For the Love of Mustangs and the Land

Mustangs who are branded and managed by the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are free-roaming horses who live wild on public lands in ten western states, including Oregon. According to the BLM, 177 different herds of mustangs live on 26.9 million acres of public land.  The Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971 had originally allocated 54 million acres to these equines (both mustangs and wild donkeys, called burros), but much of that land has been taken away from them and given to long-term leases for the American beef industry. It is estimated that the wild horse numbers today are anywhere between 30,000-80,000 roaming wild – quite a dramatic drop from the 2 million mustangs who roamed free in this country just 50 years ago. It is also reported that 40-80,000 mustangs are living at BLM adoption centers or in long-term holding facilities.

Tribal or reservation mustangs can be found running wild in the nations of indigenous peoples like Navajo, Warm Springs, Yakima, Colville, Wild River, Shoshone-Bannock and others. Similarly, accounts of how many mustangs roam tribal lands differ vastly, but it is reported that anywhere between 10,000 and 70-000 can be found at different Indian nations.

All wild horses in this country are technically feral, since equines are not native to North America. Most of these mustangs are descendants of horses who escaped from European explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries upon arrival in America. Others were released in modern times by ranchers, miners, the US cavalry, and Native Americans.

These horses have partnered with humans for centuries, being very social creatures who are intuitive and sensitive. It is humbling to experience what these horses are willing to do for humans, and easy to forget that all animals are sentient beings, not put on Earth to serve humans but rather to exist for the sake of their own species, for their relationship with other species, and for their symbiotic role which is always in harmony with Earth.

It is from animals and all of nature that we can learn a lesson which is common among native peoples – only take what you need and always give back. The idea that land “belongs to us” is a modern human one; rather, what if we (both human and non-human animals) belonged to the land? If we allow this principle to guide how we live, we might be able to save this beautiful planet and its wondrous inhabitants.

Our program is based at our home in Mulino, Oregon, a small rural hamlet with a population of 2500. What we know today as Clackamas County are the traditional lands, creeks and rivers of the Clackamas, Chinook Bands, Kalapuya, Kathlamet, Molalla, Multnomah, Tualatin, Tumwater, Wasco and other tribes of the Willamette Valley and Western Oregon. How wonderful to learn where all of these names came from! It is impossible to name every indigenous tribe that ever lived on this land because these communities lived, travelled and traded along the waterways that are currently called the Clackamas, Molalla, Pudding, Sandy, and Willamette Rivers.

Many of the original peoples of this land died from disease, war and other conflicts. The survivors were removed or relocated by force because of the value that European settlers and the United States Government put on the land. It is a history that we should deeply acknowledge and learn from in order to move forward in an ethical and eco-conscious way.

AMA would like to honor the Native American people of Clackamas County as a foundational and integral part of our community. The descendants of these native people still carry the traditions and values that we modern humans so desperately need to learn from – for all of humanity, the animal kingdom, the trillions of living species we can and cannot see, and the land.

We can all do our part in small and big ways simply by living under the guiding principle that we belong to the land. We can have respect for every rock, insect, bird, flower, and blade of grass – this respect will influence our actions. We humans designate certain plants as “weeds”, simply because they choose to grow in a place that is inconvenient to us. It’s a matter of changing our perspective and learning of different ways we can incorporate honoring the land into our everyday lives, working together to ensure that our ecosystem stays balanced and healthy.

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