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Labor Leaders Support the Dakota Access Pipeline—But This Native Union Member Doesn’t

Article and Image by Brooke Anderson - Yes! Magazine, October 18, 2016

This article is part of a collaboration between YES! Magazine and Climate Workers that seeks to connect the experiences of workers with the urgency of the climate crisis.

As clashes over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline continue in North Dakota, a related battle is brewing in the halls of organized labor. In a statement issued September 15, the nation’s largest federation of trade unions threw in its support for the controversial oil pipeline.

The president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) denounced the actions of the Standing Rock protectors, stating that “trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved.”

Thousands of people, including members of over 200 tribes, have been camped at the construction site for months to stop the pipeline, which would move 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day across four states, threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

As the controversy heated up, four unions representing pipeline workers denounced the water protectors, claiming they were illegal protesters who were committing dangerous actions while Illegally occupying private land. The AFL-CIO, which represents 55 unions and 12.5 million members, quickly followed suit.

Many union members were furious. Unions representing nurses, bus drivers, communications workers, and electrical workers issued statements in solidarity with the tribe and opposing the pipeline.

However, some critical voices have been missing from the conversation: those of indigenous union members themselves. One of those members is Melissa Stoner, a Native American Studies librarian at the Ethnic Studies Library at the University of California Berkeley and a member of American Federation of Teachers 1474, AFL-CIO.

I recently sat down with Stoner. She shared her experiences growing up on the Navajo Reservation, advocating for domestic violence survivors, falling in love with libraries, and wrestling with the contradictions of a labor movement divided on climate at a critical moment.

Eyewitness Dakota: Standing with a Native Led Movement Against Extreme Energy

By Irene Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 14, 2016

I just returned from Standing Rock, North Dakota where I stayed at the camp with thousands of others gathered to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I decided to go because, despite the lack of major media coverage, this has been the most visible Native-led movement against America’s system of exploitation in our country, and one that deeply impacts all of us, from issues of clean drinking water to climate change. I also went because I believe that we can’t allow the fossil fuel industry or our government to perpetuate a history of genocide for profit by jeopardizing the water source of thousands of Native Americans while ignoring their treaty rights and sacred lands – an example of capitalism at work. I knew that the water protectors at Standing Rock wanted people to come out there, so I went to contribute whatever I could to win the battle.

Standing Rock is an opportunity to organize and raise people’s consciousness that the climate crisis is the result of a system that exploits land and working people and then displaces them, so that natural resources can be extracted for profit. Without a systemic change, more pipelines will be constructed for profit and more communities will be destroyed, especially poor communities of color, regardless of a defeated DAPL or better energy policies.

Many people who were at Standing Rock were there because they decided to fight against a system that can seem unbeatable. Instead of letting discouragement or fear keep them away, they chose to fight the fossil fuel industry and our government that supports the destruction of their water supply and land. I wanted to connect with people in that context, to talk about the need for systemic change and to bring that energy of hope and a fighting spirit home to local battles against displacement, environmental racism and exploitation.

Why “Good Liberals” Won’t Save the Climate

By Scott Parkin - CounterPunch, October 24, 2018

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.

Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action

By Kate Dooley, Doreen Stabinsky, et. al. - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, October 2018

Current climate strategies are leading us to brink of disaster. While some level of removal of atmospheric carbon is inevitably required for the 1.5°C goal, due to historical and committed emissions, it is critical to limit this removal to the lowest amount possible, by restricting future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ecosystem-based solutions can offer immediate, accessible, cost-effective and equitable strategies for meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal. In the context of international efforts to address climate change and increasing evidence of its rapid environmental impacts this report presents a global call to action for governments, development institutions and the broader climate community that challenges the fundamental assumptions that have so far guided national and international climate policies. Here we demonstrate the potential for targeted policies in the land sector to reduce the sustainability risks associated with mitigating climate change, while protecting human rights—particularly the customary rights of indigenous and local communities—and ensuring ecosystem integrity and food security.

Many narratives about climate change begin by asking what mitigation actions are technically or economically feasible, and how we can use the land sector to sequester as much carbon as possible. They focus on addressing climate change now so that we might ensure food security, human rights and biodiversity in the future, with little emphasis on who bears the brunt of the impacts of mitigation. The analysis in this report starts from a different place, giving primacy to food security, protecting human rights and protecting and restoring natural ecosystems in the battle against climate change.

