As I enjoy the last day of summer break, before I return back to school, I have been thinking about the recent media publicity my tribal community has received regarding the Keystone XL pipeline.
As an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe, and a mother to three beautiful children, a couple weeks ago, our community, the Nimiipuu (aka the Real People) stood in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters in Canada who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.
Although regional media has highlighted the Nez Perce tribal council arrests and members of our community for their Indigenous activism, what media has failed to see is that our community has been protesting the Megaloads for well over two years. It just happens to be that we held our first town hall meeting in March 2011 and Winona La Duke shared information on the negative effects of the Keystone XL and the importance of a protest.
In collaboration with the grassroots organizations Friends of the Clearwater and Wild Idaho Rising Tide (who have worked tirelessly on this environmental issue) our tribal council made an informed decision with the intention of making it known the Nimiipuu oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and the transportation of the Megaloads through our ancestral homelands.
From the ancestral homelands of the Nimiipuu people, located in North Central Idaho, I am writing this to members of society, both Indigenous AND non Indigenous, to do more than question and challenge this global climate issue, but to also help fight the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline.
It has been shown in studies from the Environmental Protection Agency and grassroots organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network that gas emissions were toxic and communities located near these sites have higher rates of cancer and contamination of water resources. Not only do the Indigenous communities that are located near these sites suffer, but so do the plants and wild life. If there is one common thread we share as citizens of the global community, it is this, water is necessary to live. Once water is poisoned, we’re all poisoned.
Whether in the US or Canada, Indigenous lands and surrounding areas are continually being devastated by the Keystone XL pipeline. The lives of people, wildlife and plants suffer and the Megaloads protest ought to remind us, as human beings, the value and sacredness of life is a responsibility. Whether Indigenous or non Indigenous, as humans, to oppose and protest the Keystone XL Megaloads being transported through ancestral homelands is rooted in a responsibility to community and Mother Earth. At this time, due to frustrations with the US Forest Service, the Nimiipuu community and grassroots efforts have filed a lawsuit.
If they are not stopped, the Keystone XL pipeline devastation will continue and the health and well being of those who live near these environmental hazardous areas, regardless of racial ethnicity, will be negatively affected. As an Indigenous woman, I am writing this to share with non Indigenous readers a little bit of who we are as people. Because we often make our homes where our ancestors made their homes, we also live on reserves/reservations that were at one time unwanted land. Today, the unwanted land is now sought by big oil corporations where environmental hazards have disrupted and devastated the ecosystem.
I also believe it is important to mention that the Keystone XL pipeline is an international issue. The responsibility is that of Secretary of State John Kerry to oversee international issues as appointed by President Obama. For those who are unfamiliar with who John Kerry is, not only is he a former Presidential candidate, he is a former Senator who has long been an advocate of protecting the environment and supporting global climate issues. His work and awareness on environmental issues has not gone unnoticed. As the Keystone XL pipeline big oil corporations intend to cross international borders, this international issue requires working with Indigenous people on both sides of the border in a government to government process. For far too long, Indigenous people have been ignored and even pacified with “negotiations” and the time has come for that era to end. We must begin to work collectively with all people involved.
As an Indigenous woman, we have members in our society who work arduously and passionately on environmental, health, and natural resources issues to name a few. Heck, we have tribal members who serve in public office positions, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. My point, this is a human issue, regardless of our backgrounds, water is life. Once water is poisoned, regardless of race or ethnicity, demographics, education, poisoned water is not safe for anybody.
This global climate change issue that affects the lives of Indigenous human beings on both sides of the international border is a serious issue. Are we that disconnected from others in society that the devastation of the environment, through oil spills and fracking that poisons water, does not seem like a serious health and environmental concern? Doesn’t the possibility of oil spills and poisoned water seem alarming? Why aren’t we talking about this as a public safety and health issue where human lives are being affected? Because ultimately, we are all affected by this global climate issue and should be concerned.
In closing, I believe we need to start by doing more than talking with public officials. I believe we need to educate and inform citizens and look respectively at Indigenous governments who are protecting their homelands, but also work with grass roots organizations. I certainly deem this issue as a concern that should be on all our minds. The greenhouse gas effect, fracking, and natural disasters will only continue and more lives will be negatively affected.
renée holt is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho and in the 5th year of her doctoral program at Washington State University, in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education. As a Pre-doctoral candidate, her area of research includes decolonization using Indigenous epistemologies with a focus on the use of Indigenous language in the classroom and how student learners benefit from culturally relevant curriculum.