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The Sacred Earth Network Newsletter - Summer '99

Issue #13 page 2 of 3

On This Page:

N. Eurasian Snow Leopard Protectors Unite!
A Native American Perspective
BOOK REVIEW "Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight"
SEN Summer Events listing
Earth Day 2000
Genetically Engineered Food

Northern Eurasian Snow Leopard Protectors Unite!

In May 1999, SEN sponsored a very successful working group meeting in south central Kazakhstan of Central Asian and Russian snow leopard researchers, educators and protection advocates. The results of this remarkable meeting were concrete and hopeful. The U.S. representatives who attendedBill Pfeiffer and Susan Cutting of SEN, Colin Garland of Raven Adventures/Global Classroom, an ecotour organization, and Lee McDavid, a writer and member of the SEN Board of Directorsdeveloped tremendous respect for a group of people working in extreme circumstances to preserve a fragile international treasure.

We flew into Chimkent, Kazakhstan, from Moscow before dawn on May 12 in the pouring rain and piled into a jeep for a bumpy two and a half hour drive through the Kazak steppe towards Aksu Dzhabagly, a zapovednik, or protected reserve, which would serve as the backdrop for an historic meeting of snow leopard experts from Central Asia.

SEN sponsored snow leopard protection meeting in Kazahkstan

Sixteen experts from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia, were able to meet and share information in what may well turned out to be a watershed event for snow leopard protection. (A representative from Tajikistan, a country suffering from civil war, was unable to attend.) Kazakhstan-based coordinators of SEN's snow leopard project, Vitaly Vyrypaev and Alex Zagribelny, organized three days of meetings during which everyone worked together in a remarkably supportive and productive manner to share information and suggest plans of action. The room was electric with stories of snow leopard encounters and the common challenges facing all the countries of Central Asia.

The snow leopard, or Irbis (as it is known locally), could be called a bellwether for change in the entire beleaguered environment of Central Asia. Besieged by environmental pollution, economic exploitation and stagnation, and political strife, Central Asia is struggling to solve a multitude of problems which arrived on their doorstep when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992 and the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia suddenly had to fend for themselves. The snow leopard is just one of many casualties of the resulting chaos. As the prospects for Central Asia decline or improve, so, it seems, do those of the snow leopard.

The assembled experts agreed that since 1992, the plight of the snow leopard, which is in the Red Data List of endangered species, has become acute. Poaching is on the rise, while the number of field inspectors on the reserves has sharply declined due to the economic troubles. The result is a system of nature reserves which is woefully unprotected from those with the money, resources, or power to exploit a precious nature wonder. And in any case, many snow leopards live unprotected outside the reserve system.

The scourge of "hard currency hunting," where foreign hunters pay sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity to shoot a snow leopard, was a common complaint. Outright poaching also has sharply increased. Poachers can sell a pelt as well as the snow leopard's organs, which the Chinese believe have medicinal uses, for large sums of money. Stories of the heavy border trade in snow leopards between China and Kyrgyzstan were common.

There is also a brisk business in legal and illegal hunting of the snow leopard's primary food source, ibex (a type of mountain goat) and marmit. As their herds decrease, the plight of the snow leopard increases. There was general frustration expressed about the inconsistent laws covering hunting snow leopards and other animals, and the outright disregard for laws currently on the books. Valentina Toropova of the Institute of Biology and Soil in Bishkek gave the example of Kyrgyzstan, where poaching a snow leopard can theoretically bring a jail term, however, the law has never been enforced.

The experts also repeatedly expressed their frustration with the lack of current data on snow leopards in the Tien Shan mountains. Little is known about their numbers, and there is a fear that they are decreasing rapidly. Evgeny Koshkarev, the leading expert on snow leopards throughout the former Soviet Union estimated that approximately 700 live in the Tien Shan mountains, 700 live in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, and 500-600 are in the mountains of southern Russia. But without more money for scientific studies which include radio collars and other monitoring systems, no one knows for sure. All agreed that the snow leopard is an elusive animal that is hard to track and even harder to see, due to its gray coat dotted with black splotches which blends into the high (5,900'-18,000'), nearly inaccessible rocky or snow-covered terrain where it lives.

