The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Santa Santet—an Achuar woman

Santa Santet—an Achuar woman—and Placitan Vickie Peck in the Achuar Rainforest

Two Achuar girls

Two Achuar girls—one with a monkey on her back

An Achuar man

An Achuar man drinks chicha.

The Achuar’s Rainforest


I just returned from two months in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. What was a desert girl doing there? The short answer is that I was teaching English in a remote Achuar village near the Peruvian border.

The Achuar people, natural custodians of millions of acres of pristine rainforest, had a communal bad dream in the early 1990s that turned out to be accurate. The oil companies were coming to drill inside their territory. As one of a handful of remaining Amazonian dream cultures, they used this information to plan a response—to tell the invaders not to come. This required that they contact the outside world, something they had never done before. An anthropologist and his client who were traveling in the rainforest at that time both noted that they had dreamed of the same man with a painted face, markings that the anthropologist recognized as Achuar. They answered the call and traveled deep into the forest to meet with the Achuar leaders. From this introduction, The Pachamama Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, was founded to support the Achuar in protecting their rainforest and their culture.

I heard of The Pachamama Alliance (TPA, through my friend Pat Usner who was hired as their development director. Though TPA was founded to assist the Achuar in preserving their heritage, the Achuar elders soon pointed out that the most important thing that TPA could do was to “change the dream of the north,” i.e., to alter our consumptive lifestyles, especially our consumption of oil, an idea that resonated with me. When Pat invited me to attend a symposium developed by TPA to “change the dream of the north,” I was so inspired that I was trained to facilitate the symposium. Shortly thereafter, I joined Pat and nine others on a trip to visit the Achuar people.

I guess some jungle bug got under my skin and I couldn’t resist the Achuar’s request for volunteers to teach English. Luckily, I am self-employed, have plenty of teaching experience (in biology, not English), and have a flexible husband. So I found myself armed with mosquito repellent, a fellow volunteer, and a meager grasp of Spanish, landing in the middle of nothing but the rainforest and snaking cappuccino-colored rivers as far as I could see.

Since that bad dream thirteen years ago, the Achuar people have been carefully observing our modern technological world much as they might watch a jaguar or an anaconda in the jungle. And being excellent hunters, they have learned a lot about oil companies, missionaries, and tourists. They have discovered airplanes, outboard motors for their canoes, radios, flashlights, and the lure of dollar bills. Given the options of working for the oil companies, selling their timber, moving to the city, or hosting tourists, they have chosen the latter. They are now the proud custodians of the Kapawi Eco Lodge, a gorgeous, completely ‘green’ ecotourism operation with the largest private solar electrical installation in Ecuador.

The villagers of Sharamentza, the small village where I was visiting, are a traditional people. They rise at three a.m. to share their dreams, counsel their children, and plan their days. The men hunt and fish; the women tend the gardens and the children and make chicha, their lightly fermented manioc drink that doubles as a potable drink and a source of nutrition. Because Sharamentza is perched on a sweeping bend of the huge Rio Pastaza, a major tributary of the Amazon River, the villagers spend a lot of time at the river fishing, swimming, scanning for pink dolphins, bathing, doing laundry, gossiping, and carrying water. The whole community participates in building each of their houses—tall, graceful thatched–roof huts with earthen floors. The men cut and fetch the chonta palm trees, the women and children prepare the chonta fronds for the roof, and the men construct it from chonta logs lashed together with fibers from the tree bark, a process that requires hard work and a long lunch hour with copious quantities of chicha, laughter, and maybe a siesta.

Sharamentza is also a very modern village, a “projecto piloto” according to the carefully lettered sign that hangs in the communal hut. The village gardens include a large variety of vegetables and fruit trees that are managed according to permaculture techniques. Several dehydrating toilets are scattered around the village. The pilot project includes a photo voltaic system that powers lights in all of the houses and a pump for the community water system, a two-way radio communication system, and a ‘pharmacy’ with malaria diagnostic capacity and anti-malarial drugs. There are two rooms for visitors and a tiled bathroom with a flush toilet. (Unfortunately technology is fallible—the solar system batteries were dying and the pump was burned out while I was there, so we all hauled water and read by candlelight.) The village also sports a large airstrip that required a year and a half to clear using machetes. Commercial charter planes with eighteen passengers can land and take off there.

The pilot project also includes plans to build an “academy” for educating the Achuar people in the ways of the modern world—a place for courses in photo voltaics, outboard motor mechanics, permaculture, health, and business managements skills. But first they want to learn English, so that they can communicate with their English-speaking guests. That’s where my job came into the picture.

