I was born and raised on the prairies of North Dakota, so let me give you a little history lesson about my state. The information I am relaying in this blog was not taught to me in the elementary school, high school or university that I attended. I discovered it myself after doing research on my own as an adult. The reader is free to do the same.
During 1873-1883 the United States government, in coordination with commercial hide-hunting companies, promoted the slaughter of the American buffalo, including those in the Dakota Territory. The bison was a primary source of sustenance for the Great Plains Indian tribes.
The decimation of the buffalo was part of a deliberate, and successful, effort to starve the Plains Indians into submission. Many high-ranking U.S. officials were explicit about their intentions. In 1873, Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano declared “The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains.” Two years later, General Philip Sheridan told a joint session of Congress that buffalo hunters had done more to settle what he called “the vexed Indian question” than the entire U.S. army. Sheridan urged the politicians to continue to support the hunters. “For the sake of lasting peace,” he said, “let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated.”
By 1884, the bison population in the United States was basically extinct. Although the exact extent of the carnage cannot be determined, it has been estimated that the population of 30 to 50 million buffalo was reduced to less than 1,000. This is one of the worst, and perhaps the most under-reported, animal slaughters by humans ever undertaken on our planet.
And, as planned, the systemic annihilation of the Native Americans of the Plains was almost complete.
As this dark past has come to be revealed, shame has been brought on to my home state, and on to our country. My hope is that we can atone for our past actions, or our complacency about it, by agreeing to do better in the future. A recent trip back “home” after being away for years has made me question whether we have kept that promise. Only time will tell.
North Dakota is in the midst of an economic boom. Shale-based oil is being drilled in Williston using the process of fracking, which is drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to reach the oil reserves. The state is now the second largest producer of a non-renewable energy source in the United States. Corn is one of the primary commodities raised, and the agricultural community is recording record-high profits. This activity has generated surpluses for the State’s coffers, and reduced the unemployment rate to one of the lowest in the country.
On the reverse side, there always seems to be consequences to any type of economic windfall. These are some of the observations I made during my recent visit:
– Large quantities of the most fertile farmland in the United States have been sold to non-farming investors, with the concurrent elimination of many of the family-run farming operations in the state.
– Corn is now a major commodity crop, due to the profitability it affords the farmers. There is a growing demand for corn by the food industry, as high-fructose corn syrup is used in many of our food products.
– Monsanto Corporation, a biotechnology giant, has created a monopoly in the agricultural seed industry by using tactics to drive small farmers out of business, and to force growers to use its genetically modified seeds. Corn grown using Monsanto Corporation seeds is now labeled as a “genetically modified plant.” (Note: This corporation has been banned from doing business in a growing number of countries around the world).
– The state’s oil resources have been turned over to out-of-state oil producers, drilling contractors and engineering firms, including corporations such as Halliburton (who is at least partly responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill).
– There is a potential for the pollution of the environment and the poisoning of our water supply because of the chemical leakage that happens during the process of fracking.
The activities in this list are no different than those happening in other farming and oil-shale fields around this country, and probably around the world.
Sadly, as of today, no governmental agency or environmental organization has been able to assess the long-term effects of the 600 chemicals used in the fracking process, and their introduction into the ground water supply. Even proponents of the fracking process are unable to provide complete assurance that we are engaging in safe practices, and that the health of future generations will not be detrimentally affected.
And although there is major controversy and a growing concern among the public about the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), these products continue to be included in our food source.
We do not know how all of the actions we are engaging in today will affect our children, our grand-children and even our great-grandchildren. If we find out twenty (or even a hundred) years from now that we made some “bad” decisions today, the effects of the killing of the buffalo in the 1880’s may seem like child’s play in comparison.
What is occurring in North Dakota is not exclusive to that state. It is a cautionary tale for all of us in this country, and around the world.