International Allies Denounce Violence Against Women on Strike in Ecuador

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Indigenous groups from across Ecuador rose up last week in a General Strike to challenge proposed Constitutional amendments curtailing indigenous rights and allowing President Correa to stay in power indefinitely; the water law; expansion of the mining and fossil fuel concessions; and the government’s opposition to bilingual education, among many other concerns.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) began a “March for Life and Dignity” from Zamora Chinchipe province in the southeastern Amazonian region, arriving in the capital city of Quito on August 13, where the Indigenous march joined a general strike called by the Workers United Front in opposition to the government’s labor policies. More than 10,000 people rallied on the streets of Quito – facing violent police crackdowns and confrontations. Across the country, Indigenous peoples and allies continue to hold blockades and demonstrations.

In solidarity, we denounce the violence and brutality that strike participants are facing, and express urgent concern about attacks on women standing for the Earth and their communities.

In response to the women’s request for international human rights institutions to call on the Ecuadorian Government to cease aggressions against people participating in the strike, and in particular against women human rights and nature’s rights defenders, we are circulating the statement of the “Women of the Strike to the Ecuadorian People and the World” (in English and Spanish), which comes directly from women on the frontlines of the ongoing ‘levantamiento’.

Please join us in showing your solidarity with women on the frontlines in defense of Mother Earth by sending your name and organization (if you have one) to submissions.wecaninternational@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Women’ to add your support to this letter. Thank You!

In solidarity,

Leila Salazar-López, Amazon Watch

Osprey-Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, International (WECAN)


[ENGLISH] Women of the Strike to the Ecuadorian People and the World:
Quito, August 15, 2015

Taking into account the worrying events of violence caused by the Ecuadorian government against women human rights and nature’s rights defenders reported in the Provinces of Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Pastaza, Zamora and Morona Santiago, we condemn that:

Margoth Escobar, a 60 year-old woman, was violently beaten, dragged and detained by police and military agents. Subsequently, she was sentenced to pre-trial prison for 30 days where she had to fear for her safety. This was solely for having exercised her right to protest against fossil fuel extraction, and being an unconditional ally of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples. The events of which Margoth is a victim of are a perfect example of the criminalization of and systematic violence against human rights defenders in Ecuador.

Manuela Picq, a professor at the University of San Francisco of Quito (USFQ) and a respected and renowned Franco-Brazilian journalist and academic, was violently detained and ill-treated in custody by the police with her husband Carlos Pérez, President of the Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI). She is currently detained awaiting her deportation hearing after her visa was arbitrarily revoked. This government’s sexist cruelty finds its clearest manifestation in the aggressions against Manuela Picq for her participation in social movements and for being an indigenous leader’s wife.

In Cotacachi, there are several reports of indigenous women being savagely beaten by the police. Officers have deliberately hit women participating in the marches in their intimate body parts. .

These facts demonstrate how women fighting for women’s rights and indigenous peoples’ rights have being systematically attacked, persecuted, discredited and criminalized.
Taking into account the degree of violence against women during these events:

  • We strongly condemn the sexist and criminal brutality with which the Ecuadorian government has attacked and criminalized women who have participated in the demonstrations.
  • We call on all women of the country to show their solidarity with the women of the national strike.
  • We demand that women’s rights and their families are respected, that an investigation is carried out into these human rights violations, and that the people responsible are brought to justice.
  • We demand that international human rights institutions call on the Ecuadorian government to cease these aggressions against people participating in the strike and in particular against defenders of nature and women human rights defenders.

