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Please join us on Friday, April 28th, from 6-9 PM, when New Mexico Story Power and Santa Fe Art Institute hosts an exhibition of works in dialogue with climate justice and fossil fuel resistance. At 7PM, a panel discussion begins with prominent New Mexico water and land protectors, anti-fracking advocates and community organizers. The multi-media exhibit includes SFAI ‘Water Rights’ residents and local artists whose work addresses the escalating threats and impacts of fossil fuel extraction on human communities and the natural world, and speaks to the considerable growing resistance to injustices of extraction practices.
In the panel discussion, moderated by New Mexico Story Power, audience members will hear firsthand from frontline organizers how fracking is affecting communities in the state, what can be done to help amplify issues, and how to organize and mobilize for positive change. The panel of speakers consists of: Eleanor Bravo of Food & Water Watch; Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance; Miya King-Flaherty of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter; Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy; Kendra Pinto of the Navajo Nation; Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians, and Daniel Tso of the Navajo Nation. This is a unique opportunity for New Mexico communities to hear from several advocates at once – in dialogue with one another – on issues of critical importance to New Mexico’s water security, economic viability, community health and safety, agricultural sectors, and collective future. Continue reading “‘Songs From the Extraction Zones: A Symposium & Exhibition on Fracking in New Mexico’ Opens at Santa Fe Art Institute on Friday, April 28th, Featuring Notable Advocates and Artists”
Art by Asha Canalos
NMSP: Can you tell us a little about your history, where you grew up?
Because my dad went to Yale, there were always a lot of people around, and I was exposed to a lot of different cultural things, people from India, from Egypt…. And then my mom, with her art, was always involved with the community. She’s one of those people everyone knows.
And then came the 70s, and I was just sort of a burnout teenager.
NMSP: Where did the interest in environmentalism come from?
ME: It was just part of our family. My mom would take us out hiking at Sleeping Giant State Park near our house in Connecticut. And then I had a couple teachers in high school who took students out to the Adirondacks… it was a progression of experiences. After college, I was interested in environmental issues, but what did that mean at the time? I did some internships and started trying to figure out what was happening at that point.
NMSP: Your work history begins with the arts, but you have an advanced degree in environmental policy and management…
ME: I’m the product of an artist and a doctor – so I guess there was a tension between the creative-emotional and the cerebral-empirical. In the 80s I went to Bates College up in Maine, which was pretty good, but there was no such thing as environmental studies at that time, so, by default, I studied history.
By the 90s there were a few academic programs more in line with environmental studies but not ones that merged law, history, economics, and science – like the one I had the opportunity to get into at the University of Denver. I thought it was important to understand the dynamics of all the connecting pieces and integrating various kinds of information entering the field.
Moving down to the Four Corners Region twenty-years ago was also quite the education; there was so much to learn. There’s a lot of history there; things are very complicated, and there are no easy environmental and economic solutions. So some of the things I’ve been able to work on have been very challenging – but very interesting, and requiring a dynamic set of skills. I hope that I’ve acquired some of those skills.
NMSP: What was it like coming to work in the region as an environmental advocate?
ME: When I first started working for San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA), I was hired for two main tasks: The first one was to fight the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project, which would have been the third coal-fired power plant in the Farmington area and located on Navajo Nation land. The entities who were pitching the project were hoping they could capitalize on the concept of Navajo Nation sovereignty; our position was that this would affect a much broader scope of people, particularly when you considered the air, water, land, community, and so on.
We were also fighting the idea of an energy export zone, or national energy sacrifice zone, which was actually a moniker given by President Nixon in 1972. The thing I’m always amazed by is that any community associated with large-scale energy extraction – be it uranium, oil, gas, and coal, are so quick to glob on the idea that we can have cheap coal, cheap electricity, etc. When you include the externalities, it’s not cheap at all.
NMSP: The debate over jobs and the economy, when discussing energy, is always complicated, but what about the social, cultural, and environmental costs of carbon and the high costs to public health?
