Environment | Opinion

Alex Jacobs: Unlikely alliances advance agenda in Indian Country






Members of the Lummi Nation take a stand against a proposed coal export terminal in Washington. Photo from Sierra Club

Mohawk poet Alex Jacobs looks at the ways Native people are drawing support from some unlikely allies in their bid to protect their environment and way of life:
In the Pacific Northwest, Native nations are using their treaty rights to fight plans for coal and oil trains, because shipping and burning fossil fuels threatens their fisheries. NW Native Nations were opposed by fishing groups that protested Treaty Rights, but now some of them view the tribes as the only government that is willing to protect and restore critical fish habitat from harmful development and climate change. Local environmental groups are partnering with the Lummi Nation and the Quinault Nation to oppose plans for Bakken crude oil terminals that threaten salmon and shellfish harvesting. Washington tribes have joined with British Columbia First Nations to oppose oil pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands, as Columbia River Basin tribes try to block loads of equipment being shipped to Alberta.

Northern Cheyenne tribal members are leading a movement to stop the proposed Otter Creek coal mine in Montana, at the other end of the of the rail line from Washington state. They have been joined by white ranchers in the Tongue River Valley, just like they were in the 1970s when they used tribal environmental laws to slow down the first round of coal development.

Bad River Ojibwe in Wisconsin were joined by non-Native neighbors to fight iron ore mining, after white sportsmen who protested Obijwe treaty rights to spear fish discovered that these Native treaty rights could legally oppose the mining plans, eventually stopping the proposed Crandon copper-zinc mine.

The Black Hills Alliance halted uranium mining plans in the early 1980s, as Lakota tribal members and white ranchers joined to protect their groundwater; and since the uranium companies have returned in the 2010s, it has been reborn as the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. These alliances previously stopped a coal railroad and a Depleted Uranium munitions testing range.

Get the Story:
Alex Jacobs: Unlikely Alliance of Natives and Farmers, Cowboys and Indians (Indian Country Today 6/13)