Stand With Standing Rock – Not On It

Originally published on the SustainUs Blog here: http://sustainus.org/2016/10/stand-with-standing-rock-not-on-it/

The sun was hot, and the pavement on Highway 1806 was even hotter. The guests at Sacred Stone Camp had just finished a communal lunch. They began falling into line behind the same banners that had led this march every day, a march up the highway to pray for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction to halt. Just behind the banners, a cluster of Havasupai men and women gathered in rhythmic songs in their native tongue. The men sweated in colorful ribbon shirts, beating handheld drums. The women swayed to the beat in their tiered skirts and beaded shawls. For a half an hour, they sang like this, only briefly stopping when one of the women collapsed to the pavement in the heat. Today was their time to spiritually lead the protectors at Standing Rock. These Havasupai had come clear from the southwestern deserts for this purpose. No heat spell would deter them, and certainly no oil company was going to threaten a group of faraway strangers who had been subjected to the same governmental policies and historical trauma.
When I protested alongside Standing Rock and other allies on September 3rd, the vision was clear: peacefully protect. The camp never exacerbated hate. Even as Lakota churches (prayer rings, burials, and cairns) were being destroyed by the pipeline company, the front lines offered up their forgiveness for the workers’ ignorance. Each day centered around prayer and song, of renewing our connection. Daily ceremony is something I have become accustomed to on the Navajo Nation, where medicine men can be seen leaving their hogans to greet the sunrise with corn pollen. This kind of ceremony is a practice used to maintain balance that I find separates the indigenous from the spiritually landless who have lost their indigenous roots.
The #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock is a powerful one because of the prayer that maintains its focus and the cultural diversity that is revered. These are important qualities that are quickly lost in predominantly non-indigenous circles. Since the beginning of contact, certain language has been used to degrade and dehumanize indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Outdated stereotypes constitute the majority of indigenous representation in mainstream media. Expensive football tickets are sold in the country’s capital for a team named after a racial slur. Attitudes that justify calling an indigenous woman “squaw” contribute to the highest rates of rape in a single race. Indigenous people also have the highest rates of youth suicide and police violence per capita, and all of these statistics can be attributed to stereotypes and misrepresentation. Why is this important to #NoDAPL? This misrepresentation leads to media censorship and the appropriation of the movement.

Media Censorship
If we think about censorship and #NoDAPL, we might picture corporate censorship that protects the energy company from a negative light. This type of censorship has undoubtedly occurred in mainstream media, highlighting one paradox that plagues tribal nations: that an energy company can have a more sovereign representation in the media than an actual sovereign entity. While Energy Transfer receives journalistic immunity, Standing Rock is subject to slanderous quotes by the authoritative voice of a Sheriff who was not present and of white community members who view the protest as an inconvenience to their privileged lives. The LA Times published elements of Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s formal statement regarding the event in which he states, “Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false…Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles”. (Kirchmeier was not present at the site, therefore he reported information given by Energy Transfer personnel.) The New York Times quoted one resident asking, “You get 2,000, 3,000 Natives together – is it safe?”. It’s unbelievable that such a quotation was published. (You also get several thousand non-Native people gathered at sports games. Is that safe?) It reflects the mentality of the community around Standing Rock.
However, I would argue that the censorship of indigenous peoples runs much deeper than this kind of surface censorship. There is also censorship through the representation of both the movement and Standing Rock as a nation. How many articles have been published that take quotes strictly from Sherif Kirchmeier or Energy Transfer employees? The media’s decision to rarely interview the hundreds of tribal national presidents and leaders who have voyaged to Cannon Ball demonstrates either the media doesn’t believe – or doesn’t believe their readers believe – that these indigenous peoples are as important as non-indigenous representatives of a corporation or local law enforcement. Instead, it takes celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Leonardo DiCaprio to capture America’s respect for #NoDAPL. Woodley represented the cause early, joining the Standing Rock youth on their run to Washington, D.C. In July, she posted an Instagram picture from the Capitol with the text, “The youth of the Standing Rock Reservation ran 1,800 miles from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to protect their water from the Dakota Access Pipeline that will be built on their reservations.” She then included a link to the #NoDAPL petition in her bio.
An additional concern is how mainstream representation of the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute fails to capture the spirit of the movement. This is not some battle cry for Mother Earth or even some radical environmental statement. This movement is centered around sovereignty. Just like our natural resources, if our sovereignty is compromised then so is everything else in our lives. What is on the line? Our freedom of expression, of religion, of access to culture. The media censors the #NoDAPL movement by failing to elaborate on this core issue. This absence of representation instead perpetuates the ignorance many non-indigenous communities have around the political status and alleged freedom of tribal nations, and how many hundreds of them exist in America alone.
Finally, just as language can be used to dehumanize a group of people through racially-charged vocabulary, it can also be used to make one race of people’s culture seem inferior, pushing it to the fringe of society. As Simon Moya-Smith points out, BuzzFeed’s use of quotations around the destruction of Lakota “sacred sites” insinuates a religious inferiority. Would we publish that terrorists bombed a Catholic “church”? It’s the same story, just a different race.

