Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011-11-27 "California Indians could regain ancestral lands" by Brian F. Codding, Ron W. Goode from "San Francisco Chronicle"
 Brian F. Codding is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology and a researcher at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. Ron W. Goode is a soapstone artist, storyteller and tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono Tribe.
Some California Indian tribes have the potential to regain their ancestral lands and restore age-old relationships between people and the environment in the Golden State.
 An unlikely turn of events has opened up this historic opportunity. PG&E's 2001 bankruptcy resulted in the formation of the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization designed to distribute lands PG&E agreed to donate as part of its settlement agreement. Now, after years of being denied rights to their traditional lands, tribes have the opportunity to recover some of what was previously theirs.
However, tribal entities are not the only parties interested in these properties. Federal and state agencies, county governments and other interested organizations are submitting competing bids.
 The council's board of directors met this month to decide who will receive the latest round of divested lands - unfortunately, none of the board's recommendations side with traditional tribal owners this time. Hopefully, the council will do better for the tribes in our state in the future.
At the heart of this issue is the question of who will better manage and care for these lands. While rival organizations suggest they are more stable and better suited to take stewardship, many of these agencies don't have good track records of management themselves. Many of California's open spaces are choked with overgrowth leading to systemic ecological problems and the perpetual threat of wildfires. Arguably, the present condition would never have come into being if it weren't for over 100 years of fire suppression policies that prohibited California Indians from burning their ancestral lands.
Because California's plant and animal communities evolved alongside California Indian burning strategies for millennia, California's ecosystems require burning at a scope and scale consistent with these practices. As such, the health of California's native vegetation is tied to the vitality of native burning. Many land managers including the U.S. Forest Service have begun to understand this insight and are working with tribes to redesign and re-implement burning regimes consistent with the goals of traditional burning practices.
While traditional burning is generally designed to improve the quality and quantity of culturally important resources, burning to encourage the growth and use of cultural resources also provides unintended results that can restore California's ecosystems. Burning in the right place and season will encourage the regrowth of materials used to make baskets - but these well-timed, well-placed fires may also drive out invasive grasses, encouraging the return of other native grasses that are too rare in California. Burning oak understory to reduce acorn pests makes harvesting acorns more efficient - but may also encourage the health of oak stands themselves by reducing parasites and lowering incidences of sudden oak death. Because these resources are actively gathered for subsistence, trade, sale in markets, and the production, use and sale of traditional arts and crafts like iconic California Indian baskets, allowing tribal entities to restore more of California's lands could benefit tribal livelihoods as well as California's ecosystems.
Past misunderstandings and disregard for California's diverse ecosystems and indigenous practices allowed land to be taken away and fire suppression to become law. By returning land to California Indian tribes, the council has a historic opportunity to right past wrongs against native people and ecosystems. In the process, we might learn to be able to worry a little bit less about the threat of wildfires and enjoy an open and healthy working wilderness that few have seen in over 100 years. While no recommendations favor tribes in this latest round, in future decisions, we hope the Stewardship Council will consider returning land to those who are best positioned to care for it - the traditional tribal owners.

John Mink / Center for Multicultural Coopera
Ron W. Goode, North Fork Mono Tribal chairman, leads an educational field trip teaching children about California Indians and the land near one of the tribe's restoration sites at Lost Lake in Fresno County in 2010.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Attawapiskat First Nation [Canada - Province of Ontario]

