Slanted News and Wild Horses

By John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist with two doctoral degrees, has authored 25 books, including award-winning books dealing with ocean pollution. He is a liaison officer of the U.N. Environment Program and the Confederation Mondiale for ocean matters. He is a member of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences in honor of his books in the field of education. He has received international recognition for his pioneering work investigating toxic waste contamination of our land and water.
August 25, 2013 Updated: April 28, 2016

If you control news reports you control public opinion. That has been the case throughout the world as dictators smashed printing presses, imprisoned and tortured journalists and burned books. It still goes on. More journalists are imprisoned today around the world, especially in China, than ever in recent history. Reporters that revealed U.S. government folly and machinations in various improper, and often illegal, covert operations have been targeted by the Justice Department. Electronic surveillance, under the guise of anti-terrorism, has been focused on others in the news business. It is intimidation. Perpetrators of these abuses have gotten away with it.

What does this have to do with wild horses? Everything. The New York Times slanted headlines and altered their reporter’s article about Guatemala enabling a CIA coup and invasion of that country in 1954. Its then Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger’s alliance with United Fruit Company’s flak man Edward Bernays, a front for Sam ‘The Banana Man’ Zemurray, President of United, got the reporter’s article changed. Sulzberger thus enabled support for the CIA’s illegal and clandestine invasion of Guatemala to depose its elected president. The U.S. then imposed a military dictatorship favorable to United Fruit.

Sulzberger had Times reporter Sydney Gruson’s article changed and the correspondent transferred. It is no surprise, therefore, that this so-called bastion of liberal thought has another front-page story that is slanted. Reading it could leave readers to conclude: ‘Poor Navajos, nasty wild mustangs that should go to slaughter.’

“Their numbers are wrong in the first place. Wealthy corporations and human greed want wild horses eliminated,” Karen Sussman said. Sussman is the President of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB). It is the oldest and one of the most respected wild horse organizations in America. It was founded by friends of Velma Johnston, known as ‘Wild Horse Annie,’ in 1960, after this petite, polio crippled woman crusaded Congress with school children across the U.S. and around the world to prevent the cruelty and slaughter of wild horses. ISPMB continues in the vanguard of preservation efforts for wild mustang herds.

The Times August 11, 2013, front page headline touts “On Fate of Wild Horses, Stars and Indians Spar.” The article attributes Navajo president Ben Shelly with the statement “Free-roaming horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range…” No proof or support is offered, the statement is published at face value.

The font-page story goes on to attribute to Mr. Shelly: “There is a gap between reality and romance when, he said, “outsiders” like Mr. Redford (Robert Redford the actor)—who counts gunslinger, sheriff’s deputy and horse whisperer among his movie roles—interpret the struggles of American Indians.”

The Times does not put the above in quotes from Mr. Shelly rather in narration attributing it to him. The Navajo Nation is the largest native tribe in the U.S. Located in the southwest of the U.S. the tribe is an independent nation proud of their heritage. They control 27,000 square miles of land.

The tribe is big business. “Resolution of the Budget and Finance Committee of the Navajo Nation Council” lists 2012 fiscal year budget’s General Fund Revenue at $227,467,000. Of that $4,549,00 is for their Land Acquisition Fund, $2,000,000 for their Water Rights Claim, $1,500,00 for their Historical Trust Asset Mismanagement Litigation Trust Fund with $2,960,453 for a 2011 General Wage Adjustment for the Executive Branch. The budget is signed by Johnthan Nez, Vice Chairperson of the Budget and Finance Committee. The Navajo Nation’s Public Safety annual budget alone is $16,000,000. The Navajo Nation budget documents indicate theirs “is a fossil fuel based economy trying to diversity our portfolio.”

The Navajo Nation is no small enterprise. Robert Redford was not available to comment on the Times report therefore there was no ‘spar’ between them. Nor was New Mexico’s former governor Bill Richardson. The two joined a conservationist lawsuit to try to prevent legislation in Congress that would continue the ban on horse slaughter. The ban is indirect as Congress did not appropriate funds for USDA food inspectors for horse slaughter facilities.

Of course horses are still shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter to fulfill the appetites of Europeans and Chinese for horse meat. At the center of a renewed controversy are wild horses. Descendants of the horses that brought native peoples of the Americas out of a primitive dog culture into a horse culture.

