Last week there was a particularly disturbing news story out of the hamlet of Copake, in Columbia County east of the Hudson. A despondent dairy farmer committed suicide, shooting dead 51 of his cows before killing himself. Although the scope of this private tragedy caught the collective breath of nationwide news consumers (for an hour or two), there is of course nothing new about the desperate struggles of the family farmer, particularly dairy farmers in our own state. Northview Diary has more.
Andy Arthur (your expert blogger on the rural issues of eastern New York) has a thoughtful post up today about the physical, economic and social landscape where this sad event occurred. He points out that Copake is on the very front line between Upstate New York’s economic struggles and a rising tide of affluence coming ultimately from New York City (and Wall Street). It’s a line that used to lay much farther south. This is an on-the-ground situation which is still only abstract to us in other parts of Upstate, although became somewhat less abstract to more people during the regional anti-NYRI protests. Here’s a story about a “farm” (also in Copake, and on the same road as the farm with the 51 cows) that is not really a farm, but apparently a construction-debris dumping ground. With the advance of development-crazy newcomers, Columbia County farms are bearing some strange fruit.
Speaking of dumping — and closer to home — residents of the Town of Camillus’ Golden Meadows subdivision (a homedebtors farm?) are only just realizing how Honeywell has successfully managed to turn the Onondaga Lake sludge-dumping cleanup plan into a fait accompli. This is the same plan that the Onondaga Nation and other local activists have been vocally opposing for several years, but the residents of Golden Meadows seem not to have heard about it. I lost some nice neighbors a couple years ago to the lure of Golden Meadows, and I’m guessing they’re feeling like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them; they probably didn’t think the waste beds would ever see use again, or were not warned. The sad thing is that if only the Nation, the local activist friends of the Nation, and the residents of the Town of Camillus had connected with each other a few years ago, they could have made a much more effective bloc to demand a better examination of the cleanup issues.
“Divide and conquer” still works, however. It works particularly well here, because some people don’t want to consider that while they may be in different boats, they are still riding down the same river. Simply put, the Camillus situation illustrates perfectly something I’ve been trying to imperfectly express for years: we here in Upstate New York are all “indigenous” now in the eyes of certain other people. We are seen as being as exploitable and disposable as the other natural resources on the land we occupy, whether it is over in Copake or over in Camillus. We’re becoming invisible. The people from the corporations, and maybe the second-home owners too (who are probably more intimately bound up with the interests of corporations than those who can’t afford second homes), tend not to consider “the locals” to be people, any more than the land speculators of the 18th and 19th centuries thought that the Haudenosaunee were people. No, they’re not evil, but they are losing their sight. All natives of this region, regardless of cultural background or skin color (but particularly those with brown skin, and also people of any color with farming or working-class backgrounds), are “removable.” How did this change in identity happen? I don’t know. But I do know that our historical ignorance and pride keeps us from acknowledging this new reality.
I’m not a second-home-owner who works for a Wall Street corporation (although I currently serve them) and I have never been able to think like they do. They see things differently. We’re not all the same people. But the even more ironic thing is that the second-home-owners are desperately seeking authenticity by (usually unconsciously) sweeping away the actual authentic culture (the indigenous peoples of all kinds, from the native nations to the farmers to the factory workers) and building artificial, pretend versions in their place. Yet their desire for cultural authenticity never seems to be sated, and they use their affluence to travel the world seeking it, creating “ideal communities” Upstate, or clearing out cities for gentrification, or buying dead factories to make shrines for art that strives to get them back in touch with the “authentic.” They’re always chasing the indigenous peoples away — but in the end, they’re always chasing after them.
What an absurd cycle. Does it have to be this way? And does there have to be conflict? The Two Row Wampum says no. It seems to me the indigenous peoples of today’s upstate regions, and the “new people” from elsewhere (I mean the affluent, not the immigrant), ought to work out a new agreement. But such an agreement won’t happen if we don’t have any good local leaders to articulate and respond to what is actually happening.