2011-11-21 "What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?" by Charlie Angus
 Charlie Angus is the member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay.
It's been three weeks since Attawapiskat First Nation took the extraordinary step of declaring a state of emergency []. Since then, not a single federal or provincial official has even bothered to visit the community.
No aid agencies have stepped forward. No disaster management teams have offered help.
Meanwhile temperatures have dropped 20 degrees and will likely drop another 20 or 25 degrees further in the coming weeks. For families living in uninsulated tents, makeshift cabins and sheds, the worsening weather poses serious risk.
Two weeks ago I travelled to this community on the James Bay coast to see why conditions had become so extreme that local leaders felt compelled to declare a state of emergency. It was like stepping into a fourth world.
I spoke with one family of six who had been living in a tiny tent for two years. I visited elderly people living in sheds without water or electricity. I met children whose idea of a toilet was a plastic bucket that was dumped into the ditch in front of their shack.
Dr. John Waddell from the Weeneebayko Health Authority was in the community during this tour. He was emphatic that conditions had deteriorated to the point that an emergency situation was unfolding. Families are facing "immediate risk" of infection, disease and possible fire from their increasingly precarious conditions. Dr. Elizabeth Blackmore repeated this message of immediate risk just this past Friday at a press conference at Queen's Park.
You'd think that a medical warning from a provincial health authority would move government into action. Think again. When it comes to the misery, suffering and even the death of First Nations people, the federal and provincial governments have developed a staggering capacity for indifference.
Try to imagine this situation happening in anywhere else in this country. We all remember how the army was sent into Toronto when the mayor felt that citizens were being discomforted by a snowstorm. Compare that massive mobilization of resources with the disregard being shown for the families in Attawapiskat.
The indifference speaks volumes about the underlying reasons for this crisis. Such a state of affairs doesn't just happen. The collapse in Attawapiskat can't be blamed on bad local leadership, misplaced monies or the possibility that such communities are simply unsustainable. Attawapiskat is a community that has done its best to work with the meagre resources provided by Aboriginal Affairs.
What we are witnessing is the inevitable result of chronic under-funding, poor bureaucratic planning and a discriminatory black hole that has allowed First Nations people to be left behind as the rest of the country moves forward.
Take education for example. Not only are First Nations children systemically denied access to comparable levels of funding and resources available to non-Aboriginal students but, in the case of Attawapiskat, they don't even have access to a school. It's been 12 years since the community's grade school was shut down because children were being exposed to dangerous levels of benzene from the badly contaminated ground. Frustrated grade school children finally took matters into their own hands. They were led by 13-year-old Shannen Koostachin who launched a national campaign to shame the government into action. This fight for equal education has gone all the way to the United Nations. What other Canadian kid has to fight, organize and beg for access to clean and equitable schools?
The province of Ontario has the responsibility to ensure equitable standards for education, as well as water, fire safety and building codes citizens in Ontario. And yet, when the families of Attawapiskat look to the province for help, they are continually told that they are a federal "responsibility."
Ironically, the province doesn't take the same attitude when it comes to the immense wealth coming out of Attawapiskat's back yard. The De Beers Victor Mine is the richest diamond mine in the Western world. Just recently, the province upped the royalty tax at the mine from nine per cent to 11 per cent to ensure an even higher return for the provincial coffers. Not a dime of provincial royalty money comes back to help the community with infrastructure or development.
As for the mine itself, De Beers has signed an IBA (Impact Benefit Agreement) providing for training and job opportunities. Thanks to the provisions of the Indian Act, workers who may want to build their own house in Attawapiskat are unable to do so because they can't get a mortgage on a reserve. Even if there was a possibility of new housing for the densely overcrowded shantytown, the province hasn't bothered to turn over any land for new development. No wonder that people with jobs are leaving and heading south -- they can't stay in their home communities.
And then there's the federal government; over the last number of years, they have consistently turned a blind eye to the growing infrastructure crisis. In fairness to the new Minister John Duncan, he has committed $500,000 as an emergency measure. But given the scope of the problem, this is little more than a Band-Aid.
Presently there are five families living in tents; 19 families living in sheds without running water; 35 families living in houses needing serious repair; 128 families living in houses condemned from black mould and failing infrastructure; 118 families living with relatives (often 20 people in a small home); there are 90 people living in a construction trailer. There's a need for 268 houses just to deal with the immediate backlog of homelessness.
The $500,000 commitment from the federal government will, at most, help repair three or four abandoned and derelict buildings that would otherwise be torn down.
Fortunately, average Canadians don't share this level of bureaucratic indifference. Since the state of emergency was declared, my office has been inundated with people wanting to help. I have been contacted by school kids trying to raise money for supplies; trades people who want to come north to help in a rebuilding project; average Canadians who simply ask -- what can I do?
As inspiring as this is, it's clear that nothing will really change until there is action from the officials whose job it is to ensure that these citizens of Ontario and Canada are treated with a basic level of respect and dignity. The cold winter winds are hitting James Bay. People may die if nothing is done. In a country as rich and as just as Canada this is simple unacceptable.

UPDATE: Pressure is growing on the federal and Ontario governments to intervene in the northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat, sparked by what one MP is calling a "digital storm" from concerned Canadians.
 But even as corporate and other organizations rallied to the cause, Ottawa quickly denied a report Thursday that it had committed $2.5-million for housing on the troubled reserve, frustrating NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has led the charge to raise awareness about the James Bay community.

