Speakers see parallels between destruction by energy companies in our region to environmental degradation, erosion of protections for people around the world
By Miriam Raftery
January 31, 2013 (San Diego) – Idle No More, a movement for the rights of indigenous people and environmental protections that began in Canada, has spread around the world and has now taken root here in San Diego. Earlier this month, members of local Native American tribes met convened at a forum sponsored by Activist San Diego to share their concerns and invite all people to join the movement.
“We must stand up to unite, to respect the Mother Earth,” Dennis Alto, a Viejas tribal member, said. “We are not just addressing the red nations; we are addressing all people.”
The Idle No More movement arose in Canada as a protest against the Canadian Government passing bills which enabled the government to control lands reserved for native people and reduce environmental protections for lakes and rivers. Tar sands, pollution from mining and other sources are polluting the waters and the lands. Tribal members draw parallels to what is happening in the U.S., where mining, dams, and now large-scale wind and solar projects are ravaging the environment , destroying cultural resources and the way of life for many indigenous Americans.
Theresa Spence, Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, staged a hunger strike that started on December 11, 2012. Her courage swiftly became a symbol of resistance to indigenous people around the world. Demonstrations occurred in Europe, Australia, and Africa. Across the U.S., some demonstrations drew thousands of participants. In San Diego, a group of about 75 to 100 Native Americans prayed, danced and beat drums in downtown San Diego to draw attention to the cause.
Spence ended her hunger strike in late January, when Canada’s Assembly of First Nations and two leading political parties (Liberals and NDP) signed a 12-point action plan to continue the fight for First Nation’s rights in Canada. Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s party, the Conservative Party currently in power, refused to sign, however. Celebrating after release from the hospital, Chief Spence observed, “We’re here for our people, especially the youth.”
At the Activist San Diego meeting, Steven Newcomb, a Shawnee Lenape tribal member, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, Newcomb is an international expert on Christian discovery and Indian sovereignty.
Newcomb explained that the problem dates back to the Old Testament Biblical commandment for believers to “replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Christians took that as a mandate to conquer and enslave all non-Christians.
The Vatican ordered conquistadors to rob “heathens” of possessions and enslave them. The British Brown issued similar edicts to explorers conquering the New World, as did the Canadian government which also subscribes to the rights of discovery doctrine.
“My grandfather was forced into Indian schools,” said Newcomb, adding that the purpose of such schools was to indoctrinate Native Americans into white man’s ways, “to kill the Indian and save the man.”
He adds, “The question I have for original nations and peoples is this: by what standard of judgment are these claims based on domination in any way legitimate? We as Indian people have not been effective at going to the heart and root of what has been done.”
In sharp contrast to the doctrine of domination deployed by conquerors, in indigenous societies, the norm is “respectful living,” Newcomb said.
Floyd Morrow, a former Democratic Party chairman in San Diego County, gave a poignant personal example of the harm done to Native Americans after tribes were forced onto reservations by the U.S. government. He revealed that at age three, he was given up for adoption, along with his brother, to a white family because his Cherokee parents were too poor to feed the children during the depths of the Depression in the 1930s.
Carlos Pelayo, executive director of the Peace and Dignity Project, spoke on efforts to connect Indian rights to labor rights. He told of the desecration of burial grounds and sacred sites handed off to energy companies by the U.S. Bureau of land management and of the degradation caused by fracking and of perils elsewhere. Kumeyaay people in Mexico along our border region are among those negatively impacted by the actions of powerful corporations.
He also denounced the pollution of the Colorado River waters around which the Cocopah Indians lives resolved.
“Some recall rivers so wide that you could not see the other side,” he told those present, adding that he recalls seeing ducks and hunting along the river in the 1960s. “They sucked it dry by the Colorado River, building two dams,” he said. “Before the tribes had whitewater and wildlife.” Farther north, mining has contaminated waters that the tribal members drink and where fish were caught. Most recently large-scale solar projects “destroy our sites on the River,” Pelayo said.
Locally, he told of his sadness at driving to Ocotillo and seeing towering wind turbines on land considered sacred by local tribes. He noted that even among Indian nations, there is division on some development issues; profits from casinos have had a negative influence and some; wind farms have led others to “find the bodies of birds and hide them at wind developments.”
“Indigenous people, we’re everywhere, but we’re treated like animals,” Pelayo observed. “We’ve had over 500 years of western domination.”
He also delivered a powerful message to non-Native people now facing corporate domination, such as those victimized by Sunrise Powerlink and battling massive energy projects in our region. Another example is a spa trying to build in Ramona on a site filled with Indian grinding stones.
“If they can get away with doing it to our people, and they have, now they are doing it to you all. Our Mother Earth is being destroyed,” he said, citing fracking, mining, and San Onofre has additional examples. “Unless you come from another planet, you’re all indigenous people, just from other places.” He called for respect among all people.
The problem is global, he observed. “People in mines are dying daily in Africa for a little bit of lithium for your phones.” Poor people forced to leave their land and work in garment factory recently perished in a fire while making clothes for westerners at slave wages.
“Idle no more means that’s it—we won’t be silent no more,” he declared. “We have nothing left for the seventh generation,” referring to a Native American cultural tradition to plan wisely seven generations ahead.
He added, “WE can bring Idle No More home to our struggles here in the environmental movement.” He denounced “green energy mania” fueled by “graft out there and a deadline to spend it,” an apparent reference to renewable energy tax credits. “Wake up and be idle no more!”
Rudy Reyes, an archaeologist and member of the Barona band of Kumeyaay Indians, said efforts to build a gas-fired power plant near Mission Trails Regional Park is another example of what the Idle No More movement seeks to stop. Reyes is an intervener in the case. “They’re trying to break environmental laws set up to protect us….destroying our own land,’ he said.
He urged people to run for office. He added, “We have to become peace warriors…we have to make sure this does not happen to Mother Earth…The powers that be, the money, is what we are all fighting.”
Viejas’ Dennis Alto observed that Idle No More is really about standing up for principles and for reclaiming what has been lost generations ago—customs and beliefs. “We have come together today because Mother Earth is being depleted Our main water supply is being depleted. This day was prophesized, this day is here.” He sees damage to the earth, the ozone and our atmosphere as red flags, and seeks direction to unite and help the next generation.
He praised leaders like Chief Spence and women who backed her efforts. “Our women’s nations are standing up. Where are the warriors?” he asked. “We have to follow our women nations…for they are the givers of life…This whirlwind brought us to disparaging of our mind, our spirits and our soul.”
He echoed Reyes’ call for people to “stand up and fight, to become spiritual warriors.” Alto asked for the Great Spirit to “give us that inner strength as he did generations ago…We are old and we are great and we are asking, where do we start? Listien with your spirit, your spirit will tell you.”
Idle No More has come from Canada to here, he said. “Traditional people have been making a stand.” He predicted that voices will join together across the lands “and we will all become one.” He ended with a prayer, imploring, “Great Spirit, Creator….unite each other as one, to respect each other as one.”
Martin Eder, head of Activist San Diego, noted that indigenous people around the world are taking the lead at environmental conferences. Martin also later observed that “the local and bi-national environmental movements need to be linked with the indenous movements here in the same way that is occurring in Canada.”
He resolved, “We need to keep the torch going of Idle No More.”