Lakotas Launch Hunger Strike against Tar Sands Pipelines
Used with permission of NRDC—Switchboard
In the Dakotas, members of the proud Lakota Nation rose in protest this week to join a 48-hour hunger strike in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline—and all tar sands pipelines—they say will destroy precious water resources and ancestral lands in the U.S and in Canada.
On Sunday, dozens of hunger strikers and supporters marched at a rally against tar sands oil mining operations and pipelines in Eagle Butte, S.D., an impoverished community on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, close to TransCanada’s 1,700 mile proposed Keystone XL pipeline route to refineries in the Gulf.
Lakota tribal members and their children drove to a camp in the rugged hills near the Missouri River to fast in solidarity with a hunger strike at the Bella Bella Community School in British Columbia. Children at the school are protesting a plan to ship millions of barrels of oil through a potentially dangerous “Northern Gateway” pipeline that would pipe corrosive tar sands oil from Alberta to giant super tankers navigating Canada’s treacherous Pacific coast.
Tar sands oil protesters in Eagle Butte, S.D. Photos: Rocky Kistner/NRDC
The massive environmental devastation caused by tar sands mining in Canada and oil company plans to ship it through the U.S. has united Native Americans against proposals to build tar sands pipelines here in the U.S. Here's how veteran Lakota activist Debra White Plume described it at hunger strike near Eagle Butte:
"This pipeline is about rich people getting richer, this pipeline is about raping Mother Earth and feeding the machine. For us this pipeline is genocide for us and the First Nations people in Canada. I think our native nations will stay opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline and stay opposed to other pipelines that come through here because we understand that water is a gift from our Grandfather, it’s a gift of life. Our leaders understand that and they’re not going to make a deal. It’s a battle for our water, it’s a battle for our children. These are our grandchildren at the hunger strike, we’re really proud of them for going hungry for Mother Earth and for their elders who are doing this.”
Karen Ducheneaux, who lives on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, came up with the hunger strike idea after seeing a powerful video protesting tar sands oil by the children of the Bella Bella Community School in Canada. After talking to her family members and tribal leaders, Ducheneaux decided it was time to act in solidarity with the First Nation peoples of Canada.
“What they’re facing doesn’t just affect them, doesn’t just affect the west coast of Canada or Alberta where the tar sands are. It doesn’t just affect people along the where the pipelines are, it affects the whole world. What they’re doing, poisoning the water and polluting the earth affects all mankind, not just the Lakota or people of South Dakota, but everyone....I'm so proud of the group of school children in Bella Bella and so proud to be able to support them....we can’t drink oil, we’re going to destroy our own ground water and our own ecosystem and then we’re going to be stuck with nothing.”
Debra White Plume (top), Karen Duchenaux and the Lakota hunger strike camp Photos: Rocky Kistner/NRDC
So on an unusually hot April 1st in the Dakotas, a few dozen hunger-strikers and supporters gathered on family-owned land nestled in the rumpled hills near the Missouri River, land that has been a source of life and nourishment long before settlers invaded their Lakota Sioux territories more than a century ago. Lakota supporters built a sweat lodge and elders sang songs and prayers in support of hunger strikers in Canada over a thousand miles away. They were there to support and protect Mother Earth, a powerful Lakota tradition passed down through the generations, long before oil and mining companies came and polluted their land.
It is a tradition these hunger strikers say they will fight for until there are no Lakota left, a struggle we all should respect and support.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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