Rural America

Thursday, Jul 20, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Civil-Rights Complaint Details Horrific—Even Deadly—Discrimination Against Native Kids

A new civil-rights complaint tells the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education that the Wolf Point, Mont., schools discriminate against their Native American students.   (Photo: thomasleetruewest.com)

Teachers and coaches in the Wolf Point, Mont., schools have called Native students “dirty Indians” and “rez kids,” performed “war whoops,” told a concerned Native parent “fuck your daughter,” and informed the mother of a special-needs five-year-old that he has to change his behavior if he wants his non-Native classmates to stop biting, hitting and sexually touching him.

A Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Nations’ discrimination complaint claims all this and more is par for the course for tribal children in the Wolf Point School District. On June 28, the tribes submitted the complaint to the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in federally funded programs, including local school systems. Attorney Melina Healey, a fellow with the advocacy group Equal Justice Works, is representing the tribes, along with additional attorneys. The ACLU of Montana signed on in support of the complaint.

“We are at a do-or-die moment for our tribe’s children,” says Roxanne Gourneau, a Fort Peck tribal executive board member. “I don’t want any more of our youngsters to end up in the cemetery or prison.” 

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Tuesday, Jul 18, 2017, 5:00 pm  ·  By Jessica Corbett

Nuns Go to Court to Defend an Outdoor Chapel in Path of Pennsylvania Pipeline

“'We can certainly affirm that this is a religious cause," says Sister Sara Dwyer of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a Catholic order.   (Image / Caption: Chris Knight / wearelancastercounty.org)

On July 17, about 30 Catholic nuns in Lancaster County, Penn., who had constructed an open-air chapel on the proposed path of a natural gas pipeline, went to court to fight efforts by the fossil fuel company trying to seize their land.

The sisters appeared at a U.S. District courthouse in Reading for an 11:00 a.m. hearing, following two prayer vigils earlier Monday morning.

About six months ago, they came up with the idea to build the chapel on their farmland as "a visible symbol of their commitment to the land," Mark Clatterbuck, of Lancaster Against Pipelines—which helped build the chapel—told the York Daily Record, a local paper.

"We have to pay reverence to the land God has given us," says Sister George Ann Biscan. "We honor God by protecting and preserving His creation."

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Friday, Jul 14, 2017, 6:00 pm  ·  By Linley Dixon

The USDA is Helping Industrial Hydroponics Water Down the Definition of Organic Farming

(Image: ediblecommunities.com)

Ed Note: The following editorial by the senior scientist at the Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, weighs in on the ongoing debate within the organic food industry as to whether hydroponically grown food—food production that does not require soil or, therefore, a commitment to responsible land stewardship—should be considered “organic” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In April, the National Organic Standards Board (the group ultimately responsible for making this decision) met in Denver, Colo., to discuss the issue. As explained below, some of the board’s new appointees are siding with corporate interests instead of organic farmers.

With five new members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the debate over whether soil-less, hydroponic systems can be certified organic felt like starting over from scratch. Those of us who have followed the workings of the NOSB for years now are beginning to feel exasperated that something so basic as the legal requirement to foster soil fertility in organic systems is up for debate.

Organic cannot be defined solely by inputs. Rather, sequestering organic matter by supporting complex biological systems in the soil is a prerequisite of organic production. For those of us involved in organics for the last 30 years, our response is … “Duh!” 

The bigger question: Why are NOSB members complicating this issue? 

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Tuesday, Jul 11, 2017, 3:30 pm  ·  By Laura Orlando

It’s Time to Talk (Again) about Sewage Sludge on Farmland

Each year, millions of tons of sewage sludge is disposed of on fields in the United States.   (Image: Susan A. Secretariat / Flickr)

The "land application" of sewage sludge has been promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1993 as the preferred method for the disposal of this by-product of municipal wastewater treatment. Millions of tons of hazardous sewage sludge have subsequently been spread on farmland and public parks in the United States. Sometimes it is bagged and sold as “organic” fertilizer and compost in garden supply stores. No matter how it is processed or how slick it is marketed as a fertilizer or soil amendment, putting sewage sludge on land is a health and environmental disaster. 

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Friday, Jul 7, 2017, 5:30 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

Game Over: Neither Party’s Health Care Plan Reflects Economic Reality

(Image: wnyc.org / Shutterstock)

The controversy surrounding health care provides a compelling case for finding common ground. The proposed Republican healthcare plan is even more flawed than the failing Democratic plan. We urgently need healthcare reform, but neither plan is based on economic reality, and neither has the consent of the American people.

Health care is a “market failure”—economic jargon that means “the market” is fundamentally incapable of providing essential health care services for everyone. Markets do many things well, in fact better than any alternative. However, there are some things markets simply cannot do. Markets can provide the discretionary things that make life better but cannot ensure equal access to the things that make life possible or livable. Among market failures are provision of the essentials of life: clean air, pure water, safe food and medical care. If we have an equal right to life, we must also be afforded the essentials of life, including basic health care.

Some may argue that we Americans don’t agree that everyone has a right to health care—but we do. We don’t let people die for lack of medical treatment, at least not in public. The federal “Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act” ensures that everyone can receive emergency medical treatment in hospitals, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. We also have Medicaid for those deemed unable to pay medical bills or buy health insurance. Still, millions of Americans are left without adequate medical care while healthcare costs claim more than one-sixth of our total GDP and continue to rise. We don’t openly accept essential health care as a “right” for everyone because we don’t agree on the level of health care to be secured by government.

