San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 26th, 2009
Native groups enlarge Earth Day celebration

British Petroleum presented Texas State’s Department of Geography with a solar powered vehicle at Saturday’s Aquarena Springs Earth Day celebration. Photos by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

The Aquarena Earth Day celebration Saturday, marked first time Native American groups came to Spring Lake to participate in the annual festival.

The 14 native groups, together with dozens of vendors and several musical acts, made this year’s celebration the largest to date. The festival also featured short speeches by U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), Texas State University President Denise Trauth and British Petroleum representative Karen Hyland.

“Originally it was just supposed to be an educational event, so we didn’t have vendors (in years past),” said festival organizer and Assistant Director of Aquarena Center Deborah Lane. “We combined it with the Indigenous Cultures Institute Festival. They were going to have a festival somewhere else … They ended up becoming one of our sponsors for this event.”

Said Secretary-Treasurer Maria Rocha of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, “We had been hoping to have a presence (at Spring Lake) for a while now….What we really want to do is, we really want the springs to be restored. And what we’d really like to do with our ceremony here is kind of practice some of the things that happened a long time ago when people would come to the waters and just be part of this big blessing. Because our tradition believes that this was our origination site … where we came from.”

Indigenous Cultures Institute Executive Director Mario Garza said the creation story of the people included in the Coahuiltecan language group only survives in oral tradition. During the festival and on the shore of Spring Lake, Garza, Rocha’s husband, blessed the Springs in the Coahuiltecan language to the accompaniment of native ceremonial drums.

Before the Native American blessing, St. John’s Catholic Church Associate Pastor Rev. Enrique Diaz took to the stage near the lake shore to say a prayer and recite a Judeo-Christian-Islamic story from the Book of Genesis, in which Yahweh gives the Earth and all life upon it to humans on the sixth day of creation. Diaz then performed a blessing using holy water, which he flicked on onlookers.

After the ceremony, a line formed of people wishing to receive a blessing from Garza. Diaz lingered briefly, then departed. Using incense, Garza performed dozens of individual blessings for at least 45 minutes.

“It was very unexpected,” Rocha said.

Rocha and other Native Americans present at the festival expressed regret that the dam creating Spring Lake had been built. Texas State Geography professor Brock Brown, who attended the festival, said Spring Lake Dam should have been removed long ago.

“Back after the big flood in ’92, when the dam was in bad shape — I thought that would be a great opportunity to do it,” said Brown. “I love this place the way it is, so don’t get me wrong … but there’s a lot of little lakes in the world. There would only be one place with these sinkholes and geysers and springs. It would be more unique and more sacred.”

Before 19th century White settlers created Spring Lake Dam, early travelers to the region reported the springs spewing water several feet into the air.

“The only way the dam would ever be removed is if we get about a 45-inch rainfall event right up there, and then the dam is taken care of,” said Brown. “So I guess it’s in the fate of the universe to make the decision. That would be one way … At least if the dam were totally removed, that would negate the endangered species issue, because they live in habitats that are maintained by this. And then once that was gone, then at least we could have a discussion on the merits of the dam itself without the peripheral issues.”

Flute player and Southern Winds Intertribal group member Blackwolf said the dam should be not be removed by humans.

“If Mother Nature did that, that’s a whole ‘nother story,” said Blackwolf. “That’s her doing; she’s purifying herself.”

About the prospect of a flood event severe enough to destroy Spring Lake Dam, Rocha said, “It is preferable that Nature would do that, but then it’s very possible it might happen — who knows, with the climate change, the way things are going, something like that might happen.”

Rocha said in the event the dam is destroyed in a flood, Native Americans ought be one of the stakeholder groups in the discussion about what to do.

“It would be really wonderful if we could, especially the people who feel that this was their origination site,” said Rocha. “Those people should have voice.”

Within a year and a half, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin work on the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project, which entails removing most buildings and other structures from Spring Lake Peninsula, thereby returning the area to a more natural state.

River Systems Institute Executive Director Andrew Sansom, who introduced the guest speakers, said the upcoming transformation of Spring Lake Peninsula is “the most significant environmental restoration project in the United States.” Sansom said the project “would not have been possible” without Doggett, who “got the funding and the authorization for this magnificent restoration project.”

