Rural America

Friday, Oct 11, 2019, 12:00 pm  ·  By James Dinneen

A Fire Kept Burning: Mohawks In The North Country Work to Revive their Language

This photo shows a sign in the parking lot of the Ganienkeh Territorial Bingo.   Photo by James Dinneen

It was morning on Ganienkeh, a Mohawk community near the Canadian border in Upstate New York, and about ten people had showed up for the daily tobacco burning ceremony. Mostly older folks, 7 a.m., sipping coffee, smoking, and chatting softly. We sat at picnic tables around a fire, surrounded by high pines. The fire was covered by two panels of corrugated metal to protect it from the rain. A man seated next to me explained that the fire had been kept burning continuously for years, too many to remember when it last went out.

Though Ganienkeh Territory is officially only a few hundred acres, the word Ganienkeh—also spelled Kanièn:ke—refers to the much larger pre-colonial Mohawk homeland, “The Land of the Flint.” The contemporary Ganienkeh was established in 1974 to be a home for people who wished to live by traditional Iroquois laws and to live outside the reservation systems of the Canadian and American governments.

That year, a group of Mohawk militants repossessed an abandoned girls’ summer camp near Moss Lake, New York. After the occupation, which lasted more than three years and attracted international attention, the Ganienkeh Mohawks negotiated an unprecedented land swap with New York State in which they would leave Moss Lake in exchange for land further north. Though the land is technically held by a trust, the Ganienkeh Mohawks deny the legality of the 18th century treaty that forms the basis for any land claims by the U.S. government, and consider Ganienkeh to be sovereign territory. Several people described all the legal business to me as mere “paper shuffling.”

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Friday, Oct 4, 2019, 4:06 pm  ·  By Christopher Walljasper

Food Production is a Major Cause of Climate Change, but Farmers Can be Part of the Solution

A fire burns in the Amazon area of rural settlement PDS Nova Fronteira, in the city of Novo Progresso, Para state, northern Brazil, on Sept. 3. According to Amazon Watch, many of the fires consuming the rain forest are intentionally set to clear land for cattle pasture and soybean production.   (Photo by Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Farming, more than any other industry, might be the best hope for curbing climate change.

The global food production system, which includes agriculture, accounts for more than a third of man-made greenhouse gases, according to an August report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And while past focus has been on industries such as fossil fuels and transportation, new attention is being put on agriculture’s role in the climate change solution. On Sept. 18, a coalition representing 10,000 farmers and ranchers delivered a letter to Congress supporting the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution to transition the United States to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

“Farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of the climate crisis. Their livelihoods are put at risk by more intense droughts and storms and flooding, and extreme heat and humidity are endangering the health of farm workers,” said New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland at a press conference announcing the coalition. “It makes all the sense in the world that farmers and ranchers support our Green New Deal resolution.”

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Tuesday, Oct 1, 2019, 9:39 am  ·  By Jennifer Hemmingsen

Seeking a Cure: What can be done to stop the rash of rural hospital closures?

The Mayo Clinic Health Systems’ clinic in Arcadia, Wis., is seen on Sept. 19, 2019. The area's hospital closed in 2011. This new clinic was built in 2016 to meet primary health care needs of the area's rural residents.   (Photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Small rural Midwest community hospitals, squeezed by financial and regulatory pressures, are scaling back on services, merging with larger hospital systems and searching for other creative ways to survive in the short term, an Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news organizations in seven states revealed.

Rural health experts said the real challenge in this quiet transformation will be to redesign rural health delivery so that residents do not lose access to high quality, timely care.

“Usually there are two sides to every story, but there are not really in this one,” said Alan Morgan, chief executive officer at the National Rural Health Association. “Everyone realizes we’re at a crisis point.”

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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019, 12:51 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

Can the Corporate Takeover of Dairy Farms be Stopped?

This photo shows a confined dairy cattle feeding operation in Yuma, Arizona in October 2011. The increasing corporatization of dairy production has driven many farmers out of business, reducing the number of American dairy farmers by 93% since 1970.   (Photo by Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

We are now seeing a corporate takeover of dairy production, which is the last bastion of full-time, independent family farms in animal agriculture.

In an April 2018 blog post, Farm Aid noted that, since 1970, the number of American dairy farmers has dropped by more than 93%, from more than 640,000 to about 40,000 today.

The post goes on: “In an industry dominated by corporate interests, family farms are constantly at risk of going under. A consistent, severe slump in milk prices in recent years has pushed many dairy farm businesses beyond the point of survival. In the last year, there’s been a 3% drop in the number of dairy farms, with the future of those remaining increasingly uncertain.”

There has been little cause for hope over the year since this Farm Aid blog post and little hope for a significant improvement in prices for at least a year in the future. Considering this stark situation, independent dairy farmers would do well to review how the corporate takeover of other sectors of animal agriculture has come about.

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Monday, Sep 16, 2019, 5:12 pm  ·  By Conner Martinez

Private Prisons Are a Dead-End Economic Recovery Model. Just Ask This California Town.

The privately run immigrant detention center in Adelanto, Calif., could shut down as soon as next March. (John Moore/Getty Images)  

Driving into the rural community of Adelanto, Calif., you are greeted by a large sign that reads “Adelanto, The City With Unlimited Possibilities.” Unfortunately, the sign’s statement is incompatible with the environment surrounding it, a seemingly endless desert with sparse housing, almost no community spaces and a massive immigration detention center.

