Mar 14, 2014 - Honor the Earth: Tar Sands Megaload Blockade with Winona LaDuke
In August 2013 the Nez Perce Tribal Nation obtained a permanent injunction against tar sands megaloads passing through their treaty territory. A total of 29 Nez Perce or Nimi’ipuu people were arrested during a blockade, which included women, children, elders, spiritual leaders, and 8 Nez Perce Tribal Council members. In this program Winona LaDuke speaks with Nez Perce Tribal Councilmen Brooklyn Baptiste and Leotis McCormack. They talk about the wisdom of their ancestors defending Mother Earth against tar sands development through the 1855 Stevens Treaty, negotiated by Chief Joseph and Looking Glass. The Nimi’ipuu representatives talk about the heart of their sacrifice being to defend future generations, and the injunction they won after going to jail. The first megaload got through, but the other megaload has gone back downriver and Omega Morgan has resumed its invasion on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The Nez Perce hope that all Red Nations people will take a responsibility to defend Mother Earth against the tar sands.
Listen to Honor the Earth: Tar Sands Megaload Blockade with Winona LaDuke, Brooklyn Baptiste and Leotis McCormack https://soundcloud.com/honortheearth/tar-sands-mega-load-blockade
In 1855 then-Idaho Governor Isaac Stevens was trying to push through a land-theft proposal. However, in only 2 days the Nimi’ipuu leader Looking Glass rode from Buffalo Country Montana to Walla Walla, Washington, rallying more than 1,000 warriors along the way. As present-day Nimi’ipuu people halted tar sands expansion with the August 2013 blockade, the arrival of warriors at Walla Walla in 1855 suspended the Treaty Commission for more deliberation.
“Our relatives had to be there, our ancestors to empower us,” said Baptiste. “The Nez Perce, the Nimi’ipuu, the People, we came together that night, made a stand, and did something that everyone else said could not be done. We stopped billion dollar companies from coming in and just blowing over a little tribe. Now they no longer consider this a viable passageway because of the things that transpired that night with our people, their sacrifices, and us being able to honor and lead them into that sacrifice was huge.”
The forethought Nimi’ipuu ancestors put into the language of the 1855 Treaty, also known as the Stevens Treaty, is ultimately why the Nez Perce Tribal Council was able to get an injunction to permanently stop mega-loads from passing through their territory. “If we’re leaders, elected or not, somewhere along the line we’re a reflection of our ancestors, our ancestors like Chief Joseph and Looking Glass,” said Baptiste. “We’re nothing like them, but if we are to be a reflection of them in some small manner, we had to go beyond our desk and go jail.”
The majority of arrests happened on Sunday August 4, 2013 when Omega-Morgan, armed with last-minute permits issued by the State of Idaho, sought to sneak a megaload shipment through the heart of Nez Perce territory along Scenic Byway 12, which is a federally-protected and runs past some of the best tribal fisheries in the nation and the Nimi’ipuu sacred site known as the Heart of the Monster. In 2011 Exxon/Mobil, the parent company of Omega-Morgan, attempted to push through a mega-load proposal. Exxon/Mobil did a test-run of a mega-load on Highway 12 that blocked traffic on both sides lanes of traffic, scraped the sides of cliffs in some places, and took out some power lines that caused an entire community to lose power. The Nez Perce were able to get an injunction against Exxon/Mobil in 2011, but in 2013 Omega-Morgan began its invasion.
The State of Idaho issued permits too late on Friday August 2, 2013 for the Nez Perce to file an injunction before Omega-Morgan’s shipment scheduled for Sunday night, but the Nez Perce stood strong during the blockade. Hundreds of people turned out, and 29 Nimi’ipuu people were arrested for defending treaty rights. According to Nez Perce Tribal Chaplain Leotis McCormack, the heart of the direct action was to protect the Nimi’ipuu way of life for future generations. “We have a responsibility that we feel is beyond just a work responsibility is to protect our way of life for our young ones, our children, our children’s children,” said McCormack. “So this was just another one of those components that came into it was this is an opportunity for us to exemplify what we believe in so much, not just wanting a position on Council but to protect our people. That’s what they put us here to do is protect them.”