ME: We’ve been trying to get the social cost of carbon into the conversation, and you’ll get these, maybe, arbitrary numbers assigned. But the bottom line is, in my opinion, as long as you continue to burn fossil fuels, you’re going to have costs that need to be incorporated, somehow. Otherwise, you’ll pay the high costs associated with bad air quality, including increased risks to your health and your family’s health.
NMSP: Are people aware of these costs associated with energy extraction?
ME: I think we’ve kind of forced it on them. Farmington is an interesting place, because most of the families, the structure, and the histories involve people who work in the industry. I’ve been in a lot of situations where people have come up to me and said, ‘I can’t go public with this, because industry is how our family survives, but thanks for what you do, because both of my kids have asthma.’ There’s obviously a trust element to this, and there are people out there who might not be vocal, might not go public, but they appreciate the fact that some of these things matter to someone.
I also think that Farmington has the potential to move toward a more diversified economy that creates other kinds of jobs. But right now we’re so entrenched with this idea that oil and gas are coming back up, that coal is coming back, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are a lot of highly-paid people who come into our community convincing people that this is true. For four years we had an economic development guy telling people that a train would be built to transport all the shale-derived oil and gas and coal from the Navajo Mine, away for export to a developing international market. People are constantly being fed ideas like this until the economic development guy eventually leaves for greener pastures. They’ve actually been proposing a train for decades, and it just never happens.
Art by Asha Canalos
Miya King-Flaherty is a Public Lands Fellow with the Sierra Club, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work is focused on educating people about the effects of fracking in the Northwestern region of the state. Miya works extensively with different communities in the four-corners region to build grassroots support to resist the harmful impacts of fracking on communities. She is currently helping with the Frack Off Greater Chaco campaign, which is working to stop fracking in Greater Chaco. The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, along with many other local nonprofits, has a petition to submit comments to the Bureau of Land Management. The comment period is open until February 20th.
NMSP: Can you tell us about your life before you came to New Mexico?
MKF: I was raised in Los Angeles. I lived in the San Gabriel Valley with my sister and mother, and was raised by single parent. Early on, that kind of experience showed me how important it is to be independent and self-reliant to get things done.
When I was young, we moved back to Tennessee with my grandmother for about 4 years (my mom’s family is from Memphis, TN – from the South, where it’s very different from California). That was a pivotal and life-changing moment for me – I was going to a place that was regressing back into clear racial divides. So, that was a lesson for me to be very cognizant and aware of people’s intentions, things you don’t necessarily see. This experience led me toward being more of an introvert, and I learned to be very observant of my surroundings.
In 1998, we moved to New Mexico. I went to high school here; it was one of those moments where you don’t know anyone and don’t have any friends. You basically have to start at the beginning – all over again. I went to Manzano High School, an ABQ public school. I graduated and then went to UNM, and then studied biological anthropology. I always knew what I wanted to do. It was another avenue to get into primatology, primate conservation. I always wanted to be a primatologist, to conserve the Bonobos, because they are a great example of how (even though they are primates) of how larger community groups work well together. They’re matriarchal and endangered, and I wanted to be a champion for that flagship species. So biological anthropology was a way to do this. I also like cultural anthropology, because it’s important to know the people you’ll be working with in conservation. That interested me. So I got my BS in (biological anthro), and then I moved on to primate conservation – which was the reason I went to Oxford Brookes in England. I had spent one year as an undergrad in England – as an exchange student with a great core group. That’s where I met my future husband – he was an anthropologist, as well. To maintain our relationship, I decided to attend grad school in England.
NMSP: What brought you back to NM after you completed your master’s degree?