Nina Pacari
Katy Betancourt
Carmen Lozano
Ivonne Ramos
Omari Yeti
CatalinaChumpi
Patricia Gualinga
Blanca Chancosa
Zoila Castillo
Belén Páez
Nidia Arrobo
Ena Santi
Josefina Lema
Inés Cotacachi
Lilian Herrera
Esperanza Martínez
Paulina Muñoz
Ivonne Yánez
Gabriela Ruales
Antonella Calle

[SPANISH] Mujeres del Levantamiento Nacional al Pueblo Ecuatoriano y al Mundo

Quito, 15 de agosto de 2015

Considerando los preocupantes hechos reportados desde Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Pastaza, Zamora y Morona Santiago, de violencia contra las mujeres defensoras de los derechos humanos y de la naturaleza desatada desde el Estado denunciamos que:

Margoth Escobar, mujer de más de 60 años de edad, fue violentamente agredida, arrastrada y detenida por agentes de la policía y militares. Posteriormente, le fue dictada la prisión preventiva por 30 días y se teme por su integridad física, únicamente por haber ejercido su derecho a la protesta contra la explotación petrolera y el extractivismo, y ser aliada incondicional de los pueblos indígenas amazónicos. Los hechos que sobre Margoth han sobrevenido son el perfecto ejemplo de la sistemática violencia contra defensores y defensoras y de la criminalización imperante en el país.

Manuela Picq, profesora universitaria de la USFQ, respetada y reconocida periodista y académica franco-brasilera, fue violentamente detenida y maltratada en custodia por la policía junto a su pareja Carlos Pérez, Presidente de la ECUARUNARI. Actualmente se encuentra detenida esperando audiencia después de que su visa fue arbitraria y infundadamente revocada. La crueldad machista de este gobierno encuentra su manifestación más clara en las agresiones a Manuela Picq por su participación en los movimientos sociales y por ser esposa de un dirigente indígena.

En Cotocachi, se tiene reportes de varias mujeres indígenas que fueron golpeadas salvajemente por la policía. Usando el equipo de dotación, los agentes de policía deliberadamente golpearon a las mujeres presentes en la marchaen sus partes íntimas.

Estos hechos demuestran cómo las mujeres que luchan por los derechos de todas las mujeres y por los derechos de los pueblos indígenas han sido sistemáticamente agredidas, perseguidas, desprestigiadas y criminalizadas.

Por el alarmante grado de violencia contra las mujeres de estos hechos:

  • Condenamos de sobremanera la brutalidad machista y criminal con la que el Estado ha agredido y criminalizado a las mujeres que han participado en el paro y levantamiento.
  • Convocamos a todas las mujeres de este país a que se solidaricen con las mujeres de la marcha.
  • Exigimos que se respeten los derechos de las mujeres y de sus familias y se investigue y sancione a los y las responsables de estas clara afrentas a los derechos de las mujeres en esta jornada nacional.
  • Demandamos a las instancias internacionales de derechos humanos que exijan al Gobierno ecuatoriano el cese inmediato de las agresiones contra los y las participantes en el paro y contra las mujeres defensoras.

Nina Pacari
Katy Betancourt
Carmen Lozano
Ivonne Ramos
Omari Yeti
CatalinaChumpi
Patricia Gualinga
Blanca Chancosa
Zoila Castillo
Belén Páez
Nidia Arrobo
Ena Santi
Josefina Lema
Inés Cotacachi
Lilian Herrera
Esperanza Martínez
Paulina Muñoz
Ivonne Yánez
Gabriela Ruales
Antonella Calle

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Voices from the DR Congo: WECAN/SAFECO Workshop, Advocacy Update & Declaration

Training report by Neema Namadamu and Stany Nzabarinda, SAFECO

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On July 3, 2015 women and men from across South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo united in Bukavu for a workshop held as part of ongoing trainings and advocacy work led by the Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations, SAFECO) and the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International). The workshop was called to further efforts to protect and conserve the environment in South Kivu as a whole, and the regions’ Itombwe Rainforest in particular, and to respond to various recommendations and declarations put forth by local communities and Indigenous Peoples during previous trainings held in Mwenga Center and Itombwe.

Thirty-six participants attended the July workshop, including delegates from local communities, Indigenous Pygmies from Mwenga Center and the Itombwe savanna, and leaders from regional NGOs working in the domain of environmental protection – all brought together face-to-face to speak with provincial authorities.

