EDN member Joe Steirheim, who abstained from voting on the lease with Chesapeake, said that, in voting to lease their land, EDN is fighting to get ahead at the risk of irreversible environmental damage. He compared EDN’s participation in gas drilling to Native American participation in the beaver trade, which made white traders’ manufactured goods accessible to Native Americans, but decimated the beaver population.

“I said to one of the council members, ‘We’re just selling out. As a Native American community, we’re just selling out again. We haven’t learned from the past.’” Sterheim explained, “When they asked for a vote, I abstained. If they had enough people say no… Actually, nobody there at the meeting said no, and, as far as I know, I’m the only one that didn’t vote. Everybody else said yes. And the reason why I didn’t vote is that, on an ethical ground, I’m against it. But I know this is going to help the organization out, and I didn’t want to put a roadblock in front of them. Because, if they had enough people say no, they probably would have stopped the procedure, and I don’t know what would have happened. But, seeing everybody’s eyes, I didn’t want to stop them from doing that.”

Steirheim and his wife, Yvonne, didn’t know ahead of time what would be discussed. It is the policy of EDN to publish the dates, times, and locations of council meetings in seasonal EDN newsletters, but meeting agendas, though approved in advance by members of the leadership, are not circulated to members prior to council meetings. Logistics play a role in this policy. Mollie Eliot, who mails the newsletters, sometimes does not know until the day of a council meeting what will be on the agenda, and she said, “I send out 400 newsletters. I’m not going to call everybody and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to vote on this!’”

She said, “Sometimes people who weren’t there are like, ‘I wouldn’t have voted that way!’ Well, you weren’t there. I’m sorry. You know, council is advertised. Get your newsletter. You have the opportunity.”

As I spoke with Steirheim and his wife about the council meeting, Yvonne set out spice cake and glasses of iced tea. She said that, though she is concerned about the potential environmental impact of Marcellus Shale drilling, she doesn’t oppose it altogether because she thinks Mother Earth might be sacrificing herself for her children, and that people are supposed to use natural gas as a safer alternative to, for example, offshore drilling for oil.

“See, I’m torn between both,” she said. “Because we’re her children. We’re her family. A mother would do anything for her children and protect them and make sure that they’re fed well and well taken care of. So I’m thinking that Mother Earth is taking care of her children, taking care of us. And even though she’s dying for this, that’s our mother.”

While the Steirheims are worried about what hydraulic fracturing might do to local water supplies and wildlife populations, they both said that they can understand why people decide to sign leases with gas companies.

Yvonne said that, during the meeting, “I was sitting there watching people’s faces and listening to people’s words, and I was looking at every individual person in there thinking, ‘He doesn’t have any money. He’s an elder. How’s he surviving?’”

Joe interjected, “Well, the money from the thing goes to the EDN. It doesn’t go to any individuals whatsoever.”

But Joe said that, if Chesapeake came knocking at their door with a generous offer, he couldn’t guarantee that he would refuse. The Steirheims know many people who have decided to sign leases.

Joe said, “I’m against it, but I don’t judge people that do it. And the one part of me is like, ‘Good for you.’ You know? ‘I’m going to get so much a month for the rest of my life, and I don’t have to worry about finances.’ And then you think, ‘Good for ya. That’s great.’”

EDN needs money, and the organization’s future hopes of hosting a gathering place for Native Americans in the modern Mid-Atlantic U.S. matters to the Steirheims, even if the resulting course of action ran counter to what they believe are the responsibilities of Native Americans as caretakers of the environment. No money, no Wilmot Grange building. No money, no cultural center. The cultural center will give EDN a facility to call its own, and from which to welcome others whom it can teach. From the perspective of a group for whom ownership—of land, of group and individual identity, of the means of governance—has been historically denied, those facts might well seem incontrovertible.

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