• Heritage Action
  • More

Governor's Conference on Indian Affairs

Governor's Conference on Indian Affairs
Holiday Inn, Central Richmond, Virginia
March 14, 1997
Becky Norton Dunlop

Good Morning. I’m Secretary of Natural Resources Becky Norton Dunlop and I can come here today and tell you that the condition of our natural resources is good and getting better.

I’ve brought along some of the material that several of my agencies have been producing, which I’ll distribute so that you can see what an energetic approach we’ve been taking, but first I’d like to thank you for inviting me to speak today. I am honored to be speaking to a group of people whose countless contributions to American life we can all be proud of and from whom all Americans can learn, especially where our natural resources are concerned.

Not surprisingly, when I, as Secretary of Natural Resources, begin reflecting on our environmental responsibilities, I quickly begin recalling various attitudes and orientations toward the natural world that have always been characteristic of American Indians. There is most notably, the sense of harmony that characterized the interplay between people and nature The sense that human beings are just as much a part of nature as the animals, the plants, the wind, water and all other elements. Like you, I cherish all these parts of creation, because, like you, I recognize that all of them issue from the loving hand of the Creator, and I celebrate the marvelous gifts that He has bestowed on His children.

At the same time, was there ever a group of people who put nature to use more than the American Indians?  Can you imagine Indians who didn’t fish and hunt and use animals for food, clothing or even shelter? Who didn’t use plants for medicine? Why, the list could be extended for hours. The thought that human beings should be separate from nature, that they shouldn’t interact with nature, never entered an Indian’s mind -so far as I know.

And I must tell you, that in respect to natural resources, American Indians were and remain light years ahead of many in today’s so-called environmental protection community. These activists seem to think that human beings are themselves a form of pollution -that, by nature, they are a plague upon nature! And yes, their self-declared “green” virtue lies in keeping people as far away as possible from nature. You know there are more and more travel agents who book tours for their urban customers which allow for viewing nature only through a pane of glass on a bus. This is supposed to be “enlightened?” I believe the phrase they use is “low impact.” I would think that sort of relationship with nature would break many an Indian heart, and I know that it breaks mine.

By my lights, no attitude towards nature could be more misguided than to think that God didn’t mean for us to be stewards of the natural resources He created for us to enjoy. I’ll go even further: We know that He wants us to love one another, and I’ll tell you that putting nature to good use is one of the finest ways there is to bring our love to our fellow human beings. It seems quite simple to me. Don’t we provide the necessities of life to our families because we love them? Why stop with necessities? Don’t we put honey in our tea to sweeten it? Of course! There is nothing wrong with sweetening our lives with any of the products of nature, so long as that sense of harmony is sustained, so long as extremes are shunned.

My friends, what could be more extreme than an analysis that said people take honey from bees because we held them in disdain, that we were their natural enemies? How foolish! Nobody can be said to be nature’s enemy just because they utilize its resources. Indeed, the best friends of nature are those whose stewardship of it makes it thrive. Who is a better friend to bees than beekeepers? It is a mutually beneficial friendship, to be sure, but the blending of different sounds to make an even more pleasing sound?

I used the word “pollution” a few moments ago, and I’ll come back to it again; but first I wanted to turn to another trait that has always been dear to the hearts of American Indians –what might be called the “Spirit of Volunteerism.” I like this trait a lot. I know what its opposite is, and I’m sure you do as well. The opposite of volunteerism is coercion. And nobody is better at coercion than government. Who else can take away your freedom and put you in jail? Who else can fine you? What wall can be thicker than the head of a bureaucrat with a 17,000-page rulebook in front of him? It’ s not always a barrel of laughs being in charge of such folks, I can attest to that. One way to circumvent them and their hidebound inflexibility is through volunteerism. You can beat them to the punch, if you know what I mean.

