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Thursday, January 15, 2009

K'é: Light Green Bananas

Last week I heard about a new environmental movement: Light Green.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, former Survivor, host of The View and author of the forthcoming The G-Free Diet (living gluten free), hosted a consumer advocacy segment on the daytime show detailing the ways you can go green without much trouble or expense. Her guest, who I neglected to record the name of, but she might have been sponsored by (an employee of) Disney, took us from stage left to right, listing what products you should spend your béeso on and those you shouldn't.

Before beginning though, she said. Going green doesn't have to be hard. I like to think of it in shades, or grades, from dark green to light green. Some people would have you driving Hybrids and making your own baby food. Those are the dark greens. We're here to show you how to go green without changing your lifestyle or wasting your hard earned money. I added the part about hard earned.

Stage left. Fruit and vegetables. I have these in categories. Things you shouldn't even waste your money on and things you should absolutely purchase organic. In the first category: oranges, pineapples, bananas. Wait, bananas are the sacred food of my nation. I begin to listen more closely. All these things come with their own skin, which you peel off. Precisely, that's what makes bananas the perfect food, aside from corn and mutton. You just peel it off and there goes the pesticides.


She's on to the absolutely organic. Whoopi is chomping on a hard green apple. Apples, peaches, grapes, these you should cough up the money for. Or, Miss Elisabeth adds, you can just peel them. On to the next display. Miss Shades of Green sort of stammers, about the skin, peeling it off, some is absorbed by the fruit. Time is ticking, and so is common knowledge. The View Master has a stopwatch and Miss Shades of Green has to move on.

Peel them?

Last weekend I also saw the toxic comedy, Blue Vinyl, a film by Judith Helfand ( and Daniel B. Gold. The film follows Helfand as she tries to convince her parents that their decision to side their home with blue vinyl, embossed to look like wood, was a big mistake. Her father assures her the vinyl siding only poses a threat in the unlikely event of a house fire.

He must not be afraid of the End of Days, and he must not live in California.

The film documents her efforts to prove to him the vinyl is not so harmless, to the environment, the factory workers and the neighboring communities.

He's in Long Island and in Long Island Louisiana can seem, not so close, the people, not so real, certainly not related, the danger not so tangible. Besides it's cheap and the vinyl is good for the resale value.

They're selling the house? They just put the vinyl on.

You gotta see it. The film that is.

The point, in the end, Helfand and Gold are trying to make is: My house is your house. (

When I was little and I got some cool new toy, like crystal knocker balls that hung from a silver ring, real silver not that fake nickel plated stuff, my Grandma's first words would always be: Where did you get that?

Mostly because she had to navigate my travels and treasure hunting. The daily trips I took with my Grandpa, on our way to Dog Patch, en route to the liquor store we'd always stop and sift through the dump, back when there were "local dumps," and he'd locate the jewels among the garbage. I had a very extensive collection of marbles and bottle tops. Knocker balls were contraband.

I'm not supposed to have used things. You never know what they carry. Not cooties, we had cooties of our own, so we weren't afraid of them, but life. You never know what experiences things hold the residue of and we were supposed to be careful. We were sensitive to that: residue.

We didn't have a lot of money, but my Grandparents turned our poverty into endless hours of magic. Food, we grew it. Clothes, we sewed them. Toys, we built them. Music, we played it. From this and that, our feet, our hands and our minds we were never without something good.

Any idiot knows you can't peel the pesticides offa apple, offa skin, off the earth.

My Grandpa being the coyote he was would often urinate in the most creative places. But he would never urinate in his soil. The neighbors yard, yeah. I mean what did she do, but plant Mrs. Butterworth bottles and Christmas Poinsettias from Safeway. He ate his dirt, not for food, but for information. He tasted what it had and from that he knew what it needed. He watered his dirt. He went back in his shed and mixed up plants and potions to make it good, for us and for our bellies and spirits.

Food was a politics they could both agree on, not like Jesus or the Catholics. Food made us different. The tongue hanging out of the pot was only one example.

Back to the sacred food of the Diné.

Bananas are the number one selling fruit in the United States; they out-sell apples and oranges combined. Over 170 million 40 pound boxes of bananas were sold in the United States alone, in 1997. In 2007 the Hawaiian Islands alone produced 9.7 millions pounds.

Anyone who loves bananas as much as we do knows they're good green, they're good yellow and if they go black you can mash them into a bushel of muffins. Anyone also knows bananas bruise, easily.

The point, though, is not in the peel. Though the peel does allow you to carry one in your purse, or fold a half one up for later. The point is in the people and the dirt, not to mention the Banana Republics.

Bananas are grown in dirt and they are grown by people. In the course of a growth cycle both the people and the dirt are treated with an insane amount of toxic chemicals (pesticides). Chorpyrifos (declared toxic by the World Health Organization), DBCP (resulting in sterility among workers), nematocides/Aldicarb (lethal at .9 mg per pound of human weight). Soil is often flood irrigated. Songbirds and hawks are dying as a result of the poisons. Latin America has increased pesticides use five fold since the eighties, all to meet the United States consumer desire for summer fruit in winter.

