This is from the transcript of an interview that Jack Loeffler did with Alvin in August 1995, File 3, page 37, 38, 40 in the Josephy Library at Fishtrap archives.
Several times in the interview Alvin refers to subjects that he will or will not address in his memoir (A Walk Toward Oregon, published in 2000). Here he describes his conversion from being a “pro-development guy,” who wanted to see the West–the “other half of the country”– developed as the East had been, to seeing the country in an ecologically sounder and more sustainable way. You have to read A Walk Toward Oregon and know something of his extensive work on Indians to get the whole picture, but here is the shorthand: companies and government agencies were screwing the Indians–and oh, they were screwing a lot of other people too in the name of development and profit. At least some environmentalists were taking a longer view of things, did not have private selfish motives in it. So I will join the fight….
And he did. The first piece one on the Seneca and the Kinzua Dam (“Cornplanter, can you swim?” American Heritage Magazine, 1968), and then on to the Four Corners in the Southwest, and to the Garrison Diversion Project in the Dakotas. Here, in the interview with Loeffler, he is reflecting on it all, on his personal journey in Indian Country and post WW II America, as he begins writing the memoir.
“…this is why I’ve devoted so much of my life, once I began to make the turn to redeem myself so to speak from having been a pro-development guy, writing about it and urging it in the pages of Time magazine and the radio and all the rest, various things began to happen to turn me around to see the light. And they all really had to do with Indians. I began to meet and know Indians and then see how they were being screwed and how the whites were putting their culture higher than that of the Indians and really what they were doing is saying the Indian must go or Indianness must go. We’re not out to kill you anymore. We’re out to kill your Indianness…
“I saw Indians being victimized by development projects; large scale things happening. It wasn’t one episode or one incident that changed me. I saw for instance what the army engineers were doing to the Iroquois, the Senecas, in building Kinzua back in western New York state in 1960 and ’61 and breaking the oldest existing treaty in the United States. Historically I knew about that. It was an historic episode. Morally and ethically it was revolting to me what went on, and I went up to do a story on it, to find out everything going on. It was worse than I thought. I was finding real estate people who were conniving against the Indians with the Army Engineers, and the way the BIA was treating the Indians and so forth….
“I got to know Udall and he sent me off to represent him in a number of things. I’m going to go into a lot of this in the book. This is really the theme of my book: how I changed. It didn’t take me too long, because by the time you [Jack Loeffler, who worked with Alvin on Hopi and coal issues in the Southwest] and I met I was pretty much already on the side of those who were trying to protect the environment. Why? Because there was justice there and decency. You weren’t rooking people. The companies were rooking people. I’ll never forget going down to New Oraibi, sitting in Banyacya’s home with that Peabody Coal Company vice president that I yanked along. Remember he had his plane and flew me over there to Black Mesa? And then we went to Tom’s house and met a bunch of Hopis. There was (sic) a couple of blind old men and there was a young—Carlotta Shattuck, I think her name was—crying and so forth. It shook up this guy from St. Louis, vice president for public relations or something.
“When we left and drove back to where his plane was, he said to me, and this is in the lead of my story, ‘We have one hell of a community relations job to do here.’ That was the way he viewed it, you see, as a corporate thing. In other words, really we’ve got to fool the people. We’ve got to find a way to get them on our side here and we can’t do it honestly. We’ve got to find the devices because we’ve got to have that coal mine whether they want it or not.”