Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Protecting Horses as Part of Indigenous Culture and Heritage

The stereotypical image of a Plains Indian is someone with a feathered bonnet and a horse. The idea of a horse is ubiquitous to the popular image of the indigenous peoples in North America. The relationship of indigenous peoples with horses was outlined in the book “Broken” by Lisa Jones ( subject of an earlier blog) who explored the life of Arapaho spiritual leader Stanwood Addison. And horses were of course central to the issues that came about in the Dann v United States (subject of an earlier blog) case. That is made very clear in the video “Our Land Our Life”.   As I watched the video, one thing drew my attention with horror. That was the use of aircraft to herd the horses—and then to watch the frightened horses plunging through barbed wire. If anyone has ever seen a horse that has been lacerated with barbed wire, you will be aware that the injuries can be catastrophic. Why, inflicting injury upon injury, was this method of rounding up the horses used? It is far from humane. Horses first evolved on the North American continent, and at some point in their evolution left over the land bridge that is the present day Bering Strait to the other side of the world. It was not until European explorers returned with horses after first contact in 1492 that horses returned to the New World. And horses quickly became a part of indigenous cultures. I remember as a child reading about Wild Horse Annie ( real name Velma Johnson) and her efforts to bring about bans on herding horses on land with aircraft.

The Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 provided protection to horses and burros on federal land. This followed an act that was passed in 1959 the Hunting Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands Act known informally as the Wild Horse Annie Act that provided protection to the horses and burros on public lands.

So why were the horses in the Dann situation treated as they were? Don’t the protections of federal law prohibit driving horses through barbed wire when herding them with aircraft? Horses are part of the identity and culture of many indigenous groups. Surely in addition to the protections offered by these specific American federal pieces of legislation, horses that are associated with indigenous groups are deserving of protections under laws that protect indigenous culture and heritage.

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