Billy Frank Jr’s legacy lives on in Washington agriculture

“Salmon-safe” label spreads across farms in the Pacific Northwest

“Billy Frank Jr. is a big reason he decided to change the way he runs his farm. It was Frank who encouraged Wilcox to stop using pesticides, plant trees by waterways and keep chicken manure out of the water. That would earn him a “salmon-safe” certification for his eggs.”


Painting at a coffee shop in Port Townsend, WA


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Cassina tea: History and revival

Just passing on this link to an interesting article:

The Forgotten Drink That Caffeinated North America for Centuries

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Native communities confront oil development across Turtle Island: April 2018 update

Across North America, Native communities are leading the battle against increasing oil development, fighting proposed new production, pipelines, and crude-by-rail routes. There is hardly a new proposal without indigenous opposition. Here is an update from the front lines.

oil11mapNote: Many of these battles concern pipeline proposals to move diluted bitumen (aka


Canadian tar sands production continues to increase.

“dilbit”) from Canadian tar sands to markets in the US or to coastal ports where it can be exported to Asia. Presently, 99% of Canada’s exports are to the US. The vast majority of that is tar sands oil moving from Alberta to the Midwest via pipelines and rail. Canada’s goal is to move tar sands oil to China. Without these pipelines, Canadian producers have been forced to slow production. This is a very heavy oil, extracted from very costly and destructive open pits, and has among the highest carbon footprints of any oil. This makes it first on the list of oil that should stay in the ground.


Map of various pipelines coming from Canada. Domestic US pipelines in gray.


Proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (STATUS: pipeline rejected)

  • Proposed in the 2000s, the pipeline would have carried tar sands dilbit from Alberta to a marine terminal on the west coast of British Columbia, for export to Asia.
  • Amid tremendous opposition, especially from 130 different First Nations, the project was effectively killed by Prime Minister Trudeau in 2015.

Proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (STATUS: in court)

  • First built in 1953 and then augmented in 2008, the current Trans Mountain Pipeline carries 300 Mbpd (thousand barrels per day) of tar sands dilbit from Alberta to near Vancouver, British Columbia, primarily for local use.
  • The proposed expansion would add a second pipeline alongside the first one, dramatically increasing capacity to 890 Mbpd, primarily for export to Asia.
  • Many First Nations continue to engage in protests against the pipeline.
  • The proposal is currently being challenged in court by the Tsleil-Waututh, Suquamish, Kwantlen, and Coldwater First Nations, as well as the governments of British Columbia and local cities. The pipeline is supported by the federal government under Prime Minister Trudeau.

Swinomish crude-by-rail crossing (STATUS: in court)

  • In 2015, upon learning that many 100-car unit trains of Bakken crude were passing thru their reservation just a few hundred yards from their casino and hotel, the Swinomish field a lawsuit against BNSF to stop them.


    Rail lines in close proximity to Swinomish casino and hotel.

  • In 2017, the nearby Tesoro refinery received an average of 64 Mbpd by rail, about one 100-tank car train per day, passing thru the reservation. A prior agreement between BNSF and the Swinomish limited dangerous cargo to just one train of 25 cars daily.
  • As of June 2017, the case is proceeding – a judge ruled that BNSF has violated the agreement—but so are the trains.

Bears Ears proposed oil development (STATUS: in court)

  • Bears Ears National Monument was created in 2016 by President Obama. In 2017, Trump reduced the size of the monument by 85% specifically to exclude potential gas and oil production.
  • This reduction in the monument is currently being challenged thru several lawsuits, including one filed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Zuni Tribe.

Chaco Canyon proposed oil development (STATUS: pipeline cancelled; new oil leases deferred)

Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (STATUS: in court)

  • The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would be Phase 4 of the Keystone Pipeline network. The first three phases, built by TransCanada between 2010 and 2014, deliver 590 Mbpd of Canadian tar sands dilbit to refineries in Illinois or storage facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma, and 700 Mbpd from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast.
  • Phase 4, the Keystone XL, would duplicate Phase I, from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. It would carry 500 Mbpd of tar sands dilbit and would include and “on ramp” in Montana where Bakken oil could be added to it.
  • First Nations in Canada and several Native communities in the US have been involved in multiple protests against the pipeline. All of the various proposed routes cut through the Great Sioux Nation as defined in the Treaty of 1868, weaving between the Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, Lower Brule, and Rosebud Indian Reservations.


    Proposed Keystone XL route in South Dakota between various reservations.

  • The proposal was blocked by Obama in 2015, but revived by Trump in 2017.
  • In November, 2017, the Nebraska Public Services Commission became the final authority to grant approval for the pipeline. However, they only approved an alternate route, which now requires TransCanada to do additional years of new review and face new legal challenges.
  • The current approval of the pipeline by the State Department is also being challenged in court, based on outdated environmental documents. A hearing is scheduled in May.
  • The soonest construction is likely to begin is 2019, if ever.

Dakota Access Pipeline (STATUS: in court)

  • In the aftermath of the conflict at Standing Rock in late 2016 and the Army Corps’ unprecedented withdrawal of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process due to Trump’s executive order, the question of the pipeline went to the courts. The pipeline was completed and began delivering Bakken oil in late spring 2017. Just weeks later, on June 14, the judge ordered the Army Corps to address numerous deficiencies in the woefully deficient Environmental Assessment (EA), the main permitting document. He also allowed the pipeline to continue running while the Army Corps revised the document.oil8DAPL
  • See my analysis of the judge’s June 2017 ruling on why the tribes’ victory here may be short-lived. Also see my analysis of all the laws broken by Energy Transfer Partners in the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Now we wait for the Army Corp to complete its revisions of the EA, due in April 2018. At the same time, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues to ask for meaningful consultation, which it has been demanding since 2014 but has never happened. They are also demanding adequate spill preparedness measures at Lake Oahe.