After three days of meetings, all representatives agreed to form a working group in order to coordinate information on the snow leopard, as well as to lobby for greater national and international monetary support for snow leopard protection and research. This groupcalling themselves Asia Irbis signed a collective letter which was sent to the governments of the countries of Central Asia, expressing their concern over the plight of the snow leopard.

After the meeting, five of the country representatives and the four U.S. representatives spent four days in the Aksu Dzhabagly zapovednik exploring the snow leopard habitat on horseback and foot. This far northwest tip of the Tien Shan mountain range is reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains. The Tien Shans here rise slowly out of the flat steppe into rolling hills and then rugged peaks with deep river valleys. A rare, endangered red tulip blankets the low mountains. Three times we spotted huge light brown Tien Shan bears, one with a cub, and after tracking a herd of ibex, we sat quietly as they filed past us fifty feet away, seemingly little disturbed by our presence. (Later we found a shot gun shell at the very place where they had congregated.) We found no snow leopard signs, but we spotted a rare deer, marmots, falcons, eagles, and many other birds, wild flowers, and plants. One day, climbing into the high mountains the hikers were rewarded by finding petroglyphs of snow leopards, ibex, argali sheep, and other animals carved into a stone wall.

Even though the outlook for the snow leopard currently looks bleak, these experts were continuing to work with little or no money, inadequate governmental support, and political and economic conditions out of their control. Their commitment and enthusiasm for protecting the snow leopard and its habitat was deeply felt by all.

- by Lee McDavid

We saw no snow leopard, but we had three encounters with the endangered Tien Shan Brown Bear, including this one above!

Rock art recently seen in Central Asia's Tien Shan mountains. Notice what appears to be a snow leopard (long tail) on the far left, followed by an Ibex and an Argali sheep to the right.

We dream of a world in which nature is seen as alive, in which imagination permeates reality, in which animals and plants are seen as the living texture, the living components, the cells in the life of Gaia and Gaia in the life of the cosmos as a whole.

- Rupert Sheldrake

A Contemporary Native American Perspective
Roxanne Swentzell: Hearing with Our Hearts

Most of the people here at Santa Clara Pueblo don't have anything to do with the land, with the place, anymore. They go off to work from eight to five just like everybody else and they want their new car and their TV and their VCR. What they really want is to be middle-class white Americans.

I've watched this area and the Indian culture slowly disintegrating into white America during my lifetime. What that means is you go outside of your community for everything, and so you open the door for someone else to rule your life. Everything falls apart eventually if you put it all in that basket.

It can't stay the way it's going because nothing is in the hands of the people anymore. Nobody has a center anymore. Nobody grows their own food, nobody makes their own clothes, nobody builds their own houses, nobody takes care of their own familythey send their kids off for someone else to raise.

I don't know if people have to go through the cycle of going clear to that end and saying, "Whoa! This isn't where it's at," before they come home again. Or, hopefully, they can take a short cut home. I think most of the people in this country have already gone way out there into materialism and they're saying, "No. It's not here. Let's find where it is." So they are looking at Native Americans and people like us because we have been spiritually in balanceor seem to have been there recently.

it's almost dead.

Right now I think a lot of people are realizing that we can't keep going the way we have been. There's so much pain in this realization that it takes us inside ourselves. Hopefully, the next phase is to go completely inside where we can find ourselves again.

That may be painful, but we have to go through to the other side. It's a process. You have to go through the steps to get to the other side, to come out of the suffering of not being ourselves. I do not mean yourself with an image attached to it such as "Indian," "white," "banker," "artist," etc. I'm talking about yourself as an individual with the ability to be a part of this whole universe as you without a title attached, without a name or culture to hide behind.

When you take all of these off, what is left? That is who I want to reach....

You find yourself not through images but through your own heart.

It doesn't matter what culture you come from. It's going to be the same "way" that ties us all together. There will be a place for us in this world when we make a place for ourselves inside of us. There will be a wholeness but also a love for the self. There will be a kind of clearness because of the honesty that comes with not having images.

