Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Change Solutions

Blog by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

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Gloria Ushigua (Sápara Nation, Ecuador) and Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA) joined in a moment of solidarity and love. These two outstanding Indigenous women leaders are uniting across continents to protect and defend the Earth and their communities from oil extraction – Photo by Joan Beard

Indigenous women around the world are impacted first and worst by the effects of environmental destruction and a rapidly changing climate, their disproportionate vulnerability the result of a brutal intersection of colonialism, racism and sexism whose effects continue largely unabated. However despite all odds and against great challenges, it is these very same Indigenous women who are rising up, challenging the status quo and taking action to build the vital solutions so desperately needed in order to chart an equitable and sustainable course for humanity.

On May 12, 2016, an outstanding group of Indigenous women leaders from South and North America (Turtle Island) united to share their concerns, struggles and plans for change at ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’, an afternoon event presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and our allies at Amazon Watch and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’ was held in New York City in parallel to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, with the expressed purpose of bringing public visibility to the diverse stories, solutions and demands of frontline women climate leaders.

While the sentiment and experiences shared by each speaker was unique and firmly rooted in their own homeland and place – there were two overriding themes that flowed from the women’s words: (1) respect for and implementation of Indigenous rights and knowledge is a prerequisite for climate justice and effective sustainability solutions and (2) in protecting the rights, health, lives and lands of Indigenous peoples, we ultimately safeguard the future not only of Indigenous nations (which is reason enough), but of the Earth and all it’s people. We are all unequivocally interdependent within the systems of life.

Throughout the presentations, the women also illuminated important points around the meaning of being an aware, respectful and diligent Indigenous ally, and shared a vision for the thriving future that we might still have if we learn to truly honor and uphold Indigenous rights at a global scale.

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Pictured left to right: Aura Tegria Cristancho (U’wa, Colombia), Leo Cerda (Kichwa, Ecuador), Gloria Ushigua (Sápara, Ecuador), Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, USA), Crystal Lameman (Beaver Lake Cree, Canada), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN Executive Director) introducing the panel of speakers. Not pictured: Alicia Cahuilla (Huaorani, Ecuador) and Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, USA) – Photo by Joan Beard

In honoring the traditions of Indigenous allies, the event opened with prayers by Casey Camp Horinek, elder and a leader of the Ponca Nation (Oklahoma, Turtle Island, USA), who called for attention to the gift of the present day, and the capacity we all have to act, stand and relate to Mother Earth in a different way.

Casey reminded audience members that we are all relatives of each other and of the Earth, and that our greatest hope for the future lies in remembering this and growing together in strength and unity. She called upon all present to thank and honor the women and men who came before, standing in the face of adversity on behalf of the Earth, and through their brave actions allowing us to be here together today.

Osprey provided introductory remarks and a base for the day’s presentations by highlighting how Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women in particular are the most vital voices and solutions bearers in the fight to address climate change and it’s roots in deep structural injustices within our social, economic and political systems. The audience was reminded that over 80% of the worlds remaining biodiversity lies in the hands of Indigenous communities, who have coexisted with and maintained these living systems for generations.

“We must make it very clear that we are interconnected. They [Indigenous women] are the ones on the frontlines defending our air, the mountains, forests, rivers. They are keeping the web of life alive, and if they go down we are all going down. People are putting their bodies on the line, people like Berta Cáceres… and we need to understand that this is directly our family. These women are on the frontline making possible the continuity of life for all of us, so let us listen deeply and engage,” Osprey commented.

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Gloria Ushigua – Photo by Joan Beard

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, spoke first, with translation by Leo Cerda (Kichwa) of Amazon Watch. [All translated quotes should be considered translations, not direct quotations]

Gloria is a land and community defender from deep within the southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon, committed to maintaining the cultural identity and integrity of the Sápara peoples and promoting the rights of Indigenous women. She stands at the forefront of the regional movement to stop oil drilling – speaking out, advocating within the United Nations, and leading marches and demonstrations in response to violent policies that continue to open the Amazon of Ecuador to fossil fuel development and the subsequent pollution and displacement of Indigenous communities.