Red Lake Enbridge Pipelines crossing (STATUS: pipelines must be removed)

  • Enbridge Lines 1 thru 4, carrying a total of 2,234 Mbpd of light synthetic tar sands oil, dilbit, and heavy tar sands oil, cross the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The pipelines were built between 1950 and 2002, without the permission of the tribe.
  • Amid protests by citizens of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, in 2016 the tribal council reached a deal with Enbridge, swapping the 24 acres where the pipelines are in exchange for $18.5 million to be spent on 164 acres of adjacent land.
  • On March 13, 2018, in a principled move that echoes Pine Ridge’s “the Black Hills are not for sale”, the Red Lake Tribal Council voted unanimously to rescind the deal and order Enbridge to remove the pipelines from its lands.

Proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline (STATUS: construction halted by judge; in court)

  • Proposed in 2015, the Energy Transfer Partners pipeline would run across the bottomlands of Louisiana, including the Atchafalaya Basin, to connect refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
  • Protests, primarily by local residents and several local tribes, began in 2017. Energy Transfer Partners has attempted to hire the controversial private mercenary firm, Tiger Swan, that was used at Standing Rock, though the state of Louisiana has so far denied them a permit to work in the state.
  • The Army Corps approved the project, with just a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on an EA, on December 15, 2017. (Note: that’s completely absurd for a 160-mile long pipeline running through wilderness and waterways.) The company immediately began cutting a path through the swamp.


    Just the clearing of trees in the pipeline corridor has caused ecological harm. Large trees have been removed and turned to mulch. The mulch has been placed in the swamp waterways, creating hypoxic conditions leading to the death of fish, crawfish, and other aquatic organisms.

  • Local crawfish producers and several environmental groups filed suit on January 11, 2018. On February 3, the judge granted a preliminary injunction and ordered the pipeline construction halted pending trial.

Proposed Energy East Pipeline (STATUS: cancelled)

  • Yet another pipeline to move tar sands dilbit to the coast for export, this pipeline was proposed in 2013. At just under 3,000 miles, it would have been the would have been the longest pipeline in North America, transporting 1,100 Mbpd from Alberta east to refineries in Quebec and to an export terminal in New Brunswick.oil10East
  • The pipeline route crossed lands of 155 different First Nations, nearly all of whom opposed it for its threat of oil spills. Many organizations also opposed it due to its enormous carbon footprint.
  • On October 5, 2017, TransCanada announced it was cancelling the pipeline for economic reasons.


    Protest in Quebec against the Energy East Pipeline.

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Sitting on 700: The short story of my lifelist

Sometime long ago when I started birding, when I was seven, I read that the ultimate lifetime goal for birders in the US was to see 700 species in North America. For birders, “North America” was defined by the American Bird Association (ABA) and it meant North America north of Mexico, but not including Greenland. About 650 species occur regularly here, but there are others that stop by occasionally. The official ABA tally for this region, including all the rare vagrants ever documented, is about 1,000 species.


The Kougarok Road heading north out of Nome.

But 700 is the standard lifetime goal. When I was a kid, very few had achieved it. Now, thanks to the widespread popularity of birding, cheap air travel, and internet rare bird alerts, the ABA reports 410 people in the “700 club”—and amazingly 56 over 800 and three over 900. In first place is Macklin Smith, with 928, an English professor at the University of Michigan and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Even beginning birders, with enough time and money, can get to 700 in a few years. Add an unhealthy dose of obsession, serious frequent fliers can reach 700 in a single “big year”.  This has been done at least 20 times. It has taken me 45 years—and counting; I’m at 699.

birding1It all started when my mom took me to the local library. I loved wildlife, nature, and simply being outdoors. I devoured Ranger Rick magazine each month. I needed a simple bird book to help me identify the birds coming to our backyard feeder in southern California. I found Birds: A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds, the pale blue one with the robins on the cover. Though I checked it out seven times, for a total of 14 weeks, there wasn’t much in there that looked familiar. I quickly discovered its eastern bias; it featured illustrations of Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, and Tufted birding2Titmouse, and only made passing reference to western counterparts deep in the text. My only option was to move up to an “adult” field guide. I acquired the Golden Field Guide, Birds of North America, the old olive-beige one with the three buntings on the cover. It featured illustrations of just about every bird possible. Some were even described as “casual” or “accidental”, which I figured out meant really really rare in North America. But, most significantly, the book featured, in the index in the back, little empty check boxes next to the bird names. You could check off the ones you had seen!

If being in the wild appealed to the Cherokee side in me, perhaps it was my English blood that got excited about this sporting aspect. And I was really into sports trivia then. I followed USC Trojans football, LA Dodgers baseball, and AJ Foyt the Indy car driver.  I knew lots of stats. I even knew that Georgia Tech once won a football game 222-0. I immediately went through the index, checking off birds for my list: Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Scrub Jay, House Finch, White-crowned Sparrow, Brown Towhee. I got up to about thirty. Desperate for more, I went to our garage freezer. My dad was a duck hunter and I knew there were paper-wrapped birds in there with labels. I found one with “Canvasback” scrawled on the white package. My nagging suspicions were later confirmed—you should only count free-flying wild birds; I walked that one back. I hit 222 fair-and-square with a group of Buffleheads on the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool. I was 10. I passed Georgia Tech a few months later camping in the Sierra with my family: Green-tailed Towhee.