Despite the blockade by tribal members, the first Omega-Morgan shipment was able to get by. However, the second mega-load was stuck at the port of Lewiston, Idaho after a federal judge upheld the Nez Perce injunction. Lewiston is the easternmost port of the Colombia River, and the remaining mega-load had nowhere else to go, besides back downriver. The injunction blocked a proposal to send 200 mega-loads through Nez Perce territory. Currently there are more than 2,000 mega-loads waiting on the West Coast, which have been imported from Korea in preparation for the tar sands expansion. General Electric, Exxon/Mobil, Conoco/Phillips, and subsidiaries like Omega-Morgan are running out of options. Initially, oil representatives apologized and pleaded with the Nez Perce to lift the injunction, but the Tribal Council held that the land was more valuable than any settlement. “Sorry didn’t keep me from going to jail! I didn’t go to jail just to sell-out now, and the rest of the Council said there can’t be a selling point,” said Baptiste. “That was the line. When we made the decision to go to jail as elected leaders, we knew this could mean our jobs.” The Nimi’ipuu people belong to the land, and that is the heart of why Nez Perce Tribal Council risked their jobs and got arrested.
Now Omega-Morgan is working to invade territory of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indians. In December 2013, the Port of Umatilla on the Colombia River became a target for the heavy haul. “So what’s difficult is that doesn’t stop those loads from going through other tribal nations, and I think that’s the message we’d like to get out,” said McCormack. “We all have a responsibility to be stewards over our land. That’s kind of what we were created to do. We’re the gatekeepers of our own territory.” As they did in Lewiston, Omega-Morgan hired police to arrest the blockaders on Sunday December 2, 2013. Bail was set at $150,000 for the 3 people arrested at the blockade in Umatilla, Oregon. 84-year-old Umatilla Cathy Sampson-Kruse was among those arrested, and she is a relative of Brooklyn Baptiste.
“My Dad’s family is over there, so my Aunt and them saw what had been done and knew exactly what had happened, where this was going. Next thing you know I get a text that your Aunt went to jail. So it was pretty powerful to see whatever’s in our blood still stirs,” said Baptiste. “We’re never going to be as pacifist as we have been, and you can see across the nation people are standing up and empowering each other to stand up. We know what’s at stake here is the quality of the environment but also our spirituality. Our spirituality is at stake. The United States has done everything through legislation, through every avenue with biological warfare on our people. We’re still here, and we still have our belief systems. This is just another attack through their greed. They discount tribes because they don’t think our value systems are worth anything.”
Red Nations treaties and ways of life have persisted and are already defending Mother Earth against the proposed tar sands expansion. Judge B. Lynn Winmill set an important precedent when he upheld the Nez Perce injunction. Not only did he recognize the 1855 Treaty rights of the Nez Perce, but he ruled that free, prior, and informed consent was determined by the tribe, instead of county, state, or federal governments, and especially a company. The sacrifice of the Nimi’ipuu people represents a rise in the collective consciousness, with Red Nations people defending natural rights and standing strong against relentless greed. “These guys are multi-billion dollar companies. They’re relentless, just like greed. Greed never sleeps. These guys are going to do it and try at any cost,” said Baptiste. Fortunately for everyone, a brave group of Nimi’ipuu people including Baptiste stayed up late on Sunday August 4, 2013 to protect their territory, carried forward by prayers of the people and spirits of ancestors.
Winona LaDuke: When over 750 Nez Perce or Nimi’ipuu people, accompanied by a thousand horses fled the cavalry on a 1,600 mile route through the mountains, valleys, and rivers of Oregon, Idaho, and Montana in 1877 the route was treacherous and the determination to survive as a people deep. During the War of 1877, their journey moved beyond the Heart of the Monster and past the precious and historical trade route of Indigenous peoples that pre-dates Lewis and Clark along the Bitterroot Mountains. It is 140 years later and a new industrial road seeks to follow a similar route. They have been trying time and time again, pushing through the heart of Nez Perce homelands into the darkest chapter of American oil expansion. The darkness of industrial society has come to Nimi’ipuu people and is now stuck on a road. A couple of years ago it was stuck on a road near Kamiah, Idaho near the Heart of the Monster, their sacred place. When one tribal member Sarah Moffett-Sedgwick stopped to take a photo of the load with her young son, a truck driver asked her how long will they be here? Mrs. Moffett-Sedgwick said, “We’ll be here forever. This is where my son and his grandchildren will always be.”
At a well-attended meeting in Lapwai, Idaho in February 2010, Nez Perce tribal members gathered to discuss concerns about the land and the heavy haul, and what it meant to their people. They believe it was a safety issue. The megaloads headed towards Canada would block their scenic Highway 12 and block the 2 lanes that serve most of their communities. Dubbed the “heavy haul,” some 200 trucks, literally the size of the Statue of Liberty on its side, are proposed to traverse some of the most perilous parts of Nimi’ipuu, Blackfoot, Salish-Kootenai, and other territories. It’s a bit different than Exxon’s plans that they had proposed initially in March of 2010. Destined for the Athabascan tar sands in Alberta, Canada, gigantic specialized trucks will carry monstrous mining equipment imported from Korea to the largest and most destructive project in human history as part of the first phase of a 50 year expansion.
