Monday, October 3, 2016

Que Viva La Sierra Sagrada

Photo of Roberto Lujan by Nicol Ragland

As a young boy of around nine years of age I lived across the tracks, in the southeastern part of Alpine’s neighborhood known to us as “Pueblo Nuevo”.  This neighborhood was comprised of mainly of families that had migrated from villages with names as Boquillas, San Carlos, Santa Elena, Castolon, Chisos, Terlingua in what is today the Big Bend region.  I would be part of of a group of boys that would play whichever sporting game was in season.  Our street games would begin in the early afternoon during the fall season and right after lunch on summer days.  These games would be interrupted by the occasional passing vehicle.  The longest pause of the afternoon was around five o’clock when most of our parents would come come from their jobs.  However there was one pause that especially stood out to me and the other children. It was when one of the local men, who worked as a vaquero in the area’s surrounding ranches, would walk by and at the top of his lungs exclaim a phrase that demanded a choral response.  “Que Viva La Sierra!” would exuberantly reverberate throughout the neighborhood and we would all respond with “Que Viva La Sierra!”  I was always mesmerized by his apparent gusto and love for his place of employment, none of our parents would come home with such pleasure of their place of employment.  I only dreamed of working in the ranches of which one could see off in the distance somewhere nestled in between the mountain ranges that surrounded the town.  I thought here was a person who loved his job and was willing to let the world know.  The mystical sacredness of seeing the sierra was further stirred at those moments.

The feeling of being hemmed in the segregated town of Alpine was always there physically and spiritually.  I would walk to the outskirts of my neighborhood only to be confronted with barb wire fence lines.  These fence lines with their blue and white no trespassing Texas Cattlemen’s Association metal signs, only made my desire to see the sierra more tantalizing.  It would be more than a decade when I returned to Alpine as a young man honorably discharged from serving our country. I was now old enough to walk into the neighborhood bar, and it was there that I found that old vaquero and that the exclamation  “Que Viva La Sierra!” had a more poignant, revealing and sacred protective second part.

There are still places on the state highways and farm market roads that crisscross the Big Bend region that take me back to that moment when I was nine years old.  These places along the roadside are fenceless, a person can literally within ten feet walk into the sacred desert chaparral, the foreground of the extending vista that culminates with the sacred mountain ranges in the distance, anything further takes you out beyond to where there is no limit. As we are being scarred by soulless intruders we must resolve not only to be resilient but protective of our sacred natural surroundings. It is this places that one must remember the second phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”

And it was there at the bar that night I learn the vaquero’s exclamatory second phrase. There in the bar was the hero of my childhood, the inhabitant of the sacred and mystical sierra. Before I knew it the vaquero’s shouted his exclamation and without hesitation everyone young and old repeated the phrase, just as we had when we were young boys.  To my surprise with an even louder shout followed by a pounding fist on the bar the vaquero shouted the second more protective poignant phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”

 “Y Que No Me La Encierren!” And do not fence it up! echoed louder throughout the night flowing out into the desert chaparral, up the canyons to the sierras and ricocheting off the twinkling stars.  

Roberto Lujan c/s

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Statement from Defend Big Bend on the Occassion of the #NoDAPL #NoTPPL Solidarity March


Here in the Big Bend, approximately two years ago a small group of us became aware that Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) intended to bisect our remote and fragile region with the Trans Pecos Pipeline, a 143-mile, 42” pipeline that would pump billions of cubic feet of fracked gas to Mexico for foreign export. We banded together with the purpose of educating ourselves and our fellow citizens on ways to stop the project, and, should it happen, ways to reduce its impact.

What we have come to learn over the course of these two years is that, in the State of Texas, there is NO legal recourse, NO due process, NO ethical standard that protects landowners, municipalities, Native peoples, cultural relics, endangered species, or fragile ecosystems against the will of Big Oil and Gas.

We discovered that all of the agencies one might expect to “regulate” the industry – the Texas Railroad Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission outstanding among them – are, in fact, industry insiders. They have crafted the laws for their benefit alone. 

Conveniently, they have determined that an international pipeline can be defined as "intra-state". As long as it "begins" and "ends" within state lines, it requires no Federal "oversight" from anyone, in fact, but themselves.

We were disgusted to find that even the definition of “public good” has been twisted by the fossil fuel industry: if a project is profitable to their private corporation, it is deemed in the public interest. Private property rights — held so dear in the State of Texas — are moot in the path of a pipeline. Confronted by eminent domain, a landowner has two choices: take the pittance offered by the industry in exchange for the lease on the land or take nothing and have the land usurped anyway.

We have been appalled by the majority our local, state, and federal officials who – time and time again – have claimed to be powerless to assist (ie: represent) us. They continue to ignore their constituents’ well-researched requests for even the most basic oversight and common-sense safety measures. Meanwhile, ETPs promise of free money raining down from the sky is accepted with hardly so much as a wink and a handshake.

We have watched as our allies — those most qualified to offer insight, including experts in the fields of geology, engineering, hydrology, and archeology – have been silenced, their jobs threatened by the industry. Even local musicians who have expressed opposition to the pipeline have been banned from performing at venues with industry ties.

Above all, we have learned the power of community-building. We have discovered the strength that comes from forming alliances, building trust, supporting one another, and learning to understand and respect one another’s strengths and differences. The bonds we have formed — the LOVE we have come to feel for each other through this effort — is the foundation upon which we have built a resistance against forces that are mighty, but lack the kinds of intangible strengths that no amount of money can buy and no hideous machine can destroy: COMMUNITY, CREATIVITY, and SENSE OF PLACE.

We are connected to one another, and to this land.

Reverence for the Earth and the interconnectedness of all her creatures are basic tenets of Native American philosophy and spirituality that have been viciously attacked by industries that profit from exploitation of the Earth’s bounty . . . that which these industries detachedly refer to as “resources.”  This disavowal of responsibility to make decisions based on potential benefit to future generations has brought us to this perilous historical moment.

Those of us standing here today may not possess the type of wealth or influence that billionaires or politicians possess . . . but it will not be this type of wealth or influence that will take us safely into the future. Our voices are being heard precisely because we represent what we and so many others know in our hearts to be true: in order to leave a healthy planet for our children and our children’s children, we must stand together now as ONE PEOPLE. WE are ALL INDIGENOUS to Planet Earth, and we must now turn our hearts and ears to those for whom this knowledge was never forgotten.