My mom connected me to the Los Angeles Audubon Society. I wrote a letter to Kimball Garrett at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, informing him of my observations of communal nesting among House Sparrows at my swing set. He penned an encouraging reply. Another nice guy named Mark Detwiler took me on a field trip to the Salton Sea. Perhaps my “best bird” came in the summer 1979. I was with my mom and the Audubon group atop Mt. Pinos. We counted seven soaring California Condors and gasped as an eighth appeared behind us, flapping low over the treetops. There were only a few dozen condors left in the wild then. They were all brought into captivity eight years later, when I was in college.

lifelistForty-five years is a delightfully slow climb, allowing me to savor each life bird. I’ve graduated from the check boxes in the back of the Golden guide to an Excel spreadsheet, but my favorite list is the one I keep in chronological order. I can remember the habitat, lighting, and smell in the air for almost each “lifer”, like having a mental photograph seared onto the desktop in my mind. Number 387 was a Wandering Tattler in the summer of 1994. It was way out on the Ocean Shores jetty. As the wind picked up and the horizontal drizzle intensified, the slick rocks became treacherous.  I picked my way out past the turnstones, toward the end of the jetty, colder and wetter with each step. Sometimes you really have to work for your lifers.


On the Anhinga Trail with Caleb, 2001.

My path to 700 has paralleled a few other journeys. I’m happily married to a non-birding spouse. I raised three boys and coached soccer for 20 years. I’ve also been a full-time student or employee the entire time.  With all these domestic obligations, I haven’t been chasing birds all over the country, although I did convert every family trip into a secret birding expedition. Number 515, Purple Gallinule, came from the Anhinga Trail boardwalk at the Everglades, while my oldest child ogled over a nest of baby alligators.


In Sycamore Canyon, Pajarito Mountains, with Luke, 2004

Rather than chase rarities, I preferred to find birds on my own in remote and unvisited places. This added an adventurous flair. On my first trip to southeast Arizona, with Michael Perrone and my nine-year-old son, I found many of my specialty Arizona “lifers” on the west side of the Huachucas. We camped while poorwills and trogons serenaded us. We looked out over a hundred miles of grasslands and canyons, but we never saw another person. The bird I remember most was a Buff-breasted Flycatcher in Scotia Canyon, number 551. I may be the only birder in the nation to get their life Buff-breasted Flycatcher in Scotia Canyon.

When I was homebound in Davis, California, with no way to add to my list, I developed alternative passions: first gulls and now Fox Sparrows. I learned to identify the various ages, forms, and subspecies so well that I passed from confused to confident to skeptical.



Nevertheless, I’ve managed to hit the road some, and my list has continued to grow, providing some of the best memories of my life. Number 694 was a Bluethroat, actually quite a few of them, singing all around my tent on the edge of a stream along the Kougarok Road forty miles north of Nome. I was camping with that same son from the Arizona trip. He was now a college graduate—not a birder but also not one to turn down a trip to remote Alaska. For me, there’s nothing like a lifer on territory with vast virgin wilderness as far as the eye can see. But the brilliant songster from Asia had trouble competing with another noise– the sound from the ice breaking up and streaming past our campsite like ten-thousand tinkling chandeliers. Number 695 was the next day—a Red-necked Stint along the shore of Safety Lagoon. The bird was banded with an orange flag. I later learned it was tagged in southern Australia, 8,000 miles away.


About 9pm at our campsite along the Kourgarok Road, Alaska

Number 696 was a spectacular Swallow-tailed Gull from the Galapagos Islands, which turned up only a few miles from where I was helping another son move into the University of Washington. Number 697 was back home in California—a Red-footed Booby at Half Moon Bay. This bird was subject to my chasing rule. I don’t chase rarities unless my birding time at least equals my travel time. In this case, the booby was a two-hour drive away, so that’s four hours round-trip driving. According to my rule, I spent at least four hours birding before returning home. I confess I broke this rule once, for number 644, the Ivory Gull in Pismo Beach.


Citrine Wagtail

Number 698 was twenty minutes from my house, North America’s third record of Citrine Wagtail. I would have loved to have found this bird myself, but the re-find was nothing short of miraculous. The bird was reported a day late, and the location given was somewhere along the 6.4 km auto-tour route at the vast Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. And it was blowing 60 mph. I’m thinking this was karma for the Taiga Flycatcher I missed years earlier, also twenty minutes away, because I was coaching a soccer practice. The Galapagos theme continued with number 699, a Nazca Booby I picked up after a work meeting in San Diego.

And so here I am, like at the end of a good novel, a little sad that it’s about to be over. Number 700 could come in several different ways: a rarity I find myself (that would be the ultimate), a rarity I chase (probably more likely), an expected bird I travel to find (there are a few of these left), or a split (please no). I’m back to Nome in a few months, as much for the beauty as for the birds, where Rock Ptarmigan still awaits me. But if there’s one rule that holds true about birding, it’s that when you go looking for one species, you find something else.



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The movie Wind River and white saviors: A review of reviews

windriver4Wind River, a 2017 crime thriller set in the winter wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation, focuses on the on-going epidemic of assaulted and missing Native women and girls. Examples of the problem are not hard to find. The film received widespread positive reviews. Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) called it “gripping, realistic and beautifully-crafted”. They praised the film for its use of at least 10 Natives as cast and crew, including Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, and Tantoo Cardinal. The film touched on several Native issues, including interracial marriage, cultural differences, loss of cultural heritage, economic impoverishment, drug addiction, tribal government funding, resource extraction on BLM-leased land, and tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. ICTMN described it as “the most realistic and respectful portrayal on film of the relationships between Native people and others outside ‘the rez.’”


