assimilation of modern American culture, including its penchant for general rudeness, that’s one stricture that’s increasingly falling by the wayside, but if you go into Indian Country, you’ll still see a lot of us gesture directionally with a nod of the head or a pursing of the lips. You don’t point directly at someone, you don’t pull a Jan Brewer and stick your finger in a person’s face, and you don’t lean into someones personal space.
Someone should tell Ann Kirkpatrick:
But the person who truly infuriates me here is Ann Kirkpatrick. I expect disrespect and dismissal from McCain and his ilk, but Kirkpatrick has cast herself as a friend in the past – and has certainly been eager enough to take both votes and fundraising dollars from Indians.
Since 2009, though, corporate support has trumped Native rights. Wendell Nosie, then tribal chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe, formerly arranged a fundraiser and GOTV efforts for Kirkpatrick. That all changed in February:
“Back in Arizona I’m hearing you’re supporting Resolution Copper,” Nosie recalled saying.
He asked her directly whether she supported the bill. Kirkpatrick responded that she did. They talked about the tribe’s environmental concerns, and the conversation quickly became tense, according to several accounts.
“Ann, the reason why I’m here is because you had told me that you would definitely hear both sides of the story,” Nosie said.
Kirkpatrick leaned forward in her chair.
“Chairman, tell me, how is your religion going to put food on the table?” she said. “Tell me how your religion is going to help the children getting abused by their parents. How is your religion going to turn the bed sheets of your elders?”
The chairman stopped her. “Ann, don’t even go there,” he said.
The meeting broke up minutes later. The chairman and Kirkpatrick haven’t spoken directly since.
Now, if you’re not an Indian who’s been on the receiving end of this kind of disrespect, you likely won’t get what just happened there. I can see it all too clearly. Ann’s nailed and she knows it, and her first reaction is to get angry, so she goes on the attack, body language and all. I can just imagine her “leaning forward”: I’ll bet her hand started to come up, too, before she caught herself. Nonetheless, I guarantee you that Chairman Nosie got “the point,” in both senses of the term: Whether she literally stuck her finger in his face is irrelevant; she did so metaphorically when she leaned into his space and presumed to lecture him about whether he cared sufficiently about his own people. All while, of course, she was busily selling those same people out for personal gain.
Again, as I said then:
So much for ethnic and cultural sensitivity. Kirkpatrick should be ashamed that such words ever came out of her mouth. She owes the members of every tribe in Arizona an apology. Sadly, I think Resolution Copper’s dollar signs are worth more than our people’s traditions. Certainly, she’s made abundantly clear that mining is worth more:
Kirkpatrick does not directly answer a question on whether she’s made the calculation that jobs are more important than the religious practices of the Apache. She talks about finding a balance between the two, but also points to the traditions of Superior and the surrounding mining towns.
“This region has been a mining region for a hundred years. I talk with miners who are third-, fourth-generation miners in this area. It’s not only their livelihood, it’s also their life,” she said.
Sorry, Ann. I’ll see your “hundred years” and raise you a thousand or so. Wanna talk about tradition? How about the much older tradition that respects the Earth, that lives in harmony with her, rather than ripping open her womb to extract what is not yours to take in order to make the rich even richer?
There comes a point when I want to ask these pols – not the company, because I already know what they’re hoping – but politicians like Ann Kirkpatrick: How stupid do you think we are? Overgrazed cattle ranch land and bone-dry areas labeled “[Something] Creek” in exchange for sacred tribal lands with fragile escarpments and unique riparian habitats? Insulting tribal leaders and insinuating you know better than they how to care for their children and elders? Elevating three- and four-generation “traditions” of non-Native corporate mining as a way of life over thousands of years’ worth of Native traditions than were firmly established long before the first European ever thought these shores might exist? I mean, really, Ann: How stupid do you think we are?
Apparently, pretty stupid. She wants her cushy sinecure back, and she expects Arizona’s Indians to forget that less than two short years, she was prepared to sell them out as thoroughly as any Republican, all while displaying the kind of paternalistic rudeness I’d expect from her counterparts across the partisan aisle. But Indians have long memories – it’s a survival mechanism. As I noted then:
I was disappointed, last week, to see on my Twitter feed a tweet from INDN’s List, referencing a RezNewsNet article on support for “endangered Dem” Ann Kirkpatrick. Her actions are openly opposed by Arizona’s Inter-Tribal Council and the leadership of every single Arizona tribe. INDN’s List should know that. And while she will undoubtedly be better – at least marginally – on issues important to our peoples than whatever teabagging Republican opposes her, INDN’s List and all Native voters need to send a message to Ann, loud and clear: Our votes, our money, our support are not to be taken for granted, and they do not come free. If you get them, we will expect you to do right by us on this issue. And since you need our votes – 20% of your district’s population – to have any hope of winning, rest assured that if you do not do right by us, we will ensure that you do not return to Congress.
WENONA FOR ARIZONA
Sadly, INDN’s List is no more. However, we’re fortunate to have a real Democrat to support in this race: A liberal, progressive, Democratic Indian woman who strongly supports tribal sovereignty; clean energy and environmental protection; full access to health care and education; marriage equality and full LGBT rights; the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform; sustainable job creation and fair trade; and a host of other hallmarks of Democratic, liberal, progressive policy.
We’ve been invisible for far too long. You can help us change that. Help elect Wenona for Arizona.
Help send the first American Indian woman to Congress.
Help elect Wenona for Arizona.