by VERONICA A. CLARK
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline was vetoed by President Obama on Nov. 6. Protests likely influenced President Obama’s decision, according to Bineshi Albert, board member of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Indigenous liberal studies major at IAIA. This would mean that protesters and activists have the power to protect their rights and their land, she said.
The Keystone XL pipeline was a proposed project which was to be a 1,179-mile extension to the Keystone pipeline completed in 2010, which carries tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
The Keystone XL pipeline protests have been ongoing for seven years in many different states, including Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where the proposed pipeline would cut through. One of the largest protests was held outside of the White House on Nov. 6, 2011.
Uniting to Protect the Environment
“I absolutely think the protests had an impact on that,” Albert said. “And not just that it was one protest, but it was really hundreds and hundreds of them.”
Albert is Yuchi and Chippewa and is one of the founding board members of IEN. She comes from a family of activists.
“My dad is still in Oklahoma and is actually one of the folks who has been active for fighting [against] the pipeline coming through Oklahoma,” she said. The biggest reason for resistance to the pipeline is that it would put the water sources of all states involved in danger of oil spills.
Another reason is the impact that extracting and burning more fossil fuels would have on climate change. Protests to the pipeline were put together by many different environmental organizations including Sierra Club, 350.org, and IEN.
Networking Helps Connect the Dots on Climate Change
IEN is a global network that started in 1990 by grassroots Indigenous people to address environmental issues and how they relate to Indigenous communities.
IEN provides the opportunity for tribal communities to discuss environmental issues they have been dealing with locally, and to network with other tribal communities in the country.
When people are given the space to have these discussions on a larger scale by networking, they are able to connect the dots to how changes they are seeing in their local communities””such as changes in seasons, and shortages of plants and animals””are related to larger issues often caused by corporations such as fossil fuel corporations, Albert said.
“Then they know, oh, it’s not just us fighting them in Oklahoma, but it’s the same corporation,” Albert said. These corporations include TransCanada””the main face behind the Keystone pipeline.
Large corporations often influence political decisions with payouts.
“On one hand, there’s the president and he can decide [what bills are passed or vetoed],” she said. “But people can’t make those decisions without somebody helping them make those decisions. For the most part that usually happens by a lot of large corporate interest.”
When decisions are made that are often detrimental to Indian communities, it is often due to the influence of corporations, Albert said.
Today, Not Tomorrow
What makes actions like the veto of the pipeline so important for our environment is that it is a step in the right direction.
Leaving some fossil fuels in the ground means less fossil fuels will be burned, which means less carbon emissions. A reduction in carbon emissions will inherently slow the rate of climate change, according to a Nov. 6 article on msnbc.com.
Albert said it is important that people adopt a new perspective on climate change. People tend to think of it as something that should be worried about in the future, and they fail to see the immediacy of climate change, she said.
Albert was in Alaska a month ago. Entire villages that people of Alaska have called their homes for thousands of years are literally sliding into the ocean, she said. For many Native people of Alaska, this means that they must relocate.
But it isn’t that easy, she pointed out. Relocation becomes a multi-dimensional issue involving space and Native Alaskans’ relationship with the government.
“Where will they relocate to?” Albert said. Changes in tribal communities related to climate change also include changes in growing seasons, ultimately leading to changes in times of ceremonies.
Climate Change = Culture Change
Albert says on her Yuchi side she has seen many issues related to the growing seasons of corn.
“We’re a people whose faith and culture is based on corn and the seasons and cycles of growing season of corn. So when there’s changes to growing season, it has an impact on when ceremonies happen, how those ceremonies happen.”
She also explained that medicines have become scarcer and harder to find. Items used for dances, such as turtle shells, have also become scarcer.
The Yuchi people, according to Albert, have had to make substitutions. They now have been making these shells from tin cans instead of turtle shells. Due to lack of resources, people are experiencing cultural changes.
“It changes the sound of the music, it changes the rhythm of the songs,” she said
The Science Behind It
Scientists working for NASA have been using satellites to determine the rate of climate change and how much humans have contributed to it with carbon emissions.
The climate of the earth naturally changes through time, and has been for as long as the earth has existed. However, the changes in climate we are seeing now are drastically more rapid than they ever have been. These changes can be seen on the NASA website.
Carbon emissions aren’t the only human-caused factor relating to climate change.
Because climate change happens naturally through the shifting of tectonic plates, human actions such as fracking, mining, and other procedures that disrupt the natural shift of tectonic plates have contributed to the rapid change of climate as well.
“We broke it, we got to fix it,” Albert said.
(Featured Photo: An estimated crowd of 35-50,000 gathers near the Washington Monument on Feb 17, 2013 to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and support action on climate change. Photo by jmcdaid.)