Central goals of the workshop included creating a forum for exchange between diverse stakeholders, developing and strengthening regional understanding of women’s vital role as Earth guardians, and exploring and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the local communities living in and around forest areas.drcSpecific objectives included influencing South Kivu authorities to make just decisions and take steps to stop deforestation and protect the endangered plant species and ecosystems of Itombwe, strengthening compliance with national and international laws and instruments regarding climate and environment, and promoting Traditional Ecological Knowledge as the basis for regional environmental protection efforts.

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Neema Namadamu of SAFECO & WECAN International DRC opening the workshop

Neema Namadamu, SAFECO founder and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, and Mr. Stany Nzabarinda, program manager of SAFECO, presented opening remarks and an overview of WECAN DR Congo activities to support the protection of forests and the life-ways of Indigenous Pygmies in the Mwenga and Itombwe regions. They presented an outline of threats to the forest, solutions to decrease deforestation, and the initial declarations created by local communities in previous training sessions.

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Deforestation in the DRC

The workshop included guest presentations by a series of local leaders. Remy Riziki from the provincial Division of Environment spoke on national instruments/tools currently in place for environmental protection, including DR Congo’s Forestry Code and Law No. 14/003. Mr. Boniface Rukumbuzi from the NGO Human Dignity provided an in-depth overview of international laws, instruments, and principles for environmental protection, and highlighted the importance of international and transboundary collaboration in environmental protection. Mr. Serge Tendilonge of Africapacity Project of Rainforest Foundation Norway and Foundation Prince Albert II de Monaco presented on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the participation of local communities, emphasizing the right of use, the right of ownership, the right of enjoyment, and the right of consultation as central tenants in developing and carrying out environmental protection projects in the region.

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After three guest presentations, participants engaged in a general question and answer session and formed five working groups for conversation and debate. Working group questions and responses are presented below.

What are the daily activities that are destroying the environment (forest) in your area and what/who are the perpetrators and victims of that destruction?

Participants drew attention to mining, timber and charcoal production, brushfires, expansion of livestock area, chemical and slash and burn agriculture, and industrial and home waste in cities and large villages, and identified multinational corporations, local and national traders, and local populations themselves as perpetuators of this destruction. In discussing the victims most affected by environmental destruction, participants focused on women and children, small subsistence farmers and ranchers, and the diverse animal and plant life of the forest themselves.decorestDRC drc4

What are the negative consequences that communities are experiencing?

Participants highlighted the loss of traditional medicines sourced from the forest, an increase in poverty, a scarcity of rain tied to deforestation, and a lack of food, construction materials, and energy sources due to the degradation of forests that once sustained their communities.

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Who are the stakeholders in the protection of Environment and to what extent or level should they intervene?

Participants identified the DRC state as a central stakeholder responsible for using its institutions and services to protect the environment. They discussed the role of civil society and NGO organizations as advocates and connections between the local, national, and international, and emphasized local community responsibility to insure protection of the forests in their region and report any destruction of species and ecosystems.

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What is to be done so that these ecosystems and endangered species are protected?

Participants spoke to the need to organize many more climate, ecosystem, forest, and Indigenous and women’s rights awareness and education campaigns, using on-the-ground trainings and workshops such as WECAN has provided, as well as a wide range of communication medias to disperse these critical messages to a wider audience. They called for decisive action to push for accountability from local communities and government authorities, calling specifically for the provincial Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Land Affairs to take responsibility for the implementation of existing international and national laws. Finally, participants called for increased advocacy and education work to recognize the central role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as well as direct actions such a local tree plantings, which the WECAN programs have begun to initiate in partnership with SAFECO.drc2

As the workshop drew to a close, participants reviewed the recommendations and declarations made during previous WECAN trainings in Itombwe and Mwenga Center, added amendments, and finalized a document to be presented to the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development, and Land Affairs. A copy of the declaration is presented below.