This report addresses the shortcomings of current modelling approaches to deep mitigation pathways. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) for 2°C and 1.5°C almost universally rely on intervention in the land sector on a truly massive scale, with most relying on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it underground. In this report we substantiate and quantify the evidence that a large proportion, if not all of the required removals, could be achieved by conserving and enhancing natural sinks, while better land management and agricultural practices could avoid significant amounts of ongoing emissions. Further, when the protection and restoration of natural sinks is achieved through the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, securing collective land and forest rights represents a far more equitable and cost-effective way to achieve

climate mitigation targets than other carbon capture and storage measures (Frechette et al., 2016).

This approach relies on ecosystem restoration to deliver ‘the missing pathway’ through avoided conversion of natural sinks and enhancing and protecting terrestrial ecosystems. It prioritises securing indigenous and community rights to land and utilises transformative agricultural practices to help eliminate over-production and consumption, including shifting diets and reducing demand for land for agricultural expansion.

Despite the advantages of multiple ecosystem-based carbon removal pathways in maintaining a liveable planet, such approaches have received little attention from policymakers. Policy choices have been largely informed by modelling that is geared toward accommodating our combustion-based economies, for instance building in the false solution of replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy. Policymakers have largely not been offered options that incorporate how behavioural and societal shifts—and strengthening tenure rights—can mitigate climate change.

The frame for considering pathways to 1.5°C must not be narrowly focused on emission reductions. Certainly the need for climate change action is urgent, but understanding the context for action is paramount. The world is one of growing inequality. Climate change arises from that inequality and feeds it, as the world’s wealthy continue over-consuming diminishing resources. The rest of this introductory section situates climate responses in the intersecting crises of climate, rights and biodiversity; addresses the shortcomings of modelling-based approaches to climate mitigation; and outlines our vision for ecosystem-based solutions that are centred on rights and food sovereignty.

Read the report (PDF).

Reflections on the First Ecosocialist International and the Academic Left

By Ingrid Elísabet Feeney - Climate Justice Project, June 7, 2018

“Socialism is not a thing but a process.” – Richard Levins

“Sí hay un socialismo del siglo XXI: y se llama ecosocialismo.” (Yes there’s a 21st century socialism: and it’s called ecosocialism). The words, painted in strokes of white gold, leapt in bold relief against their faded blue background: a concrete wall about two meters tall which encircled the central meeting square of Agua Negra, Yaracuy, Venezuela. Dusk had fallen and the material boundaries of the wall seemed to melt into the thick indigo of the heady, sweltering tropical night, its message appearing as if emblazoned from stardust on the infinite horizon of the sky itself. Across the square, on the opposite wall, another message. A frenetic scrawl of soil black upon bright, vegetal green: “Hasta la victoria siembren!” (Sow towards victory!).

 The square was lined with long folding tables piled high with plantains and chili peppers, handmade clothing and works of art, artisanal soaps, second-hand toys, and musical instruments. Dense throngs of people, young and old, crowded around the tables to negotiate barter transactions: soap for plantains; bottles of home-made chili sauce for a well-loved drum. Groups of children dressed in colorful garments expressing their afro-descendent heritage lined up in preparation to ascend the plaza’s built-in stage, their peals of laughter punctuating gathering drum beats, heralding the performance to come. Amidst the ebullient chaos of this celebratory trueque[1], a crowd of globally-renown and up-and-coming revolutionaries circulated, exchanging exhausted yet exhilarated expressions of gratitude and affection: a Peruvian peasant resistance leader shook hands with a Kurdish freedom fighter. A Kenyan human rights organizer embraced an Amazonian land defender, laughing through her tears. The collective energy of the crowd was electric— they had just declared the First Ecosocialist International.

The Cost of Caring for the Land: Attacks on Communities in Resistance in Mexico

By Analy S. Nuño - It's Going Down, January 12, 2018

In the last decade, indigenous and mestizo communities in Michoacán, Jalisco, and Colima have confronted developers, mining and other extractive industries, governmental authorities, and criminal gangs to protect their territories from dispossession and destruction. Along the way, they have come up against threats, disappearances, criminalization, and death.

The body of the P’urhépecha indigenous woman Guadalupe Campanur Tapia was found on January 16th, around the 15th kilometer of the Carapan-Playa Azul highway, in a place known as Irapio. She had disappeared several days earlier.