This promo poster makes it clear just who is going to fix things in Indian Territory, and how important the Native actors are.

But ICTMN goes too far when it states, “This movie is not about ‘White Saviorism.’” The basic facts are this: that the two stars of the film are white, playing white federal agents. They solve the crime and avenge the murder of a Native girl. Jeremy Renner plays a true ally, raised and respected around the rez and connected to them through his ex-wife. The superpower that enables Renner to solve the crime is a stereotypical Native attribute: tracking—reading subtle signs on the trail to describe past events in detail. He is Sherlock Holmes-cum-Apache tracker. In the end, Renner’s character gives the advice of a seasoned warrior. Arguably, the plot would be more natural and less forced if the tracker was a Native resident of the rez, not a white federal agent that has to drive in from town. Ironically, the first Native man we meet on the reservation seems to have pretty good tracking skills, having read from the prints that a mother mountain lion and her two grown cubs attacked his steer.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Renner’s pretty blond partner; she’s from Fort Lauderdale and works for the FBI, an agency with a long and mixed history vis-à-vis tribes.


Graham Greene plays a reservation cop resigned to reliance on federal aid.

The Native actors are relegated to supporting roles—an ineffectual reservation cop, the near-suicidal father of the victim, and some drug-addicted suspects. Most of them don’t survive the film; the two white heroes do. The victim, ICTMN reports, is played by “Kelsey Asbille (Eastern Band Cherokee)”. But the Eastern Band Cherokee report no record of her, whose Native appearance comes from a combination of her white mother and Chinese father.

Yes, the film shines a light on an important Native issue, accurately portrays life on a reservation, and employed more Native actors and crew than we’re accustomed to, but to look past the obvious “White Saviorism” is to accept crumbs from the table. It’s difficult to imagine African American reviewers praising a Wakanda saved by a “White Panther”, a white American contractor (possessing some stereotypical African American attribute), accompanied by his pretty blond assistant. The 1987 film Cry Freedom was criticized for focusing on white liberal reporter Donald Woods (played by Kevin Kline) while his friend Steven Biko (played by Denzel Washington) dies relatively early in the film. The movie was about apartheid, but a white liberal was the hero.

ICTMN’s willingness to overlook the white savior trope undoubtedly reflects the political clout of Natives today, but at least they mention the issue. Reviews by mainstream white reviewers completely missed it.

Variety and The Guardian focused on the plot twists. The Los Angeles Times praised its authenticity.  Newsweek interviewed director Taylor Sheridan and went into some depth on the problem of violence against Native American women.


Jeremy Renner is a damn good badass hero. Apparently they couldn’t imagine a Native with tracking skills.

Roger Moore rated the film 3 ½ out of 4 stars, saying Wind River “has  a somber, grim grace and the relentless forward motion of a thriller that isn’t just seen, but stared-down, because that’s the warrior code of the place and the people struggling to live there.” But the warrior Moore has in mind in not a Native hero; it is Jeremy Renner, “a man in his element — hand-loading the rounds he uses in his work tool — a rifle — watching the skies to know when the blizzard is coming, scanning the ground to see who ran off where. Just the way he mounts his snowmobile — riding on one-knee to sit up higher and see further ahead, hurtling along on the edge of reckless — embeds him in the character and the place.”

The New York Times review focused on the quality directing and acting, but then concluded with the peculiar statement that the film leaves us with “an expanded awareness that the justice done by the good guys in this film is not nearly sufficient with respect to the larger injustice done to Native Americans.” In short, the Times seems aware that the heroes were indeed white saviors; they just didn’t do enough to compensate for the past.

But it did not dawn on the Times, nor any of the other mainstream reviewers, that perhaps the greatest contribution a film could make is to at least let Natives be the protagonists of their own story.


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Alt-history Part 2: The mound builder myth reborn, Nazis, and Solutreans


Continued from Alt-history Part 1: The mound builder myth and ethnic cleansing.

The myth lives on

The mound builder myth justified the ethnic cleansing of the 1800s. It was seemingly put to rest in 1894 just as Native Americans were contained on reservations.

But the myth wasn’t dead. It festered in white corners of America. Thru the 1950s, one could find the “Lost Race of the Mound Builders” in county histories. Now the stories have returned, finding new life with the Nazis, neo-Nazis, alt-right, and other white supremacists.

In the early twentieth century, the various theories received a serious academic label, hyperdiffusionism, but a racist agenda was at their roots. Cultural achievements, such as pyramids, astronomical calendars, and evidence of complex civilizations in the New World were invariably attributed to Old World sources; almost never the reverse.

In 1937, German Nazi Edmund Kiss suggested that the incredible ruins at Tiwanaku, Bolivia were actually built by Europeans. He was associated with the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society (also called the Ahnenerbe), a pseudo-academic organization founded by Heinrich Himmler to investigate and construct the history of the Aryan race. They explored, for example, the use of the swastika in various past cultures. They later expanded their research to include infamous medical experiments on live humans.


The ancient ruins at Tiwanaku, Bolivia. Evo Morales, the first indigenous head of state in the Americas in 500 years, held his inauguration here.

As America turns brown, history turns white

The modern phase of the mound builder myth began in earnest in 1976 with the publication of Barry Fell’s America, B.C., which purported to show evidence of pre-Columbian druids in Vermont, Phoenicians in Iowa, and Celts across North and South America. While Fell was a professor at Harvard, his field was marine biology, not archaeology, epigraphy, or linguistics. This is typical of diffusionist authors; most were either amateurs or academics working outside their field of expertise.

