From our Allies: Indian People’s Action and the Tar Sands Megaloads

Project: Coordinating Advocacy to Protect Native Lands and Rights

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“[Tar sands oil] is not a future issue, it’s causing the land to be inhospitable, both on the reservations and for the surrounding area… There’s no way we’re going to change the surrounding area once it’s destroyed.” — Naomi Oderman, Media Liaison with Indian People’s Action (source)

There are many equally important facets of the Keystone XL and tar sands opposition in which communities are waging non-violent direction actions. These include Honor the Earth’s Ride for Mother Earth, last year’s cross-movement #ForwardOnClimate Rally in Washington DC, and the petition’s campaigns urging the public to seize their final opportunity and submit comments to the Secretary of State on the Keystone XL pipeline. One such action is currently taking place in Missoula, Montana, where an Indigenous organization is leading the charge by literally stopping chaos and environmental destruction in its tracks.

Indian People’s ActionKathyLittleLeaf-1 (IPA) is an Indigenous-led organization aiming to build the voice and power of Montana’s urban Indians. To do this, they rely on strength in numbers, and organize direct actions to achieve systematic change to improve the health and lives of their Indigenous membership. In early December 2013, IPA’s Director Michaelynn Hawk (Crow) and other citizen groups learned that the Oregon-based company Omega Morgan intended to haul several megaloads—trucks typically the size of, or slightly longer than, a football field—of tar sands mining equipment through Missoula on their way to Alberta, Canada in January 2014. Immediately, and not for the first time, the groups began organizing. IPA, which had brought Moccasins On the Ground—a non-violent direct action to movement to protest sacred lands and waters from environmental abuses—to Montana for a 3 day training in August 2013, became a driving force behind the push to stop the transports.

The reason behind IPA’s determination to do their part to stop these hauls is that, simply put, megaloads present a mega problem for our future. According to the Tar Sands Solution Network, “If we extract all the know tar sands oil the Earth’s temperature will substantially, leading to complete climate catastrophe. [Additionally,] development also pollutes the land, air, and water with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in northern Alberta and along leak-prone pipeline routes that carry this highly corrosive cargo through communities and waterways across North America.” Those communities, including First Nations communities in Canada, are having their rights infringed, their health and well-being jeopardized, and the lands and waters they have relied on for traditional food sources destroyed.

“We are also acting [on] behalf of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities in Alberta who have been affected most directly and severely from the contamination of their water, air, and wild natural food sources, although we also expressed that all life on Earth is being deeply affected and endangered by this filthy and completely unnecessary business.”—George Price, Police Liaison with Indian People’s Action

megaloadmapjpg-5375ddd99f99aeb3-1-757x900The protests took place in the late night and early morning hours of January 22-24. In total, three megaloads drove through the Missoula route. On January 22, the first load was greeted by 40 protesters, most of which were IPA members. “It was our intention to enter Reserve street together in front of the megaloads and halt the movement of this tar sands-bound equipment however long we could by leading ourselves and our non-Indian allies in a traditional round dance, which is a form of prayer and a symbol of unity, in the middle of the street, while carrying our signs with words describing our opposition…” wrote IPA’s Police Liaison George Price in his editorial comment to the Missoula Independent. The round dance, as well as the arrest of an elder ally, delayed the trucks passage. A second, smaller megaload quickly passed through the city on the following evening at speeds too fast to allow for safe and responsible blockades.

IPA and allied groups like Blue Skies Campaign, Northern Rockies Rising Tide, Spokane Rising Tide, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide held a second, larger action on January 24, where Indigenous members numbered roughly 60 of the 70 protesters. During this action, IPA led a round dance that stopped the megaload transport for 12 minutes. This was then followed by a speech by IPA member Charles Walking Child (Anishnabe), which caused further delays. Finally, three elder women allies held up the load by sitting in the stree and refusing to be moved. One was arrested, the two cited.

Each of these tactics—distributing press releases to the media, holding signs, handing out informational leaflets, holding a round dance, giving speeches, the arrests and the citations—played a critical role in delaying the transport, thereby increasing the cost to the company hauling the loads. They also served as a way to increase public awareness of the megaloads and tar sands in general. These direct actions provided an opportunity for IPA and allied groups to focus public attention on climate change and the destructive practices of the extractive industries, while making it clear that Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike would stand alongside one another to stop fossil fuel projects where they could.

