Like a spear thrusting into the Gulf of Mexico’s gut, the Isle de Jean Charles is turbulent with ruinous daily oil and gas accidents, rising sea levels, and tropical storms. Homes on the Isle de Jean Charles perch on delicate wooden stilts thirteen feet high, their paint peeling in the sun. A solitary road snakes down the spine of the shrinking island. Stained American flags billow slowly in the Gulf breeze, affixed to porches where one can catch the nasal tones of plaid-clad men bantering in Cajun French.
In this age of Trump, with its’ rising white nationalism and escalating acts of terror against people of color, there can be no ambiguity when it comes to resisting white supremacists in particular and the far Right in general. And the environmental movement is no exception.
To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…
It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.
One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”
When Theresa Dardar was growing up in Houma, her mother used to take her to visit relatives in the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe community. They would drive 20 miles toward the Gulf of Mexico, park at the local grocery store, and ask someone to ferry them across the bayou. From there, they’d walk across land thick with oak, hackberry, and palmetto until they reached her grandfather’s house.
Members of the Puyallup, Standing Rock and Palouse Tribes and others protest plans for a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) storage facility in Tacoma. The unions need to act on this old slogan, “an injury to one is an injury to all” in real life, not just in words.
April 12, 2017, Tacoma, WA
Tacoma has been one of the main dumping grounds for polluting industry in western Washington. We are home to nine EPA Superfund clean up sites.
Last week, on February 22, 2017, water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the primary camp of Standing Rock, were evicted by the Army Corps of Engineers in a military style takeover. A peaceful resistance that began with a sacred fire lit on April 1, 2016, ended in a blaze as some of the protectors, in a final act of defiance, set some of the camp’s structures on fire.
The millions of people around the world who have stood in solidarity and empathy with Standing Rock now stand in disbelief and grief, but the forced closure of the encampment is simply the latest chapter in a violent, 500-year-old history of colonization against the First Nations. It is also the latest chapter in the battle between an extractive capitalist model and the possibility of a post-capitalist world.
Of course, the ongoing struggle will not go down in the flames at Oceti Sakowin. We should take this opportunity to remember the enduring lessons of this movement, and prepare ourselves for what is to come next.
One of the best ways we can fight horrible developments like Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens Indigenous land and contributes to the further destruction of the environment, is by making the funding of such projects unprofitable for the banks that fund them. In other words, it's time to put our money where our mouths are. That's why Grassroots Action NY is teaming up with DeFund DAPL and a growing coalition of other groups to help people, companies, and cities bank more responsibly.
The defense of water knows no borders, according to the Mayan Ancestral Authorities, the communal authorities and elders of Mayan towns across Guatemala. This reality has led the Mayan leaders to work in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux as they challenge the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The conflict in North Dakota between the Lakota Sioux and the company over the construction of the 3.6 billion dollar Dakota Access pipeline began in April 2016. The Sioux communities began their protest following the failure of the company to consult the tribe over the use of their tribal lands -- despite multiple requests by tribal leaders -- and a demand that the company preform an honest environmental impact report for the project.
On February 23, the National Guard and police raided the Oceti Sakowin camp, evicting the protesters. But despite the eviction, the example of Standing Rock continues to mobilize Indigenous activists across the world in defense of water. Thousands of supporters had traveled to the encampment to support the Sioux and their defense of water.
"When everybody showed up, including the clergymen of the world, I stood up on the bridge and I felt the meshing of all the religions, all the spirits, all the creators of all nations, and all the colors meshed as one people," Eddie P. Blackcloud Sr., a Sioux leader who was among the first to stand against the pipeline at Standing Rock, told Truthout. "This is more than just about Standing Rock; this is about the world."
The international support for the resistance will only strengthen as the United States Army has given the project the green light, despite the company's failure to consult the Indigenous populations impacted by the project's development.
Standing Rock and the struggle against Dakota Access pipeline have become the international example and rallying point for the defense of Indigenous territory. This resistance has brought Indigenous leaders together in solidarity from across the globe.
"Every community must arrive at its own means of struggle," Ana Lainez, an Ixil Maya spiritual guide and member of the Ixil Maya Ancestral Authorities told Truthout. "It is time for them to organize and move forward in the struggle."
Among those that traveled to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux were five representatives from the National Council of Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala. It was raining on October 12, 2016, when the representatives of Mayan political and spiritual leaders arrived at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux. The trip was organized by the International Mayan League, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
"We went primarily to stand in solidarity with the Sioux communities in resistance to the construction of the pipeline," Diego Cotiy of the Council of Indigenous Authorities of Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, told Truthout. "As members of the Ancestral Authorities of the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, we are working to strengthen the movements and resistance against transnational companies that are violating the collective rights of our peoples, as well as violating our rights to land without any collective authorization to do so."
The leaders arrived to share experiences and have an interchange between the elders, which also included the sharing of different ceremonial performances and practices.
"When we arrived, a member of the tribe stood up and offered to sing for us in his language," Lainez told Truthout. "We felt incredibly welcomed."
The Maya of Guatemala have a long history of struggle, which they shared with their brethren at Standing Rock. Since the end of Guatemala's 36-year-long internal armed conflict in 1996, the Maya communities of the highlands have resisted the increased threat of the dispossession of Indigenous communal lands by transnational capital for the expansion of mining interests, the generation of hydro energy, and the expansion of export agriculture.
"We told them that they are united in the struggle, and that they are not the first or the last to be attacked," Lainez explained to Truthout. "They are defending the river. It is [a] point of unification of many Indigenous peoples in the United States, and the world, because the water is calling us."
"Without water, even the rich leaders of the United States cannot survive," Cotiy told Truthout. "We must respect water, and where it comes from. It is a spring of life. Water is the blood of our mother earth."
Others who have traveled to Standing Rock could feel this connection as well. Pamela Bond, the Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Snohomish tribe, was present the nights of the visit by the Maya Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala, and pointed to the way in which the visitors brought the force of their own struggle to the NoDAPL camps.
"They all brought their songs and their prayers. It is like waiting for someone to come home, and to say, 'we support you,'" Bond explained to Truthout. "There are no English words [that] can describe the feeling of your spirit, and the knowledge that people are uniting for a cause, for our first mother."
A Lakota prophecy tells of a mythic Black Snake that will move underground and bring destruction to the Earth. The “seventh sign” in Hopi prophecy involves the ocean turning black and bringing death to many sea-dwelling creatures. It doesn't take an over-active imagination to make a connection between these images and oil pipelines and spills.