The supply route begins in Oregon and includes the Colombia River, Scenic Highway 12 through traditional and historic Lolo Pass into Montana, and then further north into Alberta. The Heart of Darkness or Mordor, as the tar sands are commonly called, is scheduled to pass right in front of millions of people and through Indigenous territories. The project will destroy 10% of Canada’s boreal forest and the lives of thousands of Native people. The loads, if approved, will create a permanent industrial corridor right through the heart of Nez Perce territory. On Monday February 28, 2011 following an evening gathering, we had a visit on how the heavy haul was an environmental issue. Nez Perce Tribal Chairman McCoy Oatman stated that it was an issue for the Nez Perce and the Office of Legal Counsel. While many Nez Perce recognize that getting recognized by Idaho Department of Transportation is difficult work, the oil companies have done pretty well for themselves in a short time. Idaho seems to give some permits.
For the last few years Exxon/Mobil through its subsidiary Imperial Oil and now Omega Morgan and an array of oil companies have been courting state and transportation authorities in Idaho, promising a new boom of economic activity, jobs, and road expansion along the lifeline of the tar sands project. A closer look might tell us otherwise. The trucks will not be stopping at usual tourist destinations on the heritage road and the drivers will be from elsewhere. The road expansions will undoubtedly hire Nimi’ipuu as a part of Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance (T.E.R.O) Commission. A number were hired last year for the first expansion. However, T.E.R.O. quotas have already been fulfilled, and further loss of income from tourism as lost time and ultimately a loss of services and endangered families will most likely become a heavier expense. Nevertheless, the Idaho Department of Transportation hearings were fast-tracked a couple of years ago in an effort to keep the heavy haul project outside of public scrutiny.
At the hearings industry executives represented the project as a small interim excursion through a particular roadway, rather than a massive movement of industrial oil machinery that the project actually represents. The companies said at this time, the trucks on this route are the only choice. It now turns out the companies might have to break down the truckloads in size. In an interesting proposal from Exxon/Mobil called “A Justification for Non-Divisible Roads,” they claim that cutting each module down will take between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of work. That’s kind of expensive. Soft peddling is a media strategy used by Big Oil. Exxon’s Ken Johnson represented the colossal and precarious project in Idaho hearings as “safe and efficient.” Another Exxon representative Harry Lilo said he hopes the novelty of the huge loads will wear off quickly. “We’re hoping about the time the fourth or fifth one goes by, people are going to say, ‘Oh, there goes another one.’”
That wasn’t exactly the response of the community. The concern was road access and the possibility of an accident. As Nez Perce tribal member Patricia Carter said, “I remember an accident last summer. There was no cell phone service on the road and people had to run literally a quarter of a mile on each side to stop cars from coming.” The scheduled listings of the “heavy haul” are destined to be moved on icy roads where more than a few Nimi’ipuu people have plummeted to their deaths in treacherous road conditions.
So here’s a little bit of a reference about these heavy haul trucks. As of 2009, there had only been 4 trucks of comparable size on U.S. highways. Those trucks averaged 130,000 pounds and traveled around 78 miles. The heavy haul loads are about twice as big as that, and most of them will travel about 1,000 miles. Each has up to 150 tons or more, and members of the Nez Perce tribal community are all aware that Highway 12 road access is 2 lanes and not engineered to sustain heavy loads. Maximum loads discussed in most State Department of Transportation regulations are 15 tons. The federal department of transportation provides for loads of up to 80,000 pounds on the interstate highway system, although a newly proposed bill called the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2010 would raise that limit, hardly benefitting a project like this. The loads, however, exceed even the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act proposals at almost 4 times present regulations. Some of those loads weigh in at 300,000 pounds. Likewise, the first Exxon Mobil project continues to draw criticism not only from state citizens but also from tribal communities that lie along the path of the transportation brigade.
Nez Perce Tribal Council passed a resolution opposing the heavy haul stating, “The project would establish a dangerous and unacceptable precedent in one of the most beautiful and pristine federally-protected corridors in the U.S.” The Nez Perce Tribal Council also noted that the tar sands project utilized an “environmentally destructive method, and it will have proposed negative impacts on the First Nations of Alberta.” To further support that message of solidarity for First Nations in Alberta, Nez Perce Tribal Chairman at that time stated, “I do not support the heavy haul as it affects other Indian communities.” At every link in the tar sands, both tribal and non-tribal communities are working to oppose the project. First Nations like the Dené, Cree, and others have elevated levels of bile cancer and other rare diseases, contaminated ecosystems, and oil workers from across the continent littering their community.