The timing of Fell’s book mirrored patterns from the nineteenth century. It came on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and a reform of immigration laws which removed racial criteria for legal immigration and US citizenship. Native Americans were also organizing and demanding justice. In the few years before Fell’s book, the American Indian Movement marched on Washington, occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington DC, bombed the visitor center at Mt. Rushmore (at 4am), occupied Alcatraz Island for a year and half, and most famously occupied the hamlet of Wounded Knee for ten weeks. The FBI considered them domestic terrorists. It’s not obvious that Fell was racially motivated, but it is clear that his book became immensely popular just as people of color were immigrating to the US, speaking out, and voting in unprecedented numbers. As America was becoming more brown, some white Americans were seeking a history that was more white.

Perhaps inspired by Fell, the nineteenth century fad of fraudulent artifacts re-emerged in 1982 with the “discovery” of thousands of artifacts in Burrows Cave in southern Illinois, the heart of Mound Builder territory. The immediate dismissal of these artifacts as hoaxes only led credence to charges of a government cover-up.

In the late 1980s, Frank Joseph, formerly known as American neo-Nazi leader Frank Collin, wrote The Lost Colonies of Ancient America and edited Ancient American, a fringe magazine promoting a variety of mound builder-type theories.  The magazine acknowledges that it is “not a scholarly journal” because it is too “revolutionary”. It boasts:

Each issue presents such otherwise neglected and even suppressed factual evidence demonstrating the lasting impact made on the Americas by Scandinavian Norsemen, Pharaonic Egyptians, Bronze Age Mediterraneans, Semitic Phoenicians, West Africans, Dynastic Chinese, seafaring Polynesians, and many other culture- bearers. All contributed to the birth and development of numerous and sophisticated civilizations which flourished throughout the American Continents in pre-Columbian times. It is the magazine’s purpose to show readers just how, when, and why these once powerful societies arose to great heights of cultural splendor and fell into deep obscurity as dramatic object lessons for our time.

At one point the magazine listed the “Ho-Chunk Nation, Dept. of Heritage Preservation” as advisors. The tribe had indeed “advised” Collin of his blatant biases with regard to their history. Upon learning how they were acknowledged, the Ho-Chunk demanded their name removed from the journal.

The Kennewick Man controversy


A reconstruction of Kennewick Man. His diet was determined to be mostly marine mammals, probably sea lions from nearby Celilo Falls.

The discovery of “Kennewick Man” in 1996 in central Washington created another public flashpoint. When scientists took the body for study, the Yakama, Umatilla, and other nations in the region viewed it in the context of a nearly two-hundred-year attempt to re-write the history of North America, complete with grave robbing, skull stealing, and the dismissal of Native perspectives. When one scientist reported that Kennewick Man’s skull had more “Caucasoid” than Native American features (although he was confusingly referring to the Ainu of Japan), the New York Times reported that “white supremacist groups are among these who used Kennewick Man to claim that Caucasians came to American well before Native Americans.” The more conservative Wall Street Journal seemed to offer support for the notion, saying: “Scientific evidence that American Indian ancestors may not have been the first inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere is a ticklish subject, not only for Indians but also, apparently, for the Clinton administration, exquisitely attuned, as always, to the nuances of multiculturalism.” Dead for nine thousand years, Kennewick Man was in the center of political-cultural war spanning nearly three centuries. In the end, DNA analysis showed that Kennewick Man was Native American and related to the very tribes in that region. After a long court battle, he was returned to them and re-buried at an undisclosed location in February, 2017.

Attacking John Wesley Howell


Smoot here echoes the title of a popular book from 1833. The Amazon description illustrates the conspiracy theory: “The book chronicles how our own archaeological history was silenced by powerful forces within the scientific, political and religious communities.”

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was a watershed moment in racial politics in the US. Not only was he the first African American president, he was the first candidate to win the office with a coalition of women and people of color. In response, white supremacists organized like never before. This included embracing fringe archaeology whole-heartedly. Hyperdiffusionist interpretations were most popularly described in S. Edgar Smoot’s Lost Civilizations of North America, a 2010 DVD set advertised as “featured on the Glenn Beck FOX NEWS TV show.” The video bemoans the destruction of ancient earthworks as part of a conspiracy engineered by John Wesley Powell in 1894 to cover up the “true history of the Mound Builders”. (See this for a thorough debunking of Lost Civilizations.)

Beck’s promotion of the video betrayed pathetic ignorance and a lack of basic historical knowledge. Unfamiliar with John Wesley Powell, well-known as the first white man to pass through the Grand Canyon, Beck referred to him as “John Wesley Howell” several times before realizing he was incorrect. Both the DVD and webpages supporting it often mythglennbeckshow a few pictures of artifacts with inscriptions suggesting European ancestry, long discredited as hoaxes, and claim, “This is one of tens of thousands of artifacts found in North America”, implying a vast coverup. Beck embraced it and his followers ate it up. The marriage between hyperdiffusionists and the right wing of the Republican party was a perfect fit. They had other bedfellows as well. Mormons, whose religion emanates from the mound builder myth, and fundamentalist Christians seeking to “take back America” were attracted to its story. Beck provided the politicizing glue to bind these groups together. On Fox News, he concluded his endorsement by turning the concept of “erasure” on its head, claiming that modern scientists are seeking to “erase” the Mound Builders from history.

