Seven-year-old Owen Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute tribe is named after his parents’ great love of the Owens Valley and as a bridge to his Irish ancestry on his mother Anna’s side.
He is a symbol of the hope that his generation and those to come will share in a more sustainable and heart-centered world where the gross injustices of the past 150 years are addressed and the Paiute can have an equitable share of the waters that are essential to their well-being.
Owen’s father Alan Bacock, the water coordinator for the Big Pine tribe, is a soft-spoken peacemaker who explains: “I love living here in the Owens Valley because anytime of the year I can look up to the Sierra and see the glaciers. The glacial melt and the snowmelt provide the water that I use everyday. It is amazing to have the source of the water that I use originate from such a short distance away.
Owen was given his name as a bridge. Owen connects him to the Valley he was born in and to his Irish ancestry. In Ireland it is a popular name.”
He says his family’s hope – and that of so many others – is that the community be granted access to the water it was promised some 77 years ago, with a more generous and predictable supply being pivotal to the community’s fruit and vegetable gardens, and their ability to plan for a healthier future.
Ironically, at a time when many plants in the Reservation are withered or dying and the farmers’ market faltering because of inadequate water supplies, water from a faulty pipeline buried on adjoining land belonging to LA’s Department of Water and Power (LADWP) which is supposed to be flowing onto the Reservation has been gushing along the fence line and not reaching those for whom it might be a valuable economic and emotional lifeline.
Water has been a pivotal issue for the tribe since 1860 when the first white settlers arrived in the Owens Valley and commandeered the fertile lands and irrigation ditches the Paiute people had created as part of a sustainable lifestyle that had served them for centuries.
These first people had had no concept of property ownership or water rights but had lived lightly upon the land and in harmony with their environment, believing the Creator had placed them there aeons before.
“My tribe has been struggling for the last 150 years as a new philosophy came into the Owens Valley through settlers who believed that natural resources were to be bought and sold as property,” he says. “This philosophy has permeated throughout society bringing about injustice to our people, as well as to indigenous cultures in America and around the world.
We have been left to reside on a small area of land with an unresolved quantity of water to use. As a result, we would like to be able to increase the area that our people can steward and have resolution to the amount of water available for tribal use. This would give us the ability to provide for our people now and to develop plans for the future.”
He adds that water – and the habitat it creates – is seen by tribal members as something to be shared with the whole community of life it supports, and not just for humans.
The water woes of the Paiute tribe seem to be echoed in a number of other First Nation communities with a major global spotlight now shining on North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where representatives of more than 90 tribes have gathered and camped out in opposition to an interstate oil pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois.
Kandi Mossett insists that they are not protestors, but protectors. “When we desecrate the waters we desecrate ourselves.”
In a hard-hitting TV commentary, NBC presenter Lawrence O’Donnell said that Dakota means friend or friendly but sadly the Native American tribes who gave that word it’s meaning had never been treated as friends.
“The people who were here before us, long before us, have never been treated as friends. They have been treated as enemies and dealt with more harshly than any other enemy in any of this country’s wars. After all of our major wars we signed peace treaties and lived by those treaties. After World War 2 when we made peace with Germany we then did everything we possibly could to rebuild Germany.
No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after WW2.
Donald Trump and his supporters now fear the country being invaded by foreigners who want to change our way of life, a fear that Native Americans have lived with every day for over 500 years.
The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented, before there was a war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
When we finally stopped actively killing Native Americans for the crime of living here before us, we then proceeded to violate every treaty we made with the tribes, every single treaty. We piled crime on top of crime on top of crime against the people whose offense against us was simply that they lived where we wanted to live.”
He added that every once in a while there is a painful and morally embarrassing reminder such as what has been unfolding in North Dakota where the indigenous people were having dogs set upon them and being pepper-sprayed.
“The protest is being led by this country’s original environmentalists, Native Americans. For hundreds of years they were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place.
That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land, but to the stunning strength and the 500 years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us. The people who have always known what is truly sacred in this world.”
Elders and children of the Paiute-Shoshone tribes will offer blessings at the start of the Walking Water pilgrimage in Lone Pine on 23 September.
We walk for water and for life, for Owen and his generation and the generations that will follow.
This blog was written by Geoff Dalglish and originally posted on his personal blog, Earth Pilgrim Africa. The featured image of Rajendra Singh (the Waterman of India) during Phase One of the Walking Water pilgrimage in 2015. Geoff is an ambassador for the Findhorn Foundation community during the Walking Water pilgrimage and is also an international representative for the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).