Dallas Goldtooth, a veteran organizer of the Keystone XL fight, is amazed at the historic support from tribes at Standing Rock–even tribes that rely on resource extraction.
This fight right now, it’s about the water. And because the messaging is that water is life, so many people can connect with that. Whether you’re native or non-Native, whether you’re from Chicago or Detroit or New Orleans or up in the Bakken, we all understand the importance of protecting the water. That brings us together.
van Gelder: How many different tribal governments have come here to take an official stand?
Goldtooth: One hundred eighty-nine have had resolutions or statements of solidarity with Standing Rock. That’s amazing, historic. The crazy part is a lot of tribes that are heavily dependent on resource extraction have also come out in support. Three Affiliated Tribes—30 percent of the Bakken oil shale is under their lands and they participate in. The Navajo Nation, who is heavily dependent on coal. The Crow Nation, which is all coal. All sent statements of solidarity and actually brought their presidents to this camp. It’s fascinating. It opens up a door for so more organizing to say, “Hey, you’re standing in solidarity with Standing Rock on this issue, can you stand in solidarity to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because that’s what really promotes projects like this.”
van Gelder: These issues around the destruction of the planet and the climate crisis affect everybody, and yet it’s Native people who have really been at the forefront of getting stuff done.
How do you think about that?
Goldtooth: The “Keep It in the Ground” narrative is nothing new for indigenous peoples. The language “keep it in the ground” we first encountered over 15 years ago from relatives in the Global South—in Central and South America—and relatives up in northern Alberta in Canada, who were saying: The only solution forward is to keep it in the ground; regulation is not going to work; a more sustainable method of extraction is not going to work. We indigenous people have been saying keep fossil fuels in the ground from the get-go. Although it has been frustrating to see the climate movement overall be slow to adopt that, it’s also amazing and welcome now.
It is indigenous people who are often – though not all the time –on the frontlines of climate change. It is oftentimes indigenous people, poor people, forest-dependent nations, water-dependent nations—they’re the first ones to feel the rapid sea-level rise. Those communities, those nations are still dependent on subsistence lifestyles; they’re living off the land. Our relatives in the Arctic are feeling it, their entire livelihoods. Even if they wanted to have absolutely traditional food diets, they can no longer do that because the animals’ life patterns are completely altered.
So we at the Indigenous Environmental Network stand in strong defense and support of those communities’ rights to self-determine what happens to the lands, water, to the world around them. And not only are the frontlines the source of the fight, but that’s where the solutions are going to come from.
van Gelder: Say more about those solutions?
Goldtooth: The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, localized and sustainable. That’s the path forward that we have to take. The process to achieve that is all housed under the concepts of a just transition: We have to be mindful that even if we transition to 100 percent renewables, it doesn’t necessarily mean that society is just, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that poor communities will have access to basic needs. When we talk about this transition, we have to make sure it’s in line with the principles of social justice and environmental justice.