Rural America

Monday, Sep 9, 2019, 1:20 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke

Guess Which Candidates Support the Farmers Bill of Rights?

President Franklin D Roosevelt shakes hands with a farmer en route to Warm Springs, Georgia in 1932.   (Photographer unknown, Wikimedia Commons)

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted that while the Constitution guaranteed a set of political rights, they were in some respects inadequate. To ensure equality, Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights that would guarantee full employment with adequate income; freedom from unfair competition; adequate housing, health care, and education; Social Security; and fair incomes for farmers.

Many items from the Economic Bill of Rights have emerged in the 2020 presidential campaigns, such as the call for free post-secondary education, affordable housing, anti-trust enforcement, Medicare for all, and a living wage. Yet, only Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have expressed their support for rural people by endorsing a “Farmers Bill of Rights."

Basically, the Farmers Bill of Rights aims to break the stranglehold of the big agri-corporations, stop the wave of farm consolidation and re-empower the small, family farmers who actually work the land.


Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019, 1:11 pm  ·  By Amaya Mikolič-Berrios

When Ecosystems Suffer, So Do Humans: To Heal People We Need to Heal the Planet

Smog hangs over the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2014. The World Health Organization estimates that outdoor air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths per year.   (Photo by Igors Jefimovs/Wikimedia Commons)

Even as humans have brought more and more of ourselves into existence—7.7 billion as of 2019—our species has continued to degrade and destroy the Earth’s natural systems that make human life possible. Humans have depleted nonrenewable resources and sullied renewable resources essential to life, such as water and air, and so undermined not only ecosystem health but human health as well.

In late 2017, four environmentalists came together to create the non-profit EcoHealth Network (EHN) to address this growing crisis. Bound by a common vision of a future where the health of people and the health of ecosystems are connected, the group promotes ecological restoration through the creation of a worldwide network of restoration projects, whose researchers will share resources and expertise.


Tuesday, Jul 16, 2019, 3:50 pm  ·  By Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann

The GMO American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Biotech Trojan Horse?

The American Chestnut Foundation, established in 1983, has developed a hybrid American chestnut that is resistant to blight. Since 2014, biotechnologists at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York Syracuse, have been engineering a genetically altered American chestnut that is resistant to the fungus the decimated the iconic tree in the early 20th century.   (Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann)

About a century ago, the American chestnut tree was attacked by the invasive fungal pathogen Cryphonectria parasitica. The fungal blight drove the tree—an estimated 3-4 billion once grew in the United States—to functional extinction. 

Now, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have genetically engineered a resistant American chestnut variety. They aim to petition the required regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) for approval of their genetically engineered chestnut in the near future, with the stated goal of restoring the species to nature.

However, the choices made about the genetically engineered (GE) American chestnut will set a precedent for the future use of biotechnology on other forest tree species and, even more broadly, on the use of biotechnology as a tool for conservation.


Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019, 12:09 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman

The Bright Side of the Current Farm Crisis: An Opportunity For Change

Although family farms account for 97 percent of farms in the United States, the largest 10 percent of farms produce 75 percent of the country's agricultural output, meaning large-scale operations have an overpowering influence on farm policy. It is the 90 percent of farmers who own smaller operations that are most threatened by climate change and the current farm crisis.   (Mike Procario / / Creative Commons)

JFK, as it turns out, was wrong when he noted 60 years ago that the word “crisis” is a combination of the Chinese brush strokes meaning danger and opportunity. While he was linguistically incorrect, we get what he was saying. A crisis situation can be the impetus for change, an opportunity for society to figure out better ways to move forward.

Today, the largest crisis in the minds of farmers is the overarching threat of an increasingly variable and changing climate. With the added pressures of stark economic  inequality and the increased cost of living—up 14% over the last 4 years—the economy is decidedly not “ the greatest economy in the history of our country.”


Wednesday, Jul 3, 2019, 1:55 pm  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Removing the Stain of Wounded Knee:  Members of Congress Move to Rescind Medals of Honor

On Dec. 29, 1890, the soldiers with the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry Regiment massacred an estimated 250-500 Native people, most of whom were women and children, at Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Above, U.S. soldiers dump the frozen corpses of those they killed into a mass grave.  

Bodies frozen in the snow, a baby with five bullet wounds, small children shot at such close range their clothes and bodies were singed with gunpowder. Army general Nelson Miles was shocked by what he found at Wounded Knee. He arrived several days after the carnage, which occurred December 29, 1890. A battle-hardened Civil War veteran, he was appalled by what he called in a letter to his wife, “the most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children.”

Over Miles’ objections, 20 Congressional Medals of Honor were soon awarded to U.S. Army soldiers involved. When more medals were suggested later in 1891, Miles called them “an insult to the memory of the dead.”

Five U.S. Representatives are co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill called the Remove the Stain Act, which seeks to rescind the Wounded Knee awards.