Fortunately, nobody ever had to introduce volunteerism to American Indians as though it were a strange, new concept. Especially where nature has been involved, American Indians have been willing to move into any breaches that open up. To cite just one example, Virginia’s Pamunkey Indians have been active in shad restoration efforts since 1918. Indeed, their efforts long antedate any efforts by government agencies. Their tribal belief, like that of so many other tribes, is that if you take from the river, you should give something back. This is what inspired them to hatch and stock shad. As I understand it, early on the Pamunkey tribe developed a shad raising technique that produced the fish from large wooden boxes that were immersed in the river. As fish culture techniques advanced over the years the tribe has modernized their hatchery facilities and each year it produces between 2 and 3 million young shad, which they release into the Pamunkey River.

In recent times, the tribe has entered into a virtual partnership with state and federal agencies to restore shad in the James River. That kind of public/private partnership holds great promise for the future in countless areas.

And speaking of partnerships between private and public sectors, let me tell you about two volunteer initiatives that I’m very proud of having introduced: Operation Spruce-Up and the Fall River Renaissance. Perhaps you’ve seen the television ads or heard the radio spots informing people about these initiatives, or else you might have seen the beautiful advertorial that the Richmond Times-Dispatch kindly inserted into the pages of one of its Sunday editions.

But, on the other hand, maybe not, so let me just mention that we’re about to embark on our 3rd Operation Spruce-Up campaign. With Governor Allen’s enthusiastic blessing, we launched this initiative, which will last throughout the month of April. This is a campaign calling on Virginians to voluntarily pitch in and demonstrate the stewardship towards our natural, recreational, historic, and cultural resources that is appropriate for a free people. The events will be sponsored by the eight agencies that I direct, which include the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, Chippokes Plantation Farm Foundation, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and the Departments of Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, Game and Inland Fisheries, and Historic Resources.

What a response we’ve had to this program in the last two years! Service organizations, religious groups of all denominations, civic clubs, school clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, hunt clubs and fishing associations, bird watching organizations, and even the Virginian Houndsmen, all signed up and sent contingents. Most gratifying and inspiring, however, was the response of just plain John and Jane Q. Citizen, your neighbors and mine.

All told, thousands of Virginians have turned out each year, and I must tell you that these folks rose to the occasion so magnificently that Gov. Allen and I are now committed to making “Operation Spruce-Up” an annual event, extending throughout the entire month of April. Our hope is that it will become as much a part of Virginia’s springtime as the dogwood blossoms and the redbud, as the wild turkey’s gobble and the beginning of serious striper and crappie fishing.

What sort of tasks did these volunteers set for themselves and accomplish? (At the cost of not one penny to the taxpayers, I might add.) Well, they cleaned up state parks, beaches, and other natural areas. They performed trail maintenance, removing fallen trees and clearing brush. They hauled away firewood, completed light repairs and took care of minor construction projects, such as building picnic tables. They painted and built fences, including one at George Washington’s Grist Mill. They cleared long overgrown cemeteries, and they placed wood duck boxes in the boggy areas of the forests. They planted trees, shrubs, and flowers. They landscaped, raked, and spread mulch.

The state provided some of the materials needed, including a little expertise from staff from time to time, here and there, but much help also came through donations from local businesses.

During this past autumn, you may have heard of a similar volunteer campaign devoted to Virginia’s waters: the Fall River Renaissance. I would urge you to join such voluntary efforts to enhance our natural resources. A simple phone call to the Department of Conservation and Recreation can get the ball rolling. They’ll know how to help. And I know that you already have the will, the know-how, and the talent. 

I myself have taken part in many of these volunteer events, and I always come away a little more inspired and more deeply convinced that Virginia’s people are her greatest natural resource. Governor Allen shares this belief and always provides a handsome, signed certificate of appreciation to each and every volunteer.

As I’m sure you can tell by now, I resist the old central government “Command & Control” approach, especially where natural resources are concerned. Unchallengeable orders from above might work fine in battleground situations, where an army must capture a military position of tactical importance or defend from such an attack. However, as a way for civilians to govern themselves on a daily basis and settle disputes, it’s not for me. Frankly, I champion human liberty, especially from liberty’s most dangerous long-term threat: the central government. I look at the world through eyes that favor limited constitutional government, local self-government, and private enterprise. And because I do, I also believe that excessive federal mandates and regulations have proven injurious to the principles of sound natural resource conservation.

