How sovereign do we plan to be?

This piece first appeared in the Navajo Times on 6/8/2017.

Whether I’m speaking to my Anishinaabe relatives on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota or to you on this vast Navajo Nation, all of us are subjects to the same self-proclaimed warden: The United States. My question is: How sovereign do we plan to be?
Even if you don’t work for the federal or tribal government, surely you’ve heard the words “jurisdiction” or “red tape.” And more often than not, you probably heard it in a negative connotation. That’s because these concepts are constantly used against our people.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will claim ownership of rights-of-way. Energy companies –both on and off the reservation –seek ways to seize land through eminent domain, legal loopholes, or dishonest bargaining.

And tribal citizens have to jump through a plethora of hoops just to open a business, a process that takes longer than obtaining an engineering degree from Arizona State University.

Energy development in Indian Country is no exception.

The Navajo leadership took a stand with Standing Rock last year, despite of the Four Corner’s poor track record for stopping the exploitation of oil, coal, and uranium resources. And it’s a tricky place to be. On such a large nation with a tragically high rate of unemployment, it takes a lot of commitment to turn down even the most meager of energy contracts for an undeveloped dream of a just, green economy.

In fact, when Trump announced this past week that he would not be supporting the Paris agreement and would instead move towards the four-year-long process of withdrawing, I couldn’t help but laugh a little for the administration was actually keeping its promise to all of the coal miners who had voted Trump into office. (When has the government ever kept promises?)

Yet Appalachia, where many of these coal miners are, is also an impoverished collective of Americans who often have a shared history of how they came to be in the mines. Streams run orange with acid mine drainage, the education systems are rated among the worst in the country, and rarely does a presidential candidate seem invested in the people there.

So, just as some Navajo politicians talk about the need for jobs, I could imagine many Appalachians feel equally backed into the corner with the threat of things like the Paris zgreement –something that is foreseen to run the coal industry out of business

However, coal, oil … none of these products are the solution, not to our energy demands, and not to our local economies.

Instead, places like Appalachia and Indian Country need presidential candidates who can affirm the necessity of such promises as the Paris agreement while also promising those who work in the mines that a green economy will receive them as well –and with far less health risks.
Appalachia may not be waking up to the reality that they have an alternative to an extractive economy, but the Navajo Nation has that opportunity to genuinely take care of its people.

The Navajo Nation’s modern government was birthed by the federal government in order to sign over oil leases to corporations less than a century ago. It also won the largest lawsuit any tribe has ever won for the BIA’s failure to honestly and transparently maintains its bookkeeping responsibilities for decades worth of Navajo energy transactions.

And the health consequences? Just watch the documentary “Broken Rainbow.” It’s any wonder the Navajo Nation hasn’t furiously severed all ties with each atrocity that has surfaced.

The problem is federal entities still have such a stranglehold over Indian resources, especially energy ones. Leases that may take a matter of days off a reservation will take up to seven years on tribal lands.

Even if tribes wanted to develop their resources, the layers of red tape scare away business. In addition, the BIA must negotiate, approve, and oversee all leases –meaning exorbitant amounts of funds are used on bookkeeping and oversight.

Meanwhile, tribes see very little of the revenue –and little to no accountability for the reclamation afterwards.

Should our tribal leaders take a stance in controlling this process in a manner that more closely resembles that of a sovereign nation’s power, tribes like the Navajo Nation might finally see some energy justice.

That also means our leaders could choose to protect the people regardless of Trump’s decision to pull out of international agreements about climate.

In addition to dedicating themselves to a just, green transition for the Navajo people and energy employees, Navajo leaders could be putting together their own climate plan. This plan could hold outside corporations accountable according to Indian law –not lax federal law –and force outsiders to respect tribal sovereignty.

By doing so, we would also see our precious cultural resources protected –from the snowy mountain caps to the medicinal plants that are all threatened by such things as rising temperatures and vanishing precipitation.

So, respectable members of the Council and the OPVP, how will you be responding to the needs for leadership committed to a climate plan and a just energy transition for the Navajo people?

Kayla DeVault
Tse Bonito, N.M.

 

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BREAKING NEWS: Riot Police Arrest Shailene Woodley, Protectors at Standing Rock on Indigenous Peoples Day

REPOSTED FROM THE GOOD MEN PROJECT: https://goodmenproject.com/social-justice-2/breaking-news-riot-police-arrest-shailene-woodley-protectors-standing-rock-indigenous-peoples-day-dg/

While America and its media outlets were focused on the Debate last night, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock its injunction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On September 2, 2016, the tribe had filed numerous sacred sites, graves, and other important cultural areas that are protected by federal law and which were along the proposed pipeline route in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.  Receiving cultural compliance after archaeological and ethnographical surveys is standard procedure for any and all construction projects in the United States. However, Energy Transfer claimed to have completed these surveys of Lakota land without actually consulting Lakota experts on what their sacred sites look like or where they are located. When the tribe was finally able to survey the area, experts immediately identified dozens of locations and filed for an injunction.

On September 3, 2016, a Saturday morning on Labor Day weekend, Energy Transfer skipped over 13 miles of planned construction in order to destroy the identified sites before the courts could review the case.  This led to the first confrontation between unarmed Protectors and hired personnel. The energy company claimed Standing Rock tribal members and their allies were trespassing on treaty land; Protectors argued their inherent rights to protecting such sites, especially when the company was not allowed to proceed with a pending injunction. The injunction was temporarily granted.

Protectors kept filing into the Sacred Stone Campground, ready each day for the destruction to continue. A number of non-violence trainings were held to help Protectors keep the spirit of the movement intact. Then, last night on October 9, 2016, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock the injunction — on a Sunday night while the world was watching the Presidential Debate.

Shailene Woodley, who has been active since the Standing Rock youth ran over 2,000 miles to hand-deliver a petition to DC, arrived yet again to the front lines in Cannon Ball.

Protectors were ready at the front lines as militarized riot police arrived on the scene. Woodley kept her phone recording for about two hours this morning to make a video documenting the encounter. In the video, you can hear discussions about an accident on Highway 1806 that the police were blaming the #NoDAPL people for causing. The Protectors peacefully prayed, danced, and chanted until they were asked to disperse.

When Woodley returned to her RV on Highway 1806, she found it completely surrounded by police officers. You can hear her try to reason with them, stating that she left as asked. They accuse her of trespassing and she asks why she is being targeted? Is it because she had, at that moment, over 40K live views on her video? She handed the camera to her mother as the police proceeded to arrest her.

Woodley is not the only person who has been arrested in this lengthy defense of treaty land and tribal rights. She will also be far from the last. Please share this atrocity on social media using the hashtag #NoDAPL. This battle is far from over, and we need the world’s support.

Other ways to support include calling entities like the Army Corps of Engineers and announcing your position on the #NoDAPL case. As winter approaches in North Dakota, the Sacred Stone Camp is in need of supplies – so also consider donating.

We need to get this trending immediately, especially on #IndigenousPeoplesDay. Especially when neither Trump nor Clinton has made one mention of indigenous peoples in their debates. Share the news. Use the hashtag. Help us end this silence now.

 

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.