Doing the Political Two-Step in Uma-Tilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla Country
by Art Goodtimes
May 28, 2009 | 989 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

WIR … The Western Interstate Region is a project of the National Association of Counties and focuses on public lands and other issues critical to the western region of the United States. It provides county officials with the opportunity to hear speakers, discuss legislation, and network with other officials to exchange information on those issues … As chair of Colorado Counties’ Public Lands Steering Committee, I’m automatically a boardmember of WIR, and so I was obliged to attend WIR’s annual meeting in Pendleton, hosted by Oregon’s Umatilla County and former NACo President Bill Hansell. It was a welcome obligation, providing a great opportunity to share stories and information with county commissioners from all over the west, people like Lynn Stevens of neighboring San Juan County in Utah, Mike Murray of Lewis and Clark County in Montana and Tim Josi of Tillimook County in Oregon … Lynn and I agreed that we ought to have some sort of meeting between Colorado commissioners and our neighbors just across the border in Utah – since we have more in common with those folks than many Front Range commissioners … In general, the WIR group is dominated by conservatives (mostly Republicans) who take a dim view of wilderness and environmental protection when it trumps economic development. But there are many issues that even Greens can unite around – such as federal payments in lieu of taxes, which brings thousands of federal dollars into San Miguel County each year, and millions into western counties. As it turns out, I’m often the lone liberal challenging this group’s common wisdom, particularly attacks on “those environmentalists” who seem to get blamed for all that’s ill in the West (when really it’s the failure to marry sound economics with sound ecology that’s at the root of a lot of dysfunction in western communities) … A workshop on Cooperating Agency status with federal land management agencies -- presented by the BLM’s Cynthia Moses-Nedd and USFS’s Randy Phillips, as well as Garfield County’s Commissioner John Martin (my vice-chair on Colorado Counties’ Public Lands Steering Committee and fellow WIR board member) – only confirmed what County Attorney Steve Zwick has counseled San Miguel County on several occasions: cooperating agency status is complicated, expensive and time-consuming and doesn’t really provide much more influence than simple participation in federal management processes.

HEALTHY FORESTS … Perhaps the most surprising bit of new information that came out of the conference for me was during the presentation by Javier Goirigolzarri of Communities for Healthy Forests. He showed a video – CF The Forest Factor -- that featured two respected forest scientists, Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen, professor emeritus of forest science at Texas A&M, and Dr. Thomas Atzet who spent 30 years as Southwest Oregon Area Ecologist for the U.S.F.S. Contrary to what I always understood, they cited new evidence that decaying standing dead trees, whether from fire or beetlekill, produced more greenhouse gases than a burning forest fire. In other words, leaving standing dead trees unharvested may be contributing to global climate change and an increase in carbon emissions – just as many anthropogenic causes seem to be doing (I have copies of the video for anyone interested in watching it) … Reinforcing the reality of global climate change (still disbelieved at WIR by some on religious grounds) was lecturer Tom Mullikin, a member of Moore&VanAllen’s Government Policy & Regulatory Affairs Team. But his message was nationalist. If the U.S. takes action but others don’t (read China & the developing world), it won’t make any difference – our anthropogenic effects will increase. Mullikin had a book on the front counter his beautiful assistant touted, but it didn’t include his most troubling power point chart (nor did his Moore&VanAllen all sales website), which showed only four or five percent of all warming factors as human-caused and the rest the result of natural processes.

TAMÁSTSLIKT … The best part of the whole visit (and even that was bittersweet) took us to the Museum at the Cultural Institute of the Confederated Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla Tribes. Bobbie Connor (Sisaawifan) welcomed us with a story that pulled no historical punches -- remembering genocide but refusing to play the victim, instead expressing pride in the hard-won American success of this small Columbia Plateau rez. And how this museum told the story of the Oregon Trail from the Indians’ perspective … I toured with a jovial but masterful storyteller fellow who did the same – leading us through pre-history, conquest and up to the present moment with humor, poignancy and unvarnished truth. That was a most marvelous moment. Realizing that in this corner of Native America three tribes had cashed in on the one economic equalizer left them (gambling) and had bootstrapped their way into economic security – making them able to tell their history their own way at last … I was so taken, I bought the book they’d put together, As the Days Go By (Wiyáxayxt Wiyáakaaיawn) and even got Bobbie to autograph it … Bittersweet because the museum tour was followed by a WIR banquet (paid for by the tribes – the second largest employer in Umatilla County) at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino – Dungness Crab Tower, Avocado Mousse, Chinook Salmon, Oregon Bay Shrimp & Blueberry Tartlets. The food was good, the speeches and stories of the tribal enterprises inspiring (Travel Plaza, Tech Park, etc.) … But walking through the casino that fueled all the tribal investments was sad and tawdry, the air thick with cigarette smoke, saturated with the unnatural ring-a-ding of the slot machines and the smells of alcohol-addicted America.


Night Thieves


and the living water

are lovers.

Let them stay up


When merchants eat

their big meals

and sleep

their dead sleep,

we night-thieves

go to work.

Love is the way


from the mystery

tell us things.


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