Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Indigenous Peoples Educate, Inform & Warn at Largest Climate Change Demonstration in U.S. History

First Nation Delegates Deliver Letter to Senator Kerry in Advance of Visit from Canadian Environment Minister

More than 12,000 young people from all corners of the continent gathered in Washington, D.C. over the weekend to take part in today’s second Power Shift Conference.

The blizzard pounding the nation’s capitol apparently has not cooled the ardor of the young climate activists, who seek to change Washington’s "business as usual" attitude toward climate change and clean energy.

Various groups have scheduled more than 350 lobbying meetings with U.S. Congressmen and Senators and their staffs. An estimated 2,500 demonstrators organized by Capitol Climate Action, successfully blocked the five gates leading to the Capitol Power Plant.

Activists targeted the plant as a symbol of what is wrong with government because it burns coal and natural gas and is used to heat the Capitol’s buildings. No arrests were reported, and after four hours, the activists declared victory and raised the blockade.

Among the activists were Indigenous Peoples delegations sent by several Canadian First Nations and Native American tribes from Alaska and the "lower 48" states. One of the major purposes of the Indigenous delegations was to educate, inform and warn both the young climate activists and members of Congress about the catastrophic effects the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is having on their people and their environments.

Jessica Lee, in a post to the Indy Blog this morning reports:

"You have come here to have a voice about the environment. Our ancestors have been telling the government for 200 years to protect the environment," said Travis Brown, a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, to a room of more than 175 students who attended a workshop titled, "Decolonizing Our Minds: How Colonization Affects Us Today." Brown noted that native communities across the continent are being adversely impacted not only by mineral and fuel extraction companies, but now are also suffering the effects of climate change on the landscape and eco-systems. "Our people are at the risk of being exterminated."

"Representatives from several Arctic region indigenous communities explained about how the effects of climate change — which are more extreme at the earth’s poles — including melting sea ice, eroding shorelines, thawing tundra and changes to fish, seal, whale and caribou migrations are threatening their entire way of life."

And Mike, in a post to the Environmental Age Dot Com blog, also this morning, reports:

"A delegation of Indigenous youth from Alberta went to Senator Kerry’s office outlining the devastation that is tar sands and rallied with supporters today ahead of Canad’s Environmental Minister, Jim Prentice’s visit to Capitol Hill today and tomorrow.

"They hand delivered a . . . letter express[ing] concern that Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice will misrepresent the disastrous environmental and human rights record of the tar sands to US Congressional leaders."

Following is the letter.

March 2, 2009

Senator John Kerry
Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee
218 Russell Bldg.
Second Floor
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Kerry,

Please allow us to present you with a different perspective on Canada’s tar sands than you are likely to hear from Canadian Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice.

We came together this year at the Powershift gathering in Washington, DC, as members of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Lubicon Cree Nation to share our stories with 11,000 youth from across North America. We came with messages of destruction and devastation wrought by the tar sands in our communities, but also feelings of hope that together we can contribute to building a more sustainable world for our communities and future generations. These ideas of a greener sustainable world are familiar to us as an ancient First Nations way of life.

Dangerous toxic chemicals used in the extraction of tar sands are contaminating water systems stretching all the way to the arctic basin and adversely affecting communities along the way including Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Expansion of the tar sands is a direct attack on who we are as a people. Many First Nation peoples believe in the medicine wheel with four elements: earth, water, air and fire—three are polluted by these projects. Destroying these elements destroys who we are. The tar sands are killing us.

Beaver Lake Cree Nation is also being encroached upon by rapidly expanding tar sands infrastructure and development. Natural gas wells used to power oil production in the tar sands are almost literally in the community’s backyards. Pollution from these projects adversely affecting peoples’ health, way of life and violate established treaty rights. Animals are dying, disappearing, and being mutated by the poisons dumped into our river systems. If there is no fish, we cannot fish, if there is no more game, we cannot hunt. Our traditional lands and water houses our culture. They are one and the same. Once we have destroyed these fragile eco-systems we will have also destroyed our peoples and trampled our treaty rights.

Construction of the Transcanada North Central Corridor pipeline, set to cross through the traditional territory of Lubicon Lake First Nation without the consent of the community is an outright violation of human rights and inherent rights of the community as Indigenous peoples. With oil and logging already impacting this territory, expansion of oil infrastructure will continue to wreck havoc on the land and displace even more wildlife.

Our communities are looking for energy solutions that provide a healthy sustainable community for our future generations. The sustainable future for First Nations in Alberta, Canada and the United States of America alike, cannot be achieved by further exploiting one of the dirtiest, most energy intensive and destructive sources of oil on the planet. It's time we focus our efforts on building a clean sustainable future that puts our people to work in a safe, green energy economy.

Senator Kerry, we urge your leadership in the Congress to:

  • Respect and recognize established treaty rights during the Clean Energy Dialogue: These discussions will surely frame the future of energy in our countries. They will also determine the whether culturally significant and bio-diverse regions of our respective countries, as well as the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples that inhabit this turtle island, are preserved.

  • Focus the Clean Energy Dialogue on renewable energy and energy efficiency: The main focus of the dialogue should be on clean energy efforts and include wind, solar, and other renewable fuels and on transportation solutions such as electrified transportation and high speed rail.


Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree Nation
Gitz Crazyboy, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Myron Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree Nation

Minister Jim Prentice
Secretary Steven Chu
Secretary Kenneth Salazar
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley
News Sources:
Environment News Service, The Indypendent, The Environmental Age Dot Com

Image Source: Capitol Climate Action

Native Rights News is making this material from the news oganizations and blogs listed above available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.

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