Indigenous and environmental activists watchful amid DC standoff
Washington—-Indigenous and environmental activists gathered in groups for the People vs. Fossil Fuels for a week of marches, rallies, and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. The week of October 11th kicked off with a celebration in front of the White House on the renaming of Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day. There were scores of protesters at the White House and at the National Mall to underscore the symbolism of the renaming and in particular the continued desecration of communal and public lands and sacred waters by fossil fuel corporations.
People vs. Fossil Fuels is an umbrella organization representing a coalition that includes brandnamed organizations such as 350.org, Food and Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Beyond Extreme Energy, Interfaith Power and Light, Climate Justice Alliance, Climate Hawks, Sierra Club, and many smaller organizations. It is further buttressed by more radicalized members such as from Extinction Rebellion, Deep Green Resistance, Rising Tide, Sunrise, and eco-conservationists who are experienced in civil disobedience.
As one young indigenous woman told it, “It’s not as if these people do not have 9-5 jobs; so it’s a great sacrifice for them to be here.”
A bulk of the indigenous and environmental activists participating in the standoff Thursday afternoon on October 14, 2021 in front of the Department of Interior (DOI) appeared to be most concerned with stopping Line 3 judging from their placards and other messages.
As this reporter arrived on the scene, protesters inside the building were already detained and in the process of being arrested. Many of the activists on location were briefed on civil disobedience protocols and were reluctant to speak to the media. As one Afro-indigenous activist stated, “We cannot talk with media right now because we are saving the space.” However not all activists were unwilling to talk, in fact, even amid the watch, there were elders holding a drum circle, demonstrators standing with placards and chanting, and a group of brave women conducting a sit-in near the ramp leading down to the garage level—and designated police arrest vans.
The mood outside the DOI was somber, tense, and watchful. In the age of smartphones, activists also communicated with those inside or with one another using social media and broadcasted themselves live. Sara of Green Faith told this reporter that all questions must be directed to the organizer of this event, an elderly squaw from the Anishinaabe. Since Joye was surrounded by her daughters and issuing instructions from her wheelchair, she appeared preoccupied with watching the space.
The streets nearby were cordoned off by police vehicles from Homeland Security to the Secret Service, but at least they were not in riot gear. A group of police on bicycles guarded the DOI entrance on 18th Street NW across from Constitution Hall. In the wake of the January 6th attack on Congress, it would not take much in the middle of a standoff for orders to include crowd dispersal, clearing the street of bystanders, or even arresting all demonstrators, and this was why everyone was relatively watchful.
Even amid the watch, activists outside continued to sing and chant with quiet determination, whether in time to the drum or shouting “Love you comrades” and “Standing with you.” Asked why the big concern about Line 3, Cheryl Bards of an alliance with Honor the Earth told AGN that Line 3 is part of DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline). This line will not benefit the United States, only Canada, and a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has not been completed. The tribes view this as a violation of our treaties. Furthermore, Line 3 endangers the Red River Watershed extending from Northern Minnesota up to Lake Winnepeg in Canada, and eastwards across the Land of a Thousand Lakes towards Lake Superior.
According to Welcome the Water Protectors which has hosted camps along the River out to Upper Red Lake:
“The proposed Enbridge Line 3 will cross through wild rice lakes and near 8000-year-old Indigenous villages. It will cross more than 192 bodies of water–rivers, lakes, and watersheds–including the Mississippi River twice.” —Water Protectors
If America is their prime heritage, Honor the Earth proves that indigenous people can lead local change; they are building model tiny homes and sustainable villages:
“The time to transition to a fossil fuel free energy system is now. We can not sit idly by and watch the expansion of the fossil fuel industry at a time when we need a massive expansion of the energy sector. And we need to relocalize our economies to insure food security, and that we have heat and energy. We see that expending $7 billion or so on a new fossil fuels pipeline when there is no adequate water piping system in the city of Flint Michigan is unconscionable.“—Honor the Earth
According to The People vs Fossil Fuels, October 11-15, 2021 week-long protests and marches in Washington, DC intentionally includes days of civil disobedience to draw attention to the need for a swift transition off fossil fuels:
“We need real solutions, not false promises. Only phasing out fossil fuels will deliver climate and environmental justice. We cannot rely on technologies like carbon capture and storage, carbon offsets, or nuclear energy.“—The People vs Fossil Fuels
Despite the stream of arrests taking place from Day One, it is clear that participants firmly believe that the risks of taking action are far less than the risks of apathy. Yet the risks posed to indigenous women has spurred an ongoing side-crises on its own. A scourge of attacks and disappearances of women in the Great Plains regions has spurred declarations and emergency response including from the White House, within the Build Back Better (BBB) bill, and from the States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and including in Canada as well as in Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico.
