Protecting Culture, Caribou and the Climate
Protecting Culture, Caribou and the Climate:
Indigenous Peoples Are Leading the Most Critical Fights for Environmental Justice.
It was only just a year ago that many of us were in the Oceti Sakowin Camp situated within traditional Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota territories. Every person there had a specific calling or purpose but ultimately we shared a common goal: to protect the water and to stand with our Indigenous relatives.
In the end, the camps were closed by force and people were removed from the land by gun-point, but our resilience was not compromised; in fact, because of this movement, we’ve become stronger, more unified, and more committed.
Since Standing Rock, I’ve seen the movement grow and take new forms. People, organizations, and even governments have dedicated themselves to environmental justice and the fight for Indigenous rights in powerful ways. Whether it’s a person changing career paths to fight injustice or whether it’s an entire city cutting its ties to dirty money that funds pipelines, we are seeing a shift.
And as these paradigm shifts are happening, we are seeing the old paradigm (capitalism, fossil fuel energy, colonization) fight for it’s life. It’s like the old saying goes, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” And so here we are, with our lands, our rights, and our survival being attacked in order for an old paradigm to survive but at the same time we are seeing natives and non-natives working together to protect the sacred.
Here are the most critical environmental fights facing Native America right now:
In November, the 23rd annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change aka COP23 took place. This is an international meeting where governments and corporations convene to discuss ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, these meetings have been focused on the Agreement and its development. This year, the focus was on implementation of the Paris Agreement, so exactly what actions corporations and nations will take to reduce climate change.
I went to COP23 this year to cover the conference for Indigenous Rising Media and to lift up the Indigenous voices that were present. The Indigenous Environmental Network along with organizations like Climate Justice Alliance, Grassroots GlobalJustice Alliance and Amazon Watch brought delegates from North and South America to push for the implementation of Indigenous Rights in the Paris Agreement and to challenge false solutions like carbon offsetting and cap and trade.
See, most of what happens at these COPs (aka Conference of the Parties) is governments and industries say they are taking action, when in reality they are building carbon pricing and carbon market systems. These systems are a direct attack on Indigenous Peoples and lands because it allows big emitters, like oil and gas, to continue business as usual by buying “carbon credits”, which are pieces of forest, typically in the Amazon. These plots of land then become owned by the oil and gas company or the government and the Indigenous Peoples of these lands are pushed out and are restricted from being on their ancestral lands. Carbon markets are the big scam taking place at these meetings and we are there to raise awareness because more often than not people are misguided and actually believe this is a real solution. So in addition to calling out the problem, we show these decision-makers that Indigenous Peoples have solutions to offer that are rooted in traditional ecological knowledge.
This year, COP23 ended with glimmers of hope. While progress has been made on the UNFCCC Traditional Knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP23. This means that steps in the right direction are happening, but we as Indigenous Peoples must continue to educate ourselves and our communities about our rights, so we are stronger in our fight to protect them.
As our native relatives in the Gulf South like the Houma Tribe become the United States’ first climate refugees and as Puerto Ricans struggle to recover from storms brought on by climate change, we must all be aware of what climate change solutions will actually protect us for the long haul, and those solutions look like stopping fossil fuel extraction at the source, traditional ecological knowledge, and bringing clean and renewable energy to our communities.
This past month has been devastating for our relatives, especially our relatives in the Southwest and the Arctic. First, #45 (aka President Trump) signed an executive order that would remove the national monument status of Bears Ears. This news comes not even a year after President Obama designated some 1.3 million acres of Bears Ears as a national monument, a win that took almost three decades to achieve. Like so many of these issues, this decision led by Secretary Ryan Zinke and #45 happened without the consent or consultation from the five tribes that have been working together to protect these lands - Dine, Ute Mountain Tribe, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute Indian Tribe. Now, because of this executive order, these tribes have to begin a new legal battle to protect this sacred place, which holds over 100,000 sacred sites and is the home of the Diné leader, Chief Manuelito, who signed a treaty in 1868 which freed the Diné from the Bosque Redondo concentration camp. He then led the Diné from the concentration camp back to their homelands, a journey known as "The Long Walk ."
