Why We Need a National Monument Designation

By Miché Lozano

 

My first visit to the Canyon 18 years old

When I turned 18 years old I asked my family to take me to the Grand Canyon for the first time. I had always wanted to visit, but despite living in the same state as the Grand Canyon, traveling was an expense that my family could rarely afford. Until my first visit to the canyon that year, I had never truly understood the meaning of the word vast. I fell in love with the depth and the beauty of the canyon. The Earth’s rough history is exposed in the layers of geologic time for all to marvel at. I swore to myself that I’d return. Since then, I’ve hiked around the canyon numerous times and I love taking people there for their first times as well. This fall, Ecoflight gave me the opportunity to fly over the Grand Canyon in a small aircraft and to see the canyon from an entirely new perspective.

EcoFlight educates and advocates for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat through experiential learning, which utilizes small aircraft to immerse people in the world of conservation. I was asked to be a part of their program, to speak on behalf of Latino Outdoors and share stories of my personal experiences with Latino Outdoors.

My goal was to help the students understand how different people experience the outdoors and how to include more perspectives, making space for folks from different backgrounds in conservation work. My colleague, Sarah Ponticello was also involved in the program; she was advocating on behalf of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (GGCHNM), which will protect the canyon’s currently unprotected lands for future generations to enjoy. Sarana Riggs from the Grand Canyon Trust and Jason Nez, a National Park Service archeologist, spoke to the group about the movement: Save the Confluence. Both Sarana and Jason are Diné (Navajo) and they provided their perspectives of the dilemmas that proposed construction of a tram and tourist resort at the sacred site would cause.

The Confluence is the sacred site where the bright blue waters of the Little Colorado River meet the Colorado River. The Navajo and Hopi have origin stories tied to the Confluence, they are deeply connected to what this place represents to them spiritually.

Although each of us had different agendas and prioritized some of the countless issues impacting the Grand Canyon in different ways, we all understand that this place is in need of protection. Having a National Monument designation added to this natural wonder is essential to the protection of its precious natural and cultural resources.

To be completely honest, flying over the Grand Canyon was never on my bucket list because it just seemed so unattainable. It’s one of those touristy things only rich people do, right? I try to make a conscious effort not to be elitist or resentful when I see other people enjoying the same things I enjoy. But I’ll be heading in on the Kaibab trail with a backpack ready to go hike the canyon for a few hours, then I’ll see all the people standing on the rim taking selfies and think to myself you’re not going in? You’re just gonna take photos of yourself? Really? Aggressively rolling my eyes.

I guess I like to think that experiencing the harshness of the canyon has altered the way I like to experience it: the perpetually dry heat, the spiny plants with their flowery secrets, and long hours of hiking and getting to know my friends while enveloped in the canyon’s embrace. Experiencing the canyon’s harsh features, venturing through its rugged terrain, builds character and I really like that. I did the “tourist” thing when I was 18 and visited for the first time. I just took pictures at the rim and wandered down a few switchbacks, that was it. It was beautiful and I remember enjoying it, but nowhere near the extent to which I appreciate it now. I wonder if those people on the rim get out much, I wonder if taking pictures on the rim is the most time they’ll spend outdoors. Now, everyone’s experience is different and I bet we all think that our way is the best way to experience the outdoors, until we try something new.

So there I am. I’m sitting in the cockpit of a small aircraft – taking selfies – and we’re taking off to fly over the Grand Canyon and I don’t know if I want to throw up from the sheer excitement or from the nausea that comes from flying.
We flew over the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the Grand Canyon and I watched the tall ponderosa pines that blanket the landscape slowly blurring into a sea of green. There was no reference point for perspective, you just have to take it all in and it’s incredible. The Grand Canyon is BIG. I mean it’s really, really BIG. I was literally flying over it and I still couldn’t see all of it. I thought I knew the meaning of Vast from my first visit to the canyon, but this was different, an entirely new feeling, once again I was immersed in an overwhelming sense of wonder. 