According to Native Women’s Wilderness, the numbers on murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW) is alarming:
“As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. Strikingly, the U.S. Department of Justice missing persons database has only reported 116 cases. The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land. The lack of communication combined with jurisdictional issues between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to begin the investigative process.”
While the authorities readily coordinate fusion centers to capture domestic terrorists and environmental activists, why are the same authorities reluctant to deploy the same technologies for capturing murderers or kidnappers of Indigenous-Americans? Why can’t many of us see how the Tea Party is being used to frontline “good” vs “bad” protests?
The built-in cultural bias supports the exploitative and extractive processes which are enabling destruction of public lands and resources, our collective cultural heritage, and at a much faster rate than they can ever be replaced. In fact, the drawdown in water levels will never be replaced, nor with waters of the same ancient quality and purity either.
Yet not all environmentalists can agree on the tactics used by 350.org. According to Wrong Kind of Green, the longstanding protests against Keystone XL are a charade, considering that much of the liquified oil and natural gas infrastructure had largely continued apace. Jay Taber, an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, and long-time resident of Whatcom County shares several observations. No-KXL has not prevented huge pipeline build out or conveyance on the West Coast via oil “bomb” trains. Some NGO groups may have profited by restricting their focus to the KXL issue. Meanwhile West Coast activists contend with rail terminal expansion and oil pipeline construction to refineries on their own.
In “KXL Rejection: Hype, Not Hope”:
“Delaying KXL does not halt the annihilation of the Athabaskan peoples, whose territory is a carcinogenic wasteland. It merely means the Tar Sands toxic bitumen will makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico by other routes, which incidentally are already operating, making KXL redundant for now—the real reason for the celebrated KXL ‘rejection.’“—CounterPunch
Other pundits comment that Biden’s stay on pipeline buildout may be politically motivated to help bolster the price of oil against competitors in Canada. However economics aside, the October 2021 protests in Washington, D.C. are record-setting not only because it is the first time in decades for Native Americans to storm the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, not only because the new U.S. Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, an Indigenous-American woman, is implementing the Not Invisible Act, not only because the protests are supported by a broad coalition of over 650 thinktanks and environmental groups, but because The People vs. Fossil Fuels passes the leadership baton to Indigenous and youth groups for this event.
How important is that? Afterall, judging from the mainstream media, the general image depicted is of a fringe group practicing identity politics and looking for a larger echo chamber. Not so according to the very definition of successful resistance and movement-building as defined by activist-writer-lecturer Lierre Keith:
“Successful movements follow broad patterns, and one strong element in their success is the surrounding culture of resistance. Cultures of resistance mobilize existing cultures of survival, building on networks of community support and material exchange, the resilience that the oppressed must develop under the indignities of injustice, and the spiritual wellsprings that often occupy the center of cultures of survival.” — Lierre Keith, Deep Green Resistance
This is why the native activists appointed a female elder, Joye Braun, who emphasizes that the movement is being led in a more autonomous style that embraces the ideas of the many. A more inclusive nativist movement is foreign to much of the public, but it is gathering the force of the greatest movement the world has known, which is the Civil Rights Movement. The blacks, browns, reds, and yellows help provide the necessary personal stories that portray depth in human experience—and ongoing suffering.
We should not resent the grant-mining successes of one group, but keep the larger picture in perspective, especially if the human and planetary species are to survive projected global warming predictions currently set to at least 2° Celsius judging from the U.S. failure to commit firmly or admit historic responsibility for atmospheric carbon buildups.
“A real culture of resistance would see that activities like biological remediation, the creation of local food networks, and teaching people self-sufficiency skills are part of a larger struggle to actually save the planet. Those activities should not be at odds with political resistance; they should be nestled inside each other in mutually nourishing and encouraging ways. Instead the lifestylists take every opportunity to shut down discussion about action, actively discouraging a resistance movement from forming.” —Lierre Keith, lead activist & feminist theorist
Yet metro-urbanites can at most personally commit to practice veganism, meditation, and not own a car. Our lifestyle choices do matter, but identifying and advocating against false climate solutions and holding the Biden administration to its campaign promises takes effort. Coordinated action is taking place across the world in anticipation of yet another global climate summit, COP26, during which world leaders will once again try to iron out their differences and pledge global climate targets for carbon and methane reductions.
Report and photos by AGN/CHK, an independent AAPI grassroots feminist journalist