Teaching English was a wonderful experience. The students from ages three through sixty loved learning. Like the pet parrot that roamed the village, the kids quickly learned to mimic everything we said—and did. We all laughed a lot. When they tired of English, they taught us Achuar. Then we would go in search of ripe bananas and papayas in the gardens, singing songs in English. Soon everyone in the village was singing, “fingers, elbows, knees, toes; knees, toes…”

My teaching partner Alicia and I stayed in the guest quarters and ate with the families. The food was an adventure that I loved more than Alicia. We ate whatever they hunted or caught that day, including lots of fresh fish, birds, caiman, frogs, rodents, wild pig, and turtle soup. We ate lots of plantain and manioc root. We missed our veggies and morning coffee. But the sunsets over the river with parrots and toucans more than made up for that. The real downside for us, though, was the inability to escape the biting bugs and the humid heat. Snakes were common, as were all kinds of bugs.

In all of my adult life, I have never had so much free time—time to contemplate my belly button, to dream, to watch the ants hunt bugs. Time to think about the Achuar and the rainforest. It seems to me that we could go beyond saving the Achuar in order to save the rainforest for global warming and cures for cancer. I observed a deeply spiritual people who understand their world in ways that I truly cannot grasp. They are happy people; they love their children; they share everything that they have, including food, labor, and dreams. They laugh often. The funniest thing they learned about our culture is that we have special houses called storage lockers to store our things that we don’t use. Perhaps the best help that we can offer them is to change the dream of the north.

Coming back to the city after two months of deep peace was shocking. NOISE! It seems that we in this country are often in a state of “tranquilization by trivia” as Kierkegaard put it. My phone messages, email backlog, and piles of junk mail are mostly unattended to. What calls to me is to build a chicken pen so that we can have fresh eggs. And I can watch the chickens hunt grasshoppers.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Cibola National Forest Christmas tree permits available

It’s time to think about Christmas trees! Permits will be available over-the-counter at Cibola National Forest offices beginning November 21 and lasting through December 24. The cost is $10 per permit. Each household is limited to one permit. Up to four additional permits can be purchased for family or friends. Names and addresses are required for each permit. There is no Christmas tree cutting on the Sandia Ranger District.

“Our Christmas tree cutting program remains very popular and is a great way to spend a day in your national forest with friends or family,” stated Timber Management Officer Tom Marks. “With the recent fire disasters, it is important to note that cutting Christmas trees helps thin overcrowded timber stands on National Forests,” Marks added.

For more information on tree cutting on the Cibola National Forest, call the forest supervisor’s office at (505) 346-3900 or visit their website at

Individuals interested in tree cutting on the Santa Fe National Forest (Jemez, Pecos, Cuba, and Las Vegas Ranger Districts), please contact the forest office at (505) 438-7840 for more information.

Ojo Peak fire contained

Recent snowfall in Mountainair helped suppress and control fire growth in the 6969-acre Ojo Peak fire northwest of Mountainair, New Mexico, over the end of November. A drying trend is expected to continue as temperatures rise and humidity levels begin to drop. This may result in an increase in small fire activity. Isolated patches of unburned fuel in the interior areas of the fire are expected to continue to smolder. Firefighters will continue to patrol, monitor and secure the current containment lines.

Evacuations have been lifted in all residential areas. Several forest roads are now closed or will be closing, including Forest Roads 422 and 253 in the fire area. All gates are currently open in the area for fire fighter safety, however, the public is asked to stay out of these areas as hazards may still exist.

The Southwest Incident Management Team returned the management of the fire back to the Mountainair Ranger District.

Due to the Ojo Peak Fire, the Red Canyon Christmas tree cutting weekends originally scheduled on December 1, 2, 8, and 9 have been canceled.

For further Ojo Peak Fire information and road closure information, contact the Mountainair Ranger District at 505-847-2990 or go to

Website promotes solar energy

Check out Solar Nation at and receive our weekly newsletter. Solar Nation is a national campaign that involves you, America’s solar citizen. The object of the campaign is to make solar power a significant part of this country’s energy future. We will achieve this by building a large membership of well-informed solar citizens who are dedicated to the advancement of renewable energy in general and solar energy in particular; this citizenry will use its voice to convince state and federal policy makers to create a political climate favorable to solar energy development and use. Through our network of partner organizations, we remain close to current developments in the world of solar energy and the corridors of power. We’re also prepared to react quickly to political maneuverings by alerting every solar citizen to significant impending legislation. When our lawmakers understand that large numbers of voters are solar citizens, they should enact the kind of legislation our Solar Nation needs.

BLM restores over 250,000 acres of public lands in NM in 2007


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has restored more than 250,000 acres of rangelands in New Mexico in fiscal year 2007, far surpassing last year’s total of 145,000 acres. What started out as a concept to restore and enhance degraded landscapes three years ago has grown into Restore New Mexico—a full-blown effort involving agencies, organizations, ranchers, and industry.

The BLM is working with state, private, and federal partners to restore grasslands and riparian areas to a healthy and productive condition. On grasslands invaded by brush, efforts focus on landscapes dominated by mesquite, creosote, juniper, and other species to restore native vegetation, which greatly benefits watersheds and wildlife habitat. The BLM and its partners are also replacing salt cedar in riparian (streamside) areas with native cottonwood and willow. Partners under the program are also identifying and reclaiming orphaned oil and gas wells, pads, and roads, and are working to control invasive weeds.