The alt-right rediscover “the long lost White America”

White supremacists joined the growing alt-history coalition in earnest the same year with the publication of White Apocalypse, a fiction novel about a massive cover-up of the “truth” about the Mound Builders. Its author is Kyle Bristow, praised by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. The book’s description on Amazon reads:

In White Apocalypse, a rogue anthropologist teams up with a proponent of the Solutrean Hypothesis and a fiery lawyer in order to reveal to the world the shocking truth that carries immense cultural, political, and racial significance: 17,000 years ago, white people immigrated to North and South America from Europe, and when the Amerindians arrived by crossing the Bering Strait roughly 12,000 years ago, the latter subsequently and systematically murdered the former. The powers that be will do everything that they can to prevent this controversial theory from being espoused by the trio, and during this action-packed, semi-fictional thriller, the epic adventure will take the advocates of historical revisionism from the forests of southeastern Michigan to a federal courtroom in Ohio, from the busy streets of Washington, D.C. to an Amerindian reservation in Virginia!

Before the first page, Bristow dedicates the book to “the real Native Americans”, meaning white people. The story “revolves around a series of violent revenge fantasies against Jewish professors, Latino and Native American activists, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

The Solutrean hypothesis refers to an obscure and widely-discredited variant of the mound builder myth—that people from southern France migrated to North America. They created a sophisticated civilization before being wiped out by “Indians”. In popular context, especially on-line, the term “Solutrean” is now embedded in the neo-Nazi lexicon, probably to the dismay of archaeologists, who maintain the Solutreans were probably dark-skinned immigrants from north Africa.

mythnazilogosReferences to this alt-history are commonplace in the white supremacist echo-chamber today. They embrace the Ahnenerbe’s search for Aryan roots in the Americas, praising Nazi Germany, “No one nation has put such an effort before or since into re-discovering and documenting our prehistoric past. If this was Himmler’s only true contribution to history, then he should be considered a hero of our people.” A simple on-line search finds dozens of pseudo-archaeological books with titles like Lost Race of the Giants and Forgotten Worlds, and articles such as “The Lost White Tribes of Peru” and “Finding Identity and a Home in Future White America” with exhortations like this: “As long as diversity, multiculturalism and political correctness remain the focus of everything we say and do, then we will neither re-discover that long lost White America or even hope to create a new white ethnostate to save our oppressed millions.”

Delusion and justification

Aside from the tiny Viking outpost discovered in 1960 at L’Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland, which dates to about the year 1000, there remains no evidence of European contact, let alone societal influence, in the Americas before the fifteen century. The mound builder myth of the 1800s, and the present Solutrean version of it embraced by white supremacists, is at once an attempt to erase, replace, and demonize Native Americans and their history. It fits alongside past biblical justifications for slavery in the South.

Anthony Aveni, a professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate University, observed with frustration, “I think there is, beneath all this dialogue about diffusionism, a will to believe in bizarre ideas…. It’s a belief that we can wish into existence the universe we desire and deserve.”

James Baldwin was more specific. He observed that white Americans have “this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history.”

Recent on-line commentary illustrates just how important this alternative history is to its proponents. Here is an example from a five-star Amazon review of Bristow’s novel:

“It will shake long held beliefs about who is really the native American and white guilt. If indeed Europeans were here first, then in fact we were the victims of genocide not the native American Indian. The very fact that our ‘establishment’ has deliberately hid the truth from us regarding these archeological digs, is itself evidence of a cover-up. Kyle is a bright man and a truth-teller. Any white person who is feeling even the inkling of white guilt should read this book. It will completely change your attitude about who and what is guilty of white genocide.”

Another comment from an on-line forum celebrated the Solutrean hypothesis:

“Just sick and tired of being called invaders of the Continent we discovered and were probably wiped out by the Olmecs or the Pre Clovis. Paybacks a biatch!”

To such twisted notions, Baldwin observes almost with compassion, “To be white [is] to be forced to digest a delusion called white supremacy.” When a white person looks at a person of color, Baldwin says, “what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility.”

In the case of Native Americans, they see the ethnic cleansing, demonization, and genocides of the past, as well as the concentration camps of the present which have evolved into isolated bantustans of abject poverty. If they look more closely, they see that life expectancy at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is less than that of Haiti and most of sub-Saharan Africa. And so they come up with an alternative history that erases the past and replaces it; a past that explains that whites have what they have today because they deserve it, and Natives have what they have because they deserve that.

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Alt-history Part 1: The mound builder myth and ethnic cleansing

Marietta, Ohio

Traveling down the Ohio River in 1788, General Rufus Putnam came upon what were clearly the remains of an ancient civilization. The earth was contoured into walls, courtyards, terraces, and mesas stretching in a geometric array over a hundred acres. At this site he founded the town of Marietta, Ohio.


The population of Cahokia around 1200 AD may have exceeded that of London.

In the coming decades, from Manitoba to the Gulf Coast, over a thousand ancient mounds and earthworks were documented, measured, and excavated by white settlers, amateur archaeologists, and academic researchers. There were conical pyramids with tombs inside, temple mounts with roads to the top, and earthworks in the shapes of people or animals. The Great Serpent mound in southern Ohio stretched nearly a mile in length, aligned with the solstices. Monks Mound near St. Louis is the largest earthwork in the Americas. Expertly constructed, it was part of Cahokia, a great city laid out on a grid using the four cardinal directions.


