Archive for Saturday, September 6, 2003

Kansas, Utah projects parallel

September 6, 2003


Naturalist Terry Tempest Williams believes the South Lawrence Trafficway travesty closely resembles Legacy Parkway in Utah. Gov. Mike Leavitt wants that parkway built through Great Salt Lake wetlands. Williams loves the wetlands like a member of her own family. Road-builders and developers dismiss such feelings as mere sentimentality. In her book, "Refuge" (1991) Williams describes how she felt as both her mother and her beloved wetlands faced death. Anyone doubting Native American claims that the Haskell-Baker Wetlands are a part of their family might comprehend this cultural gulf better after reading "Refuge."

The Utah Department of Transportation would replace wetlands paved for Legacy Parkway with lots of land and a new nature preserve. Dismissing skepticism from environmentalists, Gov. Leavitt declared the future wetland would be even better. Terry Tempest Williams calls this "greenwashing."

Former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, now the trucking industry's chief lobbyist, kept a low profile while the Kansas Department of Transportation pressed for a trafficway that could enormously impact how interstate haulers route their big rigs through this region. Graves, a close Republican ally of then National Governor's Assn. chairman Leavitt, likely borrowed the notion to "greenwash" the 32nd Street South Lawrence Trafficway route as good for Mother Nature.

The Environmental Protection Agency disputed Leavitt's claim that there was no reasonable route around the Great Salt Lake wetlands. The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals found that UDOT had not adequately evaluated alternatives. Ironically, President Bush now has nominated Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency!

The SLT and Legacy projects do differ in several crucial ways. While both provide refuge to wildlife, the Haskell-Baker Wetlands were also a cultural refuge for Native Americans who resisted our government's misguided experiment in using education for cultural extinction. Administrators at Haskell Institute tried to wash all traces of Indianness out of the children placed in their care.

Brenda Child, David Adam and other respected historians have written extensively about the resistance that took place in these boarding schools. There is strong oral tradition that students from many tribes used the wetlands as a refuge from the gaze of repressive school authorities. For the first half century of Haskell Institute's existence, federal authorities outlawed sweat lodges, ceremonial dances, and all other expressions of native spirituality.

Suppression of native religion and other forms of cultural expression continued at Haskell for years after this assault on basic freedoms supposedly ended. Utah's Legacy Parkway does not threaten any historic site comparable to Haskell, which played such a crucial role in the Indian boarding school era.

Finally, Haskell's historic wetlands, unlike those threatened in Utah, were drained for farming in the early 20th century. This refuge was to be transformed into an outdoor classroom. Indian children should learn how a "civilized" culture tames wild useless swampland. This ill-conceived effort to kill the wetland failed, just as the government's efforts to "kill the Indian to save the man" did not succeed. That chapter of Haskell history was whitewashed for too long. No amount of greenwashing can hide the enormous environmental injustice of burying this consecrated place under tons of asphalt. Native Americans deserve better. So do our children's children.

Mike Caron is programs director at the Douglas County Jail and a founding member of Save the


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