Roxanne Swentzell, from Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico, is a highly accomplished artist who specializes in sculpting human figures out of clay. She lives with her husband and two children in a two-story solar adobe house in Santa Clara, She co-founded the nonprofit Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, which experiments with sustainable living systems.

Excerpted from "Surviving In Two Worlds: Contemporary Native American Voices" in "Talking Leaves" Vol. 8, No. 3, Winter 1999.

Some of us found that there was nothing out there in the white world. Some of us are now asking what our Indian culture holds for us. We want to get back to ourselves. That is our true home.

It's time for everybody to get back home, not just the Indian people. The whole world needs to get back home. But at the same time, remember that home isn't just another image or culture to get attached to.

That, to me, means being able to focus again, to not be blinded by the images we are given. We are all constantly being thrown suggestions of images of what we're supposed to look like, what we're supposed to be like, and how we're supposed to dress, how we're supposed to live in this world.

What we need to do is see the world again for what it is, not through images created by someone else. And when we can see ourselves for who we are instead of as an image, we are loved again. And the whole planet is loved. You cannot hurt anything when you love it and it loves you back. When there is respect for what things are, there is love. Then the planet will live again. I feel like we're so close to completely destroying it. We have to revive it again because

Unknown artist's replication of ancient pictograph found in the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia

BOOK REVIEW by Bill Pfeiffer

"Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" is the biggest wake up call I've read since Jonathan Schell published "The Fate of the Earth" in 1982. After reading Last Hours till dawn I bought fifteen copies for a bunch of friends. Its author, Thom Hartmann, articulately describes the critical threshold humanity is standing on while at the same time offering both hope and practical solutions.

What happens when oil, the essential "black magic" that drives the industrial growth society, runs out or becomes exorbitantly expensive (most petroleum insiders predict this will happen within the next 10-20 years)? On the other hand, what happens if the oil does not run out and we continue to pump millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere year after year? What happens when the last indigenous peoples with the only first hand knowledge of ecological sustainability either die-off or are hopelessly assimilated into the larger dominant culture? What happens when human population doubles to 12 billion by 2030? Hartmann fearlessly confronts these questions and in the process of describing his answers provides a clear distillation of the latest environmental thinking.

My favorite part of the book is his comparison of Older Cultures, those who learned to live with the Earth, and Younger Cultures, those who survive by domination and exploitation. He does not suggest that we return to the lifestyle of our successful ancestors but that instead we quickly apply their wisdom.

Read Last Hours and then give it away! You will not be disappointed.

SEN Summer Events

July 11 - Aug. 6:

"Student Expedition to the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia"

August 6-8:

"Healing Self/Healing Earth: Experiencing Our Deep Ecology, Feeling Our Shamanic Roots" North Quabbin Farm, Petersham, MA

July 26 - 30:

"Earthkeeper's Kids Camp" , North Quabbin Farm, Petersham, MA.

Sept. 3-7

"Beyond The Veil: A Gender and Deep Ecology Intensive" North Quabbin Farm, Petersham, MA


In the introduction to this newsletter we paraphrased Joanna Macy's explanation of the three underlying processes that are at work as we humans make a "Great Turning" from consuming our way into oblivion to figuring out (or remembering?!) how to live in harmony with the Earth.

Sacred Earth Network has found a sister organization in Dream Change Coalition (DCC), in that they are also working on the three underlying processes of change simultaneously.

DCC grew out of meetings held in indigenous communities in the early 1990's. These were initiated by environmentalist and businessman, John Perkins. The DCC focus has tended to be in the tropical rainforests a North-South direction that perfectly compliments SEN's East-West direction. DCC's primary goals are to: 1) inspire earth-honoring changes in consciousness, 2) conserve forests, and 3) apply indigenous wisdom in ways that foster environmental and social balance. Find out more about the organization that Time Magazine recently referred to as " Far out!" at <>.

Carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere is a major contributor to global warming. This now famous graph among climatologists charts 40 years of readings atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The study by Keeling and Revelle basically debunks claims that humanity is not dramatically involved in climate change. The spikes account for northern hemisphere vegetation absorbing CO2 in the spring and releasing it in the autumn. ("Excerpted from the Clock of the Long Now" by Stewart Brand)


Earth Day 2000 is approaching fast. It is shaping up to be a truly mega event involving almost every single country on Planet Earth (145 countries!). Marc Dubois, Earth Day 2000's international coordinator is convinced that at a minimum, Earth Day 2000 will have the same effect on the entire globe as the first Earth Day did thirty years ago for the USA: the institutionalization of environmental consciousness. Sacred Earth Network has been chosen as an international strategic partner and we will use Earth Day 2000 as an organizing tool with hundreds of NGOs both here and abroad. For more information see: <>

Genetically Engineered Food

We include this article because the rapid expansion of bio-technology, which has occurred in a relatively uncontested and undebated manner within the United States, has far-reaching implications: most of them not as pleasant as the industry would have us believe. In short, we need to get smart, and make informed choices about what we are eating!


"Biotechnology involves the simulation in a laboratory or industrial setting of basic life processes at the cellular and molecular level. It is also a growing industry, through which a small number of agrochemical and pharmaceutical companies are seeking to reshape agriculture, medicine, animal husbandry, and perhaps life on earth." - Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project

Genetically engineered (GE) food, or biotechnology, is created by inserting DNA from one organism into another. It is intended to pass on certain characteristics into the injected organism, from pest resistance to specialty items such as lower fat content and, debatably, higher nutrition. More recently, the technology has entered the realm of the life cycle of the seed, rendering seeds of crops sterile. This process of modification is not possible in conventional forms of selective breeding.

Since 1994, the government has allowed the commercialization of 37 new genetically engineered foods and crops, with no special pre-market safety-testing required, nor labeling.

Bovine Growth Hormone

The first GE product to hit the market was Monsanto's rBGH, or bovine growth hormone, which mimics a chemical hormone that occurs naturally in a cow's body. An injection of rBGH forces the cow to produce excess quantities of a potent chemical messenger (IGF-1) which forces it to give 15 to 25 percent more milk. Often, the animals
suffer an infection of the udder, which then is routinely treated with antibiotics. Many of the antibiotics then end up as residues in the milk. Additionally, there is mounting scientific evidence that humans who have high levels of IGF-1 in their blood stream are more susceptible to breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.

Approximately 8% of all U.S. dairy cows are being injected with this drug. Since GE milk is being co-mingled with regular milk most people get at least trace doses of rBGH in their milk and dairy products unless they are buying organic dairy products or products certified and labeled "rBGH-free."

Genetically Engineered Crops

It is only since 1996 that GE crops have been planted for commercial production. Yet, the growth of this technology is astounding- between 1996 and 1998 the number of hectares planted in GE crops went from 0 to almost 28 million! (69,160,000 acres!)

Many of the GE seeds on the market today are designed to be resistant to specific herbicides that the same companies also produce. For example Monsanto produces "Round-Up ready" soybeans, which are resistant to the Monsanto herbicide "Round-up." Farmers who use these seeds get drawn into a cycle which binds them to using Monsanto's prod

Other GE seeds contain an organic pesticide known as Bt. As a soil microorganism, Bt is presently one of the primary pesticides accepted for use by organic farmers as well as by farmers who are trying to decrease use of toxic chemicals. One primary concern of crops that contain Bt is that through the constant presence of a biopesticide such as Bt, the pests will develop permanent resistance to it. We are already starting to see signs that a variety of pests are developing resistance to Bt. [Ronnie Cummings, Multinational Monitor] Without the effectiveness of Bt organic farmers will have an even harder time surviving economically and certain crops that we presently depend on will be extremely difficult to grow organically.

