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A Tale of Two Republics: Native Resistance to Coal Mining in Texas

A Tale of Two Republics: Native Resistance to Coal Mining in Texas

A Tale of Two Republics

Outside the city of Eagle Pass on the Texas/Mexico border a coal-mining project is getting under way.  The project was initially proposed in 1994; since that time seemingly everyone in the region has worked to ensure it never happen.  Resistance has taken an unfortunate step backwards recently when Texas Center for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted various permits and the US Corps of Army Engineers streamlined a state process for coal mining. Last month, to the dismay of locals, mining commenced.2republics.jpg

The proposed Dos Republicas coal mine is a lose/lose scenario for Texas.  This mine is different from the usual energy resource for pollution tradeoff.   All of the coal is slated for shipment to Mexico to be burned in the Carbon energy plant in Coahuila – the dirtiest power plant in the hemisphere. The mining process will pollute the water, destroy the land, threaten wildlife and cause air pollution, light pollution and sound pollution to the city of Eagle Pass, with no benefits of any kind.

On top of the regular down-side to coal mining is the unique territory where it is located.  The Rio Grande river basin is one of the oldest historical human settlement areas in all of the Americas and ancestral territory to many Native Texans including Carrizo, Coahuiltecan and Apache.  Comanche from as far away as Oklahoma have returned to Eagle Pass recently to publicly oppose the mine.  More than 100 archaeological sites would be threatened with destruction by dynamite blasting, surface mining and chemicals (nitrification), which are highly corrosive underground.  The proposed mine will completely destroy ancient burials, numerous artifacts, and sacred sites – many of which have not been identified.  In violation of federal law, there has been no consultation with any tribes . (see letter here)

Thousands have signed a statement in opposition to the mine, including the City of Eagle Pass, Maverick County and the local hospital district.  People do not support destroying their homeland to ship coal to Mexico, where the low environmental standards will send air pollution back to Texas.  However, the threat to 25,000 Texas acres is still a possibility because of the corruption embedded in the Texas land code.  Since 1971 TCEQ has approved 87,000 permits and denied only 15.  This appears as a cruel joke, and many surely attribute this type of governance to conservative politicians and the ‘good ol’ boy’ system in Texas.  Such roots run deeper than mere corruption, however – the antecedent to this destruction is the foundation of our state.  This is the epitome of colonialism; it is the ugliest face of capitalism, the least sensible notion of private property and an utterly facile application of law.

Colonialism: the long game

The case of Dos Republicas exemplifies the status quo of colonial society.  All the residents of the area, including the city and county, oppose a 22republicsdestructive and unnecessary project, but it moves forward in order to line the pockets of outside elites.  This is what happens when the people are denied sovereignty, and mirrors extraction based imperialism that has defined the European invasion of the Americas.

Because the genocidal project in Texas has been so thorough, there are currently no Indian tribes in Texas that are both federally recognized and claim Texas as ancestral territory (all of the federally recognized Indians: Kickapoo, Tigua and Alabama-Coshatta were relocated).  The lack of political rights has led to the misunderstanding that there are no Natives in Texas.  However, there are millions of Natives in Texas – millions of people disenfranchised by coloniality.

Colonialism affects different peoples in different ways.  The classification of Native groups into identity categories like “Indian” has been an important facet of colonialism, because it marked people as outside of society and devoid of rights.  Texas established rule of law in a flurry of genocidal advancement.  Mirabeau Lamar decreed it illegal for any Indians to remain within Texas in 1838.  The response was for many Natives to go into hiding, essentially assuming a Xicano (chi-cah-no) identity.

Xicanos, often referred to as Mexicans or Mexican Americans, are Native.  Since the term “Mexican” implies the nation to the south and immigration, this label is used by colonial society to disenfranchise Native claims by Spanish speaking mestizos. People identify as Xicano for political reasons – it is a claim to Native ancestry. Xicanos have been living in Texas since before the founding of the USA, before colonialism.  Even if people’s ancestors did migrate from Latin America, Texas is, in fact, ancestral land to peoples living throughout the Americas.  While Xicanos are not Indians, they are not settler-colonials either; they are Native, and therefore have a connection and responsibility to their territory.

Conversely, federally recognized Indians, who gained their status through warfare and treaty with the colonial society, were displaced from Texas to Oklahoma, such as the Comanche and the Tonkawa from the area around Austin.  Groups like the Carrizo and Coahuiltecans have ancestral roots in Texas – however their political organization was such that they were never granted recognition by the federal government.  Some of these groups have subsequently been recognized by the State of Texas, however state recognition is not a sovereign status.

So where does this leave the Settler Colonial society that has existed in Texas since the 1800’s? The imposed rule of law was established in order to extract power from the land and existing inhabitants and transfer it to White settlers.    People were displaced, animals killed off, land partitioned into private property and natural resources were funneled into the control of a small group of elites.  This is a common narrative of colonialism.  However, Texas is unique in having managed to maintain the unequal consequences of this history. We are now seeing the end game of colonialism.  Perhaps then, this marks a turning point.

The Emergence of the Twisted

How has the settler society fared in their conquest?  The invasion continues day by day with 18 active lignite strip mines across the state, countless frack wells for oil and gas and over 2000 refineries and chemical plants.   The colonization continues as over 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned and 76 percent of that land held by only 4 percent of landholders.  It is amazing that after 150 years the majority of land remains with the direct descendants of displacers and is used to funnel the resources into the hands of elites.  All who remain, except for a few families, has inherited dispossession.   Dos Republicas is a perfect example of this.


Carrizo people, native to the area around Eagle Pass, have a story about what lies under ground there.  What the West defines as coal, the mineral, the Carrizo understand in a relational manner that goes much deeper.  According to Carrizo Tribal Chairman Juan Macias, during the beginning times there were lost souls that did not follow the harmony of the world.  The creator led these beings called Teme’t Somi’s, “twisted beings”, to caverns, where they were burned and turned into coal to keep them from wreaking havoc on the climate. The beings remain as coal underground, but mining releases them, bringing a twisted mayhem to the world.  Mining goes  against the harmony of creation. (READ CARRIZO STORY HERE)

What are we to make of the “twisted” spirit acting against harmony and creation?  This is relevant, because it explains the current inequity of our state and the change in our climate.  How else can we understand the violence committed against the Earth? How else can we explain a situation where everyone affected by the mine opposes it, but outside actors push it forward for their own gain?  Some call this evil, but we should take direction from the ancestors – this behavior is twisted, it is not the way it should be.  It is “against creation.”

There are yet more reasons to oppose the Dos Republicas mine, too many for this short article.  There is also an emerging opportunity to do so through addressing the colonial roots of the problem.  The process of colonization is a process whereby people are separated from the land and each other.  Decolonization is doing the opposite.  Our move is a transition away from the legal rights of corporations, away from private property, away from extractive industry and dehumanizing policies towards our fellow beings, human and non-human.

There are abundant clean energy resources and technologies.  Coal mining is an outdated relic of the past.  As more people realize this, so too will they begin to realize that our entire colonial system is outdated.  We must stop coal mining, fracking and other destructive practices.  We must undo the exploitative land practices established through colonialism in Texas.  We must respect the claims for sovereignty of the various Native peoples of this land.  We must transition to a society that is just and equitable for people and respectful to the Earth.  A beginning to this transition will be a unified front in opposition to the Dos Republicas coal mine and support offered to the Native peoples unified in protecting this land for future generations.


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