The oil from tar sands is being sent through pipelines to American consumers and pipelines are being met with deep opposition. From the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline to the Alberta Clipper, what’s the real potential of a disaster? Well, real enough that Governor Otter of Idaho mandated that both Exxon/Mobil and Conoco/Phillips must post $10 million prior to transportation in the event that either company had a mishap. Meanwhile, Idaho residents fight the project with their fingers crossed. I was up in Nimi’ipuu Territory in March of 2011, and there stuck on the road was a previous big haul.
Conoco/Phillips loaded 4 monstrous shipments from the Lewis and Clark port of entry on the Clearwater River, destined for a refinery in Billings, Montana. The first truck that went through scraped the sides of the road and rocks, said Nez Perce Tribal Secretary Allen “Hodge” Slickpoo. These 4 shipments acted as a test to see if Exxon/Mobil’s permit application to transport more than 200 loads could be approved, and if they could make it. The plan gave a lot of criticism for those who see the project as a threat to public safety and a major blow to Idaho’s tourism industry, which brings in nearly $500 million in state, local, and federal tax revenues.
In late August of 2011 the first set of Inglorious Basterds appeared. A set of lawyers representing resort owners, travel agents, and various individuals who lived along Highway 12, calling themselves All Against the Haul. That group, All Against the Haul, aligned with the Nez Perce, was able to secure an injunction against the movement of the initial loads. Whether it be pipelines spills, or the hauling of mammoth machinery, or the squeezing of mud-like bitumen to get oil, the tar sands project is a dangerous ecological and moral steps for even an oil-addicted economy. With some 4.6 billion barrels of bitumen and 50 years of projected profits for the likes of Exxon and Conoco, the tar sands project is marketed as an alternative to Middle East oil dependence. The reality is that the oil comes at a very high price. Whether it is oil from the deep wells of the Gulf or the boreal forest of Cree and Dené peoples, oil is dirty.
History of this region continues to be one filled with courage, horses, and Nimi’ipuu people. It beckons us not only to be vigilant, but to be people our ancestors would be proud of.
Colin Neary: Now we hear from Nez Perce Tribal Chairmen Brooklyn Baptiste and Leotis McCormack, discussing the tar sands mega-load blockade and what that means to Nez Perce, Nimi’ipuu, the People.
Winona LaDuke: This is Winona LaDuke here with Leotis McCormack and Brooklyn Baptiste from Nez Perce Tribe, and I wanted to visit with you guys a little bit. You have beautiful land and one windy road.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Yeah, Highway 12 runs from our reservation, which is just east of Lewiston, Idaho and our ceded territory covers all of north central Idaho, and northeastern Oregon, and southeastern Washington, and Highway 12 is a scenic byway. It goes from Lewiston, Idaho all the way into Lolo, Montana, which is just south of Missoula.
Winona LaDuke: And just for people listening in you guys have this 1855 Treaty and we have the same. Must have been a big year for treaties because we had one out in our territory. Your reservation area is a lot smaller, but your treaty area is pretty large. It’s into Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Yes, our reservation as it was shrunk – They call it the steal treaty. Our original 1855 Treaty was 12 million square miles, and now it has gotten down to where it is now. I think its 1,700 square miles, but we still have ceded territory in those original 1855 Treaty we can hunt and fish in our custom areas, which include that 12 million square mile area through central Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. We also can exercise our treaty right outside Yellowstone and hunt them if they come out of the park.
Winona LaDuke: So it’s a big area. You guys were recently arrested. Sorry about that.
Leotis McCormack: That was an interesting one.
Brooklyn Baptiste: It was due to the fact that tribal leaders see that so often, but we couldn’t leave our people because we knew it was a contentious issue within our tribal membership, having things come of that magnitude – those megaloads as they’ve become known. They’re just unusually large pieces of equipment being shipped from Korea, where they’re manufactured, up the Colombia River. Then they’re loaded. The most inland port is Lewiston, Idaho, and that’s in our ceded territory. Then they load that and there’s no overpasses on Highway 12 all the way up to Missoula.
Everyone bent the rules, they did what they had to accommodate for these large loads that were headed for the tar sands up in Alberta and contributes to the XL pipeline that’s going down through everyone else’s country. Of course, they didn’t consult with the Nez Perce Tribe as a federal agent like they were going through Forest Service land, the federal highway system. They gave the easement to the State of Idaho, but they still had a trust obligation to consult with the tribes.
