Canada’s First Nations are idle no more.
On December 10, 2012, four Native women called for a national day of action to oppose Bill C-45, which granted the Canadian government increased control over natural resources on Canada’s reservations. In the wake of their call, dozens of actions under the Idle No More banner, ranging from flash mobs to road blockades to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s month-long hunger strike, have demanded recognition of First Nation rights and sought to halt the thoughtless exploitation of Canada’s natural resources that is spiraling the world toward catastrophic climate change.
Perhaps foremost among issues of resource exploitation is tar sands oil, and by extension the Keystone XL Pipeline that would pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff into the United States. (I won’t lay out the specifics of the environmental disaster posed by Keystone XL and tar sands crude; I’ll let environmental activist Bill McKibben take care of that for me.)
The bravery and creativity of Canadian activists like Theresa Spence have inspired Native peoples across the continent and indeed the world, calling forth solidarity actions from Los Angeles to New Zealand – for instance, Oklahoma’s first Tar Sands Blockade action, which took place just yesterday. The original Idle No More actions were/are a protest against Canadian treaty violations and an assertion of dignity in the face of an establishment that would just as soon forget about First Nations peoples. But that’s not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon; our Lakota friends right here in South Dakota have had their share of broken treaties and governments that would rather deny their existence.
Perhaps foremost among issues of resource exploitation is tar sands oil, and by extension the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff into the United States. (Because, as the Sacramento Bee points out, an oil-addicted America needs Keystone XL like a morbidly obese man needs an IV of Coca-Cola.) I won’t lay out the specifics of the environmental disaster posed by Keystone XL and tar sands crude; I’ll let environmental activist Bill McKibben take care of that for me.
My primary concern today is more local, more practical: where is South Dakota’s place in this fight? I already asked this same question several weeks ago, but the rising visibility of Idle No More gives it a new urgency, and a new impetus. After all, Native Americans make up a higher percentage of our population than any other state except New Mexico and Alaska. And Keystone XL is set to skirt the Rosebud Indian Reservation and run close to Pine Ridge – and close unfortunately counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and oil spills.
Happily, the ball is already rolling. A group of several dozen Lakota on Pine Ridge committed civil disobedience in March to halt the passage of two tar sands pipeline trucks through tribal lands, leading to five arrests, showing South Dakota that if there is to be resistance to Keystone XL, then perhaps the most important locus of that resistance will be the Native community.
It’s going to take more than one isolated action to turn back the tar sands tide. So our Lakota and Dakota friends are calling for a Gathering to Protect the Sacred from January 23-25 at the Fort Randall Casino near Wagner, SD. According to the press release, the gathering, which is held in solidarity with Idle No More, will be attended by “the Treaty Councils, elected Tribal Council leaders (IRA and non IRA); the Ihanktonwan, Pawnee and Ponca Nation; all other Council Fires of the Oceti Sakowin; non-Native Nebraska Ranchers who are opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline; various First Nations Bands from Canada; Dakota relative bands from Canada; the Brave Heart Society and other traditional societies; and other organizations such as the Four Worlds Development Institute out of Canada among others who have a purpose in protecting Mother Earth.”
The big agenda item? Keystone XL and how to stop it.
This is an exciting time for the environmental movement, precisely because it is a crucial time, a race against physics as Bill McKibben puts it. As Natives across the continent rise up for their dignity and against environmental destruction; as climate activists gear up for a massive rally in Washington, D.C. over President’s Day; as the Tar Sands Blockade takes the fight to the front lines; the time has come for all of us place our best efforts into stopping this pipeline. Let us all be idle no more.
Otherwise, as climate scientist James Hansen put it last May, and as the Lakota and other First Nations have been trying to tell us for years, it’s game over.