The second attack on Indigenous rights and sacred lands that we saw this month, is the GOP’s tax bill, dubbed by critics as the “Tax Bill Scam”, which included legislation to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and drilling.
How can a tax bill open up a wildlife refuge up for oil development? I’m glad you asked. To put it very simply, the GOP has added various legislations or “perks” for lack of a better word to persuade congress to vote on it and one of those perks was the legislation to drill in the arctic, a region that is already 95% vulnerable to oil and gas development. So what we are seeing is the GOP saying “we want it all. Indigenous People's we don't care about your rights or your way of life, we want all of this land to so we can profit." The Gwich’in Peoples are the first to be impacted by this legislation, as they still lead subsistence lifestyles in their ancestral lands. This tribe in particular has an ancient and sacred relationship with the Porcupine River caribou herd, 200,000 of which live and depend on the coastal region of the Arctic. Because it is challenging and very expensive to get food to these regions, these tribes still hunt and gather; specifically they hunt the Porcupine River caribou. If this bill pass, oil development will take place near the breeding grounds of this caribou herd, thus putting the survival of the caribou and the survival of the Gwich’in at extreme risk.
Oil and Gas Extraction:
Where to start? Circling back to Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline; the latest update on DAPL is early this month, on December 4th, a federal judge ordered Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of DAPL, to file a spill response plan for the section of the pipeline that crosses the Missouri River, just one mile north of the Standing Rock Reservation. While this is a process that should have happened before the pipeline was completed, it is a step forward in protecting the Standing Rock community. This decision will not stop the flow of oil in the pipeline, however the Standing Rock Tribe stands committed to fighting the project.
Keystone XL, Line 3, and the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are all in the various stages of approval and/or environmental impact statements.
In November, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the KXL pipeline to go through the state but fear not, environmental organizations in partnership with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are building solar panels in the route of the pipeline. This resistance is called Solar XL. In Mid-December, TransCanada will be announcing their next steps for KXL.
The Stop Line 3 movement saw a small victory this month as the Public Utility Commission of Minnesota deemed the state’s environmental impact statement inadequate. This decision will buy more time for grassroots organizations like Honor the Earth to strategize the for the fight ahead.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline is still awaiting permits to be built and local grassroots communities included members of the Houma Tribe are resisting by building an eco-village in the route of the pipeline, as well as a moveable camp on the water, known as the L’eau Est La Vie Camp (Water is Life Camp).
Ultimately, when it comes to these pipelines, it’s a different community but the same story. Pipelines are built without consultation and/or consent from Indigenous Peoples, they break treaties and violate Indigenous Rights. What’s more is that they are all symptoms of a greater problem: extraction zones like the Bakken Shale Oil Formation and the Tar Sands. KXL, DAPL, Line 3, Bayou Bridge, they all carry oil that is extracted from these massive extraction zones. So, while I believe that these various pipeline fights are absolutely necessary, we all need to be asking how do we work more united and across colonial borders to stop extraction at the source? Because whether it’s climate change, pipelines, or having our public lands stolen from us for fossil fuel extraction, it all comes down to our dependence on this old paradigm and one could argue that one of the roots of this old paradigm are the extractions zones that allow us to stay dependant on fossil fuels and allow us to be stuck in this capitalist mindset of endless growth and endless extraction.
So family, I urge each of you to continue to stay informed on all these issues. Use your voice, your art, follow the groups mentioned in this article, and continue to heal yourself. One of the most precious lessons I’ve learned in this work is that to heal the what’s outside, we must first heal what’s inside.
Jade is the environmental justice contributor to Indigenous Goddess Gang. This is her first contribution. To share feedback or ideas for upcoming stories, contact Jade at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Jade on Instagram: @jadethemighty, Twitter: @_jadebegay