Appropriating #NoDAPL
While mainstream media seems vetted against properly representing Standing Rock and its efforts, thousands of non-indigenous people have gathered in Cannon Ball and at marches in cities to stand in solidarity with the tribe. Less than a week after Energy Transfer’s hired security guards attacked unarmed people and intentionally destroyed sites protected by NAGPRA to advance their motives, our SustainUS delegation held its retreat at Canticle Farms in Oakland, California. The day I arrived to Oakland, San Francisco held its solidarity march for Standing Rock. I joined the march and learned something I hadn’t realized before: Movements – and not just culture – can be appropriated, and the consequences are uncannily destructive.
It was uplifting to see so many people gathered in support of a cause hundreds of miles away; however, it was discouraging to see stereotypes, generalizations, cultural appropriation, and misrepresentation within the movement itself. Non-natives were smudging, beating drums, and seemingly trying to imitate the prayer at Standing Rock. Just like the generalizing comments I read on article links, folks would say things that imply all Natives are peace-loving and earth-worshipping. This generalization is not accurate, and it buries the environmental issues we have in our tribal communities such as dumping and limited access to recycling services under a race-based stereotype.
Furthermore, as the protesters gathered on September 8th in downtown San Francisco to draw attention to the movement, they took what the movement stood for and appropriated it. Instead of calling for the defense of Lakota sovereignty, protesters were suddenly blocking entire intersections, screaming up at the CitiBank building, and accusing the San Francisco Police Department of defending the bank’s entrance. This caused a huge divide in protesters as Native citizens cried: “This is a peaceful demonstration of solidarity. This does not embody the sentiments at Sacred Stone Camp. Stop making this about you!”

It is so crucial to remember the #NoDAPL fight is to protect tribal sovereignty, not to protest anything else. It’s this sovereignty that is undermined by Native mascots, media censorship, and non-tribal entities’ use of eminent domain on treaty lands. For a country that has supposedly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the last year, the United State’s complacency towards Energy Transfer’s blatant disrespect for tribal sovereignty should be more alarming than ever. Chariman David Arcahmbault II has recently taken this issue to the United Nations to receive international support. Now it’s our delegation’s turn to make sure #NoDAPL is properly represented in person, spirit, and media as we bring this issue of tribal sovereignty and corporate power to COP22.

Advertisements

SustainUs COP22 Delegation

Our delegation has begun booking flights.  At our retreat in California this last week, we filmed a video for our fundraiser:

 

<a class=”embedly-card” href=”https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/sustainus-cop22-fundraiser–2″>SustainUS COP22 Fundraiser</a>
//cdn.embedly.com/widgets/platform.js

https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/sustainus-cop22-fundraiser–2

 

Donate, share, and communicate!  We are looking to bring issues to COP22, including #NoDAPL work.

it’s time Navajo Nation uses its powerful voice for indigenous solidarity, not oil prosperity.

