Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 20, 2018

The Rhythmic Journey Home -- Birdsingers Ensured Victory at Ward Valley

Mojave Birdsingers, Ward Valley, 1998. Photo Molly Johnson.
The Rhythmic Journey Home, Birdsingers Ensured Victory at Ward Valley

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

WARD VALLEY -- The Bird Songs once again guided those who have lived in the Mojave Desert since time immemorial, home to a safe haven.
Llewellyn Barrackman, Mohave elder, said, "The Mojave have no place to go. This is our home."
"We are the Pipa Aha Macav, the people along the river, instructed by the Creator to protect it."
Barrackman's words, before he passed to the Spirit World, were at Ward Valley, during the 113-day Occupation which halted a nuclear waste dump on sacred land in 1998.
Here, led by Mojave, Chemehuevi, Quechan, Cocopah and Colorado Indian Tribes, the Occupation faced off law enforcement, and not only survived in the desert, but celebrated a victory here.

Here, in the home of Old Mountain and Spirit Mountain, there are longtime running trails, desert tortoises and a pristine aquifer. The nearby waters of the Colorado River flow southward, across the invisible border into Mexico.
It is Silyaye Ahease, "The Place of Mesquite and Sand," a spiritual gathering ground where early Mohave collected mesquite seeds and medicinal plants.
It is the ancestral territory of Mohave, who call themselves the Pipa Aha Macav, "People Who Live Along the River." It was once their farmland for beans, corn, melons and pumpkins.
The people were travelers and singers, carried forward by their Mohave Creation and Traveling Songs. The songs described the paths of their ancestors and how to best use what was offered by the land and water.
The Bird Songs were geographic guides for desert travel, revealing the paths of migrating birds, a rhythmic map pointing out the direction of the next source of water and food.
Wally Antone, Quechan Bird Singer, said Mohave, Quechan and Cahuilla were given Bird Songs by the Creator and they tell similar stories.
"To learn to sing is to be given a gift, to be fortunate, to be appointed by the Creator," Antone said, adding that there are over 300 Bird Songs sang at funerals and other major life events.

The Struggle in the Mojave

For some, the land west of Needles, was a scorching wasteland of low-lying creosote, yucca and mesquite, with military overflights offering the only sound. It was little more than a place of Interstate exhaust fumes flowing behind traffic to the region's casinos.
The state of California and its chosen nuclear waste contractor, U.S. Ecology, deemed it the perfect site for a nuclear waste dump with its permanent scars.
During the occupation at Ward Valley, Bird Singers were joined by tribal and state leaders, and members of the Colorado Indian Tribes. Nora Helton, chairwoman of the Fort Mohave, and grassroots environmentalists persevered in temperatures of over 120 degrees.
With support from nearby tribes, they lived in canvas tents and old buses, relaying water and food from nearby Needles. They traveled widely, even to Nogales and Tijuana, Mexico, enlisting the aid of Mexico's Congress to halt the threat to the Colorado River.
Then, they returned to the desert.
It was perhaps the most difficult occupation in recent times.
Stormy Williams: Another California cancer cluster must not happen here
Stormy Williams, a longtime activist now buried at Ward Valley, wrote about the effect grassroots groups have had in fighting environmental threats to the Southwest environment.
"It is said that sometimes the grassroots don't know there is a dangerous problem in their area until illnesses show up. Most people do not go around with their antennae out looking for toxic-related or nuclear-related businesses.
"We all need to know what is in our neighborhoods and if we detect that something isn't right we need to get nosey and curious and start investigating."
"It is so sad when the detection comes too late, as it did for the nine children in my town of Rosamond who comprise California's worst childhood cancer cluster."
"Seven of these nine children are dead. They still don't know which of our toxic sites is at the fault.There are 24 toxic sites in the list and all are permitted businesses allowed to run amok. Over half of these children died of a rare brainstem cancer."
"It should never have happened."
Stormy and the others were determined that it would not happen at Ward Valley.

The Bird Songs, as Sheriff's Deputies Waited with Three Large Buses
During several years of occupations in the desert and ongoing legal battles designed to halt the land transfer in federal court, they gathered to perform traditional Bird Songs.
One evening, around burning mesquite branches, elders gathered and sang the Bird Songs to the rhythm of their gourd rattles. In contrast, sheriff's deputies with three large yellow buses readied to take the land defenders to jail. The Bureau of Land Management set up a command post with rangers. It was February, 1998, and the beginning of a 113-day resistance effort.
But it was the songs and prayers near Old Woman's Mountain and Spirit Mountain -- in a land without water for its occupiers -- that became the defense of the land.
Apparently a federal judge either agreed or heard their pleas in another realm, ruling that there was insufficient evidence of the effect of nuclear waste storage to desert tortoises to proceed.
Department of Interior Bruce Babbitt was not required to turn over Bureau of Land Managemnet land to the state of California. U.S. Ecology threw in its radioactive towel and declared the project "dead."
In the end, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Mexican legislators joined the fight to save the Mohave Desert from radioactive waste at Ward Valley. But it was the perseverance and loyalty of Colorado Indian Tribes and grassroots environmentalists that led to the preservation of sacred lands, endangered desert tortoises and raw desert.
Mohave, Chemehuevi, Quechan, Cocopah, and Colorado River Indian Tribes knew that the Bird Songs have once again guided desert dwellers to a safe haven.

Llewellyn Barrackman, Mohave elder, said, "The Mojave have no place to go. This is our home."
"We are the Pipa Aha Macav, the people along the river, instructed by the Creator to protect it."

Listen to Birdsingers at Standing Rock, nearly 20 years later. Broadcast live by Govinda, Standing Rock Spirit Resistance Radio, and recorded by Censored News.

Video: Listen to the Fort Mojave Bird Singers below at Standing Rock.


Birdsingers at Standing Rock

This series at Censored News:

The Rhythmic Journey Home: Birdsingers ensured victory at Ward Valley

Mojave Steve Lopez: Ward Valley halted Nuclear Genocide, Poisoning of Colorado River
The Desert Tortoise on Sacred Land, Celebrating the 20 Year Victory at Ward Valley
Celebrating Victory at Ward Valley: Corbin Harney 'Sing to the Water'
Laguna Pueblo Dorothy Purley Exposed Nuclear Holocaust on Native Lands. Featured in widely-censored Trespassing film to be shown at Ward Valley Celebration, Feb. 23-24, 2018.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell

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