Tag Archives: Idle No More

A Beautiful Action

I spent last Saturday in Richmond, California with a couple thousand amazing people, including Bill McKibben, who had this to say:

… daily life was interrupted dramatically one year ago today [August 6th] when the Chevron refinery exploded and released toxic chemicals into the air, sending 15,000 people to the hospital; much like how daily life is interrupted around the globe almost constantly by flood or drought or storms.

Daily life was also interrupted on Saturday — in a good way, this time — by a beautiful march and demonstration outside the Chevron refinery. Highlights included the magnificent sunflower mural that kids painted on the street; the thousands of sunflowers that we carried with us through the streets; the speeches by local leaders including a powerful elder of the Lao community; and the ride in the police wagon with six friends old and new. We were some of the first of 210 people who were arrested at the gates of Chevron’s refinery — so many that the police eventually ran out of zip cuffs.”

You can maybe almost see me in this photo of the pre-march rally near the Richmond BART station (by the wall, green shirt… that might be me and that’s about where I was standing then; the speaker is Richmond’s mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who seems awsome, and who just started a lawsuit against Chevron for the damage caused by last year’s fire).

August 3rd Summer Heat pre-march rally, Richmond BART (photo by by Shadia Fayne Wood/Project Survival Media)

So we listened to some speeches, then picked up sunflowers (I heard they were acquired by Urban Tilth, not only because they are so beautiful and cheerful and pro-solar-energy, but because they are reputed to pull toxins out of the soil) and signs (here’s my farewell picture of the one I carried – anyone know who did the art and screenprinting on these, because they were gorgeous?)…

stop-climate-chaos-screenprint (photo by M. Merrill, art by ???)

… then we marched through Richmond, including a long lonely stretch leading up to the Chevron refinery that followed their pipeline…

Chevron-Petroleum-pipeline (photo by M. Merrill)…then we gathered on the street outside the refinery.  Some of us did a huge round dance, led by some folx involved with Idle No More.  There was a welcome ceremony performed by some of the locally indigenous Ohlone (I believe Chochenyo), then speeches from a diverse array of local activists, with an emphasis on environmental justice.

They invited all those who wanted to get arrested to get prepped, then the civil disobeyers (is that a word? maybe “civilly disobedient persons”?) trespassed by going through the gates and onto the property of the refinery so they could be arrested.  Not me – too chicken 😦  But I stayed with the thousand or so that cheered on our arrested heroes.  There was a festive jazz band, a great street painting, and some interesting theater out there.

I’m not altogether convinced that actions like this are effective, but they do get a fair amount of press, so they must be worth something.  Plus, it’s good to gather with a purpose like this, not to mention FUN!

Richmond-Rally-Chevron-Summer-Heat-08-03-13 (we dance and chant while the brave got arrested)

Stand with First Nations – Oppose Tar Sands Mining and KXL

There are a few resonating news items regarding tar sands extraction, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and their impact on the indigenous people of this continent:

1. Alberta toxic waste spill could be biggest North American environmental disaster in recent history

The spill was first discovered on June 1st, about 100 kms south of the border with the Northwest Territories, near the small town of Zama City. Texas-based Apache Corporation, the oil company responsible for the spill, just released their estimate of its size on Wednesday [June 12th]…

“Every plant and tree died,” said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha First Nation, according toThe Globe and Mail, as he spoke of the effect the spill has had on the land. The Dene Tha apparently also believe that waterfowl may have been killed in the spill, which took place in a wetlands area, but according to The Globe and Mail, Apache representatives said they saw no impacts on wildlife.

2.  The Beaver Lake Cree Judgment: The Most Important Tar Sands Case You’ve Never Heard Of

“…the constitutional standing of the tar sands – one of the world’s largest and most carbon-intensive energy projects – is just what’s at stake in a treaty rights claim the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) is bringing against the Governments of Alberta and Canada in a case that promises to be one of the most significant legal and constitutional challenges to the megaproject seen in Canada to date…

The Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the claim against the crown, grants the BLCN the opportunity to argue the cumulative negative impacts of tar sands expansion may constitute a legal breach of the band’s historic Treaty 6 with the Canadian government, signed back in 1876.

And the significance of this judgment cannot be overstated. The BLCN’s claim now stands as the first opportunity for legal consideration of the cumulative impacts of the tar sands on First Nation’s traditional territory and the implications of those impacts on the ability to uphold Treaty Rights.”

3. Keystone XL Pipeline Follows in Tracks of Conquest, Sexual Violence and Colonization

Faith Spotted EagleFaith Spotted Eagle wrote an important piece on the consequences of the pipeline going through South Dakota reservations.

“Native communities are viewed by the colonizers as inherently “dirty, dispensable” communities where waste and toxins can be deposited. These reservations communities are located on or near the fifty six waterways identified as being affected by the pipeline…

We climbed into a van that had the pictures on it of missing and murdered Native women. The two grandmothers driving the van explained that they were on a walk across Canada to bring attention to this outrage, which they urgently believe is related to industrial and mining development on or adjacent to Native lands. They were adamant about telling us to keep this in mind when stopping the KXL Pipeline, because it would protect the women, children and families of our nations. As we traveled to the hotel, I could feel the spirits of the murdered and missing women traveling with us in the van.”

She also talked with Caroline Casey on the Visionary Activist Show yesterday, and there’s video of her testifying to the US State Department in April.

