By Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights‘ Co-founders
“The Trump administration is rushing insane development proposals such as leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Line 3 and KXL pipelines and the ‘ONE OKLAHOMA’ plan to continue unrestricted and underhanded access to Indigenous homelands.”– Faith Gemmill, Neets’aii Gwich’in/Pit River/Wintu, Arctic Village Council Member, Tribal Court Administrator/ICWA
Despite the 25,000 lies (and counting) spewed by the president since taking office, he has remained true to two central tenets: promoting racism and propping up the fossil fuel industry. Trump gutted at least 125 environmental regulations during his administration, but never have these two tenets come more sharply into focus than in 2020, as his administration’s horrific coronavirus response began to unravel the political, social and economic fabric of the nation. Unwilling to go down quietly as a lame-duck President, he has used his last months in office to open Indigenous lands to fossil fuel development with unprecedented ferocity and blatant disregard for the law.
“Trump, his EPA, GOP state governments and the fossil fuel industry are attempting the largest Indigenous land grab since the 1830 Indian Removal Act,” says Ponca Nation Environmental Ambassador Casey Camp Horinek, “He is attempting to use the cover of COVID 19 quarantines and a preoccupied media to do it. But we won’t let this happen.”
STOP the LINE 3 Pipeline: What you Need to Know
Enbridge Inc., is a Canadian oil company responsible for the worst inland spill in US history, as well as the most numerous—averaging one incident every 20 days. Recognizing that the existing Line 3 pipeline, which brings Alberta tar sands crude to the US is old and crumbling, the company says the expansion is a responsible replacement of the old.
But the proposed Line 3 expansion is far larger with a wider pipe intended to bring a million barrels of dirty bitumen crude to the US daily, through sensitive Minnesota wetlands and through sacred Lakota lands. “For 7 years we have fought this project,” Winona laDuke, member of the White Earth Band of the Ojibwe and founding director of Honor the Earth recently reported during a national Digital Rally. “We fought for our water, for everybody else’s water. For our rights. For the Rights of our wild rice. For future generations. We went through every hoop, every regulatory hearing.” Enbridge is already the largest energy consumer in Minnesota. “All of that energy is equivalent of two nuclear power plants. We must continue to fight.”
Minnesota doctors and health providers held a socially distanced rally pleading with the Governor to stop construction of the $2.6 million pipeline during COVID. Some 4,200 out-of-state workers have already arrived creating huge man camps in small towns in the midst of the pandemic. Native American communities have suffered from the Coronavirus more than any other, followed closely by Latin and Black Americans due to systemic racism.
As Winona LaDuke reports, “We see mostly Texas license plates. The [out of state workers] are going into our towns and going into stores without masks on, and a lot of them are armed. So you have armed, unmasked white men walking into small town stores. We need a just transition because you got a bunch of people trying to dig the remaining rocks out of northern Minnesota and put in the last tar sands pipeline.”
Congress representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) joined the December 9 National Online Rally to make the case for climate and respecting Indigenous treaties. “Minnesota has made some great commitments to renewable energy. Line 3 alone would undo all that progress and it would be impossible to meet our climate goals.” Omar stressed that Line 3 was the largest construction project in state history, and that Enbridge, the “world’s most profitable company” is receiving massive subsidies at all levels of government.
“We could use tax subsidies for infrastructure that would meet our climate goals and keep our air and water clean. There is no reason we should spend billions of dollars while [Enbridge] is actively killing our planet. Most of all Line 3 betrays the promises we made to sovereign Indigenous nations. We’ve signed treaty after treaty with tribes only to immediately disregard them. This is not a regulatory iussue or policy issue, it’s a moral issue. I stand for future generations and I’m with you to stop Line 3.”
TAKE ACTION ON LINE 3: Stand with the Annishnabe Nation. “We want our day in court,” says Winona. “Pipelines don’t do well in court. This is the last tar Sands pipeline. The last bad idea.” Besides fighting in court, groups are doing COVID and post pandemic direct action training. For more information visit welcomewaterprotectors.com and STOPLINE3.org. Follow the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous-women, 2-spirit led frontline resistance to protect our Mother, defend the sacred and live in balance. “We stand unafraid. Prayers into action.”
STOP “ONE OKLAHOMA” and KXL Expansion: What you Need to Know
Following decades of broken treaties, brutal forced removals and diminished tribal authority over their own lands, in a July 2020 landmark decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that much of Eastern Oklahoma falls within Indian reservations. Known as the McGirt decision it appeared to be a huge win for tribes with far-reaching implications, including affirming tribal sovereignty over environmental lawmaking.