The Great Serpent mound, Ohio

By Putnam’s time, the mound complexes were hardly novel. Europeans had encountered them since DeSoto’s foray in the 1540s, sometimes still in use (by the Natchez). Nor were the mounds at Marietta unheard of. The French had explored and traded along the river since 1669. Valued for its trade opportunities with Native groups, they marked the spot with leaden plates in 1749. The British took over the trading rights in 1763 after the French and Indian War, a subset of the Seven Years’ War which spanned three continents. The Ohio River valley was one of its prime rewards. In 1783, with the Treaty of Paris, the river, and the various mound complexes along it, passed into the hands of the young United States of America, at least as far as white people were concerned.

In fact, Marietta was still contested land in 1788. When General Putnam founded it, he was leading a party of forty-eight men who had been given title to the land by the United States as payment for their services in the Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, the Delaware, Shawnee, Iroquois and a dozen other nations had allied two years earlier as the Western Confederacy, formed to meet the new US threat. And the Western Confederacy had the upper hand, inflicting large casualties upon US troops in what is now called Little Turtle’s War. Among the first structures built at Marietta were two defensive forts.

The myth of the Mound Builders


Cahokia today

Europeans had struggled to understand just who the Native Americans were for centuries. The Castilian Council of the Indies debated their rights as humans—or sub-humans—in 1520. The theory that they were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel started in 1650. But the mounds, evidence of a sophisticated ancient civilization, posed a new question. How could the “merciless Indian savages”, as the Declaration of Independence called them, have built such a complicated society?

The answer was the “mound builder myth”, which grew along with the United States’ territory. Here is the basic storyline: Before the red-skinned Indians there was “a race of people more enlightened than the present Indians,” to quote Francis Baily in 1796. They built the great mounds and ancient cities. These Mound Builders were of noble stock, probably descending from Europe or Asia. But then the Indians came. The savages either overwhelmed the Mound Builders by force or, worse, caused this great civilization to decline and disappear thru inter-racial marriage.

This was the foundation of an alternative history that gained widespread popularity and academic support in white society. The entire nascent field of archaeology and anthropology in America revolved around it. The growth of the myth was remarkably coincident with, and provided justification for, massive ethnic cleansing from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, exactly where the mounds were located.

In 1787, just four years after the end of the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Smith Barton of Philadelphia posited that the Vikings must have constructed the earthworks, and then journeyed on to Mexico and Central America where they further perfected their art with even grander pyramids. Benjamin Franklin suggested the mounds were constructed by Hernando de Soto. As early as 1807, a school textbook supposed that the most “civilized” Natives, the Toltecs and Aztecs, had fairly recently arrived from Tartar. In 1817, just five years after Tecumseh’s pan-Indian revolt across the Midwest, William Cullen Bryant published a poem, Thanatopsis, offering an explanation for the fall of the ancient civilization:

The red man came,

The roaming hunter tribes,

warlike and fierce,

And the mound-builders vanished from the earth.

It was Putnam’s secretary who first mapped and excavated the historic sites at Marietta. In 1820, Caleb Atwater used these in the publication of the first book about American archeological sites, Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States. The final third of the book is dedicated to “conjectures” regarding the builders of the mounds. Appreciating that they represented a past great civilization, and unable to attribute such an accomplishment to the present “savages”, he concluded they were built by actual Indians– the “Hindoos” of India. A remarkable proportion of the early mound builder theorists were also local politicians. Atwater was later appointed by Andrew Jackson to negotiate with Native peoples.

The Book of Mormon played its part in 1830, relating that the mounds were built by refugee Israelites. These wayward Hebrews later split into two factions: one industrious and one ungodly. God punished the latter by turning their skins red. These “redskins” rose up and destroyed the others, leaving a sole survivor who wrote down his story on gold tablets to be discovered by Joseph Smith.

That same year white Americans were embroiled in a fervent debate over the fate of Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act passed by a slim margin and was signed into law by Andrew Jackson. The nation had consciously decided to ethnically cleanse most of the land east of the Mississippi. Jackson, in his State of the Union speech, described the mounds as “memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated, or has disappeared, to make room for the existing savage tribes.”

Three years later, in 1833, the myth took off in earnest with the publication of Josiah Priest’s best seller, American Antiquities. According to Priest, the Mound Builders were possibly Europeans, or maybe Egyptians, Israelites, Chinese, or Polynesians. As the book was gobbled up by the public, Georgia was auctioning off Cherokee land to white speculators.


One-third of the Cherokees died while white settlers took over their farms, cabins, houses, lumber mills, and other businesses.

In 1838, as the US Army was going door to door in northern Georgia, rounding up Cherokee families and herding them into stockades, the Grave Creek Stone was discovered a few hundred miles to the north. By the inscriptions on the rock, it appeared to show the Mound Builders had Gallic, Phoenician, and Hebrew origins. The Trail of Tears was underway and the mound country was being “reclaimed” by Europeans.

As skulls and skeletons were exhumed from ancient burial mounds and contemporary Native cemeteries, experts pronounced them proof that the Mound Builders were a separate, and superior, race. They claimed to find differences between the skulls of the Mound Builders and those of modern Native Americans. Samuel George Morton, professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, provided the science behind the supremacy of the white race in a three-volume set released between 1839 and 1849: Crania AmericanaAn Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America. With Native Americans, Morton wrote, the “eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline, the mouth large, and the lips tumid and compressed. In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives… Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood: they reach a certain limit and expand no further.” Simply put, Native Americans could not have built great works of civilization. Morton’s work also provided justification for the enslavement of “the negro”.

During the decade of Morton’s publications, the Comanche were pushing the white frontier backward in Texas, the Cayuse were wiping out the Whitman mission to stop white pioneers with measles, John Sutter was putting Maidu and Miwok heads on stakes at the gates of his fort, the US was inheriting Navajo land from the Mexicans, and the term “manifest destiny” was coined.

