The defense of water knows no borders, according to the Mayan Ancestral Authorities, the communal authorities and elders of Mayan towns across Guatemala. This reality has led the Mayan leaders to work in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux as they challenge the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The conflict in North Dakota between the Lakota Sioux and the company over the construction of the 3.6 billion dollar Dakota Access pipeline began in April 2016. The Sioux communities began their protest following the failure of the company to consult the tribe over the use of their tribal lands -- despite multiple requests by tribal leaders -- and a demand that the company preform an honest environmental impact report for the project.
On February 23, the National Guard and police raided the Oceti Sakowin camp, evicting the protesters. But despite the eviction, the example of Standing Rock continues to mobilize Indigenous activists across the world in defense of water. Thousands of supporters had traveled to the encampment to support the Sioux and their defense of water.
"When everybody showed up, including the clergymen of the world, I stood up on the bridge and I felt the meshing of all the religions, all the spirits, all the creators of all nations, and all the colors meshed as one people," Eddie P. Blackcloud Sr., a Sioux leader who was among the first to stand against the pipeline at Standing Rock, told Truthout. "This is more than just about Standing Rock; this is about the world."
The international support for the resistance will only strengthen as the United States Army has given the project the green light, despite the company's failure to consult the Indigenous populations impacted by the project's development.
Standing Rock and the struggle against Dakota Access pipeline have become the international example and rallying point for the defense of Indigenous territory. This resistance has brought Indigenous leaders together in solidarity from across the globe.
"Every community must arrive at its own means of struggle," Ana Lainez, an Ixil Maya spiritual guide and member of the Ixil Maya Ancestral Authorities told Truthout. "It is time for them to organize and move forward in the struggle."
Among those that traveled to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux were five representatives from the National Council of Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala. It was raining on October 12, 2016, when the representatives of Mayan political and spiritual leaders arrived at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux. The trip was organized by the International Mayan League, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
"We went primarily to stand in solidarity with the Sioux communities in resistance to the construction of the pipeline," Diego Cotiy of the Council of Indigenous Authorities of Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, told Truthout. "As members of the Ancestral Authorities of the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, we are working to strengthen the movements and resistance against transnational companies that are violating the collective rights of our peoples, as well as violating our rights to land without any collective authorization to do so."
The leaders arrived to share experiences and have an interchange between the elders, which also included the sharing of different ceremonial performances and practices.
"When we arrived, a member of the tribe stood up and offered to sing for us in his language," Lainez told Truthout. "We felt incredibly welcomed."
The Maya of Guatemala have a long history of struggle, which they shared with their brethren at Standing Rock. Since the end of Guatemala's 36-year-long internal armed conflict in 1996, the Maya communities of the highlands have resisted the increased threat of the dispossession of Indigenous communal lands by transnational capital for the expansion of mining interests, the generation of hydro energy, and the expansion of export agriculture.
"We told them that they are united in the struggle, and that they are not the first or the last to be attacked," Lainez explained to Truthout. "They are defending the river. It is [a] point of unification of many Indigenous peoples in the United States, and the world, because the water is calling us."
"Without water, even the rich leaders of the United States cannot survive," Cotiy told Truthout. "We must respect water, and where it comes from. It is a spring of life. Water is the blood of our mother earth."
Others who have traveled to Standing Rock could feel this connection as well. Pamela Bond, the Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Snohomish tribe, was present the nights of the visit by the Maya Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala, and pointed to the way in which the visitors brought the force of their own struggle to the NoDAPL camps.
"They all brought their songs and their prayers. It is like waiting for someone to come home, and to say, 'we support you,'" Bond explained to Truthout. "There are no English words [that] can describe the feeling of your spirit, and the knowledge that people are uniting for a cause, for our first mother."
A Lakota prophecy tells of a mythic Black Snake that will move underground and bring destruction to the Earth. The “seventh sign” in Hopi prophecy involves the ocean turning black and bringing death to many sea-dwelling creatures. It doesn't take an over-active imagination to make a connection between these images and oil pipelines and spills.
The industrialized food system, studies have shown, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, algal blooms, pesticide pollution, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name a few ecological troubles. Add to this a long list of social ills, from escalating rates of obesity to the demise of the family farmer and deadening of rural landscapes and rural economies across much of the U.S.
In 2010, the National Academies of Science updated its seminal 1989 publication “Alternative Agriculture” with a fresh look at the state of food and farming in America. Its expert panel concluded, “Growing awareness of unintended impacts associated with some agricultural production practices has led to heightened societal expectations for improved environmental, community, labor, and animal welfare standards in agriculture.”
Yet that growing awareness and those heightened expectations haven’t led to alternative agricultural systems becoming the norm in the U.S. Organic has made some headway, but many organic growers have been forced to imitate industrial farming: grow bigger, resort to monocultures instead of truly diversified fields, and sell to large supermarkets — forgoing many of the benefits alternative agricultural systems offer, such as natural pest control, pollination from native bees, and a smaller production scale conducive to family farmers and local food economies.
So, what gives industrialized agriculture such staying power despite its adverse impacts, even as alternatives offer such benefits? And how can more wholesome food production methods such as agroecology become conventional instead of alternative? To achieve real change in how food is produced and eaten, we need to change people’s expectations of what “normal” agriculture should look like.