There is a popular myth that native peoples of the Americas had horses when the whites invaded. Not true. There were no horses in North America for some 8-10,000 years prior to Spaniards bringing them from Europe by ship. It was horses that enabled the conquest of the Aztecs in 1519 by Hernan Cortez and his 500 men. Until they found out differently, the Aztecs thought the horse and man were one and holy.

The unholy alliance swiftly saw the eradication of native cultures in quest of gold and silver. That quest continues. Some Indians have joined in the white man’s greedy pursuit of wealth on and under the land. Wild horse numbers are adjusted to suit the convenience of the proponent of a particular point of view.

The New York Times is satisfied to report, “The horses, tens of thousands of them, are at the center of a passionate, politicized dispute…” Rather a trite and unsupported description of the numbers and the situation. It is not a concrete report of horse statistics.

The Times relates the last of the horse slaughter statistics prior plant closures in 2007. “In their last year, the three (U.S.) plants slaughtered a total of 30,000 horses for human consumption and shipped an additional 78,000 for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.”

This slaughter includes unwanted domestic horses, race horses as well as wild mustangs. USDA inspections of meat for human consumption is required. Race horses are usually drugged and testing reveals meat unfit for the market.

“We tried giving wild mustangs to the tribes but they were returned to us in lieu of cattle grazing on their lands,” Sussman said from the ISPMB facility in Lantry, South Dakota.

Wild horse advocates are concerned that BLM horses and donated mustangs will be sold to killer buyers for slaughter in Mexico or Canada. There is money in it and greed. Native Americans are no different than others. It is a question of money.

“There are so few wild horses left in our country—half the number that existed in 1971. It is the special interests fighting for the last blade of grass that want the horses gone,” Sussman said.

Conservation groups have always looked to Native American elders as a source of support for their efforts to save the destruction of wild horses in America. Many tribal elders consider the wild horse sacred, part of their cultural heritage.

“The biggest problem is the loss of the spiritual belief of their cultures. Many native people were ‘Christianized’ in Catholic boarding schools. They were taught their culture is evil. Therefore only the traditional people believe that horses are sacred,” Sussman related.

“The real problem is loss of traditional native culture as a result of colonialization. Those in power constitute the colonialized native while the traditional natives stay away from politics. Nepotism in tribal politics is another problem sometimes keeping qualified individuals from serving their people,” Sussman added.

“Killing or harming mustangs comes back around at them. They and their families eventually suffer the consequences.” Sussman described a native belief that was passed down to her. A belief she says she witnessed first hand when mean spirited people harmed wild horses.

“I am going to speak with a tribal elder next week. He has always given his support for protection of wild horses. There may be 24,000 to 37,000 remaining free on public land in the U.S. That land is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of Interior. They are trying to escalate costs for management of wild horses to make it look like waste of taxpayer funds. The BLM rounds wild horses up off public lands and lets them languish in feed lots at high cost in tax revenue,” Sussman stated.

Last year’s drought in South Dakota and the West resulted in scarcity of hay and escalation of hay prices. ISPMB maintains four distinct wild horse herds on private property. Private donations fund the operation. They must be fed hay since the 800-acre sanctuary does not have sufficient grazing land. The sanctuary is surrounded by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The tribe owns millions of acres, yet so far Sussman has not been able to get the tribe to offer grazing for the horses. They prefer to raise cattle on the land, a source of revenue.

That’s it in a nutshell—the land, public, tribal and private, is valuable. Cattle graze it, hunters use it to shoot deer and elk, oil and natural gas companies exploit it and the wild horses that inhabit it are being pushed off it in favor of money making endeavors.

“If I told them I have 500 wild horses they would say I’m crazy,” Karen Sussman once said.

“If you told them you had 500 cows they’d think you’re rich,” was my retort. Unfortunately there are millions of cows on this planet and not too many more than 30,000 wild mustangs.

John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist with two doctoral degrees, has authored 25 books, including award-winning books dealing with ocean pollution. He is a liaison officer of the U.N. Environment Program and the Confederation Mondiale for ocean matters. He is a member of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences in honor of his books in the field of education. He has received international recognition for his pioneering work investigating toxic waste contamination of our land and water.