2011-11-24 "Pressure Grows On Governments To Help Attawapiskat Reserve"
Pressure is growing on the federal and Ontario governments to intervene in the northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat, sparked by what one MP is calling a “digital storm” from concerned Canadians.
But even as corporate and other organizations rallied to the cause, Ottawa quickly denied a report Thursday that it had committed $2.5-million for housing on the troubled reserve, frustrating NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has led the charge to raise awareness about the James Bay community.
Earlier this week, Angus wrote a blog post on the Huffington Post Canada [] that documented his visit to the reserve, which had declared a state of emergency last month.
"I spoke with one family of six who had been living in a tiny tent for two years. I visited elderly people living in sheds without water or electricity. I met children whose idea of a toilet was a plastic bucket that was dumped into the ditch in front of their shack," the MP representing the reserve wrote in the blog post, which has been shared on Facebook more than 60,000 times [].
The chief of the Attawapiskat reserve, Theresa Spence, told the CBC that $2.5-million in federal funding was on its way []. But Ottawa denied the report.
"We are in ongoing discussions with Attawapiskat First Nation, however we have not received a proposal for new funding to date," Michelle Yao, spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan, wrote in an e-mail to HuffPost.
"The Government recently invested approximately $500,000 to Attawapiskat First Nation so that work to renovate five vacant units could be completed as soon as possible," added Geneviève Guibert, another spokeswoman with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
 "Attawapiskat First Nation is aware of the requirements to move forward and we will continue to work directly with the Chief and Council," she added.
Angus, who had celebrated the funding earlier on Twitter, responded angrily:
[begin excerpt]
#attawapiskat Feds now say they don't know anything about 2 million commitment. Stop playing games. Where is the action from feds and prov?
November 24, 2011 8:26 pm via Twitter for BlackBerry®
[end excerpt]
Angus said Thursday the fight is far from over, adding that the response has been 'unprecedented.'
"We're dealing with thousands of people calling us, people wanting to raise money, people wanting to do something," he said, pointing to calls and e-mails from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
Meanwhile non-profits and private companies have stepped forward to offer help.  On Thursday, The Canadian Red Cross announced that it would be sending emergency aid [].
"With the Red Cross stepping in now, we hope to start co-ordinating a short-term response, while the larger, medium to long term response will take place once we bring the other parties (Ottawa and Ontario) to the table," Angus told APTN news [].
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario issued a statement about the situation [].
"These conditions are deplorable and life-threatening. A lack of proper water and sanitation is an invitation for disease and sickness. People need warm, safe shelter to be healthy and First Nations people deserve better," says RNAO president David McNeil, adding that "elected leaders need to address immediately the emergency in Attawapiskat and other First Nation communities."
GE Canada also reached out to Angus to see how they could help.
"In a country filled with so many opportunities why do the appalling conditions being experienced by the Attawapiskat First Nations continue to exist? Surely as a nation that is admired around the world for our many attributes including financial expertise, compassion, and knowledge we can solve this critical challenge?," the company wrote on its corporate blog [].
The community declared a state of emergency in October [].

A child with a facial rash from lack of clean water and sanitation.
A young mother stands in front of the tent she has shared with her husband and four children for two years.