Winona LaDuke: So let me ask you, you guys are Nez Perce. We’ve already established that. Here you are stopping a load of a giant truck and these are a long as a football field, right?
Brooklyn Baptiste: I would say about half the size of a football field, easily 30 or 40 feet wild. They’re so immaculate that they’ll stop traffic. The major thing is they go through our territory and they completely stop traffic on both ends. They issued the permits, and State of Idaho issued the permits on a Friday night so late that they knew we couldn’t get an injunction in time by Monday. So that’s why we decided to protest but do a blockade as well, knowing full well that we might go to jail for doing it. None of us really knew.
I didn’t know anything about activism until after the fact when I got educated there through some friends, Moccasins on the Ground, and yourself, learning a little bit more. All the things they tell you what not to do, we did, but it was all our first time. It was our first time, but it was successful. We protested 4 nights, road blocked. Tribal members came out all the way until that fourth night when that lead finally made it through, but that was the last load that ever came through. We actually took them to court. While we were protesting, we were filing an injunction in court.
We won on the premises that the judge, Judge Winmill, sided with us, saying that you needed to consult with the tribe. That consultation is what they deem consultation, not what anyone else would deem consultation. Forest Service said it wasn’t their choice to work with us, but it actually wasn’t their decision. That’s what the judge told them, and that’s why we filed the injunction saying, “You have that authority.” In the judge’s decision, he wrote some pretty strong sentiments about treaty and trust obligations and consultation, not just us. It’s good for all the other tribes as well in terms of issues like this.
Leotis McCormack: That night, the Friday when they released the information that they were going to allow loads to pass through, that Sunday the Council came together. We did everything we could. We tried to reach out to our contacts. We tried to reach out to whatever relationships we had, our federal relationships, and nobody could return our phone calls or even acknowledge the fact that we’re trying. You know, a get-back-to-you-later kind of thing.
Winona LaDuke: Right, so you’re trying to get the Feds to come out and support you in this?
Leotis McCormack: Anything we could to stop these loads and say, “Hey, State of Idaho they’re breaking the law. We have trust responsibility. Forest Service come help us out here. They’re doing something that’s totally illegal.” We couldn’t get a response, so that was what triggered that meeting on Sunday. Leaders came together.
Winona LaDuke: This is the tribal leadership, the elected leadership.
Leotis McCormack: Yes, our Council because we knew already that our membership were going to oppose these loads. We can’t allow people to subject themselves to being harmed or arrested without us first standing in front of them because that’s what our responsibility is. We all knew that Constitution says if we’re convicted of any crime or we’re convicted of any misdemeanor-level crime, then we have to automatically remove ourselves from our position.
So that was all aside because we knew this was a bigger fight than just our position on Council. This is a treaty protection issue. We’ll get arrested. We’ll remove our seats if necessary, so that we can protect this right and we can protect our people to not allow these big rigs to come in and this big money to come in and plow over us like they’ve been able to do in all these other places. So that’s kind of the heart that went into that meeting: We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to stand up. Each and every one of us stood up and said we’re down to go down and stand on the line and put a blockade up. We’re all down to get arrested. It’s not something we wanted to do, but we felt that the only way we were going to leave that highway was if we were leaving in handcuffs, and that’s eventually what happened.
Winona LaDuke: So the whole Nez Perce Tribal Council got arrested.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Except for one.
Winona LaDuke: On a sick day or something.
Brooklyn Baptiste: No, actually he takes each year a couple weeks off he floats white water rafting. So he takes 2 weeks off, and that’s where he was. He was deep in the canyons and mountains in our homeland. When he left, we said this issue might be ramped up. He said, “Oh, maybe, but I think it’ll be okay.” Then when he came out, he found out we all had went to jail, we all had come back out, and this whole issue had blown up.
Winona LaDuke: Was he disappointed he missed out?
Brooklyn Baptiste: Yeah, he’s staunch. He would have been right there with us.
Winona LaDuke: So one more time, basically what you’re saying is that the elected leadership of your tribe, you guys took the hit.
Leotis McCormack: That was the heart of it. There’s different perceptions of Council, what your responsibility is. It’s just easy responsibility sitting behind a desk. We have a responsibility that we feel is beyond just a work responsibility is to protect our way of life for our young ones, our children, our children’s children. We really do our best to allow that to be the heart of everything that we do, not just these hard issues, but everything that we do. How we have relationships.