In fact, it’s well past time.

Although I hold tribal membership in a different community, I was drawn last summer to work for the Navajo Nation government by its impressive example of tribal sovereignty in action.  Not many tribal communities can brag they have their own Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, etc.  Not every indigenous person can point out the window to a traditional plant or a sacred landmark.  (My own tribe suffered both relocation and the Dawes Allotment Act.)  Because of Navajo leadership’s ability to negotiate at Bosque Redondo, these are things the Navajo people have never lost and that they must never forget.  The Navajo Nation has a powerful voice, so long as it chooses to speak.

I have heard Navajo leadership use this voice.  It is loud, and it can be condemning.  Think: Gold King Mine spill.  Or: Delegate Crotty’s passionate denouncement against Donald “Drumpf”.  However, when it comes to the environmental threats caused by extractive industries on tribal lands, whether on Navajo Nation or elsewhere, I hear relative silence.

And correct me if I’m wrong.  I would love to be wrong on this.

It’s a sad reality that the modern Navajo government structure was essentially developed by the Federal Government around 1922 to pass off the rights to sign oil leases.  Even the modern Federal Government is, shall we say, uncomfortably close to the lucrative extractive industries that have an incredible knack for getting away with compliance lapses and environmental devastation.

When, on November 6, 2015, President Obama rejected Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Lakota and their many allies celebrated this decision.  It would save the Black Hills, a sacred site, from destruction.  It would save the Ogallala Aquifer, the world’s largest source of underground freshwater, from contamination.  It seemed like the message finally got across…except now the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is threatening the Plains yet again.

Not only will this proposed DAPL, constructed by a private energy company, also cross the vital Ogallala Aquifer, it will also cross the Missouri and Cannon Ball Rivers half of a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  In an immediate response, a campaign called #RezpectOurWater was launched, arguing that a leak in this line could destroy local water sources and make both people and animals sick.  The youth in the campaign ask, “If it was your family at risk, would you be okay with it?”  One girl states, “I guess they don’t think we’re that important.”

Do you remember how the Gold King Mine spill felt?  How it still feels?

I have grown up being told by the elders around me: “The 3rd World War won’t be over land, or trade, or even religion.  It will be over water.”  As the Lakota say, “Mni wiconi.”  Water is sacred.

I spent 2 years working for “big oil” as an Engineer.  How I got there was a kind of sick irony.  My undergraduate degree specialized in Environmental Engineering, yet, by the time I graduated, the “alternative energy” sector had transformed into the fracking industry.  In that short timeframe, I experienced enough emergency response spills to know how I feel about this industry.

I would spend 12-hour shifts, day after day, holding air monitoring devices near the heads of migrant workers as they attempted to salvage spilled oil from contaminated streams in nature reserves.  I carried empty water bottles to collect dead salamanders I spotted for the biology counts.  (I used to catch these little guys in the woods at home.  By 2014, I had seen more dead than living salamanders in my life.)  I have also endured the misogyny of laborers while performing oversight on well pads.  I suspect these man camps in Indian Country are responsible for the increase of rape and other violence against indigenous women.

Sure, an engineering job in the oil industry could make you rich.  But what good is money  when we’ve destroyed our collective home?  The most finite of resources?  Yet it’s not just the oil spills that are a concern.  It’s also the idea of burning fossil fuels.  The incredible impact humans have made to the health of our planet in just my short lifetime.

The theory of climate change is not a joke.  There is a pure science behind it, just like the theory of gravity.  We all feel the theory of gravity; it makes it easy to believe.  But not all of us feel the theory of climate change to the same degree.