To a regular tourist who is not from the area or involved with all the political turmoil that surrounds the canyon, this view is breathtaking. But for people like myself and the other activists who were involved in EcoFlight’s program, I think this flight was something truly special. There it was. Everything that we want to protect, everything we are fighting for through policies, conferences, and petitions. The history of the Earth exposed by the famous Colorado River that sliced its way through the layers of ancient rock, allowing us to read into our past. The ancestral lands of the many indigenous people like the Navajo whose identities are deeply woven into that land. All of it, from a Condors’ eye view. The following photograph stirs a lot of emotions within me. Just south of the Grand Canyon (which is out of view) is a Uranium mine under the shadow of a sacred site known as Red Butte, on the horizon is the San Francisco Peaks mountain range (another sacred site); home to the highest point in Arizona just north of Flagstaff.

Two sacred sites and a uranium mine all in the same photo

 

The eye-sore you see here is a uranium mine.

 

The Navajo and Hopi are their own sovereign nations, but that hasn’t stopped the historical abuse of their land. Our own government has painfully often prioritized resource extraction on Navajo and Hopi land—adding to the history of broken promises since the first treaties were signed.It also reinforced the different perspectives the government and tribal communities had in regards to land. A sacred site is disregarded for its economic value as an extractable resource. . The same uranium used to fuel the cold war and generate energy for our society inflicted tremendous cultural loss and suffering on the people of the Navajo and Hopi nations for generations. The number of threats from uranium mining claims that could be validated in the near future is staggering, including jeopardizing the water source for over 30 million people who rely on the Colorado River and indigenous groups will likely suffer the worst of those repercussions. It’s scary stuff.

I won’t go too into detail about the history of mining activities and the environmental racism that has occurred and is still happening, but I will say that contemporary relationships between natural resource agencies and indigenous groups are sometimes strained because of that painful history. Luckily, I think times are changing and people are looking at the past with disdain and feeling hopeful about moving forward into a future of improved relationships with both the land and its indigenous people.

With the breath-taking view of Grand Canyon behind me, I spoke to the group of students in EcoFlight’s program about Latino Outdoors and our collective efforts to create opportunities for Latinx communities to access the outdoors and re-connect our culture with the land. I enjoy public speaking, but I was really intrigued by the curiosity and passion the students demonstrated during their experience. I also learned so much information I never knew from the other speakers, like the issues revolving around the Confluence and all the hope people were putting behind the national monument proposal.

Sarah Ponticello speaking to the students from EcoFlight about the GGCHNM

If the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument comes into fruition it will:

  1. Permanently protect 1.7 million acres of land that surround Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining.
  2. Permanently protect the entire Grand Canyon, its rich cultural and ecological heritage, archaeological sites, and waters sacred to Native American communities throughout the region.

Flying over the Canyon was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I got to see the confluence for the first time and my understanding of the word vast was rejuvenated with a healthy dose of amazement. Let’s say I do get a second chance to fly over the canyon, I would definitely go for it!

I would just hate to fly over the Grand Canyon and see it peppered with mining operations and obnoxious tourist attractions that have total disregard for the validity of Native American culture and their sacred sites. I think the intrinsic value of the Grand Canyon is much too important to allow such desecration.

 


Estoy Aquí- Con Gratitud Y Apreciación

Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District, CA.

In the coming weeks I hope many of you have the opportunity to enjoy time outdoors. It is one of the many ways that I hope you spend time with family, friends, peers, loved ones—or anyone that connects you to the spirit of gratitude and appreciation. The holiday season may be celebrated differently by a diversity of our communities, but I want to stress the intent of what it is for many and what it can be for all—a reminder of the light that can guides us as we continue forward, reflect on our growth, celebrate success, and be thankful for what brings us joy and harmony in our lives. These are trying times for many reflecting on the political shift from the presidential election, and the implications for the work and the communities so many of us value. We can analyze the reasons for the outcome and cast blame if so desired. But this is where we are, and it doesn’t change that it is up to all of us to provide the leadership we need for each other and where it counts. Whether in struggle, in solidarity, as allies, or in any way we can support each other, now is the time to show it in authenticity and with the right intention. Every action, however small or large, helps, from inviting a new family to experience the restorative benefits of the outdoors, to the policy work in maintaining open and equitable access to our public lands. Use your favorite quote, inspiration, or guiding principles, whatever it takes—but never forget to realize that you can actualize change and make a positive difference for someone from where you stand. Most importantly, you have the power in making a difference where you live and with what you have.

LatinXplorers in Hood River, OR. Photo by Ray Perkins.