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011-11-21 "American Indians get permanent exhibit at Alcatraz" by Meredith May from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
One of the demands during the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz was to create a cultural center.
 Forty years later, the former band practice room in the cellblock basement has been transformed into a multimedia exhibit of that 19-month occupation that many consider the birth of American Indian activism.
"Some said the occupation was a failure, but look, we did get our cultural center after all. It just takes time," said Eloy Martinez, 71, one of the original protesters who attended a special preview of "We Are Still Here" on Sunday.
The photos, videos and sound recordings were compiled by faculty and students at San Francisco State University and California State University East Bay and will become part of Alcatraz's permanent exhibit. One wall of photos, taken by former San Francisco State graduate student Salvador Sanchez Strawbridge, depicts sacred fires and Aztec dancers at this year's 40-year celebration of the Alcatraz takeover. Curators spent a year interviewing descendants of the late occupation leader Richard Oakes as well as those who followed him on a boat to occupy Alcatraz.
"He would really like this," said his son Leonard Oakes, 45, who lived on the island as a small child. At the exhibit, he watched archival KPIX news footage of the occupation, which included scenes of one of his sisters running on some concrete steps.
"Living here was the most defining moment of my life," he said. "It gave me my sense of identity and taught me everything I know about the nation."
 In 1969, Oakes, a member of the Mohawk tribe who lived in San Francisco, led a group of 14 Indians to the island on a chartered boat to claim it for a new group they called Indians of All Tribes.
The island had been abandoned as a prison in 1963 and declared surplus by the government. At one time it was offered for sale for $2 million, and later a developer proposed high-end residences and a casino.
A fledging Red Power movement saw the Rock as a perfect place to stage a protest against historical occupation of American Indian land and a legacy of broken government treaties and promises to the tribes.
Soon the group grew to 800, and it issued a proclamation that has been reproduced for the exhibit, offering to pay $24 in glass beads and red cloth for Alcatraz.
"A precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago," the document reads. "We know that $24 in trade goods for these sixteen acres is more than was paid when Manhattan island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years."
The movement faltered in January 1970, when Oakes' 12-year-old stepdaughter, Yvonne, died after a fall on the island. He left with a broken heart, his followers began infighting, and the government saw its chance to cut off electricity and remove a water barge that pumped fresh water into a tank on the island. A fire broke out in June and destroyed a couple of buildings, and U.S. marshals finally came in and cleared the remaining 15 activists.
The American Indians didn't get their island, their cultural center or the university they had demanded. But they had earned a new respect. Within five years, Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
Until now, the Alcatraz exhibits about the American Indian history of the island have been somewhat limited, said Phil Klasky, who teaches American Indian Studies at San Francisco State.
"For tourists who come here to see Al Capone's cell, this exhibit gives a perspective told in the words of the American Indians who lived through this part of history," he said.
"So many people don't know about this part of San Francisco history," agreed Kris Road Traveler Longoria, who lived on Alcatraz with her activist parents and two sisters when she was 8. She narrated the audio portion of "We Are Still Here" and plans to return frequently to act as a docent for any tourists who wish to speak to someone who participated in the movement. Sunday was the first time in 42 years that she and her siblings returned together to the island.
"Alcatraz will always be my urban reservation," she said.

Jean Whitehorse of New Mexico, a veteran of the 1969-71 occupation, speaks at the event at Alcatraz.
Credit: Photos by Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gitga'at [Pacific Ocean coast of Canada - British Colombia]

2011-11-18 "Tar Sands Fight Goes Beyond Keystone: A Little-Known Pipeline Plan Could Prove Disastrous for British Columbia; An award-winning documentary offers a glimpse of a little-known pipeline plan -- and the paradise it threatens" by Eric Johnson
Environmentalists from DC to California are praising last week's State Department decision to delay approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline -- a move that could kill the project once and for all. But in Western Canada, where activists have been battling the massive tar sands development at the head of the pipeline for decades, the fight is nowhere near over.
In fact, at an impromptu sideline meetup at the APEC Summit in Hawaii this past weekend, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty scolded Pres. Barack Obama for delaying the Keystone project, and reminded him that the US is not the only oil-buyer in the world market.
The delay, Flaherty said, "may mean we may have to move quickly to ensure we can sell our oil to Asia through British Columbia." He was referring to a pipeline proposal that is extremely controversial in Canada but virtually unknown here -- the Enbridge oil company's Northern Gateway, which would pump tar sands bitumen 731 miles to the coast of northwestern British Columbia, where it would be put on supertankers destined for China.
A week earlier, on Sunday Nov. 5, while 10,000 people encircled the White House to protest the Keystone XL, judges at the prestigious Banff Mountain Film Festival were on stage giving an award to a powerful documentary about the Northern Gateway and Alberta's oil-sands strip-mines, 520 miles to the northeast.
The film, Spoil, takes place in the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the wildest pieces of land on earth. The Northern Gateway's proposed path takes it through a sensitive section of the Great Bear, and, according to the film, threatens the livelihoods of the people of the Gitga'at First Nation. It also could destroy the habitat of the Kermode bear -- an extremely rare, all-white creature also known as the spirit bear.
Trip Jennings, who directed and edited the film, says the existence of the spirit bear was a secret that the Gitga'at rarely spoke of, even among themselves. "They knew what the trappers had done for centuries," Jennings said in an interview last week. "So it became a taboo passed down from the elders--if they happened to see a spirit bear they kept it to themselves."
The Giga'at were at first reluctant to make the spirit bear the symbol of their quest to protect its (and their) home. But as Giga'at leader and guide Marvin Robinson explains in Spoil, the prospect of supertankers plying their narrow intercoastal waterways moved his community to allow the mysterious, charismatic animal to become "the icon for the whole pipeline issue."
Ian McCallister, who lives on an island in the Great Bear and heads the BC-based environmental group Pacific Wild, has worked with the Gitga'at for more than 20 years--when he first arrived, the place was officially known as the Midcoast Timber Supply Area--and it's largely through his and his wife Karen's efforts that it has won protection from logging and open-net fish-farms.
"This place is being viewed in a much different light than it was 20 years ago," McCallister says. "It was a place to extract [British Columbia's] raw resources; today it's a place to celebrate its natural beauty, its ecology, its First Nations culture. So right when we're at this turning point, making good on this promise to protect the place, we're sideswiped by this proposal to put big oil here. Living in fear of a catastrophic oil spill has become very real."
McCallister felt that the place's unparalleled wildness and beauty -- and the spirit bear -- offered a unique opportunity to attract national and attention to its plight. So he contacted Cristina Mittermeier, director of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Spoil follows an innovative artistic/political intervention developed by that organization -- a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE).
The brainchild of photographer Patricio Robles Gil, a RAVE involves deploying a dozen or so of the League's members -- all top-shelf wildlife shooters -- to quickly assemble a visual chronicle of a special place that is in peril. Invented in 2007, RAVEs have been staged in a dozen locales form Patagonia to the Chesapeake Bay.
The ultimate photographic target of the Great Bear RAVE was, of course, the charismatic spirit bear. And the hunt for the elusive creature creates a narrative that culminates with a riveting bit of screen magic involving Marvin Robinson and the Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen.

