Amy's Blog: Day 3 includes Videos of the Environmental Justice panel with Winona LaDuke & some Salish Kootenai Poetry

By Amy Ray

My friend, Spider McKnight in Missoula reminded me tonight of a word I want to keep in mind - reciprocity. We owe it to the earth, to ourselves, and to Native communities to do the work to support and to heal the eco-system and the human family. These Honor The Earth tours humble me. We have fed ourselves and grown drunk with consumption, in our fossil fuel economy at the expense of our Indigenous neighbors. Yet, it is our Indigenous environmental activist neighbors who are the visionaries for a new energy economy and who bring a righteousness to these battles that we often turned away from. I see the intellect, the creativity, the organizing, and the sheer will of the groups Honor works to support, and I am heartened and compelled to join the good fight.

Let me just say, it starts with something so easy, we just don’t believe it could make a difference - conservation. Conservation is the beginning and it’s something we can all start doing today. Educate yourselves on where your energy comes from and at whose expense. Grow some of your own food. Shop less. Drive less. Give money and support to the folks out there developing renewables. Find a way to use clean energy. Fight bad energy projects.

Day 3 of this tour was all about environmental justice. We attended a panel discussion at the Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Indian Reservation. We heard from an ever-present HTE ally, Native Action about the continued fight against coal development in the Northern Cheyenne territory. The Cultural preservation officer for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes reminded us of the importance of maintaining and nurturing the traditional practices of their tribes and how it intersects with environmentalism. The head of the tribes’ Natural Resource Department, Rich Janssen brought to light the impressive way they protect their environment and the high standards they maintain in resource management. The Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes could teach our federal government a lot.

The highlight of the panel was a talk by Eriel Deranger of the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation of Northern Alberta about the Tar Sands Oil development in Alberta, Canada.

Here’s a few facts I just can’t resist listing for you:

  • Tar sands (also called oil sands) oil is mined from beneath the boreal forest in Cree, Métis and Dené First Nations territory (Canada), with development planned for an area the size of California’s Mojave Desert (66,000km) making it the largest and most destructive project on the planet.
  • Tar sands oil production pollutes water, requires immense amounts of energy and is 3 to 5 times more carbon intensive than conventional oil.
  • Most oil from the tar sands is sent to the US. A massive web of pipelines to ship the oil are being constructed now, including the Keystone XL pipeline which would cross Montana.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline, which is still in the permitting process, brings with it worry of oil spills, health impacts, land and water contamination and loss in property values on a local level in addition to devastating mining impacts.
  • Tar sands development is an environmental justice issue for Native communities in Canada who are at ground zero, and in the US with pipelines crossing or being sited close to reservations and potentially damaging several tribes’ off-reservation cultural sites.

After the panel, Emily headed out to see the Kerr Dam and I joined Winona for an interview on KSKC public television. Kerr Dam is another chapter in the book of exploitation of tribal resources by white people. The good news on this front is that the Salish Kootenai Tribes are getting the right to manage the Kerr Dam in 2014.


Emily took the photo above and shot some good footage of Teresa Wall-McDonald speaking about the history of the dam and the tribe. We also watched a really solid documentary called Falling Waters. We ate dinner in Polson, MT and listened to a poetry reading by Salish poets Victor and April Charlo. April accompanied her Dad by reading a translation of the poems in their native language. It was the perfect ending for the day.

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