Monday, September 15, 2008

Gold Digging

My great grandfather on my Old Earth's (to the uninitiated that's my mom) side is Navajo. I remember always wondering where my mother learned her silver and turquoise jewelry making skills. When we traveled to Arizona she took us to a reservation to meet some of our extended family. I remember that it wasn't like out of television or the history books. Firewater use was rampant. I grew despondent. We are supposed to preserve the best part of the planet for ourselves and here were a people whose pure part was turned poor.

It is important to realize that anywhere that European colonialism, slavery, and imperialism traveled that the destruction of the environment of Indigenous people soon followed. We call this Eco-Imperialism. Biblically this was condoned. During the Israelites taking of Canaan they were 'instructed' to not just 'take the land' they were supposed to 'kill all of the dogs, burn the plant life down to the ground, etc'. Now see how this translates into 'Manifest Destiny' and ultimately the raping of the planet for resources by the post-industrial European Nations. Let's just examine one point in time...the Gold Rush.

You've seen the old flicks and reels. During the middle 1800's the rumor that there was gold “out there in 'dem hill” (the West) was the main driving force of the Westward migration especially after the Civil War. It is easy to conceive of the displacement of the Indigenous People from their land and the killing of Indigenous People yet what is often overlooked or not even thought about is the destruction to the land that came in the wake of the Gold Rush. Remember this was happening at the end of the Industrial Revolution where specific technologies were being developed and abused that aimed at raping the earth (and yeah...the rape analogy SHOULD be on front street).

Mercury Poisoning
Now Mercury (not the damn planet...the liquid metal) was used to extract gold from the mines.

A swirling torrent of murky brown waters burst through the dams and levees in the Sierra Nevada foothills flooding the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in the first weekend of 1997, forcing over 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.
The following Tuesday a United States Geological Survey (USGS) employee took a boat into the Sacramento River at Freeport, a small town downstream from Sacramento, rinsed out a Teflon container three times and then filled it with local water.

The results were startling. On a typical dry season day, previous samples had shown that an average of seven ounces of mercury were washed into the river at Freeport, but on that day the samples indicated that over 70 pounds of mercury, some 160 times greater than the dry season average, had been washed into the river down into the San Francisco Bay Area.

The spread of mercury is one of the least understood and most toxic legacies of the Gold Rush. One gram of mercury poured into eighty million liters of water would be cause for concern under federal human health standards for drinking water, enough to contaminate a typical mid-western lake. Used to dissolve gold out of the ore, mercury is a deadly toxin that affects the kidney, the brain and the nervous system.

Hydraulic Mining
They developed means of sending high powered streams of water into the side of mountains and rivers to expose tiny flakes of gold. This devastated the environment.

At stake was the practice of "hydraulic mining" - a process by which enormous jets of water were blasted under high pressure at mountain sides and river banks to pulverize them in the search of a few flakes of gold - causing vast quantities of sediment to bury houses, orchards and wheat fields downstream. In 1880 alone some 40,000 acres of farmland and orchards were destroyed while another 270,000 were severely damaged. All told some 12 billion tones of earth were blasted out of the hills and washed into local rivers.

Within a few years the impact was felt downstream. "Out of the streaming Sierra Nevada came a gigantic mud flow. The tailings dumped into the mountain canyons in the fifties had made their first invasion of the flatlands, and an anguished cry came from the valley as brown waters swept over unprotected farms and towns," wrote Kelley.
The mining debris that resulted from this "hydraulicking" choked the once clear mountain streams. The Sacramento River swelled into a turbid sea some 50 miles wide. All told hydraulicking dumped soil of a volume equal to eight times the volume of earth dug to create the Panama Canal.
Acid Rivers

Tucked away in the Klamath Mountains in California's far north, a 70-story pile of crushed rock leaks garish orange-and-green water into a tributary of the headwaters of the Sacramento River, nine miles north of Redding in Shasta county. The water here has been measured at "-3" that is 10,000 times more acidic than battery acid. This is Iron Mountain, a 4,400-acre site, which produces a quarter of all toxic zinc and copper released each year into United States waters from all sources, including all factories and cities. It is expected to leak for 3,000 years.

Like thousands of other abandoned mines in the West, the waste rock dumped around the site has a high sulfur content. Normally hidden deep under ground, this ore waste leaks sulfuric acid when it is exposed to air, bacteria and water. The acid dissolves other metals from arsenic to zinc, all of which are toxic to fish and human beings, and discharges it into local water sources. Today these sites have become "perpetual pollution machines" that are physically impossible to completely clean up with any technology.

New Gold Rush

Today the land and the waters that are sacred to Native communities continue to be threatened. In the 1960s Newmont Gold of Colorado developed cyanide leach technology, in partnership with the United States Bureau of Mines, in the Nevada deserts a few hours from the California border. This technology allows the industry to extract gold flakes that are too small to be spotted by the naked eye and has triggered a new Gold Rush that has spread across the planet to crush entire mountains in the effort to squeeze the last drop of gold out of the land.

What the L can I do?
Solution orientated media baby. That's what Original Thought is all about so here are some things that you can do.

*The Past is the Present
Be aware of the pattern that manifested in the past. When Europeans go into any country they mess it up. It's the simple. They destroy the people and environment. In stealing (yes I said stealing) a country's resources they will eventually destroy the environment. Keep your eyes on Iraq. Even if the United States didn't go there because of oil (yeah right) they are definitely working to take control of that oil and I BET you that HOW they are doing it is going to cause even more destruction to the environment.

*Environmental Racism deserves Environmental Justice

Get edumacated. Learn about the above and see where you can link up with Environmental Justice groups in your area.

Talk to the survivors of said disasters. See what they have to say about their situation. Trust me, when you talk to them you will start to see some of the cracks exposing environmental racism in your own hood. In the end the rich are stealing from the poor because the 'poor' are rich in resources (then those muthajumpas have the nerve to sell stuff back to the poor). We are one people Original People. Let's act like it.

*Check out this ill site
Gold, Greed and Genocide (by the way its where all of the quotes are from) which is dropping this from the Indigenous perspective. Then watch the ill video at Culture of Rage

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