Wednesday, Apr 10, 2019, 11:34 am  ·  By Michael J. Dax

The Decline of Custom Harvests and the Struggle of Rural America

A tractor and grain cart, which is used to shuttle wheat from combines to trucks for hauling. (Michael J. Dax)  

After cutting their final acres of wheat in eastern Colorado, Jim and Tracy Zeorian, the husband and wife team that make-up Zeorian Harvesting and Trucking, started the process of loading their combine, header truck, and trailer to make the journey to their next job in Jordan, Mont. Even after the two trips needed to move their equipment, they were still early. The spring wheat they planned to cut wouldn’t be ready for a few weeks, but that didn’t mean it was time to rest.

After setting up camp in the small RV park tucked away on the edge of town, Jim parked their bright yellow, New Holland combine with contact information in the windshield next to the café that marks the town’s western entrance.

Tracy, a third-generation harvester, has been coming to Jordan since 1981. In those days, there were enough custom harvesters—also known as custom cutters or “Wheaties”—that they would all set-up together on the outskirts of town in makeshift camps that would disband as soon as they moved onto the next town. Many harvesters already had work lined-up, but others arrived in hopes of finding jobs, and it was common for harvesters to park their equipment in a public place so that farmers with acres to cut could easily find and hire them.

Those days are mostly over. The large, raucous harvest camps of the past are a stark contrast to the Zeorian’s inconspicuous campsite adorned with picnic table, grill and potted flowers. Back then, Jordan might have had as many as 20 crews looking for work, but in 2018, Zeorian’s was the lone combine sitting outside town.


Thursday, Feb 21, 2019, 11:34 am  ·  By Winona LaDuke

The Rights of Wild Rice

A ricer harvests manoomin (wild rice) on Big Rice Lake on the White Earth Reservation.  

Manoomin (wild rice) now has legal rights.  At the close of 2018, the White Earth band of Ojibwe recognized the “Rights of Manoomin” as a part of tribal regulatory authority.  The resolution states, “It has become necessary to provide a legal basis to protect wild rice and fresh water resources as part of our primary treaty foods for future generations.” White Earth, the largest Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota, relies on wild rice for sustenance, not only monetarily, but as “food for the spirits." This new White Earth law is similar to one adopted by the 1855 Treaty Alliance, and reflects traditional laws of Anishinaabe people.

The law begins: “Manoomin, or wild rice, within all the Chippewa ceded territories, possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery and preservation.”


Monday, Dec 17, 2018, 10:02 am  ·  By Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Indian Country: The Situation is Bleak, But Not Hopeless

On Oct. 22, 2014, Adam Lays Hard, 14, and Sam Bull Bear, 18, who are members of the Oglala Lakota, a subtribe of the Great Souix Nation, ride across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge is the poorest community in the United States.   Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Back in 2001, about 100 miles west of Kabul, in the Bamiyan Valley, the Taliban rigged two towering sandstone statues of Gautama Buddha with enough dynamite to wipe them clean from the cliff they were carved into during the sixth century. Despite an international outcry, the Taliban detonated the 1,700-year old statues. They were met with condemnation, outrage and headlines the world over.

In early 2015, videos started circulating showing Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters taking jackhammers, drills and sledgehammers to ancient artifacts in the Mosul museum. Then ISIL took a bulldozer to the Mashki and Adad Gates of Nineveh, and all but toppled the 2nd-century city of Palmyra.

In the summer of 2016, members of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Tribe mounted legal action against mining operations that endangered large portions of the Tosawihi Quarries—a 15,000-year-old tribal sacred tribal site in Nevada that includes ancient-stone gathering places and an ancestral healer’s trail that qualified for the National Register of Historic Places. The mining company didn’t wait for a final ruling to begin operations and irreparably damaged the Tosawihi Quarries.

Can we derive any common denominators from the events in the Bamiyan Valley, Mosul, Nineveh, Palmyra and the Tosawihi Quarries?


Friday, Oct 26, 2018, 10:07 am  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Digital Smoke Signals in the 2018 Midterms

Photo by Stephanie Woodard

Silicon Valley met Indian country in Minneapolis. Over two days in early-October, longtime software developer Deepak Puri taught tribal representatives—from Leech Lake, Red Lake, Menominee, Rosebud, Sisseton-Wahpeton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Navajo and more—to use cheap, fast, off-the-shelf technology to supercharge voter access to the polls in Indian country.


Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018, 10:52 am  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

20,000 Native Voters for North Dakota?

Buffalo at play on the North Dakota portion of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where voters are hoping for corrected IDs that will allow them to vote in November.   (Photo by Stephanie Woodard)

A major voting hurdle for Native Americans in North Dakota used to be thought of as a kind of force of nature, sort of like gravity or sunshine: Indian reservations didn’t have named, numbered streets. And without these designations on the tribal IDs that Natives carry, they couldn’t vote in the state.​

There was no way around the problem. No residential address on tribal IDs meant no ballot box access for Native people—unless they were willing to undertake prohibitively long and costly drives and other hurdles to get an alternate ID. “It is a voter-suppression technique North Dakota targets at its Native population,” accuses OJ Semans, the Rosebud Sioux co-director of Four Directions civil rights group.

In September, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in a voting-rights case brought by the Native American Rights Fund on behalf of Native plaintiffs.

The court backed North Dakota’s ID law.