Terminator Technology

The most recent and extremely controversial introduction of biotechnology into the food supply is known as Terminator Technology. This technique genetically alters a plant so that the seeds are rendered completely sterile. This development has no benefits to farmers, processers or consumers...rather, the benefits lie in the profits the company makes year after year when farmers must return to buy new seed. When a farmer buys Monsanto's GE seed, s/he signs a contract agreeing not to save and replant the seeds and to give Monsanto the right to enter the farm and inspect the premises to make sure the farmer is compliant.

There is speculation that the industry's research and intention is for the Terminator trait to provide a way to sterilize the second generation seed and to link this with GE's ability to promote other specific characteristics in the first generation seed. This heightens the level of dependence on these companies for the vast majority of our food supply.

Proponents of Terminator Technology argue that if farmers don't want Terminator Seeds they don't have to buy them. But farmers' choices can be severely limited when seed companies, national governments and banks offer credit only to those farmers who agree to plant selected varieties.


If your wondering why you may not have known or heard much about genetically engineered foods before, know that there is a level of silence around their introduction into our food supply particularly in the U.S. primarily because the Food & Drug Administration has not required the labelling of genetically engineered products.

However, in other parts of the world, in particular Europe and India, there have been strong outcries against the production and sale of GE products. Austria and Luxembourg have banned GE food and France and Britain are under pressure from their citizens to do the same. Some of the most powerful protests have been led by Indian farmers and peasants whose lives depend on their direct connection to the land. There have also been mass demonstrations in the Philippines

Key Issues Sparking Protest

In taking a deeper look at GE foods as a whole, this new technology holds many dangers. What are some of the potential outcomes if we accept new toxins and allergens into our diet while the nutritional value of food diminishes? And what if we lose agricultural and ecological diversity at an even faster rate and thus, become even more dependent on a small handful of patented seeds and mega-corporations?

In the New England Journal of Medicine (May 14th, 1996) a study at the University of Nebraska involved experiments with a gene from a Brazil nut that was introduced into soybeans. The GE soybean was tested on people with known allergies to Brazil nuts, and they
had allergic reactions to the GE soybean but not unengineered soybeans. Another health concern is that with some GE products, antibiotic resistant genes are introduced into our food and this could make treating infections more difficult. In addition, DuPont Agricultural Products and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. have recently developed a line of GE products called Optimum Quality Grains. The primary focus of this line have been soybeans, one of which, the Optimum High Oleic Soybean, produces an oil that has three times the oleic acid of regular soybeans. This product has been incorporated into many mass produced "low-fat" products and has since been found to cause abdominal cramping in some people.

The unknowns about introducing these products into our environment means we must look deeper. Clearly these companies have not looked beyond the short-term benefits of selling their seed... what about the reality that life is about complex inter-relationships between countless organisms which ultimately depend on one another for survival? What happens when we introduce genetic combinations previously unknown in any life form into our environment? Last year, according to the British Journal "Ecologist", DNA from GE rape seed (known as canola in the US) has been detected in Germany in jars of Canadian honey. "The Beekeepers Association recently expressed strong concern that the effects on both its products and its bees from this genetic pollution are wholly unpredictable"

Another unknown is the extent to which the terminator traits will cross pollinate with other wild species that are related to the genetically engineered crops. Will these plants then not be able to reproduce?

Time Is Of The Essence-Act Now!

1999 and 2000 are pivotal years for the future of genetic engineering in foods and in particular the terminator technology. Terminator technology will be on the agenda of the World Trade Organization , UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, the FAO, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Committee on World Food Security.

Will we allow it to multiply at an unprecedented rate or be banned from international markets? Now is the time to speak out and let governments and related organizations know how you feel. (See action alert on page 4!)

Foods on the market have been genetically altered...

Unfortunately the specifics of GE foods are complex and extensive and differ with each crop. While reading this list keep in mind how many processed foods contain the crop or byproducts of them (ie. corn oil, soy protein). Presently GE crops are often mixed in with large supplies of conventional crops, therefore, it is likely that most non-organic foods containing these staples, also have some level of GE products in them. For further information, the Union of Concerned Scientists carries a detailed & updated list in their publication Gene Exchange. The primary crops that are now being genetically engineered include:

yellow crook necked squash

- by Leslie Goldstein and Claire Mandeville

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