But before the ink was dry on the SCOTUS ruling, Governor Kevin Stitt (R-OK) used a 2005 “midnight rider” hidden in an unrelated federal highway bill to strip Tribes of environmental control.
As investigative journalist Ti-Hua Chang reported in October, “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the state of Oklahoma regulatory control over environmental issues on nearly all tribal lands there.This strips from 38 tribes in Oklahoma their sovereignty over environmental issues. It also establishes a legal and administrative pathway to potential environmental abuses on tribal land, including dumping hazardous chemicals like carcinogenic PCBs and petroleum spills, with no legal recourse by the tribes, according to a former high-level official of the EPA.”
“The actions of Governor Stitt are not surprising,” says Ponca Tribal Environmental Ambassador, Casey Camp Horinek, “The State of Oklahoma was founded on racism, and Stitt follows a long line of governors who have considered tribes sacrifice zones for fossil fuel industry profits.” In recent years Oklahoma has shifted its economy to become a fossil-fuel dependent state, now home to the largest convergence of pipelines in the US, a fracking boom, and fracking wastewater injection-wells resulting in massive man-made earthquakes.
Trump’s EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, says that tribes were “consulted” about the EPA takeover. Casey sees it differently: “In August, most if not all of the 39 tribal offices were closed due to the pandemic raging across the state. Mail was slow to reach our tribal officials, who were informed that we had a few days to ‘comment.’ Even if they had been able to adequately respond, ‘consultation’ is not the same as the guaranteed right our tribes have to the Free Prior and Informed Consent. We did not consent.”
But it doesn’t end there. Despite the growing Indigenous climate justice “LAND BACK” movement, Governor Stitt is trying now to strip all federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma of their inherent sovereignty.
In a memo to Congress called “ONE OKLAHOMA” Stitt is working to strip the 39 federally recognized tribes of their inherent sovereignty. This will mean increased fossil fuel development, but its impacts on all aspects of tribal sovereignty could be profoundly felt nationwide.
Casey Camp Horinek warns, “One OKLAHOMA was drafted and signed by the Governor and Trump’s GOP allies, and some of the worst fossil fuel criminals out there, including oil and gas billionaire and fracking ‘Godfather’ Howard Hamm. It threatens to erase our Treaty Rights, our heritage and culture not just in Oklahoma, but it threatens to create a domino effect for tribes across Turtle Island.”
While the memo to congress is called ONE OKLAHOMA, it may take other names as it winds through Congress and other processes. By any name, it seeks to put an end to Indigenous-led efforts to stop KXL expansion through Oklahoma, and stop green innovations on tribal land, including recognizing the Rights of Nature, passed by the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma in 2017. The Keystone XL pipeline would connect tar sands reserves in Alberta, Canada with Gulf Coast refineries, carrying 800,000 barrels per day across the United States. The fight for Indigenous Rights has never been more important than now. Ancestral wisdom for living in balance with the Earth is a key component of the climate justice fight, and for the evolution of green solutions.
TAKE ACTION TO STOP “ONE OKLAHOMA”: Stand with the Tribes of Oklahoma. Although the EPA claims the tribal land takeover is a “done deal,” tribes are working to fight the action in court. But ONE OKLAHOMA will need Congressional approval. As Casey says, “We will need everyone to join us to stop ONE OKLAHOMA. Help us fight in court. Join the Land Back movement. You can tell Congress to stop treading on Indigenous Rights in Oklahoma by signing our online petition. We will need you with us on the frontlines soon. We need you to join us. After all, we are not humans protecting Nature; we are Nature, protecting itself. To keep up to date on developments join Movement Rights newsletter list.”
STOP Drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: What you Need to Know
One of Trump’s last actions in 2020 has been to revive the long-fought plan to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. ANWR is a vast, pristine wilderness that has been protected from drilling for decades, led by the Alaskan Natives who call this place home.
“My people, the Gwichi’in, have fought to protect the Arctic Refuge for over 40 years, and America has stood with us because there really is no place like the Refuge left anywhere in the United States now,” says Faith Gemmill, Neets’aii Gwich’in/Pit River/Wintu, Arctic Village Council Member, Tribal Court Administrator/ICWA.
Adam Kolton, head of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement: “President Trump’s electoral fate has been sealed and his days in office are numbered, making an Arctic Refuge lease sale yet another dangerous political favour that lacks broad public support or legal credibility.” Trump’s timeline for opening up ANWR in the wake of his presidential defeat has been swift. In November he encouraged fossil fuel companies to look at land areas open for bidding. Those plots will be open for sale just days before he leaves office in January. Oil and gas drilling will have profound and devastating impacts on the climate, and on the Gwich’in Nation.