So this was just another one of those components that came into it was this is an opportunity for us to exemplify what we believe in so much, not just wanting a position on Council but to protect our people. That’s what they put us here to do is protect them. That was the heart behind it. That can get all the kudos, but we can’t forget the fact that there was dozens and dozens of tribal members that were arrested as well.
Winona LaDuke: So a whole bunch of people were arrested.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Oh yeah, there were 19 actually arrested that night along with the 8 of us council members. Women, men, some of our elders were arrested. They stood up and wanted to stand with us in solidarity. Some of them went to jail, and we could see them filing in. The following night there were arrests as well. I can’t remember how many were arrested. A total of 29 I think were arrested from the 4 nights of protesting. We didn’t know how it would come out, but now looking back it was highly successful because we stopped something everyone said couldn’t be stopped. The federal agencies went through and tried to talk to them, said pretty much, “You need to get you piece of the pie. It’s a done deal because it’s a state department and they support it.” Now they don’t come down Highway 12 no more. That’s not an option for them.
Winona LaDuke: There’s a lot of loads they’re trying to get to the tar sands. They’re not made in this country. They’re trying to get them up to the tar sands, and they only had a couple ways up because they can’t go under overpass because they’re too darn big, and so they’re trying to sneak through. That’s one windy road. They got stuck. I was up there a couple of years ago, and one of them got stuck going around a corner and took out some power lines.
Brooklyn Baptiste: It actually knocked out power to a community.
Winona LaDuke: And that would be kind of a public health hazard or safety hazard?
Brooklyn Baptiste: They put it under the guise of bringing money to local communities. There’s construction companies, security companies, but nothing really huge that you would think something of that magnitude. It came down to lack of consultation of tribe on long-term environmental impacts. These are the types of things we are worried about.
Winona LaDuke: Is that the path that Chief Joseph took?
Brooklyn Baptiste: The Nez Perce Trail actually goes up and crosses it several times, but that’s actually a historical trail. For thousands and thousands of years the Nez Perce would traverse into Montana, then come back. That’s actually federally protected as well as the Wild and Scenic Byway. That’s one of them. They just totally ignored those acts as a federally protected highway. We’re not against commerce. Those trucks are all up and down there, but not of that magnitude. It was never supposed to be this big industrial corridor. That’s not what it’s supposed to be, and that’s exactly what everyone is saying.
We at the tribe said that is not what it’s supposed to be. It was never meant that way, but we also have the second largest tribal fisheries in the United States, and we have a lot of our fisheries and exercise our rights going along that highway. They have no right to interfere with us. Then there’s the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), utilizing NAGPRA as far as our sacred sites.
Winona LaDuke: But no more megaloads have crossed Nez Perce territory there.
Leotis McCormack: How is stands right now is the one load made it through. There was another load that was waiting at the port that was just awaiting for that injunction because they were fighting it. They fought it the whole time after the judge –
Winona LaDuke: And who is “they”?
Leotis McCormack: Omega Morgan, which is the transportation company which is a subsidiary of General Electric (GE), which is the big wig of the tar sands. So that one load went through, and there was another load that was equal in size that was still waiting at the port right there in Lewiston because what they were trying to do is they were trying to fight this court decision to say, “Okay, remove it so we can allow this other load to go through.”
Of course, the judgment was upheld. Not only was it upheld, the judge kind of solidified it even more. The company was saying, “Well, we’re taking big hits financially with this.” And the judge was like, “Well, that’s self-inflicted. You knew that going in, what you had to do. You knew the government that was there with the Nez Perce tribe and all of the stuff that is put in place so that they have a say in whatever goes on in that territory, and you decided to go through anyway.”
Winona LaDuke: So there was risk that was known, but they tried to pretend that there wasn’t. Then later they complain.
Brooklyn Baptiste: There was actually a prior several years ago. There was actually a load similar to that going through, and we opposed that in court to put 240 loads or parcels through our territory. We fought that, and we won! So they already knew there was resistance in the State of Idaho, just totally disregarded the Nez Perce Tribe. Omega Morgan is the moving company. General Electric is the one who actually makes the equipment. It’s built in Asia, and then it’s shipped across.
Winona LaDuke: So it’s not an American job creator.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Oh no, there’s nothing economic about it when it comes to these that we see. All it did was they transported it all the way up and into Canada. Not only did we not agree with them coming across our land, but we don’t agree with where they’re going and what they’re doing. It’s a planet killer. Plain and simple, it’s a planet killer. It’s going to devastate that forest, that boreal forest that’s up there. It’s totally annihilating the First Nations that live up there as well. They’re going to be displaced, and the environment is never going to be recovered. You’re never going to get it back to where it is after what they’re doing to it, with all the chemicals they’re pumping in and all the water they use too. They use too much water.