Outraged yet?

 “Our Native prophecies state that there will be a time to stand up for what is important, and that time is now!!” ~ Faith Spotted Eagle

Ready to stand up and be Idle No More?

Idle No More

Indigenous Energy Idle No More

Indigenous voices are being raised.  The amazing story of Idle No More, and their resistance to the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, is a source of tremendous inspiration for me.  Local groups are organizing around the themes of Indigenous Rights and the Rights of Nature.  These rights have been ignored and abused for far too long.

Idle No More at San Francisco demonstration against KXL

Near the winter solstice of 2012, the Catholic Bishop at Mission San Juan Bautista offered a formal apology to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians.  Valentin Lopez, Tribal Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlone said they misreported that he accepted the apology.  Instead, he acknowledged the apology, as it was not sufficiently extensive to accept.

You [nearly] exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better?

~Spike (BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson)

Perhaps there is no way to truly apologize for the damage done by colonialism. Healing from historic trauma is a vast challenge that will confound us as a species for a long time.

Everybody’s been traumatized in this society… To civilize us, they have to traumatize us.

~John Trudell 7 Feb 2013, “dedicated, coherent, prolific, inspiring, AIM leader, poet troubadour”

Still, an apology is not a bad place to start, as long as everyone understands the inadequacy of the gesture. In the US, a 2010 military spending bill  included an apology to Native Americans that was signed into law, far too quietly, by President Barack Obama. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to apologize for the (not-un-Borg-like) government efforts to assimilate previous generations of First Nations peoples via residential schooling.   At least in Canada, they’ve adopted something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, trying to bring the history of atrocities into the light of day, so that healing might begin.  As far as I can find, the only Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States is in response to the Greensboro Massacre by the KKK in 1979.

Willow : …we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bring the atrocities to light.

Giles : If the history books are full of them, I’d say they already are.

BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson

Is the truth really out there?  You can find it, if you’re looking in the right history books.  In her book Bad IndiansDeborah Miranda sketches the terrible history of the California missions.  California received the barbed tip of the lash that was struck across Turtle Island. It tore asunder languages, cultures, people. The reverberations of that violent blow have echoed down the generations descended from the too-few survivors.  This book is brilliant, sometimes in the way that a fresh wound is brilliant with crimson.  Miranda‘s indictments of the 4th grade California history mission assignments are sharper than an obsidian scalpel.

One might also seek enlightenment in museums.  The website of National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) certainly doesn’t foreground the atrocities of colonialism, but you can search for “massacre” and find some of it.  Valentin Lopez mentioned that there is fundraising to establish a museum in San Francisco that would highlight a history of the atrocities against Native Americans, especially in California (this may be a reference to the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa). Stan Rushworth (instructor of Native American Literature at Cabrillo College) notes that the missions, the scenes of so many atrocities against indigenous California peoples, rarely if ever acknowledge that part of their history; this is in contrast to places like Dachau and Auschwitz, where the brutality of what was committed there is central to their stories.

However, it’s a tiny minority of people that actually go to museums, and those are often people who are already aware and seeking more information.  Mass media only tells these stories occasionally.  Valentin Lopez commented that there has never been a movie about the native people of California – it’s just too sad for a Hollywood story.  We can watch Schindler’s List and The Pianist, but not this?

When the Occupy Movement was emerging in the fall of 2011, I was excited about their ideas, but a little less sure about their chosen name.  This image from Occupy Oakland inspired me to create (well, borrow and rework, with some help from my spouse) a hometown version (full-size for printing).  Santa Cruz is Occupied Ohlone Land

California was perhaps the most populous and culturally diverse area of pre-contact North America.  The peoples now referred to in the aggregate as Ohlone were actually several culturally and linguistically distinct bands, including the Chochenyo in the area that now includes Oakland (those who left the shellmounds that gave Shellmound Drive in Emeryville its name) and the Awaswas of Santa Cruz.  

If we want to understand how to live here on the central coast of California,we need to ask the Amah Mutsun, the Rumsen, the Indian Canyon Mutsun, the Esselen, the Chumash, and so many other peoples, living and extinct.

Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

And, more difficult still, we have to ask politely.  We of “mainstream American” culture, must be humble, we must be patient, and we must learn some manners.  We cannot just expect to be welcomed into what remaining mysteries the natives of this continent have managed to retain, to dip our toes in, to take a weekend retreat.

I’m proud to say that this semester, Cabrillo College (where I work) has been actively engaged with conversations about the genocide of indigenous people, about the invisibility of white privilege and how we’ve benefited from historic efforts to exterminate native people.  Last November, the school newspaper published the article “400 Years Too Late: The Reality of Thanksgiving.” On March 14th, we had an intense and critical  discussion of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie that was banned from curriculum lists in Tucson, Arizona.   On April 15th, Cabrillo will host Deborah Miranda (author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir).

On Earth Day this year, Cabrillo College will emphasize the theme of Indigenous Rights.  We’ve invited a speaker from the Pachamama Alliance to talk about the Achuar and other tribes of Ecuador.  We also plan to host Darryl “Babe” Wilson, California Indian author and activist.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

~Lilla Watson and Aboriginal activists groups, Queensland, Australia 1970s

As we say in the Cabrillo Sustainablility Council, “We’re All In It.”  It’s time to work together, and be Idle No More.