Doggett called Spring Lake a “precious place” and said Earth Day is an opportunity to recognize the necessity of preserving other natural areas like Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole. Doggett expressed support for current federal draft legislation aimed at curbing carbon emissions by 20 percent from their 2005 levels by 2020.

“We have things that we can do that can be job creators,” said Doggett. “Much of the work that we’ve done already in this Congress has been about providing incentives for green energy, for green jobs. This could be a real growth opportunity for our country, because all of the world is looking not only for a way to address the challenge of climate change, but a way to get more miles per gallon, a way to keep our facilities and our homes in a way that doesn’t make us totally dependent on an area (of the world) that is unstable.”

Sansom said Narvaiz “led efforts” to protect the Spring Lake Preserve, which he called “the largest undeveloped tract in Central San Marcos.” Sansom said one-half of the tract’s 251 acres, which is adjacent to Spring Lake, is re-charge areas for the San Marcos Springs.

“I’ve often been told that one statistic we can be proud of in San Marcos is we have the most greenspace and parkland per capita of any city along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio,” said Narvaiz.

Narvaiz said the city sponsors public education and incentive programs for conserving water and electricity and has increasingly focused on buying energy-efficient equipment and vehicles.

“And another fact I’d like to share with you is that today (the city uses) the same amount of water as we did ten years ago, even with our growth, due to strong conservation programs — and that’s where you and I come in,” said Narvaiz. “And so I’d like to applaud you for your efforts at conservation.”

Hyland was present to unveil a solar utility vehicle and present it to the Texas State Geography Department, which was holding its annual Alumni Reunion and Student Celebration that day at Aquarena Center.

“It’s a zero emission vehicle, and that is something that we’re all striving for,” said Hyland. “We’re trying to do low-carbon projects, and this is just one of the ways we’re showing our community and our university partners that we are committed to that. And so without further ado, I’d like to present the keys to this buggy to President Trauth.”

Aquarena Center had received two 24 volt solar panels from British Petroleum. The University installed the panels on a glass bottom boat and a golf cart. After their speeches, the guest speakers were led to the docks for a quick ride on the boat. Before their short trip, the boat was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting by Trauth and Hyland.

The solar utility vehicle was built by local company Bad Boy Buggies. Aquarena Center will use it for hauling trash, moving dive gear and relocating equipment for shoreline and underwater maintenance. The vehicle may be used to take people on tours of the new 251 acre tract, which will include hiking trails.

“We’re just trying to get over the fact that we have it,” said Aquatic Maintenance worker Ethan Chappell. “This is the nicest thing that’s been given (to us) — or the most expensive, by far. This is about a $12,000 golf cart.”

Sponsors of the Earth Day Celebration contributed more than $4,000 and included the City of San Marcos, Texas State University’s Environmental Service Committee, the Hays County Commissioners Court, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and the National Association of Environmental Professionals.

“I wanted to read you a quick quote,” said Sumter. “‘It’s only when the last tree has died, and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.’ It’s a Cree Indian proverb, and I absolutely do believe that.”

Using incense, Mario Garza of the Indigenous Cultures Institute performed dozens of individual blessings for at least 45 minutes.

Among the bands performing at the Aquarena Springs Earth Day celebration was Hakloka.

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3 thoughts on “Native groups enlarge Earth Day celebration

  1. I agree with Diann! It was wonderful. So many educational booths, interesting folks, and types of music! This was the SECOND year that the Native American Student Association of Texas State participated with an educational booth. Beyond helping to sponsor Earthday,the students had a display showing various wild plants that have been used medicinally over the centuries. Student members also contributed with private smudgings, A prayer in Tonkawan, and Grupo Folklorico Ocotochtli on the Geography Stage. Fun times!

  2. British Petroleum? That would be the oil company with one of the worst environmental records, not to mention safety records, of all. LOL. Oil spills on the North Slope. Spills into Pudhoe Bay. That really bad explosion at Texas City that killed 15 and maimed another 100 or so – and was due to mismanagement of the plant. The list goes on. Often named as one of the 10 worst corporations by environmental groups… If you want to know why solar panels are still so damned expensive – just ask BP!

    Gee. This kind of sounds like that old KBR issue, now doesn’t it? Only now, they are giving stuff away (rather than taking our tax money) to burnish their tarnished image. How ironic. They are giving lots of money right now to universities in the US for research and development – but will no doubt own the results.

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