Guadalupe, 32, was a woman who had broken the mold of her community by joining the group of forest defenders and participating actively in the search for security, justice, and territorial reclamation. The journalist Alejandra Guillén, author of the book Guardians of the Territory: Security and Community Justice in Cherán, Nurío, and Ostula, defined her as “one of the critical voices who pointed out internal contradictions — because she knew that the struggle is built day by day, starting with the small and the everyday things.”

Guadalupe was the founder of the Community Patrol, the movement against illegal logging, and a member of the “Cherán K’eri: Knowing and Recognizing our Territory” project.

On many occasions, she carried out searches for community members who had been reported as disappeared. Her murder is the latest in a series of killings of activists and land defenders in the region, including Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán, whose natural resources are targeted by both capitalist interests and criminal groups.

“This can be interpreted as a message to intimidate and silence those who genuinely aim to re-value life through community actions that go beyond resistance. It is also a means of terrorizing women, and, on top of everything, it fits within a broader ethnocidal technique intended to diminish the struggle for life carried on by the P’urhépecha community of Cherán,” wrote her friend, Carolina Lunuen.

Still, the attacks occurring in this region are only a sampling of the systematic attacks that have been carried out against social leaders, activists, and land defenders nationwide in the last decade.

Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous, and Intersectional Perspectives

Written and researched by Lewis Williams with Amber Fletcher, Cindy Hanson, Jackie Neapole and Marion Pollack - Work and Climate Change Report - February 2018

Climate change is unequivocally occurring across the globe, impacting the conditions, experiences, and livelihoods of communities in multiple ways.2 Between 1948 and 2007 temperatures in Canada increased at a rate approximately twice the global average.3 Accelerated rates of global warming and dramatically increased temperatures are expected to occur in parts of Canada well into the future.4 Yet, Canada remains one of the world’s biggest per capita carbon polluters5 and is falling far short of meeting climate mitigation goals under the Paris Agreement, an international agreement for meeting climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

Emerging research on the gendered impacts of climate change in Canada demonstrates how climate change is exacerbating inequalities between women and men. Women’s lower incomes relative to men, their gendered roles and social statuses, and the ways in which these interact with changing environments and related policies and programs affect women’s experiences of climate change. Despite these inequities, gender considerations are remarkably absent in climate plans and policies across the country.

Climate change is largely the result of the tightly interwoven forces of colonialism, patriarchy, and neoliberal forms of development.9 These conditions are constraining women’s knowledge, expertise, and unique agencies in addressing what is probably the most defining issue of our age. Yet women, including Indigenous women, have significant roles to play in the articulation of feminist and Indigenous worldviews, and aligned climate action strategies.

Read the Report (PDF).

Vivir Bien: Old Cosmovisions and New Paradigms

By Pablo Solón - Great Transition Initiative, February 2018

The concept of Vivir Bien (or Buen Vivir) gained international attention in the late twentieth century as people searched for alternatives to the rampage of neoliberalism. Imperfect translations of the Andean concepts of suma qamaña and sumaq kawsay, Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir reflect an indigenous cosmovision that emphasizes living in harmony with nature and one another. As these ideas’ popularity has grown, however, their meaning has been compromised. Governments in Bolivia and Ecuador incorporated Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir, respectively, into their constitutions and governing agendas on paper, but not in spirit. Rather than radical alternatives to the dominant paradigm of development and progress, these concepts have become new branding for (un)sustainable development. The lessons are clear: to avoid state cooptation, truly revolutionary change must be based on emancipation and self-determination from below. And to succeed in our interdependent world, proponents of Vivir Bien must link up with advocates of complementary global movements on the path of a better future for all.

Native rights and resistance after Standing Rock

Nick Estes and Ragina Johnson interviewed by Khury Petersen-Smith - Socialist Worker, January 24, 2018

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to sign executive orders to push through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Keystone XL Pipeline. Both projects were flashpoints of Indigenous resistance, especially DAPL, which sparked a rebellion at Standing Rock that galvanized months of protest and political action around the country.

The executive orders signaled Trump's hard line against Indigenous protest, as part of his broader attack on oppressed people, the working class and the environment. More recently, Trump announced the reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears National Monument, amid a series of insults toward Native Americans, such as his disrespect of Navajo veterans when they visited the White House.

