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Pipelines and Presidents: Why Rights and Mother Earth Matter

StandingRockPhoto1FromChrissieCastro-feature750Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to move forward with building the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. We believe this does nothing to protect millions of families and uphold the human right to clean water.

Native Americans and our allies are organized and prepared to advance the resistance against continued investment in the fossil fuel industry. We will continue to strengthen and grow the Water Is Life Movement, as allies from around the world join a global Indigenous-led campaign.

Laura Harris
Laura Harris

Before demonstrations at Standing Rock last year, Indigenous peoples have stood up for clean lands and water. Amazon tribes continue to fight industrial pollution in Ecuador. The Pawnee Tribe is trying to stop fracking in Oklahoma, and the Western Shoshone struggle against uranium mining.

Incorporating Indigenous values and worldview into modern government policies is critical to our planet’s survival. In 2008, President Evo Morales of Bolivia led an Indigenous movement, which rose out of a fight against a plan to privatize water, to create a government that is more reflective of the country’s Indigenous principles. Supporters succeeded in including the Rights of Mother Earth in the Bolivian Constitution.

As Indigenous peoples, our work is not limited to individual or civil rights. Our values dictate that we strive for the collective rights of our sovereign nations and to protect our Mother Earth.

While many of our struggles have centered on clean water, we recognize that Standing Rock is not only about protecting the environment. For us, the battle is also focused on treaty rights, the sovereignty of Native nations and the right to be self-governing.

Chrissie Castro
Chrissie Castro

In addition, we strive for what other Americans want – adequate health care, quality education, decent housing and good jobs – on top of maintaining our cultures, languages and protecting sacred sites.

With the executive order, the Trump administration is pressuring the Army Corps of Engineers to rush an environmental impact statement. We believe this runs counter to the law and the Army Corps’ intergovernmental policy. That policy clearly says that a project of this magnitude requires a full environmental impact statement and tribal government consultation.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in our view, employed a loophole that allows the process to be circumvented if there is no foreseeable environmental impact, but the ruling was never intended for projects of this scope and scale.

Dave Archambault II, elected chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has talked about the importance of respecting the law. “President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process. Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent,” he said.

Supporters of the Indigenous Women Rise collective, seen on Jan. 21, participate in the Women’s March on Washington. Photo courtesy of B. Yellowtail (N.Cheyenne and Apsaalooke)

“The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”

The protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a local concern. Yet, this issue and the Water is Life Movement has global repercussions. Access to clean water is a human right. Indigenous peoples offer a worldview that can help our country move away from dependence on fossil fuels and transform our energy system.

Indigenous peoples in the United States also stand ready to grow the Water Is Life Movement. The Native Voice Network, which is made up of 35 Native-led organizations, and other overlapping networks have worked tirelessly to that end.

We begin with three approaches for all Americans:

  • Divest from the fossil fuel industry and the banks that are backing the pipelines. As a nation, we can no longer invest in new oil pipelines that only benefit the fossil fuel industry over people’s well-being. We must also divest from banks that are supporting these pipelines by withdrawing our money together in a visible manner, demonstrating our collective consumer power.
  • Network across communities and issues to organize and act locally and regionally. The Native Voice Network has supported caravans of activists to participate in Water is Life actions in North Dakota. Native Voice Network, Americans for Indian Opportunity and other member organizations co-led the Indigenous Women Rise collective which supported more than 1,000 Indigenous women to participate in the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington. Now, Indigenous Women Rise is leading an effort to establish a national platform and action agenda to advance Indigenous rights and issues. We are connecting with other Indigenous organizations to create a “network of networks” to deepen social justice relationships.
  • Build alliances between Indigenous communities and non-Native allies to advance sustainable change. An Indigenous approach to protest by the Water Protectors served as inspiration for other environmental and social justice activists.

The fight is no longer just the Dakota Access or Keystone pipelines. The fight is global. We have a responsibility to care for our family and relations – Mother Earth, our community and our neighbors.

Threat to water and other resources outweighs the few temporary jobs that may be created. Fossil fuels and supportive industries, like pipelines, only address short-term problems but have no long-term value.

As Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said: “These attacks will not be ignored, our resistance is stronger now than ever before, and we are prepared to push back.”

Chrissie Castro (Dińe and Chicana) is a grassroots advocate in Los Angeles. She is involved with the Native Voice Network, which is comprised of Native families and community organizations working for progress. Laura Harris (Comanche) is executive director and CEO for Americans for Indian Opportunity, which is based in Albuquerque and supports the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples. The top photo, which shows Castro and social justice advocates in North Dakota, is courtesy of the Native Voice Network. 

One Response to "Pipelines and Presidents: Why Rights and Mother Earth Matter"

  1. Kasha  January 31, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Excellent article. I am one of those progressive Democrats (voted for Bernie). Thank you for this piece which smartly explains where rural America is coming from. I could never understand why rural America votes against their own interests; now I think I do.


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