By: Dani Heffernan
Last week, Native Nations rose up in the capitol and across the country, heeding a call to action from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As part of #NativeNationsRise, they erected tipis around the Washington Monument, held daily events, and, on March 10th, marched to the White House with thousands of Indigenous peoples and their allies.
The last time there was an encampment of tipis along the National Mall was during a week of action in April of 2014 against the Keystone XL Pipeline. It brought people from around the country, including Indigenous Peoples who lived along the pipeline route, to Washington, DC. Since then, another massive resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline emerged, and while the project is nearly complete and Keystone is back on the table, so is the spark of resistance.
At the encampment there were numerous panels and important visitors. On International Women’s Day, a panel of Indigenous women spanning generations and continents spoke about their experiences and signed the Indigenous Women of the Americas Treaty. Tribal representatives met with Senator Bernie Sanders, and were joined at the encampment by former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Jeff Merkley.
The Native Nations Rise March saw thousands of people in the streets, both as representatives of Tribal Nations and as allies, with signs saying, “We Exist, We Resist, We Rise,” and a large inflatable banner (shaped like a pipeline) reading, “No Consent, No Pipeline.” Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II addressed the crowd saying, “Together we can rise.”
The demands of Native leaders were clear: Indigenous People have a right to consent not just consultation, and to protect their homelands, water, and air for future generations. And they are not giving up the fight.
This message of resistance is far from new, but it’s reached farther than ever before in the last year. The story of Standing Rock and the Water Protectors who took on the federal government and the fossil fuel industry spread across the globe. Communities have been inspired by this fight to boldly challenge construction of pipelines and other infrastructure that threatens Indigenous land and pollutes the planet.
Despite our political reality, Standing Rock has breathed new life into the fight for climate justice. Because climate justice is inseparable from justice for Indigenous peoples.
Threats to that justice have grown as Trump fills his administration with fossil fuel puppets, Big Oil CEOs, and other corrupt officials who put profits before people. In addition to fast-tracking Keystone XL and Dakota Access, Trump is working to weaken the EPA, dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and has threatened to cancel the Paris Climate Accords — everything that the ever-growing Keep it in the Ground movement has fought so hard for. All the while, Trump has made no effort to build relationships with Tribal Nations.
During dark moments like this, it’s easy to drift into despair and wait for the next election, but Indigenous peoples and allies can’t wait for justice. As Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), a leader with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said this week at the Native Nations March, “We have to be able to stand up and fight back now instead of sitting around thinking somebody else is gonna do it for us, and that is what Standing Rock did. It created a spark.”
That spark was on beautiful display at Native Nations Rising in Washington, DC, and it will continue on April 29th, at the Peoples Climate March. We will unite against the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration, and demand real climate justice. The future we need is one we’ll have to build together — one that respects Indigenous rights to clean air and water, that protects the climate for generations to come by transitioning to a 100% clean energy economy, and that puts people before pipelines always.