We participants at the provincial workshop -organized by SAFECO (Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo) in partnership with WECAN International, held in Bukavu on July 3, 2015 – after learning the alarming deforestation of the Itombwe forest and destruction of natural ecosystems in general, and after realizing the silence of provincial authorities regarding the destruction of the Earth call for the following:

  1. Recognition of the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge of local communities and Indigenous Pygmies in the protection of environment and of the forest in particular;
  2. Government institutions and services in charge of environment and local authorities must stop timber exploitation licenses for the following plant species under threat of extinction, which are very useful for local communities and Indigenous Pygmy people and in general stop timber harvesting of intact forests: Musela (Uapaca kirkiana), Mbilombilo/Mbobolo (Khaya anthotheca), Kataguwetugwe/Muhumbahumba (Prunus africana),Muvula (Milicia excelsa), Masuku (Canarium schweinfurthii), Kumba/Kiba Kuba (Beilschmedia oblongifolia), Mukungu/Nkungu (Albizia gummifera), Musebu (Lebrunia bushaie), Lukundu (Pitadeniastrum africanum), Mutudu (Ficus exasperata), Licheche (Ocotea milchelsonii), Sirita (Ekebergia rueppeliana), Kibanje (Tetrapleura tetreptera), Libuyu (Entandrophragma excelsum).

Recommendations:

  • The Provincial Minister in charge of Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development, and Land Affairs should initiate and sign a decree banning the logging of the above mentioned tree species under threat of extinction in the Province of South Kivu;
  • SAFECO and WECAN should keep advocating until the decree is signed and recommendations are heard by decision makers of South Kivu province;
  • South Kivu population must own the results of this workshop and understand that environmental and forest protection is the responsibility of everyone,
  • Provincial government, WECAN and SAFECO should help to achieve the following:
    • Enforce the implementation of laws against forest fire, brushfire, and deforestation;
    • Provide plant seeds to local people and local organizations involved in tree planting;
    • Conduct awareness campaigns concerning tree planting and use of Improved Cooking Stoves in all villages;
    • Help local communities to get cheaper solar panels and lamps for light at night in order to reduce fuel wood consumption;
    • Extend environmental education to people of all ages including children at schools;
    • Defend and implement Indigenous Rights;
    • Denounce and stop all deforestation efforts

‘Rights of Nature: Protecting & Defending the Places We Live’ Training Resources

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On July 28, 2015 the U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative presented the final session in a series of free, online advocacy and education trainings. ‘Rights of Nature & Community Rights: Protecting & Defending the Places We Live’ featured climate women leaders Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights and Osprey Orielle Lake of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network.

During the training Shannon and Osprey provided a background on Rights of Nature and the importance of a legal framework that honors Earths living systems rather than treating them as property. They described how Rights of Nature can be used to take immediate, concrete steps to protect our communities and the planet– and also as a tool for furthering deep, long-term shifts in culture, law, policy, and our relationship with the Earth. They shared techniques for asserting community rights and Rights of Nature over supposed corporate ‘rights’, power, and profit, and told stories about communities across the US and the world who are already using local Rights of Nature ordinances to take back their ability to protect the Earth and make decisions about the places they call home.

A collection of resources presented during the training is provided below.

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Reflecting on the Clean Power Plan: Justice, Next Steps, and the Road to Paris

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On Monday August 3, U.S President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency released their long anticipated Clean Power Plan. The plan requires U.S. power plants to reduce emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, and calls for tailored state-by-state action to achieve these target. It is the first-ever federal plan to limit carbon pollution and emissions from power plants, and is being heralded as the most serious action on climate change from any US president.

Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, issued the following statement in response to the final plan:


We thank President Obama for the forward step taken in the release of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which comes at a critical time for both the U.S. and the entire international community. The U.S. is one of the largest polluters on the planet, and our inaction on climate change has consistently held back global progress in addressing this crisis. We hope that the CPP will send signals and open the doors to stronger emissions reductions and international cooperation at the upcoming COP21 climate negotiations.