I want to connect that to what 2016 has meant to me with the work with Latino Outdoors. I always wanted to make a difference. That is why I went into teaching, because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to my community in the way that education had given to me. I saw it as a way to pay it forward and enjoying a certain livelihood and show my parents that “I made it”. But it was still not enough. I wanted to risk forward and leave the security of a teaching position to “try this idea”—that there was an opportunity to identify, connect, and celebrate Latino leadership with the outdoors. I was looking for individuals, communities, and organizations to which I could plug in and ultimately I ended up creating what I was looking for. I took the step forward from where I stood and stumbled into something larger than myself.

Cosumnes River Preserve Outing with Bureau of Land Management CA. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

Latino Outdoors started with an idea which has been shaping into building an organization with the responsibility to a passionate and dedicated volunteer based that in just this year delivered over 70 outdoor experiences. I’m astounded by what a small dedicated group has been doing to change a space in the outdoor world. But as the quote says, never be surprised by what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish…

Malibu Creek State Park, CA State Parks.

Our team is composed of college students or recent graduates vibrant with the ideas and pedagogy of making a difference in this space to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are parents or community members that simply wanted to connect with nature and share that joy with others as they doubted their own expertise in this field. They are working professionals who have seen the outdoors as an outlet for adventure and finding others “like me”. They are Chicano/as, Latino/as, Latinxs, Raza, Paisas, Hispanos, or a variety of nationalities. They have clear indigenous roots or identify as Afro-Latino. They are “envatomentalists”, “ecolatinos”, “ecocholos” and a variety of other mestizaje identities that highlight an ambicultural space that connects more of our communities with the outdoors.  Regardless of the varied reasons, they all said yes to working in and building this community—and for that I am grateful. They are the community I was looking for and I am dedicating next year to supporting them.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

I started 2016 with personal challenges and a big opportunity for growth—as well as a need to continue to focus the work and steward the responsibility now in my hands. When I first launched my blog I wanted to see if my story connected with others—and was curious what we could build. Since then I met President Obama in the Oval Office, hit the trails with Secretary Sally Jewell, co-produced a movie that screened as a White House event, received a conservation award with Harrison Ford, traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, delivered a series of presentations and workshops on increasing diversity in conservation, and had my face and story in several publications that I honestly never thought I would appear in. We engaged in several initiatives to increase diversity in our public lands, from the Parks Now coalition in California to the Latino Conservation Alliance and The Next 100 Coalition at the national level. From Latino Conservation Week to #OptOutside, we were there to say “Estamos Aqui” in our public lands and #EncuentraTuParque. Those are all privileges and opportunities I didn’t have before Latino Outdoors.

Photo by Pete Souza, White House, used with permission.

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, CA.

Latino Conservation Alliance reception for Raul Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Natural Resources Committee.

Spirit of the Muries, Murie Center, Teton Science Schools, Grand Teton National Park.

Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

Next 100 Coalition, Washington D.C.

Many of you followed me and thanked me for what I was doing. Though it may have looked simple at times through social media, it came with a lot of work and a continuous search for that balance of service and self-care. It was not easy and I had to re-examine how I could best serve my community while caring for myself and providing the time for personal space.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But an important piece remains the same—gratitude and appreciation for being in this place. I was able to do what I enjoyed and cared about. I was being of service how I wanted to be when I first left graduate school. I felt my voice was being heard and that my identity was being seen—and that I could begin to not feel alone. Many of you showed that. If you gave me a helping hand, thank you. If you supported Latino Outdoors, thank you. I appreciate your patience with me and the work we do—and my commitment is to show that your investment is worthwhile and that we will pay it forward.

Members of various youth leadership programs including San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy.

In 2016 I had a hashtag associated with me: #whereisjose. Bueno, estoy aqui. And although Latino Outdoors will continue to change along with my presence, my answer will be simple #hereisjose.

See you on the trails in 2017. Con respeto y admiración,

José G. González Founder, Executive Director @Latino Outdoors


Cesar Chavez, Naturalist, Farmworker Organizer, Friend by Albert “Abby” Ybarra

On the 23rd anniversary of the death of Cesar Chavez

abby cesar

In the years since our dear brother, friend, and community leader Cesar Chavez passed away, I’ve had the occasion to think about the blessings in my life and how my family found itself in the middle of a historic movement. I learned the native ways from my grandfather who took us on many outdoor trips. As a young child, I remember walking with him as he searched for medicinal plants use for his work as a “Curandero”. These early environmental excursions to the outdoors were my entry and what soon became my life’s passion and connection to nature. It was during these treks that my grandfather told me about his farm labor organizing work. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I had the chance to learn about the great United Farmworkers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and it’s contributions to Latinos and labor.

