Indigenous Struggle Is Key to a Green New Deal

Newly inaugurated Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez made headlines with her bold proposal for a Green New Deal.

The plan is an aggressive proposal to be off fossil fuels by 2030. A Green New Deal of this scale would require mass mobilization and demands to resist current fossil fuel projects while demanding a new future.

One of the points in Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is calling for the protection of Indigenous nations and communities.

Indigenous people have been on the front lines of extractive policies in the US and Canada, while also being frontline resisters. Two years ago, we witnessed the inspirational struggle at Standing Rock calling to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Indigenous resistance is attempting to push back increased attacks on Indigenous lands by both Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the service of fossil-fuel energy projects.

One of Trump’s first executive actions was to pursue completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Trump also dramatically reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, opening the way to possible resource extraction. The monuments were expanded under Obama after Indigenous people called for these sacred areas to be protected.

On the other side of the border, Justin Trudeau may not be as cruel with his words, but his actions are like those of Trump. Trudeau recently had the Canadian government purchase the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which was been challenged by First Nations in Canada. Now, a state-owned pipeline cuts through Indigenous land, violating treaty rights.

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Another example of Indigenous resistance to pipelines is in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia — the site of a battle against TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Driving up to the Unist’ot’en camp in unceded Wet’suwet’en Territory, the road is blocked with a sign that says, “Wedzin KWA Checkpoint. Unist’ot’en Territory. No Access without Consent.”

The camp was started in 2010 to prevent TransCanada, the same company that was pushing the Dakota Access Pipeline, from building their $4.7 billion LNG Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which stretches across all of British Columbia.

Indigenous Nations in British Columbia never signed treaties with the Canadian or British government and have been attempting to settle these issues since a Canadian Supreme Court ruling in 1997.

The Canadian government received the approval from some First Nations reserve governments, but the pipeline doesn’t go through their land. The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have said no to the pipeline.

This shows the split between the grassroots resistance and those in the reserve governments. Dr. Karla Tait, a member of the Unist’ot’en House Group of the Gilseyhu Clan, described this relationship with the Canadian government on Democracy Now!.

Tait pointing out that the “hereditary system was recognized by the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa Supreme Court of Canada ruling of 1997, in which Canada recognized that we had never extinguished our aboriginal rights and title. We’ve never ceded or surrendered our territories. And the hereditary chiefs had provided that oral testimony on which that ruling was based.”

In December, the British Columbia Supreme Court issued an interim injunction on the blockade and protesters who interfered with the work of Coastal GasLink. The injunction gave the protesters 72 hours to “remove any obstructions, including but not limited to gates, they have caused or created on the Morice River Bridge or the Morice West Forest Services Road. If such obstructions are not removed within 72 hours, the Plaintiff is at liberty to remove those obstructions, including any gates.”

This set the stage for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who have been the enforcers of pipeline projects in Canada, to break up the encampment and arrest the resisters. Fourteen protesters were arrested on their own land.

Discussing the arrest, Chief Namox made clear the role that the Canadian government is playing in siding with industry over Indigenous Nations:

Today was a perfect example of who steers the government. AIit’s absolutely industry. Industry told government how to direct the RCMP. The RCMP removed the fence at the access point, arrested people, charged a number of them. They were following the law of the Wet’suwet’en. What happened today was our trespass laws were broken. But according to Canadian law, which is being steered by industry, these people are now criminals.

Following the breakup of the encampment, solidarity protests stretched far and wide throughout Canada and the US, including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy blockading a major road in southern Ontario.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation was “less than ideal” and stated that everyone had the right to protest if they followed the law. In fact, it was the Canadian government that broke the laws of the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. It’s no surprise that a resource state like Canada will only follow the law that favors industry, not Indigenous Nations.

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On the other side of the imaginary border between the US and Canada, the Ojibwe in Minnesota have been fighting the replacement of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline that runs through their territory. The project is being undertaken to accommodate oil from Alberta’s tar sands.

The pipeline is Enbridge’s largest project and one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world, carrying up to 915,000 barrels per day. Enbridge has over 50,000 miles of pipeline crossing throughout North America.

The project crosses the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Reservation and straight through Fond Du Lac Reservation ending in Superior, Wisconsin. The pipeline was approved by the Minnesota Utilities Commission last October, despite Indigenous and non-Indigenous water protectors shutting down the first meeting where it was set to be approved.

The water protectors called out incoming Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to stop the project. They have been invoking 1842, 1854 and 1855 treaties signed with the US government, which ceded landed to the US in exchange for unlimited access to fishing, hunting and wild rice.

These rights were upheld by the courts in the Voigt decision in 1983. The threat of an inevitable oil spill would damage the water and wild rice lakes violating these rights.

Like the struggle in Wet’suwet’em there is a split between the grassroots efforts of Indigenous people and some of the elected governments. The Fond Du Lac Ojibwe agreed to the changes of the route of the pipeline in August 2018 with some reservations. They have since filed a lawsuit against it.

This shows the debates within Indigenous communities. There are currently seven lawsuits against the pipeline. Oddly enough, the state of Minnesota and outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton joined tribal governments in suing themselves over the pipeline. This is testament to the strength of the Stop Line 3 movement.

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Activists have already protested throughout the planned project and specifically in Duluth (across the river from Superior). In anticipation of more and more resistance as the project moves forward, the Duluth City Council in October approved the purchase of $84,000 in riot gear to handle demonstrations.

In a speech at a rally, Winona LaDuke, vice presidential candidate for the Green Party in 1996 and 2000, and a member of the Ojibwe White Earth Nation and founder of the organization Honor the Earth, said, “Minnesota and Enbridge asked us if this was going to be like Standing Rock and they have gotten their Standing Rock…It is time to come to Minnesota to protect the water.”

If the pipeline is successful, it could create greater urgency for Enbridge to rebuild more pipelines to carry tar sands through Wisconsin to Chicago.

The resistance has developed a multiracial coalition of small farmers, non-Indigenous environmentalists and the Ojibwe people. It’s been made perfectly clear that if all efforts to challenge the pipeline in the legal system fail, resistance on the ground could culminate in a struggle like Standing Rock, with Wet’suwet’en becoming the epicenter of the movement.

These fights might be in different countries — both of which were founded on stolen Indigenous land — but their struggle is the same against two big powerhouse companies, TransCanada and Enbridge, that profit off ravaging the earth.

Native struggles against pipelines that invoke Indigenous land rights are a lynchpin in fighting the extractive industry. Pipelines and extraction are the new faces of the same problem of settler-colonialism and capitalist expansion.

Building a multiracial solidarity-based grassroots movement with the social power of Indigenous peoples and workers will be the only way we can win a Green New Deal.