Says Faith, “The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the birthplace and nursery for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in call it “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to The Sacred Place Where Life Begins. Our physical, cultural, spiritual, social, and economic survival is entirely dependent on the Porcupine Caribou Herd. This is continued energy colonization of our ancestral homelands. All these policies result in cultural genocide.”
This sort of insanity must be stopped at the source to stave off the worst impacts of climate chaos. President-elect Joe Biden has stated that he believes that ANWR should remain off-limits for drilling. The Gwich’in are cautiously hopeful that he will take action early in his administration. It remains unknown whether Trump’s expedited timeline will help legal challenges if the leases are finalized before Biden takes office.
“The Creator put this place here to bring forth life for many species. The Polar Bear uses this important place as their primary on-land denning area. Considering the fact that the Polar Bear is a threatened species impacted by Climate Change already, what does the future hold for them if the proposal moves forward? There are over 200 species of migratory birds that nest there as well. What does it say if we as humanity allow Trump to disregard that which is sacred for short-term economic gain? The Gwich’in and our allies are fighting back in court and we will prevail. We have to win because we are upholding our way of life, sovereignty and subsistence. No longer can humanity abide by unconscionable destruction and devastation of such places in the face of climate chaos which impacts all.”
TAKE ACTION TO STOP Drilling in the Arctic Refuge: Stand with the Gwich’in.
In a December 14th, 2020 statement, Scotiabank has become the fifth major Canadian Bank to announce they will not fund drilling in the ANWR. Individuals can have a lot of influence when it comes to bank financing. Years of pressure campaigns aimed at bank shareholders, and hundreds of thousands of activists closing their accounts because of their bank’s investments have had an impact.
As Ben Cushing, Senior Campaigner at the Sierra Club says, “This comes on the heels of Bank of America becoming the last major US bank to rule out financing Arctic drilling. There are now at least 30 major banks around the world that have excluded funding for Arctic drilling projects.” Please read the statement by leaders from the Gwich’in Nation here. The Gwich’in Steering Committee and environmental groups have also filed lawsuits challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) rushed and lacking environmental reviews which fail to clearly outline the irreversible damage to the climate, biodiversity, and Alaskan Native Tribes.
Indigenous Leadership and Divestment Coalitions
Financial institutions must be held accountable for their role in financing these projects and perpetuating further Indigenous rights violations, destruction of the climate, escalating harms to public health during a pandemic, and increased rates of violence toward Indigenous women living near ‘man camps’ associated with pipeline construction.
Michelle Cook, Dine’ Human Rights lawyer and founder of Divest, Invest, Protect, and Osprey Orielle Lake, founder and director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International are co-directing Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegations. The primary goal of the Delegations is to provide a platform for Indigenous women leaders to meet face-to-face with representatives of European and U.S. banks, insurance companies, and asset managers, to expose injustices, and directly share with these entities exactly how their fossil fuel financing violates human and Indigenous rights, while also driving climate disruption.
“These Delegations have borne critical results in divestments, education, policy changes, and investigations—including institutions removing 100’s of millions of dollars off the table. But there is so much more work to do. As multiple crises in 2020 proliferate, business as usual regarding extractive, colonial policies must not and cannot continue,” says Osprey Orielle Lake. “We must heed the call of Indigenous women leaders in their letter to financial institutions, which WECAN was honored to support, to protect their lands and water.”
Coalitions including “Stop the Money Pipeline” which include Indigenous leadership, youth-led organizations, environmental and grassroots climate justice groups and others, are continuing to apply pressure on the banking and finance sector. But this movement is people-powered—from direct actions at local banks to letters to Wall Street, to individuals withdrawing their accounts from banks funding climate destruction. The Trump administration has taken notice. In November 2020, Trump put forward a proposal that would make it illegal for banks to exclude financing of certain fossil fuel activities, like pipelines. The public has until January 4 to comment on the proposal.
Line 3, Keystone XL, One Oklahoma, Arctic drilling and fossil fuel extraction must be stopped. They are relics of another century and ongoing colonization. It is no coincidence that these fossil fuel projects are slated for Indigenous land. “Before Columbus, colonization, and a Constitutional land grab that decimated our populations, Indigenous peoples inhabited North America since time immemorial,” says Casey Camp Horinek. “We will not cede our sovereignty, and we will always put our bodies on the line to protect our Mother, the Earth. We need you to join us.”