Nature, Art and Politics -
Most of the debate that preceded last week's State Department decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline focussed on the dangers it posed to the domestic environment: the likelihood of a spill somewhere along the pipeline's 1,700-mile US route, and specifically the threat to Nebraska's Sandhills preserve and the huge aquifer that flows beneath it. That political focus was perfectly reasonable given the goal, but it left the bigger part of the tar sands story untold.
Over the course of its 44 minutes, Spoil provides a compelling introduction to the larger issue and places it in cultural context. The film includes footage of the enormous tar-sands strip mines located in the outback of northeastern Alberta and the refineries that turn its slurry into the very crudest of crude oil--a complex frequently described as the most destructive industrial project on earth. This is contrasted with footage and images of the Great Bear Rainforest -- salmon leaping up waterfalls; moose wandering through 1,000-year-old red cedar forests; time-lapse footage of subarctic starfields set to a soundtrack of a howling wolfpack. The film also documents the efforts of the Gitga'at and their environmentalist allies, including the RAVE photographers.
Jennings gives most of the credit for the film to the Gitga'at and the ILCP shooters, joking that he and his partner, cinematographer Andy Maser, are "the ultimate paratrooping filmmakers."
"We don't do the planning or any of the hard work," he says. "We just show up at the end and point our cameras at the people who did."
While the RAVE provides a big piece of the narrative, the stars of the film are definitely Robinson and the spirit bear he has known since it was a cub--an animal he describes as a "friend." The dramatic climax comes when (spoiler alert) Robinson essentially brings Nicklen to meet the bear in its riparian hunting grounds.
Cinematographer and co-producer Andy Maser was there to capture the moment.
"It was stressful," he recalls. "We'd been there shooting for 15 days and hadn't seen one spirit bear. It was our second-to-last day. Then the planets aligned--we got a hold of Marvin, Paul was on the scene, and the spirit bear showed up."
Spoil is only the third film produced by Jennings, 29, and Maser, 26, and is definitely a breakout effort. But the two are well known in the adventure-sports world as extreme kayakers and world explorers; a Google search of either turns up eye-popping photos and videos of the paddlers plummeting off huge waterfalls or making first descents of remote rivers.
The two men began their filmmaking careers making straightforward kayaking videos. But following a 2007 journey to Papua New Guinea, documented in the 19-minute documentary "The Final Frontier," the young filmmakers pursued a new direction.
"Kayaking has taken me to a lot of pristine places," Maser says. "But to get to them you go through a lot of destruction -- places that have been ruined by bad mining or logging practices. At some point I gained an appreciation for the rivers and the ecosystems, beyond just kayaking them. We decided that it's important to protect the places we love to play."