It is important that the CPP recognizes the immediate nature of climate change, the historic responsibility of the U.S., and our duty to future generations. The plan touches on the need for a truly just transition, including provisions that encourage states to focus renewable energy investment in low-income communities and communities of color, which continue to bear the brunt of climate impacts and toxic industrial pollution. Critically, the plan mandates that states must demonstrate how they are including these communities in the implementation process, and encourages green job training and support for people currently working in polluting industries.

That said, the Clean Power Plan has serious shortcomings and while historic, it is clear that the rule is inadequate given the science of global warming. Limiting power plant emissions is an important step, but if we are to avert catastrophic climate tipping points the CPP must be followed with bold action to end all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, more ambitiously encourage 100% renewable energy, and quickly move to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. As the plan’s continued reliance on false solutions such as fracked natural gas, nuclear energy, and cap-and-trade schemes reveals, we cannot merely make changes to our existing energy system, we must boldly uproot and reshape it.

The real work will now fall to communities who will need to be organized and engaged to insure that the CPP is not blocked before it is given a chance, and that state-by-state implementation is done in a just manner. Social movements must be on the frontlines to demand that our states choose local renewable energy solutions instead of pursuing the natural gas and market mechanism loopholes left in the CPP. And we must demand that the administration goes further by stopping all fracking, preventing Arctic drilling, and rejecting tar sands pipelines, while gearing up for a massive just transition to 100% renewable energy.

Read more about the Clean Power Plan:

Resistance & Solutions: Women on the Frontlines Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

On July 8 2015, the US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative presented the third in a series of online education and advocacy trainings. ‘Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change: Resistance & Solutions’ featured Kandi Mossett, Casey Camp-Horniek, Jacqui Patterson, and Pennie Opal Plant, four powerful women leaders at the forefront of movements for social and ecologic justice in their communities across the United States.

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Osprey Orielle Lake, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, opened the call with a warm welcome and brief background on key WECAN International principles, including dedication to women’s stories and solutions, and work within a climate justice framework centered on those who experience climate impacts “first and worst”.

“We need to examine the root causes of climate change and carry out deep systemic analysis around racism, sexism, and our economy of consumption as we seek to understand and address the planetary crisis we face,” Osprey reflected.

She described the US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative as one of the ways that WECAN International is seeking to examine these root causes and uplift women’s solutions. We are “weaving together different stories, sectors, struggles and conversations,” and addressing differing needs and privileges across diverse groups of US women, Osprey explained. With a word of thanks, she passed the floor to the first training speaker, Kandi Mossett.

Kandi

“Hello relatives my name is Eagle Woman,” she began, speaking in the language of her people.

Kandi is of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara heritage, and was born and raised in an area known today as the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She serves as the Native Energy & Climate Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Click here to read more about Kandi’s work on the WECAN International blog.

Kandi’s home and the surrounding region has become a major extraction hotspot due to the large Bakken shale formation that lies beneath its soil. Expansion of the industry has been rapid and dangerous – destroying the land and bringing pollution, health complications, community conflict, and growing problems with crime and sexual violence.

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Collection of news headlines. Photo via Kandi Mossett powerpoint.

Kandi began with a description of the basic mechanisms of fracking, and then dived into the impacts being felt by the Earth and local communities. Flames from flaring natural gas send a constant stream of pollutants into the air. Prime agricultural and livestock lands have been poisoned. Trucks carrying volatile materials and toxic waste pass through towns 24 hours a day. Community members have been killed by the endless train of semi-truck traffic, and exhaust and dust pollution is exacerbating already severe health impacts. Kandi explained how these trucks dump excess frack-water on back-roads near the reservation, and that even when the waste is ‘properly’ disposed of, it is often simply dumped into plastic-lined earthen pits from which water seeps and wildlife drink.