While in college, my brothers, friends and I gathered food to feed the striking farmworkers in the grape fields in Delano, CA. On one of our first winter break trips to Delano, we all met Cesar Chavez at the 40 Acres United Farm Workers (UFW) headquarters. I knew immediately he was going to be someone we could follow anywhere and into the world when he was organizing. The history of my grandfather’s organizing work in the 1930s in San Diego County immediately had all the relevance in the world. I knew this stuff, although I never picked crops, I knew farm work from my family history. Our ancestors lived off the Sonora desert for generations, as gathers and farmers, and those stories and my subsequent calling to gardening became evident to me and where I was headed in life.

I am an Assistant Scout Master and Venturing Crew Advisor with the Boy Scouts of America. My work with the Scouting programs has kept me outdoors for most of my non-school time. As I learned later from my elders, this was my destiny and I was to be a person who cared and worked for others. I was born into activism with my own family and the love of social justice led me to join Cesar and the movement. I was ready and understood what had to be done – had to be done now.

abby cesar1

Being around Cesar Chavez and his family gave us time to see and watch him work with the union and his family. My initial inclination was that he was a hard working person who was an inspiration to all who worked with him. After his fast of 1972, we saw a different Cesar not seen by the media or masses who followed his work. He went to Arizona (Mt. Lemon) for a few weeks to heal up from the fast. He hiked daily, and continued to grow in strength with longer hikes in and around the canyon. He loved being in the natural world, surrounded by fast moving streams and playing simple games like playing horse shoes and eating healthy. I believe our long talks led me to improve my own eating habits and Cesar gave me a book to read which helped me go vegetarian for many years. Learning to eat healthy and organic in the early 70’s was not easy. There was no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to shop in and grocery stores rarely carried organic products.

Cesar’s activities outside of organizing revealed to me that he liked being outdoors. He enjoyed taking his family beach camping to Carpentaria Ca. The things he did with his family often showed us that Cesar was connected to the natural wonders, and led his family to enjoy it with him.

In later years of his union life, Cesar had more time to work his organic gardens. As small time gardener since early youth myself, this was an area where I felt comfortable talking with Cesar. Our last long conversation was at La Paz where he was preparing his annual winter garden. La Paz is the union headquarters and home in Keen CA. That was the winter of 1992, probably October or November. Cesar’s gardens varied in sizes but usually he grew everything on about 2 to 3 acres, and he set up his own drip irrigation system. Cesar Chavez never used pesticides on his food production. I saw him one more time in February in Los Angeles for a funeral mass for a long union supporter Fr. Olivares. I stood just a few feet away with Jackson Brown who played for the service. Cesar smiled slightly when our eyes met but I recall most is that he looked very tired that day.
Sadly, this was our last meeting, as a few months later he was called to walk to the other side on March 23, 1993.

As I look back I can see it was my destiny to meet and know Cesar. His presence was powerful. For anyone who had the chance to talk with Cesar, you would know immediately that he was an inspiration and what he envisioned for farm workers we could also wish for ourselves.

Our talks about gardens and the natural world we lived in are the best memories I have to share about my times with Cesar. Whenever I here talk about aquaponics gardening, I can recall that coldish day at La Paz (Keene CA) when Cesar and I last spoke in length. We talked at length about the future of aquaponics gardening and the understanding that our ancestors had already proven this system with the creation of the gardens of Xochilmilco in Mexico City, in the 8th century by the Nahua people.

Our meeting, the connection of our families, and now my life’s work in environmental and conservation education had its roots in the many times I spoke one on one with one of the most inspirational people in my lifetime. Knowing him up close and our personal, our family connections, makes my work more meaningful. I like to think Cesar would smile at what I’ve done with my time working to connect people back to our innate connection to the natural world.

Albert “Abby” Ybarra
Yaqui
Project Indigenous
Environmental Education Specialist
Actor
Musician