cowboys

Vigilantes for a Lost Cause

outdoorsman / Shutterstock
outdoorsman / Shutterstock

WHEN A HASTILY organized cowboy “militia” seized a national wildlife refuge near Burns, Ore., it brought the spotlight of 24-hour-a-day media coverage to a streak of angry alienation that had been building in the West for a long time.

In fact, as Washington Post reporter Amber Phillips noted, the conflict has existed “since the government stopped giving away land and started actively preserving some of it.” That would have been about the time that, in 1890, the superintendent of the U.S. census declared the American frontier to be closed. Shortly thereafter, President Theodore Roosevelt began serious efforts to conserve Western land and resources. In fact, it was Roosevelt himself who, in 1908, created the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that the militia seized.

This armed occupation of federal property was ostensibly in defense of a father and son in Harney County, Ore., who were convicted of setting fires on federal land, but the confrontation was provoked and led by visiting members of Nevada’s Bundy family who, in 2014, staged a similar armed confrontation in defense of their patriarch, Cliven Bundy, grazing cattle on federal land without a permit.

The federal government owns a great deal of the land in much of the noncoastal West. That land belongs to all of us—all 320 million of us. We stole it fair and square, either from its Indigenous inhabitants, or from Mexico, or both. But most of us never see any of that land except in the movies while, for much of the past two centuries, local loggers, ranchers, and miners had easy access to it. As a result, many people in the West came to feel that the public land was not really the common heritage of a continental republic but in some real sense “their” land. Many of them depended upon it for their livelihoods. That’s what they were supposed to do when the frontier was opened. They were supposed to establish settlements, exploit the natural resources, fend off the Indigenous people, and make the West safe for the railroads.

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Reject and Protect

Members of the Reject & Protect witness set up a tipi on the National Mall. Photo courtesy Rose Berger.

Editor's Note: Want more ideas for how to celebrate Earth Week? Click here to sign up for Earth Week updates through Friday.

This week, we finally had some good news in the fight against climate change: President Barack Obama announced a further delay in the review process for the Keystone XL pipeline. The right thing to do is to reject the pipeline once and for all, but we all know politics is never that simple. The president says no decision will be made until the end of the year, which means the deadline comes after this year’s election. But the president isn’t up for re-election again, and protecting the environment should not be a partisan issue. All of us have a stake here.

We need more time, President Obama says, more reviews, more answers. But for Sojourners’ Rose Berger, who has been a leader in the faith community’s witness against Keystone XL, the answer has been clear for a long time.

Cowboys, Indians, and Reconciliation?

THE DOMINANT cultures of North America have long struggled to take responsibility for the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Indigenous Peoples of the continent. The archetypal “us/them” story of cowboys and Indians remains at the core of North American national identities, from derogatory sports mascots and symbols such as the Washington “Redskins” and the “Chief Wahoo” character of the Cleveland Indians to the ignorant “redfacing” by non-Indigenous partygoers and trick-or-treaters in contrived Indian outfits. And this situation is nowhere near ending, despite many years of cultural sensitivity training and education.

Such overt racism should never be acceptable today. Yet it persists in regard to Indigenous Peoples. Why is this? As one friend remarked to me, most modern-day Americans believe injustices done to Indigenous Peoples to be a thing of the past.

But are they? Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous relations for the Mennonite Church in Canada, has brought together nearly 40 theologians, activists, writers, and poets—half of whom are Indigenous—to create Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, a challenging anthology on Indigenous-Christian relations, stolen land, racism, and the impending environmental crisis that we all must face together.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry isn’t easy reading. It’s a Jonah-like warning that should unsettle us and change our perspective. And that’s exactly what needs to happen. Its contributors offer a wide range of views, but agree on at least one thing: “the controlling culture is violently sick, devastating peoples and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”

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The Real Reason Americans Love Guns

THE DAY BEFORE President Obama's second inauguration (campaign code name: "Neener, neener, neener!"), Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell sent an email to constituents with a message somewhat lacking in a spirit of new beginnings: "The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment. They're coming for your guns."

This is disturbing. I don't have any guns, but I'm looking for places to hide them. And without guns, how will I protect my family from the coming assault? Can I hold off federal agents by flinging small appliances at them? Those I've got. In fact, I just got a new hand mixer. It's black and sleek, like the helicopters that will soon be circling over our homes. (Helicopter tip: Make sure the rotor blades have completely stopped before licking off the icing.)

Under Obama's new proposals, I'll probably have to register my appliances, or at least submit to a background check before I buy another one. Although I've heard you can avoid that if you get them at private appliance shows.

This latest attention to gun control prompted National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to take the stage and, looking directly into the eyes of the American people, vehemently deny that he is French. Additionally, he helpfully pointed out that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Or was it the other way around? To be honest I'm not sure what he said, because I got distracted by the wild look in his eyes, and the bits of saliva that gather in the corners of his mouth whenever he talks about guns. This guy really likes guns.

What I would ask Mr. "LaPierre" [giggle]—while keeping both hands out where he could see them—is this: How do you stop a good guy with a gun who's having a bad day? Or what if he's really depressed or angry at his boss for not allowing him to wear camouflage clothing to staff meetings?

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