In January of 2016, the Ecuadorian government and Chinese state owned oil corporation Andes Petroleum signed a new oil lease handing over almost one million acres of pristine rainforest forest overlapping the traditional territories of the Sápara people, as well as their neighbors the Kichwa of Sarayaku and the Shuar. On March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, Gloria and hundreds of other Indigenous women of seven regional nationalities took to the streets in Ecuador to denounce the new contract. Their resistance to the new oil leases has been ceaseless.

“Our lives and our spirits depend upon the land that we live on, and they [the oil companies] do not understand this relationship that we have between the land, our families, our ancestors and the spirits.”

Gloria provided background on the intense threats and pressures her peoples are feeling to cede to extraction on their homelands, which remain uncontaminated unlike their neighbors to the north.

“We are going through a lot in our territory. The government has been threatening us and trying to create division within our territory… They think that we are going to get weakened by the divisions, by all of the problems they are bringing into our community, but they don’t know that we are strong and we will still stand strong even though they want to try to create this struggle. We are very few people, only about 200 in our territory, but we are strong. This is our land, this is where we have our livelihoods, our medicine, our water, our food.”

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Gloria Ushigua marches against oil extraction in the Amazon of Ecuador

Article 57 of Ecuador’s constitution requires that the consent of Indigenous peoples is obtained before any projects that impact their ancestral land or exploit resources within their territory lands can proceed. Indigenous consent is also a requirement of international law under the auspices of Free, Prior, and Informed Consultation (FPIC).

While the Ecuadorian government has repeatedly claimed to have consulted the Sápara Nation about the new oil leases, in actuality, they have instigated a campaign to intimidate and divide the Sápara. As Gloria made clear, in spite of the government’s false claims of community approval and attempts to create a divided Sápara leadership body, the legitimate federation of the Sápara does not and will not recognize any consent for access to or development in their territory.

“I come here to bring the message from my people….the government thinks we are alone but we are not alone, we have an international community of supporters like you, like the people here…” Gloria continued, “The people in my community want to keep oil in the ground, and that is a consensus.”

In the month following the May 2016 event in New York City, Gloria Ushigua and her family members and community began suffering from escalated violence, intimidation and harassment. In solidarity with Gloria, Frontline Defenders and the Women’s Urgent Action Fund have both released urgent statements for organizational sign-on and wide spread public sharing and advocacy.

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Indigenous women leaders of seven Indigenous allies march against oil extraction in the Amazon in Puyo, Ecuador on International Women’s Day, March 8 2016. Gloria Ushigua (Sápara Nationality, Ecuador) and Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA) pictured at left – Photo by Emily Arasim

Alicia Hueiya Cahuilla is Huoarani woman leader, born and living in what is now called Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, spoke next. Alicia is the Vice President of the NAWE, the Association of the Huaorani Nationality of Ecuador, and has also served as the President of AMWAUE, the Association of Huaorani Women of Ecuador. She is a foremost woman defender of Yasuni, and has received death threats and faced other intimidation for her work.

Alicia Hueiya believes that action to respect Indigenous rights and keep oil under the ground is the most vital, effective climate solution, and has delivered this message, and the story of her communities poisoning and resistance, with great conviction in front of grassroots leaders, concerned allies, news and media, international governments and policymakers and fellow Indigenous women land defenders across the globe. Alicia spoke at a WECAN International event in Lima, Peru in 2014 that ran parallel to the UNFCCC climate talks at COP20 – watch the powerful coverage on Democracy Now! here.

Unlike Gloria and the Sápara people in the Southern Ecuadorian Amazon, the land immediately surrounding Alicia’s homeland in the Northern Amazon has already been experiencing the horrendous impacts of oil extraction for several decades.

Alicia told the story of women in her community and other as rising as the voice of the Amazon herself. She denounced excursions for oil into supposedly protected national parks such as Yasuni, and made clear that it is the lands in Indigenous hands, free of oil extraction that continue to flourish, create real development, provide for their people and maintain the balance of the global climate.

At Alicia’s request, her direct comments, quotes and photos have not been shared publicly outside of the event, and are not included in this blog.

