First Nations on the Front Lines
Nowhere has the scramble to tap the continent's new sources of dirty energy been as devastating as in indigenous communities. From Alaska to Alberta's tar sands to the coastal waters of British Columbia and down into the heartland of the United States, native-led activism has emerged as one of the most potent and organized forces opposing the petrochemical industry. "In the past, indigenous communities and environmental groups did not work so closely on these issues – however, it is inspiring to see this changing," says Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Lubicon Cree and Greenpeace organizer. "Our communities have no running water, and yet we see billions taken out in oil and gas revenues. So we have an urgency to speak out."
Last fall, as Canada's right-wing government launched attacks on environmental protections and First Nations sovereignty in an attempt to free up land and water coveted by corporations, four native women founded Idle No More, an Occupy-like movement that has sparked road and rail blockades, flash mobs, hunger strikes and a nearly 1,000-mile trek undertaken by a group of Cree youth from Quebec to the seat of government in Ottawa. Last month, an alliance of 10 tribes whose lands are slated to be veined by pipelines – including Keystone and the Northern Gateway – declared they would put their bodies on the line. "We have a responsibility to protect the land at all costs," says Shannon Houle of Idle No More.
In Alaska, a coalition known as Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) is mobilizing opposition to drilling in the treacherous Arctic waters that support their way of life. REDOIL brought concerns directly to Shell's shareholders at an annual meeting last year, and the group has participated in lawsuits challenging offshore leasing. "Is it worth it to lose 1,000 years of culture, clean air and clean water?" asks Faith Gemmill, REDOIL's executive director. "We don't want to make that trade-off. Shell's promises are empty."