Corbin Harney, eighty-three, is a Native American spiritual leader, healer, and internationally known indigenous rights and anti-nuclear weapons activist. Already as a youth he noticed something fundamental: “Your roots are important! When they dry up all strength wilts away.” As a young man he left the missionary school in which his traditional language was forbidden, and trekked with two packhorses into the mountains of Idaho. There he learned the second part of his lesson: “The love you bestow upon the land returns ten-fold to you.”
The Western Shoshone call themselves Newe, “The People,” and they refer to their ancestral lands as Newe Sogobia, “The People’s Land.” After living on these lands for thousands of years, the Newe have spent the last 400 defending them from invasion and environmental destruction. Today, the U.S. government occupies much of the Newe Sogobia, using it as a domestic nuclear war zone. The Nevada Test Site was illegally seized from the tribe in the 1940s to use for nuclear weapons testing and as a dump for highly radioactive nuclear waste. Releases of radiation from the detonation of over 1000 nuclear weapons above and below the ground have resulted in cancer clusters and contamination in the communities downwind of the site – and beyond. Newe homelands have been turned into a National Sacrifice Area, or permanently poisoned lands. The latest threat to the Newe is the planned nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain located within the Nevada Test Site. The repository will accept over 75,000 tons of fuel rods and other high-level waste across roads and rails from 39 states and place it in a giant hole in the earth found to be seismically unstable and in contact with ground water. Plutonium, the most deadly man-made substance on earth, has a radioactive half-life of 250,000 years, and its nearby storage portends an unparalleled toxic peril for the next 12,000 generations living in the region.
“The love you bestow upon the land returns ten-fold to you.”
Wherever Corbin Harney raises his voice, be it in song, in prayer, or in speech, be it at his homeland, at the UN, or in faraway Kazakhstan, his message is informed with the calm authority imbued him by the earth. In 1994, Corbin Harney founded the Shundahai Network (Shundahai is the Newe word for “peace and harmony with all creation”), a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the nuclear chain by building alliances with indigenous communities and environmental, peace and human rights movements. They seek to abolish all nuclear weapons and end all nuclear testing, advocate phasing out nuclear energy and ending the transportation and dumping of nuclear waste, and promote the principles of Environmental Justice. Their campaigns and events incorporate the values of community building, education, spiritual ceremonies and nonviolent direct action.
Naraborochi is Corbin Harney’s most crucial concern: “water.” His rain prayer bears witness to his spiritual reverence for life’s most essential element:
I ask for moisture to fall upon us so the grass will start to grow.
I pray for moisture for the things that survive on the grass,
what we humans tramp down.
The food that all the creatures are supposed to eat,
we tramp it down so it’s flat on the ground.
So we know it’s up to us:
together we have to ask for the rain to come down, so the grass will continue to grow.
Corbin Harney’s spiritual strength has become a fountainhead of inspiration for environmental activists around the world. His solution to end the Nuclear Age: we must live in vital, spiritual connection with the earth!