Nick Estes is a co-founder of the Red Nation website, and Ragina Johnson is an activist and member of the International Socialist Organization. Both participated in the Standing Rock resistance and other struggles, and have written prolifically on Indigenous politics. They talked with Khury Petersen-Smith about the state of the struggle after Standing Rock and the questions of Indigenous oppression and self-determination that lie before us.

Declaration From The Regional Encounter For The Defense Of Our Territories: Oaxaca, Mexico

By Anonymous Contributor - It's Going Down, December 8, 2017

On the 6th of December, this year, we met in the community of Morro Mazatán, Municipality of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, as the Agrarian Authorities and representatives of the communities of: San Miguel Chongos, Guadalupe Victoria, Santa María Zapotitlán, San José Chiltepec, Santa Lucía Mecaltepec, Santa María Candelaria, San Pedro Sosoltepec and San Pedro Tepalcatepec, all members of the Asamblea del Pueblo Chontal para la Defensa del Territorio [Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory]; as well as representatives of Morro Mazatán, Santa Gertrudis Miramar, Tilzapote, San Pablo Mitla, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Rincón Bamba, Asamblea de Comuneros de Unión Hidalgo [Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo], Colectivo Matzá [Matzá Collective] from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa, and Tequio Jurídico AC [Collective Legal Work Civil Association], to advance the “Regional Encounter for the Defense of Our Territories,” with the goal of informing each other and articulating ourselves for our own defense in the face of megaprojects that dispossess us and extractive projects, among them, mining and Special Economic Zones.

In our analysis, our territories find themselves at risk under a capitalist system which in our country began to deepen in the 90s with the reconfiguration of the state’s legal framework. This included reforms to constitutional article 27, the mining law, the foreign investment law, and the entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, generating legal conditions favoring national and international businesses that seek to impose neo-extractivist projects such as mining, wind energy projects, hydroelectric dams, high-tension towers, Special Economic Zones, tourist projects and as a consequence the militarization and paramilitarization of the territory.

In this encounter we listened to the experiences of regional organization processes from San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros, who are defending their territory in the face of the installation/relocation of a military zone by the federal government through the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), the state government, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Municipal Presidents of San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Thanks to citizen organization, they have suspended this project; however, they remain attentive before new threats to reactivate the project utilizing a real estate company on land in Tlacolula. The residents also denounced the mining concessions in the district of Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Likewise, we listened to the experiences of the Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory, who have organized to defend themselves faced with the imposition of the mining concession Zapotitlán 1 granted to the companies Zalamera SA de CV and Minaurum Gold by the Ministry of the Economy. It would strip 5,413 hectares [13,375 acres] from six Chontal communities in the high region.

In this encounter, the representatives of the communities of Tilzapote and San Francisco Cozoaltepec, Municipality of Santa María Tonameca, denounced the supposed small proprietors Pedro Martínez Araiza and Domitila Guzmán Olivera. The community doesn’t know these people, who are trying to take away their territory under the argument that they are executing a resolution of the Unitary Agrarian Tribunal that recognizes them as the owners of 300 hectares [741 acres] where the village sits, in so doing, displacing them from their community. The Agrarian Ombudsman’s office, the Ministry of Agrarian, Territorial, and Urban Development, the National Agrarian Register, and the aforementioned Unitary Agrarian Tribunal Number 21 are among those responsible for this situation, putting the pueblo—composed of 70 families—at risk. These government institutions and small proprietors threaten the inhabitants with the loss of 300 hectares, which spans the entirety of their territory, and the neglect of their personal defense. [Translator’s note: read more about this situation here, and there is a video in Spanish here.]

Those representing the Matzá Collective from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa denounced the fact that their 134,000 hectare [331,000 acre] communal territory has been pierced by a series of landgrabs characterized by agrarian conflicts with the state of Chiapas and mining concessions, which span 7,200 hectares [18,000 acres] of communal lands. The companies involved are Zalamera, Minaurum Gold, and Gol Cooper, and their projects would put at risk the Espíritu Santo, Zacatepec, and Ostuta rivers, on which the lives of the Zoques, Binniza, and Ikoots peoples depend.

The representative of the Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo denounced the illegality of the contracts on common lands signed by wind energy companies like France Electric and EDEMEX with supposed small proprietors. The Unitary Agrarian Tribunal of Tuxtepec does not acknowledge the experts’ reports offered by the agrarian community, and validates these contracts.

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