A one million gallon spill occurred last year and killed everything it touched, compromising the safety of the lake from which Kandi’s community and others draw their drinking water. People have been told to keep off of land that has functioned as community space for decades, and an area that was previously quiet and sparsely populated is now flooded with so many industry lights that it stands out brightly in satellite images.

Kandi discussed some of the long-term and deeply felt social and cultural impacts of the oil boom. One is division within communities where some tribal council members welcome the fossil fuel companies and others speak out and resist.

Many of the biggest issues, she explained, revolve around ‘man camps’ – huge complexes of mobile homes used to house hundreds of men brought in to work on extraction sites. These ‘man camps’ have brought spikes in crime, drug use, and sexual assaults, particularly on Indigenous women and girls.

Kandi and members of her community continue to organize and fight back. They hold educational events, marches, and line roadsides with poster displaying their demands for change. They have had some successes, including stopping the construction of a new waste pit near a vital water source, taking back an important powwow which was sponsored by fossil fuels companies the previous year, and forming a new community group called Fort Berthold POWER, ‘Protectors of Water and Earth Rights’. Other successes have been short-lived, such as when they successfully stopped an oil refinery only to have it built in the neighboring town.

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Photo via Kandi Mossett

During her presentation Kandi stressed the importance of water and the need to defend it from contamination. “Water is life,” she explained, “its no coincidence that when we have babies they are born in water.”

The situation in Fort Berthold and across the Bakken region is life or death for many, but despite this Kandi concluded her presentation with inspiring and hopeful insights. She encouraged training participants to focus on education, taking back power in their communities, and helping others make connections between the concept of climate justice and the injustices experienced in their daily lives.

“We must keep it in the ground and protect the generations to come,” Kandi concluded.

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Casey Camp speaking at WECAN’s Sept. 2014 event in NYC. Photo by Emily Arasim.

Casey Camp Horneik spoke next. Casey is a long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist, and actress from the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma. She helps maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation as a traditional Drumkeeper, and stands at the forefront of efforts to educate and empower Native and non-Native allies on environmental and civil rights issues in Oklahoma, and at the national and international level.

Like Kandi, Casey began with a greeting in the language of her people. “What an incredible healing time we are all participating in,” she reflected.

She described the “spiderweb” of pipelines crossing her region – including pipelines that stretch to Alberta, Canada, and from both coasts of the U.S. The intensity of fracking in her region has made Oklahoma the new earthquake capital of the US, with the number of 3.0 or greater earthquakes rising from 106 in 2013 to 585 in 2014 – with 400 thus far in 2015. According to Casey, the locations of underground pipelines, fracking injection wells, and recent earthquakes overlap quite closely.

“It’s difficult to talk about the issues in our homelands in a way that can help you understand the devastation that extractive industries have us under.”

In 2004 Casey’s small community of less than 800 people held one funeral per week. They have witnessed massive fish die-offs in poisoned waters and have been told not to eat the fish out of the river. Necessity and hunger have meant that some families have no choice, but the fact is that it is not a choice they should have to make at all.

Casey drew connections between the devastation being wrought by fossil fuel companies and the larger legacy of displacement and persecution of Indigenous communities in her region and across the world.

“We are experiencing a real and active genocidal process here in Oklahoma and we are only one people,” she continued, explaining that the genocidal process fueled by extractive industries takes many forms, including loss of language and spirituality, destruction of sacred sites, economic collapse, social breakdown, and long and short term health impacts.

“Our children are coming onto Earth with poison already in their body,” she lamented.

In explaining the deep impacts felt by her community in Oklahoma and others across the world, Casey also discussed the “normalized oppression” held firmly in place over many Indigenous peoples, and the depression and sense of hopelessness that goes along with it. Frontline communities like Casey’s can feel abandoned in their struggle, and it is time to change that.

