The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe suffers 44 percent unemployment. Most tribal members are considered poor, and yet they resist development of their land because they recognize a higher value than money.The Paiutes own Pyramid Lake, a scenic, unpopulated setting near Reno, Nev. Despite their alleged poverty, the Paiutes refuse to cash in on developing the lake because they believe in what the lake represents – the traditional, sacred values of pristine nature.”The historical aspect of the lake has always been to keep it as it is,” said Norman Harry, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation. “The lake is sacred to the people and always will be.”Lake Tahoe is the flip side of that coin, a beauty spot that has been paved and plundered by resort development, generating $1.8 billion annually, mostly from tourism. While Tahoe thrives economically, the Paiutes thrive spiritually, steadfastly refusing development offers for casinos and other tourist attractions at Pyramid Lake.People think the Paiutes are out of step for spurning economic opportunities in deference to spiritual values. That’s because America the superpower was built firmly on exploitation. The Paiutes stand as a noted exception to the dubious cultural imperative of business at all costs.That imperative is best represented by the Hummer, a status vehicle with one of the worst gas mileage ratings in automotive history. The Hummer is proof that nature, environment and resource wars cannot compete with consumer gratification – the antithesis of the Paiute philosophy.Even as the stock market yo-yos according to the price of crude and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge is threatened by energy companies, Hummers roar through Aspen as air-conditioned passengers chat idly on cell phones. It is brutally ironic that Americans are joy riding in Hummers in Aspen while American soldiers are being blown up in them in Iraq.That causality is routinely challenged by the Bush administration’s rationale for why we’re in Iraq in the first place. But if you buy the line that our soldiers are dying purely for freedom and democracy, then there is a bridge for sale in New York that you might find interesting.I single out the Hummer because it evokes a pinnacle of consumer excess through the willful waste of fossil fuels and dependence on Middle East oil. If a Hummer driver were asked: “Are you ignorant or just apathetic?” the answer would be: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”Meanwhile, the Bush administration artfully dodges culpability for the tragedy of the misguided war in Iraq, as evinced by Dubya’s avoidance of Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother leading a protest vigil near the Bush ranch.Bush tried to cover the ground last week with a scripted remark: “I grieve for every death. It breaks my heart to think about a family weeping over the loss of a loved one. I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place.”Bush grieves. Cindy Sheehan grieves. Many thousands grieve. But where is the sacrifice of the Paiutes for something sacred, like human life? America parties on while lives are sacrificed to provide the party favors.”Our sons made the ultimate sacrifice and we want answers,” Sheehan said. “All we’re asking is that [Bush] sacrifice an hour out of his five-week vacation to talk to us before the next mother loses her son in Iraq. He says he is spreading peace. How can you spread peace by killing people?”The Paiutes sacrifice for their sacred values and are considered oddities. Conversely, the war in Iraq illustrates that it’s perfectly acceptable to sacrifice human life for feckless resource gluttony. That’s where sacrifice ends and grieving starts.Paul Andersen wants a Paiute for president. His column appears on Mondays.
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