Indigenous-led movement to stop fossil fuels

Indigenous-led movement to stop fossil fuels
© Erik Molvar

When scenes from Standing Rock went viral in 2016, they were often stories and images of Native American communities who stood firm to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. But our struggle to protect Mother Earth is eternal and extends beyond sharable snapshots of resistance. Native peoples have been at the forefront of nearly all major struggles for environmental justice, from resistance to offshore drilling in the Arctic, to our efforts to stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands, to preventing construction of the largest-ever proposed coal port in the Pacific Northwest.

In creating prayer camps and putting our bodies on the line to defend our planet, we’ve learned a great deal about taking peaceful and direct action for a cause you believe in. Native leaders are now offering guidance and perspective to communities already working to stop oil and gas extraction while advocating for renewable energy. 

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We are sharing traditional, place-based practices that guide our historic, moral and inherent relationship to the natural world, with a focus on how all of our descendants will thrive in a future rooted in reciprocity, respect for tribal sovereignty and racial justice for all. We’re building a multi-racial movement that is committed to being, as we say in Indian Country, “a good relative.”

As our collective power has grown, though, so have the obstacles. President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE and his supporters, both in Congress and in industry, are trying to ram through policies that stall climate action and compromise morality. In response, indigenous peoples are mobilizing against his administration’s fossil fuel agenda, border wall and racial divisions.

Trump’s brazen attempts to hurt communities for the benefit of a rich few have never been more apparent than with his latest executive orders to fast track pipelines like Keystone XL, the proposed 1,179 mile-long project that would wreak havoc on our land, water and climate.

That’s why Keystone XL has been plagued by controversy and delay from the start, thanks to the unprecedented alliance of rural landowners, tribal nations and native grassroots communities, who came together to stop the project. Native opposition has already cost the pipeline any chance of construction in 2019, the latest of many well-deserved setbacks.  

Because we’re not going to make building the Keystone climate killer any easier. That’s probably why Keystone XL’s owner (recently rebranded as TC Energy, and other fossil fuel companies) have been pushing state legislators to impose unconstitutional restrictions on protest. Attacking the First Amendment isn’t all, they’ve also hired private security to intimidate us, part of a campaign of harassment that includes attempts by law enforcement to infiltrate our ranks. 

There are pipelines and other dangerous projects being constructed across Turtle Island, the name used by many Indigenous peoples for North America. Our traditional teachings and practices of community-building are meant to be shared to help strengthen these fights. And we need all the strength we can get — the fate of our planet depends on it. Our future must replace the extractive systems that run the world we live in with just and equitable practices based on relationality. 

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Now is our time, with support from a broad coalition, to create a framework for substantive shifts in federal policies, resources and international engagement to address the climate crisis, and to make tribal sovereignty a reality in the 21st century. The fossil fuel corporations driving and profiting from our rapidly warming planet won’t give up easily. It will take a strong multiracial movement of people globally to stop all proposed pipelines and other fossil fuel projects from getting off the ground. 

This movement is sharing an understanding of how to be “a good relative.” Our movement has more power than the corporations, and can peacefully take action. Native leadership has inspired so many worldwide to mobilize against Big Oil, and we won’t stop fighting until all coal, oil and gas are left in the ground. 

We’ve been here before the fossil fuel industry, and we’re organizing the movement to make sure that we’ll all be here long after it.

Judith LeBlanc is a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and the director of the Native Organizers Alliance. She is part of the Promise to Protect coalition, that has trained more than 1,000 people in nine different cities across the U.S. in non-violent direct action to combat pipeline projects across the country.