Don't circle too tight

 

Americans pride ourselves on our generosity, but at the moment we’re not doing so hot. In the face of one of the greatest refugee crises of our time, in which up to 12 million people have fled horrific civil war, the United States has agreed to accept 10,000 refugees over the next year. A lot of folks — 54 percent of us Americans, according to one poll — would like to see that number reduced to zero. This is driven by fear, heightened by the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris and their echo of 9/11. In uncertain times, it’s all too easy to circle the wagons. But as this issue of High Country News demonstrates, there are other, more generous responses to fear of “the other,” and they can be found even here — maybe especially here — in the American West.

Contributing editor Cally Carswell, for example, looks at the unlikely coalition that came together to fight the Keystone XL Pipeline — not just “Left Coast” activists, but tribal members, farmers and ranchers, working together to stop what they saw as a threat to their land and livelihoods. These cooperating “cowboys and Indians” added their voices to broader concerns about the pipeline and what it symbolized: the desire to keep fossil fuels in the ground, not just for the good of people today, but for unborn generations unable yet to act on their own behalf.

Gabriel Furshong, meanwhile, reports on the efforts of the Little Shell Tribe of the Chippewa Indians to gain federal recognition. Tribal members have struggled for decades for recognition, hampered in part by historical racism and the forced eviction of Montana tribes, which scattered Native Americans and their collective memory across the West. A new federal rule could make it easier for the tribe to be officially recognized — a huge step toward healing still-raw historical wounds.

Brian Calvert, HCN Managing Editor

In our cover story, Brian Mockenhaupt goes into New Mexico and Arizona to meet with a group of ranchers who have a deep understanding of sharing, or “neighboring,” as they call it. The Malpai Borderlands Group is famous for bringing diverse interests together in “the radical center” to take care of both their arid homeland and the people who rely on it. It’s not just high-minded talk: Recent research has discovered that these ranchers’ odds of survival may actually increase, largely because they’re willing to share in myriad ways. With the Southwest facing a future of extended drought and heat, this is a powerful lesson. If incorporated into existing planning and regulatory systems, it could help the region cope with an uncertain future.

The stories all have something else to teach us. We humans do best when we act as good neighbors. The tough part is deciding how big your neighborhood is, and how wide a circle you’re willing to make.