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Photo via Casey Camp

“Right now we have the chance to turn this tide where we are participating fully in the healing of ourselves as women, daughters, granddaughters, sisters…We can find a way to make it happen so that our grandchildren can have grandchildren who will live because of what happened in 2015…We aren’t giving them our power any longer – we are recognizing where power really belongs – the true power is Earth,” Casey concluded, passing the floor to Jacqui Patterson.

Jacqui is Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and Coordinator and co-Founder of Women of Color United. She has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist on issues of women‘s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice. Some of her publications include “Climate Change is a Civil Rights Issue”, “Gulf Oil Drilling Disaster: Gendered Layers of Impact”, “Disasters, Climate Change Uproot Women of Color”, and “Coal Blooded; Putting Profits Before People” – which can be found in the resources section at the bottom of this article.

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Jacqui at the 2013 Women’s Earth & Climate Summit. Photo via Lori Waselchuk

Jacqui began her presentation by framing the climate crisis in terms of our “dangerous relationship with excess” – be it food, transport, waste, or energy. She noted disproportionately severe climate impacts on low-income communities, peoples of color, nations of global south, and women, and zoned-in specifically on the skewed placement of coal-fired plants, fracking, mining infrastructure and landfills near communities of color.

Jacqui brought vital social issues to the table, including stories of children living near toxic sites who have become totally dependent on medications to combat asthma and respiratory problems, or who have developed learning disorders due to lead exposure. She tied environmental justice issues to the “school to prison pipeline”, explaining how people living near toxic sites have a 50% lower property value, which translates to under-funded schools because property taxes pay for local education systems. Lack of resources and teachers makes it harder for children to thrive, and children who do not reach a certain learning level by third grade are considered more likely to enter into the criminal justice system. Environmental injustice is thus deeply tied to cycles of poverty, criminality, and discrimination.

During her presentation Jacqui drew attention to the double damages felt by low-income families, Indigenous people, and communities of color who are affected both when industry extracts, pollutes, and dumps directly in their neighborhoods, and again when they find themselves on the frontlines of large climate disasters like hurricanes, droughts, and floods.

Jacqui discussed why we continue to find ourselves in this unjust and unhealthy situation, citing ‘powerbrokers’ including big corporations, courts, banks, think tanks, and academic institutions that are set on “maintaining the status quo of poor policymaking that values profit above people.”

In the face of mighty challenges, it is time for “Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation, and Revolution” she explained, shifting to a discussion of the experiences, solutions, and forward steps that the communities she works with are engaged in.

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Photo via Jacqui Patterson

Jacqui reflected on “women as leaders in this freedom fight,” as she told the story of a woman in North Carolina who began her own ‘citizens investigation’ to document the illnesses being experienced by community members living next to a coal-ash pond. The woman took photos and notes that she began to have to mark with the letter D as friends and neighbors passed away. She too ultimately passed away from illnesses believed to be linked to the nearby contamination.

This story is harrowing and must be honored, however Jacqui also shared some exciting victories. She introduced the story of the Fisk and Crawford coal plant in Chicago, which was successfully shut down by organizers with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and allies. She also touched on the growing movement to recognize corporate overreach, citing movements like Occupy and a citizen survey that found that the influence of money on elections was one of US residents top concerns. This is all part of the fight and the solution.

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‘Stop the 1% from profiting from pollution’ – South Africa. Photo via Jacqui Patterson.

“We need to ensure that we are working together to root out all forms of oppression wherever it is,” Jacqui explained.

She echoed Osprey’s sentiment that we must look at both micro-level, immediate changes and solutions in how we live and our relationship with Nature, families, and communities – as well as at big picture systemic change. Extreme weather events and other climate stresses are having devastating impacts now, which means we must build resilience on a day-to-day basis as we work towards larger transformation. Jacqui called for “reclamation” of the commons, our communities, the energy grid, our food system, the shared economy, and our democracy.

