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March 24, 1920|
July 10, 2007 (aged 87)|
near Petaluma, California
Corbin Harney (March 24, 1920 – July 10, 2007) was an elder and spiritual leader of the Newe (Western Shoshone) people. Harney reportedly inspired the creation in 1994 of the Shundahai Network, which works for environmental justice and nuclear disarmament. The Shundahai Network plays a key role in organizing non-violent civil disobedience aimed at bringing about the closure of the Nevada Test Site, which is located on Western Shoshone land.
Life and work
Harney devoted his life to working to save the land on which his people have survived for thousands of years. The Newe people and Newe Sogobia have been referred to as "the most bombed people on Earth" and "the most bombed place on Earth" as the United States Government has exploded more than 1,000 nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site, which is located on Western Shoshone land. The government has dumped highly radioactive nuclear waste there.
"The food that my people survived on is not here no more on account of this nuclear weapon that we have developed," Harney explains. "The pine nuts aren't here no more, the chokecherries aren't here, the antelope aren't here, the deer aren't here, the groundhog aren't here, the sagehen aren't here."
Sometimes called "The hardest working man in shamanism", Harney, for many years, spent most of his time travelling around the world spreading a message about the dangers of nuclear energy and the problems facing our Mother Earth. "The Mother Earth provides us with food, provides us with air, provides us with water. We, the people, are going to have to put our thoughts together, to save our planet here. We've only got one water, one air, one Mother Earth." Among other excursions, he visited mutated children in Kazakhstan hospitals who lived close to the Russian nuclear test site. He received the 2003 International Nuclear Free Future Solutions award.
Harney's formal education ended when he ran away from Indian boarding school at the age of nine because of his feelings of how his schoolmates were mistreated by their teachers. However, he was able to talk to students, government officials, and members of the public about toxins of all kinds: chemicals from mining and industry, and, worst of all, nuclear fallout and radiation poisoning from nuclear testing, nuclear waste storage, and nuclear waste transportation that takes place over regular railroads and highways.
He spoke out about the contamination of our water and shared with people a vision that he experienced several years ago. "I was praying to the water and the spirit of the water told me, 'Pretty soon, I'm going to look like clean water, but no one is going to use me'. I didn't really understand what I was told until I went to Kazakhstan in Russia. Kazakhstan is where Russia tested nuclear bombs for many years. Over there I saw water that looks like clean water, but people can't drink it because it is contaminated with radiation ... [t]he nature put all the living things here for us to take care of, not to destroy them, but to work with them so that we may live with them for many more years."
Harney stated a firm belief in communication with the natural elements and all living things and numerous other people have witnessed the results of his work, including rain in drought areas, dry springs which started flowing once more, plants flourishing where they were sparse before and the return of animals that had not been seen in their native habitats for many years.
"We have to come back to the Native way of life. The Native way is to pray for everything. Our Mother Earth is very important. Everything survives on our Mother, the only Mother we've got. We can't just misuse her and think she's going to continue. Let's not destroy the Mother Earth. Let's take care of her and she will take care of us."
Shortly before his death, Harney completed arrangements for the publication of his second book, “The Nature Way”, in which he shares the traditional knowledge that his people, the Newe, have followed since time immemorial. In 1994 he founded the Shundahai Network ("shundahai" translates to "peace and harmony with all creation")  where he remained as board chair until his death. He was also the founder and director of Poo Ha Bah, a traditional healing center in Tecopa, California.
"I have established Poo-Ha-Bah for all the people. Poo-Ha-Bah in my language is a very important word--it’s talking about Doctor Water. It’s really important to have healing water here, not only as a human--a lot of animal life have used healing water, a lot of different ways. My people have always traveled for many miles to get into different kinds of healing waters. This is something that we all need, and this is one reason I have looked for healing water and I finally found one in Tecopa, California. I am pretty sure that we all will enjoy the healing water if we ask the healing water to help us with our illness of all different kinds. This is something that our people have talked about for many, many years."
Harney was a proponent of universal inclusion and individual spiritual empowerment, “We need your help. Who ever you are, whatever color you are, wherever you come from on this Mother Earth of ours. We’ve only got this one Earth and we all have to take care of it. So I am asking all of you people throughout the world to unite yourselves together. Give us a helping hand so we can take care of all the living things.”
Harney's experiences with victims of the nuclear industry throughout the world, and particularly the "Downwinders" of the Western United States, along with the powerful message he carried of peace and respect for our planet, lent unique credibility to his words. Typical of his international work was acting as keynote speaker at the Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Conference, in 2001, in Nagasaki, Japan, where he was able to speak with other still-recovering survivors of nuclear war.
Trained from childhood in the traditional Newe ways of medicine and spirituality (the two are not viewed separately), Harney noted the extinction of medicinal plants due to the toxins of mining, and the disappearance of many birds and other animals that once roamed the Newe homelands. Beginning in 1957, he worked with medicine women of Battle Mountain, Nevada, running the Sundance Ceremony and sweat lodges as well as helping sick people. As a medicine person, he also worked steadily to preserve and protect the sacred sites and burial grounds of his people. He was raised to view all life as sacred. "Everything is alive and has a spirit to it. The rocks, the mountains, streams, animals, plants, birds, oceans, and so forth," he says.
Harney warned of a quickly approaching time when the Earth is so contaminated by the results of human activity that all the water on the planet will be toxic to all forms of life. His vision, however, was not fatalistic. He remained convinced that humans have the power to turn things around, saying "The water has a life, and we have to pray for it. All the water that comes from the Mother Earth, that's her blood.".
Harney affirmed that healing and well-being are everyone's business, and that no one is powerless. "Yes, you can. All of us are gifted. We just need to open up the gifts by praying in our own way, singing our own songs and talking to everything out there with love and respect. Don't feel foolish. This is how everything has been sustained for millions of years. This will open up a totally new world for you. Amazing things will happen if you are patient. This is how we will heal ourselves and our Mother Earth."
- Corbin Harney featured on PBS's "Circle of Stories"
- Shundahai Network website
- Poo-Ha-Bah website
- Corbin Harney sings "The Water Song" in Newe (Shoshone), his native tongue
- Recordings of the songs Corbin Harney sings each day at sunrise ceremony
- Profile of Corbin Harney on Shoshone-specific culture/language site
- "The Way It Is: One Water...One Air...One Mother Earth" Corbin Harney's book on amazon.com
- 2007 Mothers Day Gathering for Corbin Harney
- Reminiscence of Corbin Harney by David Rovics