Protecting Indigenous Communities is Environmentalism

Anna Hohag is a young Paiute (Nüümü) woman and a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribal Nation, born and raised in her tribal community in Bishop, CA. Currently, Anna is in her final year of law school at the James E. Rogers College of Law at The University of Arizona where she is studying Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP). Upon receiving her Juris Doctor in 2017, she plans to spend her career advocating for Native communities, especially in California. Anna serves as the Area 1 Representative for the National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA), President for her local NALSA chapter at The University of Arizona, and is a board member of the California Indian Law Association (CILA). This year, Anna was selected as a Delegate Speaker at the One Young World Environmental Summit where she had the pleasure to be introduced by President Alejandro Toledo, the first indigenous President of Peru.

 


 

Manahüü…ii-nania-nei Anna Hohag.  Payahüünadü nuu agimana.  Nuu nüümü hüüpi.

My name is Anna Hohag. I am a Paiute woman from the Bishop Paiute tribal community and I am here to tell my story.

Since time immemorial, Native people have kept culture and language alive by passing down oral stories and traditions from generation to generation. Today, our young indigenous people continue the tradition, by telling our story to the whole world. 

I come from Bishop, California or in our Nüümü language, the area known as Payahüünadü or “place of flowing water.” Our people engineered and mastered complex water irrigation systems throughout our valley, all the way from the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west to the White Mountain range to the east—both ranges skyscraping to about 14,000 feet.

However, when American settlers arrived, they believed our people were wasting our abundant water resource by not developing it. They overlooked our traditional ways not realizing, our water system not only worked toward sustaining our people, but also sustained the plants, the animals, and the entire ecosystem around us.

It was only two generations ago—not very long ago at all— that an aqueduct was built and our valley’s water was diverted 300 miles south to sustain a desert settlement called Los Angeles. Today, it is one of the largest, most densely populated Cities in the world—also suffering from drought.

 


 

With the diversion of our sacred water came many devastating effects. In order to build the aqueduct and gain access to our water, all nearby indigenous communities were removed from ancestral lands and relocated to small reservations – away from our traditional homelands, nearly all of our resources, and sacred sites. The water diversion even led to the drying up of our valley’s largest lake—Owens Lake (now known as Owens “Dry” Lake)— within only ten years, and is now the largest single source of dust pollution in the country.

Once the water began to leave the valley, so too did the animals and plants; the ecosystem began to fail along with much of the culture and language of our people. You see, for indigenous communities, our lands and our water are the sacred foundation of our cultural identity. Can you imagine---stories about our lush, wetlands in the valley, about water highways, and our place names without the water itself?

As a Native person in the U.S., we don’t get taught our own history in school growing up. It wasn’t until being exposed to our region’s own colonial history in college that started me on my path to law school at the University of Arizona studying Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP), and to serve on the National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA) national board.  We are the next generation of tribal leaders, policy and law makers, United Nations experts, and who knows, perhaps the future first indigenous supreme court justice or president of the U.S.

 


 

Recently my community created a film  “Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute” documenting our ancestor’s sacred relationship with water, how they cared for the land for thousands of years, and the injustices of the last 150 years.

The film has been shown to hundreds of people in numerous cities from California to Vermont. And tomorrow you will see it here in Arizona.  We took this this film to the largest conference on Federal Indian Law, and many students, indigenous and non-indigenous, from numerous universities, joined us as allies.  Together, we are researching for a second film that will document the journey to reassert our human rights and responsibility to our sacred paya.

The evolution of international law has come a long way since the conquest of America, which was based on the outdated Doctrine of Discovery. Today, international law recognizes universal human rights for indigenous peoples to our traditional lands, resources, and cultural and spiritual survival. It recognizes that our lands and our water are inextricably linked to our spiritual and cultural identity, and so without them—we simply cannot continue to ‘exist’ for future generations.

 


 

I am only one of many people, standing up for our Mother Earth, for our Ancestors and what they fought to protect, and for our Future Generations that are yet to come.  Our aim is to bring about healing and change when it is needed now more than ever.

So, I ask you: Share our films. Share our story.  Because preserving our culture and our traditions, is protecting our natural world and our planet.