The whole concept is rooted in emissions.  In fact, hozho is at the heart of this idea.  Most people can probably understand the need for trees.  Trees are the figurative lungs of our planet as they take all of the carbons dioxide we exhale and transform it into the oxygen we inhale.  We need each other.  It’s a beautiful balance.  But, as we change the oxygen-breathing-organism-to-plant ratio, that’s similar to sitting in your garage with your car running.  Likewise, as we change the chemical composition of the atmosphere through increased carbon emissions, we change how energy such as light and heat lingers in our air.  We see these effects in everything, from the intensity of storms, to the melting of glaciers, to even the inability of calcium carbonate to precipitate into the ocean for coral and fish to build their skeletons.

Everything is interconnected.

I’m going back to graduate school this fall to study energy technology because I believe in the urgency of reducing these emissions.  In fact, I was recently selected as a U.S. Delegate to travel with SustainUs for COP22 this November.  We will be participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference to lobby for a change in global policy.  While I might feel only somewhat impacted by climate change from my home in Window Rock, I realize I have the privilege to influence change for those hit the hardest.  There are people in “critical” countries and tribal communities that will literally lose their communities in the next few decades if we don’t come together as a Five Fingered family and make a change.

Last year’s COP21 delegation launched the campaign #ZeroBy2050, demanding leaders to adopt policy that would phase out emission-spouting industries with alternative solutions.  The year 2050 was selected because, if the average temperature of the planet rises any more than 2C (which it is projected to reach by that year), vulnerable countries will be deluged by a rising sea.  Entire islands, homes, cultures.

At UNITY this February, I sat on stage for a panel discussion and watched my Inupiaq friend, Teressa Baldwin, passionately describe her Arctic Circle culture.  Then she burst into tears as she explained her traditional village would be completely underwater by the time she is a grandmother.  The next morning, she left for Russia to strategize with other leaders from affected Arctic Circle communities.

We live in a global community.  We must hold every person accountable for how they impact each other and our resources.  And we absolutely must stand in solidarity with these entire communities who are at the immediate risk of losing everything on account of our silence, our turned blind eye.

How would you feel if someone was blowing secondhand smoke on your child?  Would you ask them to stop?  Or would you pretend each time not to see it, and then to not acknowledge the child’s subsequent struggle with asthma?  The child is our future generations.  The smoker is the fossil fuel industry, and that industry is a chain smoker determined to never kick the habit.

In order to reach this emissions goal, we must already be in the energy transition.  Creating green jobs, setting new emissions standards, holding Big Oil accountable.  Taking the hands of both tribal and federal leaders out of the pockets of these industries.  We know this, and yet oil, gas, and coal companies have already laid claim on deposits representing 2,795 gigatons of carbon.  To meet the 2C mark by 2050, no more than 565 gigatons can be developed between 2011 and 2049.  2,795 is five times this limit.  Think of that.  Then think of these proposed pipelines that are meant to slice and dice Indian Country, traveling thousands of miles over freshwater reserves and sacred sites.

Navajo Nation leadership, this is your chance.  If you voiced solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, if you committed to this fossil fuel phaseout, if you began sincerely investing in green jobs… Not only would the Navajo Nation become a leader in what tribal sovereignty means today, but it would also set an example for the entire world.

The Navajo Nation has such a potential to be a powerful voice and a world leader.  I just hope we all make the right decision and choose Solidarity over Oil Prosperity.

thawing permafrost posing unpredictable effect in Siberia.

The thawing permafrost was something we already knew was happening.  The rising sea levels, the effect on the seasonal cycles, everything seemingly out of whack.  But something has just happened in Russia that was not predictable: an anthrax outbreak.

Siberia.jpg

In an isolated corner of an already isolated land, dozens of indigenous Siberians have been hospitalized and one child has died.  The Russian government has begun airlifting families from the Yamal Peninsula region of the Arctic Circle as over 2,000 reindeer have been infected with the disease.

So what caused it?

Although it is not confirmed, the “current hypothesis” is: “A heat wave has thawed the frozen soil there and with it, a reindeer carcass infected with anthrax decades ago.”  The question now is: Will this be a new trend on the tundra?

