The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has brought new attention to the long history of exploitation and ongoing threats that Indigenous peoples and their lands face from many quarters, including dirty energy corporations. But this historic effort also shows the power of solidarity in fighting corporate giants – a lesson that can help us all.
For years, Indigenous communities have been crucial partners for Food & Water Watch as we fight together against corporate control and abuse of our vital resources. The Onondaga Nation was on the front lines in winning New York’s 2014 fracking ban. Right now in Oregon, we’re working with the Columbia River fishing tribes to stop Nestlé from bottling and commodifying our water. An Indigenous contingent, including members of the Ramapough Lenape tribe, helped lead the March for a Clean Energy Revolution in Philadelphia this July.
This September, I had the privilege of representing Food & Water Watch at the Ancient Voices Forum to explore how we could strengthen such essential alliances with indigenous communities.
This three-day event was held by the American Indian Institute, a Montana-based organization with a mission to promote greater understanding of the ancient wisdom of Native peoples. As an organizer with Food & Water Watch, my work is all about building relationships, so I attended the forum to learn how we could be better allies with Indigenous communities. I gained a better understanding of the unique and powerful histories, shared values, and cultures that have sustained Native peoples in the face of centuries of oppression.
The event was held at Six Nations, Haudenosaunee territory surrounded by Ontario, Canada, and about 60 people attended from across North America. Each morning began with a sunrise ceremony around a fire, standing together with an Indigenous leader offering prayers of thanks to the sun and the natural world. Then we began a day of intense discussion and sharing.
One theme throughout the forum was the imperative of preservation – of language, culture, self-governance – and resisting “colonization of the mind” in the face of outside forces that endanger the existence of Indigenous peoples. Informing this threat was a deeply felt awareness of the impact of historical injustices – broken treaties being foremost among them – and how they continue to impact the daily existence of Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada.
What struck me most was the powerful connection with the Earth, an inspiring sense of unity with the world and valuing of relationships with all living creatures and the natural forces that sustain us. In fact, the first treaty between Indigenous peoples and European settlers, the Two Row Treaty of 1613 between the Iroquois Nations and the Dutch, recognized the shared River of Life and our responsibility to be good stewards of it. Respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, and respecting the treaties, is an important part of the work that needs to be done to protect our planet.
At the forum’s closing, I left tired but inspired, better informed and eager to learn more, bolstered by the recognition that our movements are stronger when we all come together. It gave me hope that we can build bonds of respect, trust and mutuality across communities that will enable us to create the future we deserve.