It’s just greed, but I think right now we’re successful because in the end it cost them money. We had Omega Morgan, we had the Port of Lewiston, and we had General Electric representatives come to the tribe after we won. They were saying, “What can we do?”
Winona LaDuke: Did they say they’re sorry?
Brooklyn Baptiste: They said they were really sorry, and I said, “Sorry didn’t keep me from going to jail! I didn’t go to jail just to sell-out now, and the rest of the Council said there can’t be a selling point. That was the line. When we made the decision to go to jail as elected leaders, we knew this could mean our jobs. Right now there are tribal members for whatever personal reason still don’t like us and think, “Hey, you did get arrested.” But what we did, we knew it was for the right reason. We knew that we couldn’t sleep. If we’re leaders, elected or not, somewhere along the line we’re a reflection of our ancestors, our ancestors like Chief Joseph and Looking Glass. We’re nothing like them, but if we are to be a reflection of them in some small manner, we had to go beyond our desk and go jail.
The leadership, we have to stand with our people. You see those people up in Canada, the First Nations that are suffering. The Mi’kmaq Tribe, those guys took it to the next level, which was awesome because we saw. We didn’t think we were going to inspire people, but the people reacted.
Winona LaDuke: They blockaded seriously up there.
Brooklyn Baptiste: We got e-mails. We got messages from all over the world. People from different countries were messaging and sending e-mails to our tribe, thanking us for what we had done. Like I said, someone inspired us, and we felt that we would do the same and it was successful. So now it’s in our court.
Leotis McCormack: The ball is in our court, I think is the reference. So how it stands now is we get information, and Highway 12 is still attractive because it has no overpasses. It’s the shortest route to get to the tar sands from Lewiston, but as it stands the information is it’s too hot of a route now because of all the legislation that protects it and the relationship that the tribe has. Basically, the Nez Perce Nation runs that corridor. It’s not attractive to these companies because they know how much money it has cost for these loads to have to bypass. What happened is that load had to get dismantled. So we had ports approach us, pleading with us, “Please, you don’t have to support it. Just say you won’t oppose it so that we can bring some of these loads back in.”
We said, “We made our stance. Lives are changed. People went to jail. Kids and women, their lives were changed. We can’t now, and this ball’s already rolling.” Not that we would want to anyway, but the responsibility we have is to continue to protect it and continue to make not just that one load. We’re going to continue to fight this for a long time, and so it’s a victory for Nez Perce because we protected our territory.
So what’s difficult is that doesn’t stop those loads from going through other tribal nations, and I think that’s the message we’d like to get out is we all have a responsibility to be stewards over our land. That’s kind of what we were created to do. We’re the gatekeepers of our own territory. It’s hard. It’s a relief in one hand because we protected our territory, but that leaves other surrounding nations that they’re going to have to go through. The message to them is whatever we can do to help. We can’t fight the battle for them. We all have to stand up and we all have to do this together, collectively. That’s the message that these nations need to hear, which was great to hear you say that earlier was we all have a responsibility. We all have to stand up and oppose this thing because it is affecting our way of life and our way of being.
Winona LaDuke: So I want to say a couple things. One, I heard there are a couple of loads sitting there in a quandary, is that right?
Brooklyn Baptiste: There’s actually, last we heard, they were trying to ship them different areas, but from what information we gathered there was at least 1,400 loads and pieces of equipment of large size sitting on the west coast, waiting to be shipped up into Canada.
Winona LaDuke: Trying to find some way to get there.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Trying to get somewhere, and these guys are billion dollar companies. They don’t give up. They’re relentless, just like greed. Greed never sleeps. These guys are going to do it and try at any cost. So I think it’s been great for us as the Nez Perce Tribe, but also it helps with the momentum because before this necessity drove everything. They pushed the tribes into a corner, and some tribes don’t have a strong defense like some of the tribes in the First Nations, but we have really strong treaty. Our treaty helps us. The incredible foresight of our ancestors put language in there. Read the language, and the key thing is it’s not just the tribes who agreed, but the federal government agreed. Like anything else they don’t want to keep their word.
LaDuke: You also inspired, I believe it was some of your relatives, is that right? At Umatilla. There were some Umatillas.