MKF: I’d been away for 7 years – I’d already spent much of my early adult life away from my family – so it was just time for me to come back to my mom and sister. I was hoping that after two college degrees, I could get a job in New Mexico, but I came back in 2011 – when NM hadn’t quite rebounded from the recession. It was a scary time, and I ended up doing some waitressing for about a year before I got back into the areas I was passionate about. I started working in fundraising after I left that job – working for nonprofits – I wanted to work with organizations trying to help on different issues. And then last year, working for NDI – New Mexico’s National Dance Institute, I focused on bringing dance and exercise to public school children in New Mexico. I think they have a really great mission, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about – probably because of the number of pressing environmental issues that needed to be addressed and worked on now (I always wanted to be a part of that movement). So I quit my job and after 3 months started working as a Public Lands Fellow for The Sierra Club. It’s a 2-year position; hopefully we can find some funding so that I can stay on. It’s a very interesting position – working within a broader coalition and educating the public about what’s going on with fracking in the Greater Chaco area. A lot of people don’t know about this in Albuquerque – I certainly didn’t know about it until I read the job description. So that’s what I focus on here at The Sierra Club, bringing awareness about what’s happening near Chaco through various means and activities.
NMSP: You’ve been with The Sierra Club for 1 year – how have things changed over that year? Has anything shifted for you over this time?
MKF: They have – I’d say that coming into this, I hadn’t realized how much work has already been done by the coalition, but certain things weren’t progressing – like the health impact reports. Rebecca Sobel (Wild Earth Guardians) – who has been invaluable to me – already knew what needed to be done as far as mobilizing people. But what needed to be done within the Navajo communities, developing relationships with impacted communities, is necessary to move anything forward. I didn’t realize how much collaboration with different cultures was needed – I learned how to be more humble, to listen, and not behave as an outsider know-it-all, instructing others on what we were going to do, etc.… I think, if anything, I come into this with the understanding that people from impacted communities will let me know what needs to be addressed , and then I can serve as a conduit to the broader public in ABQ.
Kendra Pinto is our first featured interview. Ms. Pinto is a Native American living in the Navajo Eastern Agency, and is witness, storyteller, and educator illuminating the fossil fuel industry’s impacts on lives, communities, and the environment. She recently participated in the 2016 Save Our Public Lands Tour., which traveled to Philadelphia PA for the Clean Energy Revolution March and Summit. She has also been involved in appealing directly to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. to halt fracking infrastructure on Native Lands, and has traveled to Standing Rock to participate in solidarity actions. Kendra’s first-hand account of the July 2016 explosion and fire of 36 oil tanks in Nageezi, NM, was published in The Huffington Post. To learn more about actions you can take to support Kendra’s fight, please visit Frack Off Greater Chaco for detailed suggestions of ways you can help.
Art by: Asha Canalos
NMSP: You were born in Shiprock, New Mexico, and your family (your parents and two sisters) moved to Nageezi, NM when you were a kid. Then, for a while, you lived in Chicago?
KP: For about 10 years I went up to Illinois during the summers to visit my aunt. It was fun, it was different. I grew up out here in the middle of nowhere, so the urban area was a big change. You hear that a lot from the kids out here, they want to get out, they want something else. When I was younger, I felt that way. Chicago was fun, but I needed to be home for family. And when I saw what was happening out here [more wells and more fracking] I knew I needed to be here. This is serious stuff, this is life. My family asks me if I’ll move away again, but I love this land. Some people would rather not see this place ever again, but I’m not one of those people.
NMSP: But then you went to school at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO?
KP: I started there last year. I thought maybe I should continue (to get my bachelor’s). I love the school, but I had to take this year off because, right now, this is priority. Getting this fracking out of here is priority. The classes will always be there. So I have to look at this first, and it takes a lot of time to drive back and forth, 3 hours a day, that’s a lot. Last semester I stayed in my truck, Monday through Saturday, I slept in my truck until it started getting cold. That’s something that people need to know about living out here, the majority of schools and jobs are over an hour away. When I go to events and tell people I live in the middle of nowhere, they don’t really get it. The urban people don’t understand that we often don’t even have cell phone service. Continue reading “This is serious stuff, this is life…”