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Don't loot our national treasures

One of my closest friends is visiting from Arizona. Since she knows I write Mocha Musings, her “hostess” gift for me was a large coffee mug purchased at a shop in Flagstaff. It depicts Mt. Rushmore with the gigantic, granite visages of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Superimposed in front of them are four other Founding Fathers: Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Red Cloud, representing, respectively, the Nez Perce, Sioux, Chiricahua Apache, and Oglala Lakota tribes.

Mt. Rushmore, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, lies some 300 miles south of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, site of the recent Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Now, burned to the ground, all that remains of the tents and teepees where the water protectors slept are piles of ash. Ordered to evacuate, and with the threat of further use of force looming, the camp was dismantled, and the protesters dispersed.

It will no doubt be duked out for some time in the courts — not only the ongoing protest of the pipeline and its potentially disastrous environmental impacts, but also the arraignments of those arrested by the authorities for daring to take a stand to protect the land of their ancestors.

But continue it must, for pushback against such apparent unchecked grabs for corporate profit over the protection of our natural resources, basic quality-of-life rights such as clean drinking water (think Flint, Michigan), and respect for the sacred traditions of North America’s indigenous people is imperative.

And I believe we must view what has already occurred as a victory of sorts, however tenuous. After all, who had heard of, or been paying much attention to, the Standing Rock Reservation situation before this? And what about the response of the public and the media generated by the courage of the Native American water protectors, veterans, and the many others who traveled to this remote place in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, to pray and bear witness in sub-freezing temperatures? It was a modern-day David and Goliath struggle: one side unarmed and standing waist-deep in an icy river, the other side in riot gear shooting protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and other weapons of intimidation and injury.

Victories are not always decided by the words “winner” or “loser.” Life is not that simple, though many prefer to see things in black and white because nuances and shades of grey are much harder to define. The new administration, it appears, would like this to be a slam-dunk; we do not yet know what the final outcome or decisions will be. But let us claim even small victories when we can, which, if viewed in a broader sense, can also mean a battle fought with integrity and purpose. To sit tall in the saddle is an image not easily forgotten.

Anyone who has not been living in a cave knows where this administration stands with regard to the potentially irreversible plunder of our national lands for, among others, the benefit of big oil and coal interests. The recent confirmation of new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should give everyone pause. According to ABC News, Mr. Zinke was an original co-sponsor of legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline and has been critical of the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

The Secretary of the Interior assumes oversight of 400 million acres of public land and is charged with protecting federal land, including natural resources, national parks and wildlife refuges. When Yellowstone was established in 1872, the Interior Secretary was given the responsibility, according to a National Parks website, “for preserving all timber, mineral deposits, geologic wonders, and other resources within the park.”

There is talk by this administration of cutting National Park funding by 10 percent. In reflecting upon the courage and ongoing struggle of the Standing Rock water protectors, let us bear in mind that if we are to cherish our national parks as the jewels that they are, then we must be vigilant and hold this new appointee accountable.

Eight faces on a coffee mug, each of them representing this great land of ours. Superimposing these men of character and vision should be a reminder — not only of what was stolen from the Native Americans — but what each and every one of us is now called upon to protect. Standing Rock is no longer some distant speck on the map. One might ask: Is it not symbolic of every acre of national land that is now in the cross-hairs and threatened by unbridled corporate greed?

— Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at bit.ly/adtssmm. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at susannewebsite@olypen.com.