My name is Skye Jang and I am a new intern for Finding the Good, a traveling semester program run by Tom and Debra Weistar from Synergia Learning Ventures in Nevada City, California. I actually live in Easton, Pennsylvania. If you didn’t know, that’s about a five-hour plane ride away. I graduated high school this past June without much idea of what would be next. I found myself here, at Synergia, with Tom and Debra, learning everything from knife skills to Final Cut Pro to rights of nature to taking pizza orders to operating a DSLR Camera. My next mission is to conquer a two-wheeled bicycle. I have convinced myself over the years that I know how to ride one, but my theory’s definitely been proven wrong… Anyway, I have only been here just over a month, and every single day feels so full of possibilities. That’s an amazing feeling you know.
For the past month, I’ve experienced the Nevada County life and much more. I’ve been exposed to so many things that, in a way, I thought were irrelevant before I came here. My way of life’s been dramatically altered. At Synergia, I live in a wood cabin made of recycled materials and have no cell phone service. I eat organic food and use composting toilets. I will also be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about recycling or composting. Moreover, I wasn’t aware that hog factory farms were immense problems in numerous communities right in my home state of Pennsylvania. Most recently, I learned about the Shoshone people and their dispute with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Barrick Gold Corporation over Mt. Denabo, a sacred site for the native people.
On October 6, 2011, I ventured to Reno with Tom, Debby, and Wyatt, a prospective student of Finding the Good, to report on a hearing, which was a small thread in the long-lasting controversy between the Shoshone people and the BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation. The court has already ordered in favor of BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation to begin the project. However, when the BLM and Barrick attempted to pump water out of the ground as part of the gold mining process, the Western Shoshone Defense Project filed yet another suit against them declaring the water was sacred and essential for their livelihood.
When I got back to home base, I watched the documentary “American Outrage” to further educate myself about the history of this dispute. Honestly, I found it hard to keep my eyes on the screen. The violence and force of the government in that documentary was mind-blowing, and at the same time completely heartbreaking. The film centers on the lives of Carrie and Mary Dann, two Shoshone sisters whose ranch sits on rich gold deposits. My heart broke when I saw Carrie and Mary’s life being torn apart for metals. I looked down at the gold ring and bracelet wrapped around my finger and wrist, and realized how insignificant they seemed compared to the Danns’ life. “When you buy your wife a gold ring, think about where it came from,” Carrie Dann says. The BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation essentially demeaned the Shoshone people’s way of life and culture. Tom explained, “They’re trying to separate the human from the being.” Realizing this truth, I was saddened.
The government’s abuse of power made me all the more empathetic towards the Shoshone people. I have lived in the United States for almost eleven years. My mother and I came to this country believing in proclaimed opportunities for happiness, freedom, and success. For the past eleven years, my mom and I have struggled with the government over our legal status and still do today. We are not citizens. We are not even “registered aliens.” We are immigrants, restrained and leashed by the bureaucratic policies of the United States government. We are, in other words, foreigners, unrecognized and ignored. It wasn’t until this past school year that I realized the personal impacts of this reality. I applied to college, and naturally I applied for financial aid, as all my peers did. By the time college decisions came out, I grasped that I wasn’t in the same position as everybody else. I was notified that I was classified as an international student, and that I couldn’t receive federal financial aid. The government’s denial of me and my mom’s existence in the United States had trickled down to affecting my immediate future. Out of respect for myself, I took initiative to do something with this gap year, and here I am, three thousand miles away from home. In the past six months, I learned how naive I had been, how much I have left to learn, and ultimately, how important it is to take action out of awareness and courage.
Knowledge always has consequence, whether it is good or bad. Learning about the Shoshone, the environmental impacts of certain activities such as eating meat, and even the problems existing in Pennsylvania make me more aware of the world. It also opens the gate for cynicism and pessimism. However, we must never let the world make us hard. Instead, we can take pride in newfound knowledge and desire to learn more. Debby articulated, “It matters that [the Shoshone dispute] makes you sad.” Despite grasping the injustice that occurs everyday, the extraordinary life of the forest and the stars sparkling in the night sky are reminders that the world is a beautiful place. We, as dependents of the earth, have a responsibility to preserve it, just as the Shoshone people have done.