Such excesses so often stifle the potential benefits that accrue to the environment when an area’s economy is thriving. The simple truth is that a healthy environment and a flourishing economy are mutually dependent. Go to any stagnating economy in the world and inspect environmental conditions. Take the old Eastern Bloc countries, for example. The simple truth is that it takes considerable money and expertise to keep an environment healthy in a society of millions of people. Farmers who are prospering are more likely to use better technologies and more expensive equipment to make sure they are doing a better job of caring for land in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Take the question of what is to become of a large population’s garbage -take the question of landfills. Because of technological innovations, our Virginia landfills are much improved over those of even 15 years ago. They are virtually leak-proof nowadays, but you won’t find such landfills in poverty-stricken areas where people’s energies and finances are devoted to just remaining alive. Poverty stricken peoples cannot afford the marvelous new technology that currently cleans air or water.

Finally, I want to make a point that all Virginians, but especially the original Virginians, must surely see, regardless of whether or not so-called ivory-tower experts choose to see it: Natural resources are inherently dynamic, resilient and responsive to sound management. The older folks here amongst us will recall that 40 or 50 years ago the Virginia White tail was few in number and the wild turkey were even fewer. Sound game management practices, along with the dedication of hunters who often formed private groups to assist these species, have brought us to a point where we now have, I’m told by wildlife biologists, nearly as many deer in Virginia as we did when John Smith and the English colonists first arrived. And the wild turkey numbers are also far, far above what they were 2 or 3 generations ago.

So let me repeat: The state of our natural resources is good, and getting better!

Far more troubling to me these days is another kind of pollution -the pollution of our cultural and spiritual resources.

Hardly a day goes by, as I’m sure you must have noticed, that the best and noblest in our moral traditions are not under assault. It’s not excessive to say that the cultural and spiritual condition of America is in crisis. An emergency situation exists just as surely as if a dam had broken or a terrible toxic spill had occurred.

Happily, the Allen administration has not neglected its responsibilities in this area any more than it has towards the environment. I myself have been deeply involved for some years as Managing Director of the Enough is Enough! Campaign, a non­partisan organization dedicated to eliminating child pornography and removing illegal pornography from the marketplace. We also educate citizens about the harmful nature of pornography and about its links to sexual violence. We’re doing what we can to help children and adults to make healthy choices in life, and we also provide referral assistance to the victims of pornography.

In truth, the condition of our culture is in far worse shape than that of our natural resources. But the Allen Administration has offered major reforms aimed at cleaning up the mess we find ourselves in. I can point, for example, to the hard fought battle we recently won on the issue of parental notification when a teenager seeks an abortion, and of our steadfast opposition to partial-birth abortion. We are proponents of traditional values and we make no apologies for that.

Where education is concerned, we’ve instituted reforms that make us the envy of many other states, because our kids are getting the information they’ll need to function as good citizens: A thorough grounding in the basics. And you know how tough and how fair we’ve been where crime is concerned. We ended parole. And for those who mercilessly murder the innocent we’ve reestablished the death penalty.

You know, a recent article by Marvin Olasky makes the point that “The most essential environmental spending is spending to protect life and liberty, including the liberty of individuals to enjoy their environment without risking their lives.” I second that motion, and I add that to simply allow life in our society to sink into moral squalor and brutality is to abandon our duties just as surely as neglect of our natural resources would be. I’ve brought along with me a copy of Olasky’s article and I invite you to consider it when you have a few moments. 

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I appreciate both your keen interest and concern for the quality of our environment and the condition of our natural resources. As Secretary of Natural Resources, it’s always a privilege to report to environmentally concerned groups and individuals that the condition of Virginia’s natural resources is good and continually getting better. May God bless you, and may God bless these United States of America.