Jacqui ended with a 1967 quote from civil rights freedom fighter Martin Luther King Jr: “One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy…You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?’”

pennie

Pennie Opal Plant spoke as the final presenter of the day. Pennie is of Yaqui, Mexican, English, Dutch, Choctaw, Cherokee and Algonquin heritage, and has been an activist for over 30 years working on anti-nuclear, environmental, and indigenous rights campaigns. She is a founding member of Idle No More SF Bay, Movement Rights, and the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, working ceaselessly to address climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and environmental injustice in and around her community.

Pennie began with thanks to her ancestors for making her a strong woman. She recognized all of the incredible efforts to heal the Earth happening in her San Francisco Bay Area community and across the world, but also reminded participants we still have a long way to go to bring awareness about the issues we face to the level we need.

“There is so much work for all of us to do to help people become activated and inspire them to see this beautiful new future that we imagine and people are already putting into place,” Pennie reflected.

“I’ve really realized that we have to call out for the complete end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Period… We know that we need to keep it in the ground.”

She explained clearly how continued fossil fuel development is bad for the Earth, bad for the investors who will face stranded assets as we transition, and bad for the communities who very well may continue to be abandoned with the mess to clean up.

Pennie outlined the situation in the Bay Area of California, where they are coping with Chevron, Conoco Phillips66, Tesaro, Shell, and Velaro refineries and a slew of other industrial sites. The latest are the proposed West Pack site, which seeks to bring oil from the tar sands in Alberta and the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, and the Water Front Industrial Project, a fifty mile construction which will require the dredging of the delta and countless other harms.

In response to the refineries and the deep environmental and social damages they are causing, the idea of the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks was birthed out of a circle of Indigenous Grandmothers and the Idle No More SF Bay community.

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Photo via Pennie Opal Plant

For the second year in a row, this summer organizers took people out on four to nine mile walks between refineries to see the damage and smell the toxins that nearby communities experience everyday. It is action to walk, witness, heal, experience, and unite. Walks are led by Indigenous elders in prayer, and throughout the walk teachers and friends “share our understanding what it means to be alive in this system of life on Mother Earths belly.”

Refinery Corridor Healing Walks will continue next year and all are welcome to participate. Pennie also mentioned allies in Texas who are hoping to start healing walks through a refinery corridor in Huston, discussing her excitement that the idea of healing walks could be expanded and applied in other communities worldwide.

In closing, Pennie provided a brief background of Movement Rights, a new organization that provides organizing and legal support to helps communities assert their rights to self governance, ban corporate harms and take away corporate personhood rights, promote Rights of Nature, and write ordinances to put people over profit in their community.

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Photo via Pennie Opal Plant

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International transitioned the group into a Question & Answer session with comments on the powerful spectrum of emotion felt during the four presentations, from deep grief to hope and inspiration. She opened the floor to training participants and speakers, who explored how allies can support and engage with the community movements highlighted during presentations.

Pennie shared the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks GoFundMe page and invited anyone in the Bay Area to join Idle No More for future actions and events. Kandi encouraged allies to contact North Dakota Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Holden to push back against fracking in the state, reminding participants that “the water doesn’t stay in one area, the air doesn’t stay in one area, all of our local struggles are connected.”

Casey spoke frankly with participants about the need to get funding and other forms of support directly to the frontline communities whose “blood, sweat, and tears” go towards on-the-ground community organizing and resistance. She asked participants to share ideas on how to raise funds, get frontline communities connected into larger movements, and bring Indigenous leaders to speak to affected communities so that they can better understand the challenges they face and see how others are resisting, protecting the Earth, and uplifting their people.

Osprey closed the training with a deep thanks to everyone for their participation, encouraging them to share what they had discussed during the training far and wide. She also invited participants to share stories of the climate impacts their communities are facing and the solutions they offer as part of the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, happening September 29, 2015.

“Stories about women, frontline communities, and climate justice are not being told at the level we need them to be and this deeply hinders our movement forward. The more we amplify these stories the more change for climate justice we will see.”

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