Standing Rock

Moonrise over the Missouri River

(Super)moonrise over the Missouri River

As a guest at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in mid-November, I joined thousands of other #NoDAPL water protectors in praying and preparing the camp for a North Dakotan winter. On arrival, we attended an orientation reviewing the seven Lakota values (Prayer, Respect, Compassion, Honesty, Generosity, Humility, Wisdom) guiding life at the camp and how to be of use (“We support this fight in whatever way its leaders decide is most useful. We come prepared to work and not expect anything in return. Every person who comes to camp must try to bring more resource than they use”).

Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or the seven divisions of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people)

Camp of Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or the seven divisions of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people), November 13, 2016.

Being there was a powerful experience, and this video captures some of the spirit of the resistance to the pipeline and the environmental injustice of its rerouting south of Bismarck:

Other thoughts that help describe the spirit and historic nature of the camps:

As resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, N.D., concludes its seventh month, two narratives have emerged:

  1. We have never seen anything like this before.
  2. This has been happening for hundreds of years.

Both are true. The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history. But that history itself, of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.
— Leah Donnella, NPR

Our struggles have been kept both out of sight and out of mind — easily forgotten by those who aren’t directly impacted.
It should be clear to everyone that we are not simply here in those rare moments when others bear witness.
To reiterate (what should be obvious): We are not simply here when you see us.
We have always been here, fighting for our lives, surviving colonization, and that reality is rarely acknowledged…
Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because “this affects us all.”
So when you talk about Standing Rock, please begin by acknowledging that this pipeline was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact white people. And please remind people that our people are struggling to survive the violence of colonization on many fronts, and that people shouldn’t simply engage with or retweet such stories when they see a concrete connection to their own issues — or a jumping off point to discuss their own issues.
–Kelly Hayes, Transformative Spaces

I felt safe at camp; I didn’t want to leave. The power of the place is immediately apparent. Time operates differently, without reliable cell phone coverage or internet, the day and night unfold at their own pace. We wandered around, supporting how we could, meeting protectors, connecting with friends and family, watching, learning, and just being present…
What I need to stress, again, is the role of the protectors. They are there to stop the pipeline, but to do it in prayer and without weapons. They are there to fight for the recognition of the rights and presence of the Standing Rock Sioux, and to fight for the water and land. But this is not just a fight for the environment, and I want you to remember that. This is another battle in the ongoing resistance to settler colonialism.
–Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations

The “water protectors” called their main camp Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, after the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. There they erected tents and tepees, parked campers and horse trailers, and planted the flags of about 300 tribes, which flap in the wind on the long dirt track called Crazy Horse Avenue.

The Seven Council Fires camp and the adjacent Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps have become communities of Native American solidarity likely not seen in more than a century. Lakota and Dakota people say these tribes have not joined to face a common enemy since the 1876 defeat of Gen. George Custer. — Sandy Tolan, LA Times

On our way to Standing Rock, we saw a recently completed segment of the pipeline and were surprised by how wide it was.

A small stretch of the nearly-complete 1170 mile Dakota Access Pipeline, along Route 83 north of Mobridge, South Dakota

A small stretch of the nearly-complete 1170 mile Dakota Access Pipeline, along Route 83 north of Mobridge, South Dakota

Arriving in camp, it was amazing to see people from all over North America. We saw plenty of license plates from Florida, California, and the Pacific Northwest. At the sacred fire in the evening, we listened to the leader of a youth delegation from Saskatchewan. And we joined in a wide range of other discussions, from maximizing the efficiency of wood-burning stoves to the sacredness of the ground on which we stood.

Understanding the lessons from past oil development is a common theme here. “They always tell us to trust them; that they have all this smart, intelligent technology,” said Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “But we’ve learned from other people, from other pipeline communities, that it’s not if a pipeline is going to spill or leak, it’s when.”

For Goldtooth and others, a larger agenda is playing out along the river.

“The goal is to build sustainable communities,” said Goldtooth. –Sandy Tolan, LA Times

Most of the manual labor we contributed was helping to expand the composting system for Grandma’s Hoopa Kitchen. When the Rev. Noah Evans was there (with a delegation of 500 clergy who burned the Doctrine of Discovery) a couple weeks before my trip, he was given the job of serving tea to everyone who walked into this kitchen. The kitchens of Oceti Sakowin are worthy of a story all their own:

Floodlights dot the hills where drilling is taking place

Right after we left the camp, the US Army Corps of Engineers paused drilling, calling for “additional analysis and discussion,” but not a full EIS. And the weather finally turned wintry, with the year’s first snow falling and the Morton County Sheriff warning that those at the camp would likely face hypothermia. A few days later, with temperatures in the mid 20s (Fahrenheit), law enforcement used water cannons on people standing where I stood a week before, reportedly injuring hundreds.

Roadblock on Highway 1806

Police have maintained this roadblock on the public highway since October, under the pretense that the bridge’s structural integrity needs to be tested after the vehicles were burned on it, requiring residents of the Standing Rock Reservation to take a lengthy detour to reach Mandan and Bismarck.

To take action,

Stars over North Dakota

Stars over North Dakota

People’s Climate March: 6 Weeks Later

In September, I joined 400,000 others in New York for the People’s Climate March. It was a joyous convocation of people of color, people of faith, old people, and young people, all demanding action to address climate change and expressing shared hope for a just transition.