The question of today is not my Grandmother's. The question of today is how much does it cost? And can I get it cheaper?

I was raised with the twin phrases: we don't do that and we don't say that. These words gave me strength at four and continue to give me strength today.

K'é is the way we work together—with and through our relations. K'é recognizes that the earth is our mother, we emerged from her. We have the responsibility to care for her and she cares for us. Our fundamental philosophy relies on this responsibility, on respect and the nurturing of good relations. It is our belief and our practice that these relations guide each of our daily activities, including the purchase of bananas.

Given their ubiquity and value, they are a perfect product for us to exercise our good sense and stewardship.

As long as they have a resale value commercial bananas will be grown. People, animals and the earth itself will pay one price while the consumer is charged a lower one.

In Blue Vinyl, Judith Helfand tells us "Consumers have the power to transform a market and make a hazardous product obsolete."

It doesn't take a genius. If you want to save some béeso don't buy Elisabeth's book, buy organic bananas.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

For Future Reference: At the Crossroads, Knowledge Is What You Know

This is the month of the melting snow. The first, today, the feast day of the Ifa God of the Crossroads. Rain. Dark mornings and early nights. Winter Solstice reminding us that we are close, together, to spring. Work requires hands. We have them. Hands working. The men take this time to plan how they will plant, while children sit and listen to narratives that tell us who we are.

For many January first marks the time when Christmas bills start arriving. Credit and debt shapes many lives more intimately than the ancestors, what they taught, what they know.

For a long time I've said, with pride, "we don't have a casino." Now we do.

Fire Rock Casino opened on November 26, 2008. The doors opened at 4 pm. The people standing in line since 8 am. Once open the casino hit capacity in 45 minutes. While more waited outside over 400 got in. The first day totals were $1.2 million.

Navajos are noted for a great and many things, the least of which is not our pride. We have numbers. We have land. We have many living speakers.

As recently as the Unites States Great Depression many Diné were living well, grazing their sheep and teaching their children. Sheep is life. K'é the fundamental law of the nation. The seasons providing the time and space necessary for our teachings. The U.S.'s general economy and culture was on the periphery of our daily lives. In practical terms we stood firmly in the center of the world.

This is no longer the case.

Our world is touched and our daily lives shaped by the world wide web, employment/unemployment, formal education, Christianity, drug and alcohol abuse and the consumer-entertainment industry.

The same day the Times reported the Fire Rock opening, Jason Begay wrote a significant article about the effect of gas prices (rising and falling) on the nation.

Some facts from his article (Officials Study Impact of Falling Oil Prices," Window Rock, Nov. 26, 2008): People are happy about the fall in pump prices. The U.S. federal government served notice they were cutting $10 million from federal grants for the nation's operating costs. Oil costs have gone down approximately 66% in the last 4 months. In the 2008 fiscal year the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas company was earning $47.2 million. The 2009 fiscal year projections for the nation were $172 million, providing oil prices remained the same. The Budget and Finance Committee will have to address and account for the difference in projections and actual returns.

For all the details please read Begay's article in full:

A week before, former Chief Justice Robert Yazzie and Lorraine Ruffing and James Singer of the Diné Policy Institute of the Diné College published an opinion piece in the Times: Wall Street, Navajo Way meet at Crossroads.

Some facts from the article: 70% of Navajo income is spent outside of the nation (off reservation), after the recent fall of the U. S. economy the Nation's trust portfolio fell over $240 million.

I recommend everyone read their article in full:

Yazzie, Ruffing and Singer conclude with the following: "With the current economic crises we as a people have the freedom and responsibility to examine where we are and where we are heading. A choice, then, is laid on the road before us: whether to continue down Wall Street, or hang a U-Turn on Navajo Way."

In 1934 Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas arrived from Paris for Gertrude's American lecture tour. The first line of one of her lectures was: "Knowledge is what you know."

Fire Rock Casino. The Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. The Nation's Trust Portfolio. Money. Do we know how to live without it? The U. S. Economy. Do we know how to live outside it?

In previous writings Judge Yazzie has remarked that our strength as a people came, in part, from our homogenous culture and our isolation from the U.S..

No one doubts our ability, as a people, to take what we see as the best in other worlds and refashion them into something uniquely and passionately our own. Perhaps our defining characteristic is our ability to adapt to the changing world while retaining our indescribable core: K'é, Diné Bizaad, these our winter stories and the time to tell them.

Our challenge today is no different than the challenges faced by our ancestors. They too had "the freedom and responsibility to examine where we are and where we are heading."

In practical terms we must untangle our minds and our national and personal economies from the U.S. economy and culture.

The U. S. economic crises is a direct consequence of certain beliefs about the world and the people who inhabit it. Our grandparents know this. We know this too. The problem is that many no longer believe it is possible to live whole, in the center of the world, or they lack the practical steps to return our daily activities to those practices which maintain balance (ecologically, socially and spiritually) and identity.

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.