“During this whole experience…many, mostly young, Native American people, learned much about the issues facing out planet and became first time public activists for the Earth, and they will be back again, in greater numbers, as long as all life on Earth cries out against this most grave injustice, corruption, and destruction. That was our primary success in these actions…” George Price, Police Liaison with Indian People’s Action

Indian People’s Action continues to keep an eye on and prepare for any future megaloads which plan to travel through Missoula en route to Alberta. We at Women’s Earth Alliance encourage our friends and partners to learn as much as you can on this critical issue, including more about the many Indigenous communities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and elsewhere currently standing on the frontlines of megaload protests, and then go forward and share that information with your friends and partners.

The above article was reviewed by and posted with the permission of Indian People’s Action. The Women’s Earth Alliance Advocacy Network has allied with Indian People’s Action to facilitate advocacy support around their efforts to oppose tar sands oil.

The Long Arm of the Tar Sands: The Alberta Clipper Pipeline

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By: Kahea Pacheco (Advocacy Network Coordinator) and Sophie Sparksworthy (WEA Intern)

“[We recognize] that the tar sands in northern Alberta, Canada is one of the largest remaining deposits of unconventional oil in the world, containing approximately 2 trillion barrels, and there are plans for a massive expansion of development that would ultimately destroy an area larger than the state of Florida[.]”
Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

The expansion of crude oil pipelines carrying Alberta tar sands from Canada to the United States is arguably one of the largest environmental concerns in North America in recent years.  The human and ecological damage these developments–as well as our populations continued dependency on fossil fuels–will cause is no longer something that can be ignored.  For years now, Indigenous advocates, activists, and local community leaders have fought on the frontlines of campaigns to stop these pipelines, and while efforts around the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline have thankfully garnered much-needed attention and public interest, it is only one of the highly destructive pipeline proposals Indigenous communities currently face.

“[We recognize] that tar sand development has devastating impacts to Mother Earth and her inhabitants and perpetuates the crippling addiction to oil of the United States and Canada[.]”

In Alberta, Minnesota and Wisconsin, communities and tribes are also facing the proposed expansion of Enbridge Energy’s Alberta Clipper and Sandpiper pipelines.  The Alberta Clipper expansion will run 1,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, across Minnesota and into Superior, Wisconsin, and will increase the flow of crude oil from 450,000 to 570,000 barrels per day.  An additional expansion is proposed to bring flow up to the pipeline capacity of 880,000 barrels per day.  If the expansion is approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Minnesota, Enbridge will begin construction this year.

Photo source: InsideClimate News
Photo source: InsideClimate News
Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, 2010. Photo source: US EPA, 2010.
Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, 2010. Photo source: US EPA, 2010.

“[We are concerned] that Indigenous people are most vulnerable to the social, cultural, spiritual, and environmental impacts of climate change[.]”

—Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

One of the voices leading opposition against the Alberta Clipper and Sandpiper expansions is Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth.  Honor the Earth’s 2013 Ride for Mother Earth campaign was both a show of strong solidarity with the Lakota Nation as they fight the KXL which will cross into their territories, and opposition to tar sands and fracking imports into Minnesota, where lakes, rivers, wetlands and communities are already over burdened by high rates of toxicity and health issues because of hazardous chemical exposures from polluting industries like Big Oil.  The ride–during which Anishinaabe, Lakota and Ponca riders traveled over 200 miles along the pipeline–aimed to bring attention to the Enbridge pipelines and the destruction they will cause if built, including the threat to women and children as a result of the influx of pipeline workers into the surrounding areas.

Honor the Earth stands in good company in the transnational opposition to these pipelines.  Other community organizations at the forefront of advocacy efforts to stop dirty oil include Indigenous Environmental Network, Protect the Sacred, as well as Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan (We Love Our Land), a group of Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, which just last year built encampments on four Enbridge pipelines to protest the company’s violations of their tribal territory.