A month and a half later, I’m trying to reconcile the march’s magnitude and passion for action with what the US midterm election results mean, especially for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The probable new chair of that committee, which oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, has compared the EPA to the Gestapo and authored a book entitled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

The hundreds of thousands who marched in New York, and the millions around the world whom they marched to represent, see clearly that the conspiracy threatening their future is not a hoax, but politicians representing corporate money.

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

California Drought: Mendota in the NY Times

Mendota, a town I travel to every winter break, was featured in the New York Times today (probably for the first and only time). The article discussed how the Central Valley’s water supplies are at an all time low.

Drought Adds to Hardships in California [via NY Times]

Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

Published: February 21, 2009

MENDOTA, Calif. — The country’s biggest agricultural engine, California’s sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase food prices and cripple farms and towns. [Read full article]

Bills for MBTA Funding and Accountability

MBTA Buses at Dudley Station

MBTA Buses at Dudley Station

[Another blog entry I wrote for ACE:]

TRU legislation to stop fare increases and service cuts

February 20, 2009

At last week’s MBTA Board Meeting the Massachusetts Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, Jr. offered a grim look at where the T is headed. Without both reform and new revenue, the T is destined for “an endless spiral of fare increases and massive service cuts.” State lawmakers must act immediately and decisively to avoid: [Read More]

Heathrow Expansion

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Despite their environmental harms, I tend to think airports are a pretty good idea.  The Great Park is okay, but building a small airport at the former MCAS El Toro for general aviation traffic would have been preferable and would have reduced the number of runway incursions at John Wayne.  Administrators at John Wayne tend to  blame the small planes but ignore the larger structural problem of combining heavy commercial and general aviation traffic at a tiny airport.  Instead of building a bunch of soccer fields and a giant balloon, it would have made sense to move general aviation traffic to El Toro, safely out of the way of the commercial flights at John Wayne.  Small recreational aircraft and charter planes wouldn’t have to deal with the constant “Caution wake turbulence” advisories from John Wayne Tower, and they would be able to clear the foothills that El Toro airport opponents claimed would doom any takeoffs.  The larger planes at John Wayne would have been safer without all the runway incursions.

While I tend to argue in favor of additional runway capacity, I do have to appreciate some of the tactics being used against Heathrow’s proposed third runway.  One of the more creative ones:

Greenpeace has quietly bought a field close to the site of the third runway, right in the middle of what would be the expanded airport.

The plan is to parcel it up into tiny squares, and sell them online to people across the world.

“The airport will have to buy the land back from Eskimos and people living on remote islands,” said one Greenpeace activist.  [BBC]


An Eroding Mission at EPA | Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/07/2008

An Eroding Mission at EPA

The Bush administration has weakened the agency charged with safeguarding health and the environment.

An Eroding Mission at EPA | Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/07/2008.

Green streets, healthier lives

[Another blog entry I wrote for ACE]

Green streets, healthier lives

November 18, 2008

The Globe’s Green Blog recently highlighted a study touting the health benefits of community green space.

The study suggested that parks, trees, and landscaped areas in a neighborhood can help reduce residents’ risk of heart attack and stroke…[Read more]

Palin Fights Against Environmental Justice in California

The LA Times reported last week that Governor Palin has been working against California SB 974, which would implement per-container charges to fund air quality and goods movement measures in the Los Angeles and Bay areas.  I think it’s a pretty base move (though not that surprising) for the Governor of Alaska to seek to dissuade Californian officials from addressing some of Southern California’s most crippling problems.  The pollution, health, and safety problems caused by the ports is a case of environmental injustice.

The LA Times notes that:

Fully 15% of the nation’s international container trade travels along the 710 en route to rail yards east of Los Angeles, warehouses in the Inland Empire and importers nationwide.

Environmental justice communities near the ports and along freeway corridors should not have to bear the unmitigated harms of the nation’s cargo needs.

Today’s strategies of goods movement in Southern California, especially through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are dangerous and inefficient.  Traffic congestion on local freeways, particularly the 5, 10, 15, 60, and 710 is significantly worsened by truck traffic from the ports.  Truck traffic from the ports creates safety hazards for drivers; an example is a seven vehicle fatal crash on the 710 last year.  As shown by last week’s train crash, Southern California railroads may also need to consider better and safer ways to move rail cargo on tracks that are increasingly being used for heavy commuter rail traffic.  Additionally, the pollution emanating from the ports leads to disproportionate health problems in lower income communities of color; the Times article above explains that literally thousands of Californians die each year as a result of pollutant emissions from the ports.

The bill (full text available here) recognizes that:

(b) The operation of the ports and trains, ships, and trucks that move cargo containers to and from the ports cause air pollution that requires mitigation.
(c) The improvement of goods movement infrastructure would benefit the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by allowing the owners of the cargo to move container cargo more efficiently and reliably, and to move more cargo through those ports.
(d) It is vital to the movement of goods in California, especially
in southern California, to resolve the road and rail conflicts of locomotives carrying container cargo and automobile traffic by
building grade separations. This infrastructure will reduce air
pollution and provide benefits to the owners of container cargo by
mitigating rail expansion. Without these grade separations, the rail
expansion may not happen, and California could lose valuable goods movement jobs.
(e) The reduction of goods movement air pollution would benefit
the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by contributing to the achievement or maintenance of federal air quality standards, which will allow for continued federal funding of goods movement infrastructure projects.
(f) The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland operate in unique communities, environments, and markets that require infrastructure improvements and air pollution reduction measures tailored to the nature and degree of need in each port of each community.

Governor Palin’s argument against the bill completely disregards the public health, environmental justice, traffic congestion, safety, and environmental concerns of California.