Permafrost is frozen as deep as 1,000 feet underground in parts of the Yamal Peninsula, meaning bacteria can be preserved easily in those temperatures.  The theory is, as the summer temperatures rose slightly, more of the permafrost melted to thaw out a 75-year-old reindeer carcass.  The anthrax also thawed and revived, releasing spores across the tundra to the reindeer grazing nearby.

As a response, Russian officials are vaccinating living reindeer and burning dead ones.  The problem is this thawing is not an isolated case.  The temperature in the Arctic Circle is rising three times faster than anywhere else in the world, meaning more and more melting permafrost.

And anthrax-infected bodies are not a surprise.  In the early 1900s, repeated anthrax outbreaks hit Siberia and over a million reindeer died.  It’s likely there are 7,000 other infected carcasses in this part of the country, buried as deep into the permafrost as was possible at the time.  But now, with that permafrost thawing deep enough, the burials are irrelevant to preventing the outbreak.

Described as “Pandora’s Box”, the question is: Will an outbreak be the new trend every summer for Siberia?  Or will we manage to halt the thawing of the permafrost?

 

drought on the Navajo Nation & a need for more observers.

Back on March 22, 2016 – a.k.a. World Water Day – the White House held a White House Water Summit.  The Obama administration directed federal agencies to begin focusing on national long-term drought resilience policies.  This effort was primarily focused on how to solve ongoing water shortages that disproportionately affect Western states, specifically along the Colorado River Basin.

“We need to continue to develop collaborative strategies across each river basin to ensure that our nation’s water and power supplies, agricultural activities, ecosystems, and other resources all have sustainable paths forward,” said Michael L. Connor, the Interior Department’s Deputy Secretary.

But what are tribes doing about it?

Taking a look at a map, it’s clear that the Colorado River Basin includes more than just a few states.  It also includes ten tribes who make up the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership.  This group was founded in 1992 and involves the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Cocopah Indian Community, Hopi, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Nation Nation, Quechan Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Indian Tribe, and Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

colorado_river_basin_lg.jpg

Of course, tribes not included are extensive.  Within Arizona alone, there are also the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Pima and Papago), Gila River (Pima and Maricopa), Havasupai Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab-Paiute Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community, San Carlos Apache Tribe, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Tohono O’oodham Nation, Tonto Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nationa, and Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe.  Then of course there are the other states including even more groups, such as the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

What have tribes been doing to take action on climate change?

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has many sustainability goals for the Navajo Region due to the Executive Order 13653, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe was awarded the EPA Clean Air Excellence Award this July for implementing an Air Quality Program (AQP) through its Environmental Programs Division.  But the reality is that the southwest’s water crisis is taking its hardest toll on groups such as the Navajo Nation.

In August 2015, protestors in Window Rock attempted to chase Senator John McCain from tribal land for his on-going efforts to steal water rights from the Navajo and Hopi tribes.  While the Navajo Nation already struggles to manage its own resources, Arizona is attempting to take surface water rights from the tribes and pull from their underground aquifers in an attempt to meet the high demands of cities like Phoenix and Tucson to the south.  There are many problems to these proposals, not just because of their clear violations of tribal sovereignty and water rights but also because of what they would be supporting: the continued growth of two large cities that already overuse water that they don’t have.

Meanwhile, many individuals in the Navajo region have been conducting their own research on climate change.  Dr. Margaret Hiza continues to observe sand dunes, noting that the invasive Russian Thistle (tumbleweed) with its tendency to break off without a root system contributes to the erosion and movement of dry sand.  Dr. Karletta Chief and her assistants analyze data of precipitation and make recommendations through a technical review.

The findings all point to a need for more data, and of more people acting as observers for precipitation and changes on the Nation.  Yet this enters the same area of concern brought up recently by the Dine Policy Institute’s Siihasin Summit: Reflecting on Research and Data Management in the Navajo Nation.  The Navajo Nation has its own IRB, a research board that helps approve of projects and ensures any data collected is in full possession of the Navajo Nation.  This helps prevent crises like Havasuapi-Arizona State University case that stole genetic data for purposes other than it was intended.  And while this step of tribal sovereignty (data ownership) is necessary, it is also necessary for the tribes to step up and begin collecting and managing it at an efficient and effective manner that meets the demands of the problems the Nations are facing.