Brooklyn Baptiste: My mother’s Nez Perce, my father’s a Umatilla Indian from the Umatilla Indian Reservation, he was actually Walla Walla. So when the loads come through, they’ve re-routed them, and it’s going down near Oregon to southern Idaho around into Montana they unloaded. They were trying to go through the Umatilla Indian Reservation. My Dad’s family is over there, so my Aunt and them saw what had been done and knew exactly what had happened, where this was going. Next thing you know I get a text that your Aunt went to jail, my Uncle’s hereditary chief of the Walla Walla Band of the Umatilla Confederated Tribes. I just got done talking with them. I co-chair the Natural Resources for Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and they did a presentation. So it was pretty powerful to see whatever’s in our blood still stirs, even on that side to see them go to jail for a cause to inspire people.
It’s tough, but it’s something I think that momentum is still going to go. It’s never going to die down. I don’t think it’s going to die down ever. We’re never going to be as pacifist as we have been, and you can see across the nation people are standing up and empowering each other to stand up because we know what’s at stake here is the quality is the quality of the environment, but also our spirituality. Our spirituality is at stake. The United States has done everything through legislation, through every avenue with biological warfare on our people. We’re still here, and we still have our belief systems. This is just another attack through their greed. They discount tribes because they don’t think our value systems are worth anything, but it’s only because of our value systems that keep this country going strong.
Winona LaDuke: I just want to thank you guys on behalf of the non-tribal leadership people, the people that aren’t elected. You guys set a bar that said tribal leaders can get arrested. We can get arrested because we believe in something, not just leaving it to the grassroots people.
Brooklyn Baptiste: I spoke this morning about it, and I have a friend who just got elected to the Umatilla Tribal Council. He’s young and he just got elected. He was giving crap. He’s like you put a lot of pressure on a lot of tribal leaders out there because they were like look what the Nez Perce did. They’re not afraid! So that puts pressure like look at you, and that’s not what we wanted. But we did want to be more aggressive, not just settle for things because that’s how it is. That’s usually how Tribal Council can be persuaded because we’re tentative because we’re trying to protect the rights without putting them in court. Sometimes you just have to go to the Hill, and so we’re glad we inspired and we apologize to any tribal leaders out there who got their feet held to the fire because of the Nez Perce Tribal Council.
Hopefully, one day our sacrifice will keep going and someone else will continue to do it. At least they know it can be done. I don’t think anyone had done that before. Most of the entire Tribal Council went to jail that night, and the people. That’s the most important part. We weren’t out there by ourselves. There were women, children, babies, spiritual leaders, you name it, elders out there. We had our drum out there, one of our young drum groups. They were singing behind us, and it was a moment I’ll never forget. It’s surreal for me thinking about it now. It’s surreal, when they come around the corner and here it comes right on the reservation, and we come out. They all looked to us. We might not be hereditary chiefs in that sense, but they all looked to us as elected leaders and they all respected us as leaders. Follow them, we’re going out with the leaders. We went out there, and soon as we went out there were cars, sheriffs, staties parked already and it just – Boom! The lights were unbelievable and the atmosphere. Then our people got worked up. Our drum group started singing a song that was actually sung in 1855 when our leaders were in Walla Walla.
Let’s talk about signing treaties. They have the Umatilla, they have Yakima, the Warm Springs, and the Nez Perce, a band of the Nez Perce, a portion of it. One of our leaders was actually in Buffalo Country. He was in Buffalo Country Montana, which we call Montana, and he got word. He says, “Your leaders are signing away your rights over there.” One of our strongest warriors, his name was Looking Glass, said, “No, they ain’t doing that.” So in two days they hoofed it from Montana to Walla Walla, Washington on horseback.
LaDuke: That’s some serious riding.
Brooklyn Baptiste: Serious riding! They got there and Governor Stevens at the time was trying to get them to sign, saying, “We just want one person to talk for everyone.” That’s how they set it up, but that’s not how our social structures worked at the time. So our warriors come in and they were a thousand strong and forming in two lines, and they were singing this specific song. They sang that song when they come in and surrounded the entire encampment. Governor Stevens says, “We’re done. We’ll reconvene tomorrow or the next day. We’re done. The Nez Perce are here.” The Nez Perce in rows of twos, that many horses surrounding singing one particular song. They stopped the whole thing and then they reconvened a couple days later. That was the song that young drum group was singing that night, that same song.
Our relatives had to be there, our ancestors to empower us. It really brought us together for a few moments until… I think things happen the way they happen. The Nez Perce, the Nimi’ipuu, the People, we came together that night, made a stand, and did something that everyone else said could not be done. We stopped billion dollar companies from coming in and just blowing over a little tribe. Now they no longer consider this a viable passageway because of the things that transpired that night with our people, their sacrifices, and us being able to honor and lead them into that sacrifice was huge.
LaDuke: Thank you, Mii-gwetch.