Adelanto’s reality may finally change, however, with a new bill (AB 32) banning private prisons, including immigrant detention centers, passed by the legislature September 11, and now expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Though the effects are uncertain, the bill’s passing could mean Adelanto’s detention center closing as early as next March. That would not only put an end to the consistent human rights violations committed inside the facility, but it would also end the city’s long, failed attempt at using detention as a development strategy, providing an example for other rural communities across America who have gone down the same disastrous path.

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Monday, Sep 9, 2019, 1:20 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke

Guess Which Candidates Support the Farmers Bill of Rights?

President Franklin D Roosevelt shakes hands with a farmer en route to Warm Springs, Georgia in 1932.   (Photographer unknown, Wikimedia Commons)

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted that while the Constitution guaranteed a set of political rights, they were in some respects inadequate. To ensure equality, Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights that would guarantee full employment with adequate income; freedom from unfair competition; adequate housing, health care, and education; Social Security; and fair incomes for farmers.

Many items from the Economic Bill of Rights have emerged in the 2020 presidential campaigns, such as the call for free post-secondary education, affordable housing, anti-trust enforcement, Medicare for all, and a living wage. Yet, only Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have expressed their support for rural people by endorsing a “Farmers Bill of Rights."

Basically, the Farmers Bill of Rights aims to break the stranglehold of the big agri-corporations, stop the wave of farm consolidation and re-empower the small, family farmers who actually work the land.

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Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019, 1:11 pm  ·  By Amaya Mikolič-Berrios

When Ecosystems Suffer, So Do Humans: To Heal People We Need to Heal the Planet

Smog hangs over the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2014. The World Health Organization estimates that outdoor air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths per year.   (Photo by Igors Jefimovs/Wikimedia Commons)

Even as humans have brought more and more of ourselves into existence—7.7 billion as of 2019—our species has continued to degrade and destroy the Earth’s natural systems that make human life possible. Humans have depleted nonrenewable resources and sullied renewable resources essential to life, such as water and air, and so undermined not only ecosystem health but human health as well.

In late 2017, four environmentalists came together to create the non-profit EcoHealth Network (EHN) to address this growing crisis. Bound by a common vision of a future where the health of people and the health of ecosystems are connected, the group promotes ecological restoration through the creation of a worldwide network of restoration projects, whose researchers will share resources and expertise.

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Tuesday, Jul 16, 2019, 3:50 pm  ·  By Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann

The GMO American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Biotech Trojan Horse?

The American Chestnut Foundation, established in 1983, has developed a hybrid American chestnut that is resistant to blight. Since 2014, biotechnologists at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York Syracuse, have been engineering a genetically altered American chestnut that is resistant to the fungus the decimated the iconic tree in the early 20th century.   (Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann)

About a century ago, the American chestnut tree was attacked by the invasive fungal pathogen Cryphonectria parasitica. The fungal blight drove the tree—an estimated 3-4 billion once grew in the United States—to functional extinction. 

Now, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have genetically engineered a resistant American chestnut variety. They aim to petition the required regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) for approval of their genetically engineered chestnut in the near future, with the stated goal of restoring the species to nature.

However, the choices made about the genetically engineered (GE) American chestnut will set a precedent for the future use of biotechnology on other forest tree species and, even more broadly, on the use of biotechnology as a tool for conservation.

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Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019, 12:09 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman

The Bright Side of the Current Farm Crisis: An Opportunity For Change

Although family farms account for 97 percent of farms in the United States, the largest 10 percent of farms produce 75 percent of the country's agricultural output, meaning large-scale operations have an overpowering influence on farm policy. It is the 90 percent of farmers who own smaller operations that are most threatened by climate change and the current farm crisis.   (Mike Procario / https://www.flickr.com/photos/53332448@N00/7188290513 / Creative Commons)

JFK, as it turns out, was wrong when he noted 60 years ago that the word “crisis” is a combination of the Chinese brush strokes meaning danger and opportunity. While he was linguistically incorrect, we get what he was saying. A crisis situation can be the impetus for change, an opportunity for society to figure out better ways to move forward.

Today, the largest crisis in the minds of farmers is the overarching threat of an increasingly variable and changing climate. With the added pressures of stark economic  inequality and the increased cost of living—up 14% over the last 4 years—the economy is decidedly not “ the greatest economy in the history of our country.”

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Wednesday, Jul 3, 2019, 1:55 pm  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Removing the Stain of Wounded Knee:  Members of Congress Move to Rescind Medals of Honor

On Dec. 29, 1890, the soldiers with the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry Regiment massacred an estimated 250-500 Native people, most of whom were women and children, at Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Above, U.S. soldiers dump the frozen corpses of those they killed into a mass grave.  

Bodies frozen in the snow, a baby with five bullet wounds, small children shot at such close range their clothes and bodies were singed with gunpowder. Army general Nelson Miles was shocked by what he found at Wounded Knee. He arrived several days after the carnage, which occurred December 29, 1890. A battle-hardened Civil War veteran, he was appalled by what he called in a letter to his wife, “the most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children.”

Over Miles’ objections, 20 Congressional Medals of Honor were soon awarded to U.S. Army soldiers involved. When more medals were suggested later in 1891, Miles called them “an insult to the memory of the dead.”

Five U.S. Representatives are co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill called the Remove the Stain Act, which seeks to rescind the Wounded Knee awards.

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