It will be interesting to see how the Navajo Nation continues to respond to topics of Climate Change, especially when it is so heavily reliant on extractive industries that clearly contribute to the emissions and water problems of the southwest.

obligatory COP22 fundraising post.

If you want to learn more about my work and COP22, please check out the link to our GoFundMe fundraiser:

GoFundMe – COP22

I included a summary there.  Please consider supporting us through that link.  Also, please share the fundraiser on social media or even by email to people you know.

If anyone prefers making a direct donation, such as to our delegation at SustainUs, please email me for details at kayla.devault@sustainus.org – thanks!

strangers.

Everyone has a purpose in our lives.  Sometimes, it would seem like people only exist to anger us or annoy us.  But there’s a purpose to why they’re there.

Or, maybe we retroactively assign the purpose.

But,

Whatever the case,

There’s a take-away from each account.

Sometimes those people are only people in our lives because we passively encounter them in public.  We may never say a word to them, or even look directly at them.  We might only overhear a comment they make, and then they move on.  That moment might be the only moment in all of history that we are near that person, never to see them again.  But what they say, we might hear it.  And it might stick with us.  And if it angers us, it might become fuel for us.

Today, I am writing from Phoenix.  It is currently 106F.  Hot, yes, but not as hot as it gets in the summer here.  To be honest, I like the heat.  I think it’s because I’m always cold.  People pull me out of the sun constantly, saying “Stand in the shade!”  I just say, “I sit in the shade too much.  I need this.”  It feels good.  It makes vitamins.

I miss the forests.  I miss the moisture and the greenery.  I want so badly to swim, but there are very few rivers or lakes to swim in.  The absence of these things really tear at me.

But I also love the desert.  I love its resilience.  I love the chemistry of its skies.  I love its living geology.  Its biodiversity becomes so much more evident to me as I drive from the Chuska Mountains to the Sonora Desert.  Elevation has an incredible effect on beings.  We must adapt to our environments.

Unless you’re a human in Phoenix.

At lunch, I overheard a conversation about weather.  The man beside me was complaining about the cold.  He insisted living in cold weather was illogical and nearly impossible.  It was too much work to shovel snow off a car.  It was too cold to warm back up again.  All you needed to do was live where it is hot, run some air-conditioning, and feel comfortable.

This person, I might never see him again.  I never looked at his face, just his right shoe.  I don’t know his name.  What I do know is that he has no regard for the environment, no concept of the climate crisis, no idea of how social status affects one’s access to things like electricity and climate control.  Based on his comments during the conversation, he lives in Phoenix because he lives in an isolated, indoor environment, completely detached from the reality surrounding him in the environment, on tribal lands, and on the international southern border.  The woman across from him even described a friend of hers as being someone “interested in environmental rights or whatever you call it”.  Like, what?

This person could easily mean nothing to me, but was he really without purpose?  Whoever he is, he did contribute in one way or another to my view of Phoenix, of Arizona, of the United States, of the world.  It is a valid point that people don’t understand that air-conditioning is no global solution.  It is true that these people don’t realize the seriousness of living the way people live in Phoenix, the heart of a desert enclosed by tribal and park lands to the point that its growth is severely limited without infringing on environmental and/or indigenous rights.

Sometimes, we have to overhear the ignorant comments and conversations.  Without them, we wouldn’t know where to make corrections.  We wouldn’t know how to identify progress.  We would be stagnant.

In a way, strangers represent an entire population.  The majority of a population will likely always be strangers anyway.  It’s the ideas they have, the things they think and say, and their inability to see through other perspectives that become my concern.  That’s where I see the importance of strangers to my career path and my life.  Without these strangers demonstrating street ignorance, I might not realize the severity of such gaps in perspectives and understanding of critical topics.

Yahdilah…y Pa’lante!