A New Economy -
While the Gitga'at and their allies see the Keystone XL delay as a victory, they also fear that it could mean more pressure to approve the Northern Gateway project. Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, which has been leading the fight against the pipeline, told Canada's Globe and Mail that his coalition will redouble its efforts.
"I would expect [the US State Department decision] would increase the resolve for the oil companies to try to come west, as opposed to south. It will also increase the resolve of the federal government," Sterritt said last week. Meanwhile, Brian Topp, a writer and leading member of the progressive New Democratic Party, criticized Finance Minister Flaherty for "threatening Uncle Sam with a tighter embrace of Mao's heirs," and suggested that his country "invest in a new Western Canadian economy that is not dependent on the mining of raw bitumen. "One way or another, the world will soon act to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and so will Canada. If the best hockey players play where the puck is going to be, then the Western Canadian energy industry -- and our economy as a whole -- need to do the same."

Spirit bear, photographed by Paul Nicklen

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011-11-14 "Forest elephant populations cut in half in protected area" by Jeremy Hance from ""
CITATION: Beyers RL, Hart JA, Sinclair ARE, Grossmann F, Klinkenberg B, et al. (2011) Resource Wars and Conflict Ivory: The Impact of Civil Conflict on Elephants in the Democratic Republic of Congo - The Case of the Okapi Reserve. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27129. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027129
Warfare and poaching have decimated forest elephant populations across their range with even elephants in remote protected areas cut down finds a new study in PLoS ONE. Surveying forest elephant populations in the Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo, researchers have found that the population has fallen by half—from 6,439 to 3,288—over the past decade in the park.
 "Having protected areas is not enough to save elephants in times of conflict," says lead author Rene Beyers, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC's Department of Zoology. "The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo had a large impact on elephant populations, including those in parks and reserves."
 The study found that forest elephant faced the steepest declines on the park's edges and in areas where human infiltrated, and "after the war, elephant densities were relatively higher in the center of the park where they were better protected, suggesting that this area may have acted as a refuge," the authors write.
 Even though the civil was has passed, conflict persists in some places. In addition, forest elephants are still targeted for the black market ivory trade and bushmeat.
 "We've found that two factors in conservation efforts were particularly effective: a continued presence by a highly committed government field staff and continued support by international organizations—such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, Gilman International Conservation and UNESCO—made a difference for their survival," explains Beyers. The authors estimate that forest elephant populations in eastern Congo have fallen from 22,000 prior to the civil war in the mid-90s to around just 6,000 today.
 Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), those inhabiting the Congo basin, have long been considered a subspecies of Africa's more well-known savannah elephant, however a number of recent studies have argued that forest elephants are in fact a distinct species. A recent DNA study found that forest elephants were as distinct from savannah elephants as Asian elephants are from the extinct mammoth.
 "The divergence of the two species took place around the time of the divergence of the Asian elephant and woolly mammoths. The split between African savanna and forest elephants is almost as old as the split between humans and chimpanzees. This result amazed us all," co-author Michi Hofreiter, who specializes in the study of ancient DNA in the Department of Biology at York, said at the time.
 Forest elephants are generally smaller than their savannah cousins, and possess straighter tusks. Research has found that these species are vital seed dispersers for the forests of the Congo, playing an ecological role in the forest that no other species may be able to fill.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2011-11-01 "Investing in Indian Country — Navajo Nation to issue $120 million in A rated non-Gaming Bonds"
The Navajo Nation will soon be issuing $120 million in non-gaming bonds.  This is big news from a Native economic development perspective for a number of reasons:
1.  The $120 million bond issuance will be the largest non-gaming issuance in years.  This underscores the fact that Indian Country is a burgeoning development force outside of the gaming space.  Bloomberg reports that the proceeds will be used for a variety of business projects, including convenience stores, shopping centers, hotels and other enterprises.
2.  The bonds will carry an A rating from Standard & Poors, which will result in an attractive rate for the Navajo Nation and security for investors.  It’s important to note that the Navajo’s A rating is higher than California.  This speaks volumes about the stability and credit-worthiness of Indian Country.
3.  The Navajo Nation intends to utilize its tribal courts in settling disputes relating to the bonds.  This is a significant milestone and confirms the predictability and legitimacy of tribal courts.  It’s an important step in affirming the sovereignty of Indian nations and our credibility in entering financial transactions with third parties.
The increased tapping of public finance markets by Indian nations in a non-gaming context, particularly with top S&P ratings, highlights the developing economic opportunities in Indian Country.  It’s fertile ground that can be leveraged for both Indian nations and outside capital providers.  In a challenging economic climate where federal and state government bond ratings are on the decline, and good deals are hard to find, Indian Country is quickly developing as a bright investment opportunity.