Dominant approaches to rural development have proven unable to confront the structural challenges posed by a system where progress itself generates hunger and increasing environmental damage.
This article places its accent on the direct action of communities to organize themselves to satisfy their food and other basic needs and those of their regions with self-help strategies that could be applied in both rural and urban areas.
Three nights ago, 19.37 million television viewers watched the opening game of North American professional baseball’s so-called World Series pitting the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians (the latter team won 6-0). I made it through the second inning before I had to switch to radio out of disgust at the Indians’ jersey and ball-cap team logo – a wild grinning Native American caricature best understood as a modern-day Red Sambo. It’s bad enough that the Cleveland team retains (well into the 21st century) the name “the Indians.” First Nations people (the Canadian term) in the United States are more properly called Native or Indigenous Americans – not a name imposed on them by white conquerors who mistakenly thought they’d “discovered” “the Indes.”
But the logo is really beyond the pale. Imagine a team called “The Baltimore Blacks” or “The New Jersey Negroes,” with a ball-cap showing a racist caricature of a “Black Sambo.” Or imagine a German football (soccer) team named the “Buchenwald Semites” – or an Austrian team named the “Vienna Hebrews” – with a jersey bearing the crudely exaggerated caricature image of an old stereotypically hook-nosed Jewish man. That would be unthinkable in Holocaust-haunted Germany, of course.
Native Americans suffered their own Holocaust on the lands that were swallowed up as the United States. By some estimates more than 15 million First Nations people inhabited North America (most of them on land later seized as U.S. territory) before Columbus. Thanks to white-imposed disease, displacement, eco-cide, and murder, the number of “Indians” alive in the United States fell to less than 250,000 by 1890. But team names bearing images and/or names of Indigenous people who experienced genocide – the Washington Redskins (yes, “redskins,” which the Black comic Chris Rock once analogized to naming a team “The New York Niggers”), the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks (named after a famous Sauk Nation warrior whose tribe members were butchered en masse by Andrew Jackson’s U.S. Army), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Fighting Illini, the Florida State Seminoles, etc. – live on with impunity in the U.S.
Meanwhile, up in the northern Great Plains, predominantly white and heavily militarized local and state police are attacking the civil rights and bodies of Indigenous people fighting heroically to help humanity (including the mostly white folks watching the World Series) avert environmental catastrophe. The remarkable prayer, protest, and resistance camp set up by North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe is dedicated to blocking Energy Transfer Partner’s eco-cidal Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline is a “giant black snake” being laid to carry 470,000 barrels of hydraulically fractured (fracked) crude oil daily from the North Dakota Bakken oil field under and near the Missouri River (under twice), the Mississippi (under once), and numerous other streams, lakes, rivers, and aquifers.
This article first appeared in New Labor Forum. It has been updated to reflect the rising level of union opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
If anyone were looking for further evidence that the AFL-CIO remains unprepared to accept the science of climate change, and unwilling to join with the effort being made by all of the major labor federations of the world to address the crisis, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) provides only the most recent case in point. Taking direction from the newly minted North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the federation stood against the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal nations.
In a recent video interview, NABTU president Sean McGarvey dismissed those who oppose the expansion of fossil fuels infrastructure. “There is no way to satisfy them…no way for them to recognize that if we don’t want to lose our place in the world as the economic superpower, then we have to have this infrastructure and the ability to responsibly reap the benefits of what God has given this country in its natural resources.”[i] Although the leaders of NABTU no longer identify with the AFL-CIO and the letterhead does not mention the Federation, the Trades continue to determine the shape the AFL-CIO’s approach to energy and climate. This is despite the fact that a growing number of unions have opposed the DAPL, among them the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); SEIU 1199, and the United Electrical Workers. Union locals (branches or chapters) have also opposed the DAPL, among them, GEU UAW Local 6950 and Steelworkers Local 8751.
These unions have been joined by the Labor Coalition for Community Action, which represents well established AFL-CIO constituency groups like LCLAA, APALA, Pride at Work, CBTU, CLUW and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Reacting to the progressive unions’ solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux, NABTU’s president Sean McGarvey wrote a scathing letter to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, copies of which were sent to the principal officers of all of the Federation’s affiliated unions. In a fashion reminiscent of the Keystone XL fight, McGarvey disparaged the unions that opposed DAPL. A day later, on September 15th, the AFL-CIO issued its own already infamous statement supporting DAPL. “Trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved” said the statement. “The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”[ii]
The “Dakota Access” Pipeline (DAPL) is a $3.8 billion, 1,100 mile fracked-oil pipeline that is currently under construction running from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota to Peoria, Illinois. DAPL is slated to cross Lakota Treaty Territory at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where it would be laid underneath the Missouri River, the longest river on the continent.
Construction of the DAPL would impact many sites that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and numerous other indigenous nations. DAPL would also, engender a renewed fracking-frenzy in the Bakken shale region, as well as endanger a source of fresh water for the Standing Rock Sioux and 8 million people living downstream.
For the past six months, at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, history has been made at one of the largest international gatherings of indigenous people in recent history. Representatives from well over 100 indigenous nations and thousands of people have camped, prayed, and taken action in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on and near the tribe’s sovereign land in North Dakota.