Attaining a Balanced Relationship Between People and Arid Lands

 
Jack Loeffler
 
 

We need to seriously whip into action instead of just inching our way toward a cultural perspective that’s appropriate for what’s happening around this world of ours. Thanks to the Kimo Theater and the New Mexico Humanities Council, we’re getting a major boost in the right direction. On Feb. 13, the first of five monthly panel discussions will take place under the heading Thinking Like a Watershed. Each will feature three widely recognized humanities scholars who possess both general and specific knowledge and expertise in their fields. Their diverse perspectives will contribute to a new broader sphere of reference vital to understanding and addressing the dilemmas that will direct human culture within a less friendly future environment. The intended outcome of these discussions is to inspire consciousness germane to attaining a balanced relationship between people and their arid homelands in the American Southwest.
 
As a preface, we have to honestly accept that we are all part of the over-abundance of human beings living within our planetary habitat. This greater commons is comprised of diminishing common-pool resources upon which all earthly living creatures rely for sustenance within their respective watersheds, ecosystems and bioregions. That is the bottom line. We’re also faced with the reality that our presence has wrought enormous changes to the nature of our planet. We have invigorated a wave of climate change and instability that will grow in intensity and can be tempered only if we react immediately. We must curb emissions of CO2 to the planetary atmosphere. We must stop growing as a species and alter our economic course to fit within a steady-state economy. This requires a profound shift in individual and cultural attitudes worldwide.
 
Humankind’s creation myths historically forward the notion that we are the reason to be for existence. This misconception has wended its way into the conglomerate of political persuasions, systems of cultural mores and the collective human mentality. It would behoove us to comprehend that we haven’t been here forever, and at the rate we’re going, we won’t be here that long. We’ve thus far failed to collectively perceive that we are part of an integrated supra-organism and that our continued presence relies on how well this ecosphere remains in its current state of balance. Human consciousness has become a keystone in the planetary operating system. Science alone will not provide final answers, nor will answers come from an economically dominated paradigm. Cultural diversity and biodiversity are deeply interlinked. Before we can draw conclusions and proceed with some measure of possible success, we must comprehend the bigger picture. To that end we are presenting a series of panels to address issues that require our conscious attention.
 
Panel I (Feb. 13, 7 pm) will provide an historic overview of human habitation and water use in the Southwest. It will address issues including global warming and climate instability, and the effects of Manifest Destiny on indigenous cultures and Southwestern habitat. It will also bring attention to the limitations of capitalism in a world of finite resources, and the relationship between water, coal, hydro-electricity and associated factors. The three panelists: historian and author Dr. William deBuys, author and Director of the Center for the American West Dr. Patty Limerick, and author, photographer and polemicist John Nichols.
 
Panel II (March 27, 7 pm) will present multicultural land/water use perspectives, including sacred, secular, economically oriented and other attitudes that shape relationship of human culture to habitat. It will address the roles of indigenous peoples concerning both commonly held and differing perspectives within the realm of Indigenous Mind, which is that aspect of collective human consciousness that is shaped more by the flow of Nature through homeland, than by a list of facts about the nature of homeland. The panel: Dr. Rina Swentzell from Santa Clara Pueblo, archaeologist Lyle Balenquah from the Hopi Independent Nation, and Estévan Arellano, acequiero and writer from Embudo.
 
Panel III (April, TBA) will present perspectives of traditional ranchers and the role of Holistic Range Management in overcoming problems of over-grazing wrought by ranchers transplanted to the arid Southwest from the verdant East of earlier generations. It will introduce the growing likelihood of water scarcity in both surface- and ground waters in New Mexico and the Southwest. It will also address restoration ecology as a culture of practice shared by Native American, Hispano and Anglo rural residents of New Mexico and beyond. The panelists: rancher Sid Goodloe from Carrizozo, rancher Julia Stafford from Cimarron, and Steve Harris, director of Río Grande Restoration.
 
Panel IV (May 29, 7 pm) will review the evolution of water law in the Colorado River and Río Grande greater watersheds. It will address the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the 1939 Río Grande Compact. It will also delve into the growing disparity between “agricultural best use” as defined in the early 20th century, and the emerging “urban/economically oriented best use” that pits agriculturalists against urban chambers of commerce and developers over water rights. The panel will also address instances of governmental legislation that violate laws of Nature in our anthropocentrically biased culture. The panelists: John Echohawk, director of the Native American Rights Fund, Bruce Frederick of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Em Hall, author and water rights attorney.
 
Panel V (June 26, 7 pm) will focus on Southwestern dams, hydroelectric power, inter-basin water transfers, and visibly diminishing waters in the American Southwest concomitant with rising human populations. The Central Arizona Project will be reviewed as an example of political, corporate and legalistic will to provide water to develop a desert ecosystem for human habitation and economic growth. This panel will identify certain “conflicting absolutes” that stand between human beings and other fellow species that comprise the life forms within the watersheds of the American Southwest. The panelists: author and editor Dr. Sonia Dickey, Albuquerque Journal science editor John Fleck, and Bureau of Reclamation Area Director Mike Hamman.
 
Funding is being sought to finance four subsequent panels to complete this proposed series. These four additional panels will further address necessary shifts in human cultural attitudes and cultures of practice that must occur if we are to survive in any state of balance within the Southwestern ecosystem during the decades and centuries to come.
 
Thinking Like a Watershed Panel Discussions
February—June 2014
The Kimo Theater, 423 Central Avenue NW, Albuquerque, NM
Free Admission
 
 

Author and bioregional aural historian Jack Loeffler, project director of Thinking Like a Watershed, will introduce and moderate the five panels.
 
 
 

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