In 1847, the Smithsonian Institution put its stamp of approval on the myth with the publication of Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis. One of the seminal research papers in the field of archeology, it provided a thorough scientific description of hundreds of mounds, complete with detailed charts and maps. Their interpretation, however, was influenced by the politics of the times. They concluded that “as works of art they are immeasurably beyond anything which the North American Indians are known to produce, even at this day, with all the suggestions of European art…”


High school textbook, 1857

By the mid-nineteenth century, the mound builder myth was dogma, widely accepted across all levels of white society and taught to children in schools. A high school textbook from 1857 dismissed the notion that Native Americans descended from the lost tribes of Israel, concluding, “It seems far more probable that the first settlers of America were from Egypt. Their taste and skill in building would indicate this…” They migrated to North America via the Bering Sea, “to have erected the mounds and ancient works whose remains are still visible in the valley of the Mississippi…. The Indians of America must have sprung from later bodies of Asiatic adventurers…” The formerly Egyptian Mound Builders were either driven off by “less civilized bands” or mixed with them and then forgot “the mechanical arts through the allurements of forest life”, repeating a theme that, by relying on subsistence hunting and fishing, Natives were lazy, decadent and unbiblical, and would rather live off the land than farm it and build permanent settlements.

Ironically, at this time the removed Cherokee in Oklahoma were establishing some of the first institutes of higher education west of the Mississippi. Prior to removal, they had their own alphabet, printing press, newspaper, and a ninety percent literacy rate that exceeded that of the Georgia colonists that displaced them. Regardless, this alternative history left no doubt that the “Indians” were recent uncivilized interlopers with no legal or moral claim to the land.

As the mounds were measured and mapped and the myth repeated, there were some voices of caution and restraint. Both anthropologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and botanist William Bartram argued that the earthworks were likely constructed by ancestors of the current Native Americans. It is worth noting that Schoolcraft’s wife was half Ojibwe, and from her he learned to speak that language. Bartram was also sympathetic to Natives, having spent considerable time among the Seminole, who regarded him as a friend. In one unusual twist, an amateur archeologist in Ohio sought to humanize Native Americans by re-connecting them to the lost tribes of Israel, but his discovery of stones with Hebrew inscriptions, including the Ten Commandments, were quickly determined to be a hoax.


High school textbook, 1872

The myth persisted, migrating in space and time to the next center of ethnic cleansing. In January 1877, just six months after the Battle of the Greasy Grass (aka Custer’s Last Stand), with the Sioux War in full swing, mysterious tablets were discovered on a farm in Davenport, Iowa. Inscriptions and hieroglyphics on the tablets purported to link the Mound Builders to Europe. In October of that year, as the nation marveled at this ultimate proof of early white ancestry in North America, the US Army was chasing Chief Joseph and hundreds of Nez Perce families through the northern Rockies.

In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly revived Plato’s fictional continent in his wildly popular Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, using “scientific” proofs to assert its place in history. The people of Atlantis, the book asserts, were the Mound Builders.

In 1886, Geronimo and his small band of “off the reservation” Apaches surrendered, ending the last military conflict between the US and Natives in that era. At this point, nearly all Native Americans in the US were confined to concentration camps called “reservations”. In 1890, in a final act of violence, the 7th Cavalry exacted revenge on hundreds of elders, women and children at Wounded Knee for the crime of dancing. This is often called the “last battle” of the Indian Wars; in reality it was a massacre of innocents thirteen years after they had turned themselves in. The “red menace” was over and Custer was avenged.


Four years later, archeologists at the Smithsonian and Harvard’s Peabody Museum definitively put the Mound Builder myth to bed. All archeological evidence suggested that the Mound Builders and Native Americans were one and the same. The Grave Creek Stone, the Davenport tablets, and many other similar discoveries, were all frauds and hoaxes.

Colonialist archaeology

Famous explorer John Wesley Powell, in his role as Director of the Bureau of Ethnology, knew full well the racial motivations that made the mound builder myth so appealing. In 1894 he wrote in his annual report, “It is difficult to exaggerate the prevalence of this romantic fallacy, or the force with which the hypothetic ‘lost races’ had taken possession of the imaginations of men… It was an alluring conjecture that a powerful people, superior to the Indians, once occupied the valley of the Ohio and the Appalachian ranges… all swept away before an invasion of copper-hued Huns from some unknown region of the earth, prior to the landing of Columbus.”

The use, or misuse, of archeology to support a political agenda is not new. Trigger (1984) lists many examples of governments past and present directing scientists to focus on certain narratives, or restricting other lines of inquiry. Archeology, he demonstrates, is regularly used to support nationalist, colonialist, and imperialist agendas. In a parallel example to the US, he describes ancient ruins in Zimbabwe which were so impressive that white colonizers attributed them to Phoenicians. Trigger explains:

Colonialist archaeology, wherever practised, served to denigrate native societies and peoples by trying to demonstrate that they had been static in prehistoric times and lacked the initiative to develop on their own. Such archaeology was closely aligned with ethnology, which in the opinion of the general public also documented the primitive condition of modern native cultures. This primitiveness was seen as justifying European colonists assuming control over such people or supplanting them.

He considers the “lost race of the Moundbuilders” in the US as “the oldest and most complex example” of colonialist archaeology, which “identified the Indians not only as being unprogressive but also as having wilfully destroyed a civilisation; which made their own destruction seem all the more justifiable.”

Trigger, Bruce G. 1984. Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist. Man, New Series 19 (3): 355-370.

Alt-history Part 2: The mound builder myth reborn, Nazis, and Solutreans

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