“Regardless of how people feel about land uses or management priorities, everyone agrees that we need to look at the land differently than we have in the past,” said Linda Rundell, State Director for the BLM in Santa Fe. “We are now beginning to restore entire landscapes. It’s amazing what can happen when folks have a shared vision.”

About a third of New Mexico (just over twenty-six million acres) is federally owned. The BLM manages 13.4 million acres of this total. “Public lands are an extremely valuable resource for all New Mexicans,” Rundell added. “Where areas have been disturbed by development, erosion, recreational uses, and other activities, we must work together to restore them.”

Much of the Restore New Mexico work to date has focused on southern New Mexico. The BLM is building on past partnerships to focus on projects throughout the state. Restoring landscapes not only enhances New Mexico’s wildlife, but also watersheds and groundwater supplies; it will also allow the BLM and other partners, including the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, to reintroduce native wildlife to places where they have disappeared.

Over the past century, a variety of land uses, periodic droughts, and New Mexico’s rapidly expanding population has fragmented habitat for wildlife. The state has also seen an expansion of invasive plant species, degraded water quality due to erosion, and an increased threat from catastrophic wildfires to wildlife habitat and communities bordering our public lands.

The goals of Restore New Mexico are therefore to restore habitat for fish, wildlife, and species of concern; restore native grasslands and reverse the expansion of invasive plant species; reverse habitat fragmentation from historic oil and gas development; improve water quality; and reduce the impacts from catastrophic wildfires.

Within the next two years, the BLM intends to restore and reclaim 250,000 acres of public land statewide each year, and with its partners, achieve a goal of five hundred thousand acres per year of public, state, and private lands.

An area of emphasis in 2008 and future years will be to eradicate cheatgrass, an invasive grass that has become a critical problem in Nevada, Utah, Idaho and other Western states – and is becoming a threat here. Cheatgrass seriously out-competes native grassland species; cheatgrass-dominated landscapes host hotter and more frequent wildfires, further degrading rangelands and reducing wildlife populations.

The goal of brush treatments is to reduce the incidence of brush in rangelands to historic levels; in many areas, the percentage of brush in a landscape has increased from ten to over ninety percent over the past 120 years, radically reducing the areas’ biological productivity.

In areas with oil and gas production, 172 miles of roads and 375 well pads have been reclaimed, ‘defragmenting’ tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat.

Congressmen discuss Navajo uranium mining

Last month, in a rare roundtable session, leaders from Congress, the Navajo Nation, and directors from relevant federal agencies and entities engaged in open dialogue focused on the past, present, and future of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

With a standing-room-only crowd, Congressmen Tom Udall, D-NM, Jim Matheson, D-UT and Rick Renzi, R-AZ led a discussion focused on the prospects of renewed uranium mining in Navajo Indian Country, the health effects associated with mining and milling, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, known as RECA, and the environmental aspects of mining. Collectively, the three represent the Navajo Nation in Congress.

During the course of the three-hour roundtable discussion, tribal officials, led by President Joe Shirley, Jr. from the Navajo Nation emphasized their request for observance and implementation of a federal moratorium on uranium mining both within the reservation’s boundaries and beyond, in what is known as Navajo Indian Country. Additionally, tribal officials emphasized the need to clean up dangerous, old, exposed mining sites that still exist on the reservation.

The officials cited the Natural Resources Protection law, a Navajo law that places a ban on all uranium mining both within the Navajo Nation boundary and surrounding areas that make up Navajo Indian Country.

President Shirley noted that in the face of the Cold War, the government mined uranium on their land, and that “now more than fifty years later, the legacy of uranium mining has devastated both the people and the land.”

“The tragedy of this legacy is that those who worked in the uranium mines have experienced devastating health effects because of their exposure,” Shirley said. “The greater tragedy is that years and decades later their families who live in those same areas are experiencing heath problems today because the remnants of uranium activity continue to pollute the land, the water, and their lives. It would be unforgivable to allow this cycle to continue for another generation.”

Dr. Charles L. Miller, director of the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates uranium milling, said he knows of sixteen leases for uranium milling recovery process that are expected in the next several years.

He said that twelve of those applications are expected to propose in-situ leaching facilities, a process he described as “leaching the uranium from the underground rock and into the groundwater and through a series of pumping operations getting it to the surface for processing.” In addition, he said he expects approximately eleven expansion or restart applications for existing uranium facilities.

He indicated that “none of the applications are proposed to be on Navajo lands, however, two proposed new sites, and one restart site, are located near Mt. Taylor,” a sacred site for many Native Americans.

Udall, Matheson, and Renzi emphasized that their efforts to bring this roundtable together would not conclude after it adjourned. They are committed to continuing the dialogue on uranium mining and its effects and promised to stay involved and seek justice for those individuals and families impacted.

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