“Therefore, we are united on this Mother Earth Accord, which is effective immediately, that it be resolved as follows: We support and encourage a moratorium on tar sands development; We insist on full consultation under the principles of ‘free, prior and informed consent,’ from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples both in the United States and Canada[…]”
Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

WEA encourages all our friends and allies to talk to your friends, family and colleagues, and share as much information as you can about all dirty oil pipelines–the Keystone XL, the Alberta Clipper, the Sandpiper, and others.  For more information, and for ideas on how you can get involved and make your voice heard, visit Honor the Earth’s website.  Public education is crucial; it will take our shared efforts to recognize the threats we face, and to find the solutions to protect our communities and planet from these destructive developments.

Native American Tribal Lands Look to Renew Energy

Project: Native Women Leaders and Advocates Promoting Energy Justice

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Canyon Uranium Mine, near Red Butte.
Canyon Uranium Mine, near Red Butte.

For hundreds of years, ever since white settlers first came to the American southwest, the Indigenous peoples of the area have been systemically disenfranchised and the land stripped of its resources to provide goods, and especially energy, for the surrounding towns, cities and counties. Tribal leaders, residents and all who work and live in the area have long felt the injustices of past energy resource development on their traditional lands. From this springs the a collaboration between the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Indian Energy Policy, as they partner with Tribal Leaders and look at ways to develop renewable energy on tribal lands.

“The challenge as we make the transition to yet another energy development is to learn from the errors of the past and not to repeat them,” Clark said. “To make the transition from where we are to where we need to be will mean including more equitable resource access and economic and social development opportunities to people who have borne the brunt of this arrangement.”

You can read more about this issue here.

Indigenous Women, Fracking, and Violence

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 by Kelly Yu

Oil company workers are not accountable to the community. They can treat people however they want because they think they are untouchable” – Cedar Gillette, domestic violence counselor in New Town, North Dakota (source)

North Dakota may reap huge economic gains for both Big Oil and the Midwest economy, but the consequences that have followed the oil boom have endangered women–Indigenous women in particular–and have placed them at an increased risk of domestic violence and crime.

041013_FRACKING (1)

The increase in demand for oil workers by the North Dakota fracking industry has led to an influx of young men seeking employment in various oil towns throughout the state. While crime is in no way exclusive to these growing towns, a correlation can be drawn between the population boom in several oil cities and the increase in crimes against women. After their own respective oil booms, Dickinson, North Dakota, saw a 300% increase in sex crimes and Bradford County, Pennsylvania saw an increase in unknown rapes. Some women now carry tasers to protect themselves from oil workers, and workers at the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center in Bradford County have noticed that many of town’s domestic violence cases involved individuals linked to the fracking industry. Finally, many cities that have experienced an oil boom have also seen an increase in the human trafficking of Native women.

While many argue that fracking in itself is not responsible for the increase in criminal activity in oil cities, the available data linking the fracking industry and violence against women warrants attention. Studies find that 80% of rapes against Indian women are by non-native men, yet only after recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in March 2013 have tribal courts been given criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians, such as oil workers, for domestic or sexual crimes on tribal land.

For more information on fracking and how to join the movement against it, click here.

(Photo source:

The Tragic Cost of Depending on Firewood

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Photo: Premium Times
Photo: Premium Times

In Nigeria, 72 percent of the population suffer the severe consequences of depending solely on fuel wood as their main source of heat for cooking. Furthermore, smoke from firewood is the third greatest killer of women and children in the country. According to the World Health Organization, in 2012, 93,300 deaths occurred in Nigeria as a result of smoke from traditional biomass stoves.

After malaria and HIV/AIDS, smoke is the biggest killer of mostly women and children.

“In addition to this health problem, traditional biomass stoves burn 90 per cent more wood than is necessary. This has cost poor families and institutions money that could be put to better use on education, health, and nutrition.”

Moreover, as there continues to be an increase in the percent of the population face poverty, there is a reversal in the move toward more efficient forms of energy, and many Nigerian families are in fact, “climbing down the energy ladder, moving from electricity, gas and kerosene to fuel-wood and other traditional biomass energy forms.”

Read the full the article here.