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Monday, Jul 3, 2017, 8:30 pm  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Reprieve for an Ancient Site: A Mining Company and a Tribe Find a Way to Work Together

Joseph Holley, Western Shoshone tribal leader, points out an old mining structure to his grandson Julius Jr.   (Photo: Joseph Zummo)

Preparations are underway to hand over to Western Shoshones 3,269 acres of Native sacred sites in Nevada. “We’ll have prayers, dancing, drumming and food,” says Joseph Holley, councilman and former chairman of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshones, in Nevada. “There will be time for Paul to talk about what’s been happening over the past eight years and how he is helping us protect this place.”

Holley is referring to Paul Huet, the chief executive officer of Klondex Mines, a Canadian firm that in late 2016 purchased an existing gold-mining operation within a Western Shoshone cultural landscape called Tosawihi (pronounced DOS-a-wee). Acquired as part of the mining deal, the portion that Klondex will hand over to the Battle Mountain Band on August 18 is a spiritual hub within the ancient place. Though 83 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, the Klondex purchase and handover of this relatively unusual privately owned tract will allow it to remain in the hands of those who value it most. The Battle Mountain Band will hold and administer the lands on behalf of all Shoshones, according to Holley.

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Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017, 5:00 pm  ·  By Rural America In These Times

Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair, on How to Overcome the Rural-Urban Divide

Jane Kleeb stands in the Nebraska Sand Hills, on land Keystone XL is slated to cross.   (Photo: Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

In 2010, Jane Kleeb founded Bold Nebraska, a political advocacy group working in the state to advance progressive causes and unite residents against projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

In June 2016, with the help of Bernie Sanders supporters, Kleeb was elected chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, defeating Chuck Hassebrook (a Hillary Clinton backer) by 42 votes out of 410 cast. Following her election, she threw down the gauntlet and declared: “The opposition party is now here.” On the national stage, she serves on the board of Our Revolution, the organization that grew out of the Sanders campaign.

Kleeb, 43, lives on a farm outside Hastings, Nebraska, with her husband Scott, three daughters and their three-legged dog. She describes herself as a “mom with a minivan.”

In the following interview Joel Bleifuss, In These Times editor & publisher, asks Kleeb what the climate change movement could be doing better, how the Democratic Party can best reach rural voters and whether she is an agent of the Lutheran Church.

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Monday, Jun 26, 2017, 5:00 pm  ·  By Christopher Ali

The FCC’s New Chairman Plans to Take the “Local” Out of TV News in Rural America

(Image: prwatch.org

While Americans were distracted by the very important public debates around an open internet and the proliferation of fake news online, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) quietly proposed reshaping a key way rural Americans stay informed—their local television news.

Two decades-old rules—called by policymakers the “main studio rule” and the “UHF discount”—come from different eras of broadcasting, one when the only electronic media was radio and the other from the days before the dominance of cable television. They also come from a different era of government, when policymakers promoted the principle of localism—the belief that local broadcasters should serve their communities.

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Friday, Jun 23, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

Rethink This Iowa: Do Not Gut the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Aldo Leopold sitting with his dog.   (Image: The Aldo Leopold Foundation)

Since 1987, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (LCSA) in Ames, Iowa, has been looking into ways to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Applying a scientific approach to ethical land use, the center has been funding the research needed to make sustainable farming methods not just possible, but profitable. Long before the "good food movement" grew into the national force it is today, their work included the implementation of integrated pest management techniques, bioreactors, cover crops, early spring nitrate tests, crop rotations, rotational grazing methods and much more—the results of which were shared with farmers and other researchers across the country.

All was going well enough until April 17, when the Iowa Senate without warning passed new legislation that ended LCSA’s funding and, going one diabolical step further, required the center to close. The funds in play—about $1.3 million annually—are generated from a fee imposed on nitrate fertilizers and pesticide registrations under the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. The new bill instructs that those funds be redirected to the Nutrient Research Center, also at Iowa State University (ISU). On May 12, however, in one of his final gubernatorial acts before becoming the Trump administration’s ambassador to China, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) vetoed the portion of the bill he’d previously signed requiring LCSA to shut its doors, but let the funding cut stand.

This leaves the center in awkward limbo—free to continue existing, but without the money it needs to operate. As one writer put it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, the bill renders LCSA “the Walking Dead of state agencies.”

“While we appreciate that the name and the Center will remain,” said LCSA Director Mark Rasmussen in a statement addressing their sudden change in status, “the loss of all state funding severely restricts operations and our ability to serve our many stakeholders.”

So why, when industrial agricultural practices pose an immediate threat to Iowa’s land and water, and when our dominant food production methods are causing a host of ecological, health and social problems across the country and around the world—did the Iowa legislature decide to end public support for one of the few forward-thinking sustainable agriculture institutions with an established track record? The center’s mission, after all, is: “To identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources as well as reducing negative environmental and social impacts.”

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Wednesday, Jun 21, 2017, 12:00 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

Federal Judge: Environmental Law was Broken in Rushed Review of Dakota Access Pipeline

Water protectors at Standing Rock.   (Image: Honor the Earth / Sarah LilRedFeather / Idle No More)

The Army Corps of Engineers, acting under directions from the Trump administration, violated the law when it approved the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on February 8. That’s according to a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on June 14―two weeks after Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL, announced that the pipeline was fully operational. 

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