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Aura Tegria Cristancho (U’wa people of Colombia) and Leo Cerda (Kichwa people of Ecuador, Amazon Watch) – Photo by Joan Beard

Following the translation of Alicia’s powerful presentation, Leo Cerda, Amazon Watch Field Coordinator and Kichwa man from the city of Tena, Ecuador, shared more background and an update on the unfolding situation in Ecuador.

Leo explained that the Ecuadorian government is repeatedly violating the Rights of Nature officially enshrined in their 2008 constitution, and also failing to respect laws of Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples regarding fossil fuel extraction and mining. Echoing Alicia, he explained that even the countries national reserves are no longer off limits.

Leo further detailed the story of the ‘11th round’ of oil concessions, which opens up over twelve million acres of vibrant forest to extraction in 16 ‘oil blocks’. The two blocks encompassing the lands of Gloria and the Sápara people represent just two of these sixteen potential disaster zones.

“The process of the government is to try to create division within organizations and communities. So the women in the past years have been the strongest ones to come up front – they are the frontlines,” Leo explained, referencing many past actions including the March 2016 International Women’s Day march in Puyo, Ecuador.

“We see an uprising of the women coming together…because their territories are going to be effected, because they take care about the land and they care about the future, the future of next generations. We are talking here about climate change, about human rights – and this is not only an Indigenous struggle anymore, this is a struggle of all of us, the people that breathe…if we don’t protect the Amazon and forests around the world, how will our children live?”

“I am honored as the next generation to be with such amazing women speaking out,” Leo reflected.

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Kandi Mosset (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) leads a ‘toxic tour’ of a fracking spill site near the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Kandi Mossett spoke next, joining the event via Skype.

Kandi Mossett is a Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara women from what is now called the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, USA. Kandi stands on the frontlines of the fight to stop fracking and other forms of extreme energy extraction through powerful community organizing efforts and work as the Indigenous Environmental Network Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Lead Organizer. She has emerged as a leading voice in the fight to bring visibility to the impacts that climate change and environmental injustice are having on Indigenous communities across North America, engaging in international advocacy work, including participation in several UN Forums and a testimony before the U.S. Congress on the climate issue and its links to issues of health, identity, and well being on tribal lands.

She introduced herself and began her presentation in her native language, “Hello relatives my name is Eagle Woman, my English name is Kandi Mossett.”

Kandi told a brief history of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara peoples, three groups driven together following colonization and the brutal devastation of the smallpox epidemics inflicted by US settlers. After facing and surviving generations of colonization, Kandi explained that her people now face a new danger threatening to take their lands and livelihoods – the threat of hydraulic fracking.

Since the early 2000’s, a fracking epidemic in the Bakken region of North Dakota has rocketed the state to the position of second largest US oil producer after Texas, bringing a range of social and environmental impacts to the region, with particularly devastating effects on Indigenous women in North Dakota.

Kandi began her presentation by showing photos of turquoise lake water, the result of fracking runoff which has caused severe pollution, green-blue algae blooms and oxygen deprivation in Lake Sakakawea, a dam at the center of the at Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara lands, and at the headwaters of the Missouri River.

She also shared photos from a July 2014 fracking brine spill near the lake, which residents were told was nothing to worry about despite the visible dead zone and failure of the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide full reports and analysis.

Kandi recounted how local women leaders, including Lisa DeVille, spearheaded action and brought Duke University students out to take soil samples and analyze the spill site and dead land. Their report back told of high levels of benzenes and a wide range of cancer causing chemicals far exceeding safe consumption levels – all left sitting on the surface of the land.

“Own tribal council has sold out to corporations – they believe the lies, they believe it is safe without doing their own due diligence,” Kandi explained.

She detailed some of the horrendous environmental practices taking place in North Dakota, including largely unregulated direct flaring (burning) of natural gas. The open flares make the once dark plains of the state glow on satellite images like the lights of a major metropolis, and have made the Bakken the source of more that 2% of global methane emissions.

Kandi spoke solemnly, “No matter where you are in the world, you are still breathing this in.”

She recounted the rush of dangers experienced by local communities, including toxic air, poisoned water, oil truck explosions, and countless social ills brought by oil workers – ranging from vandalism and racist threats, to human trafficking, drug abuses and violent abuse of local women.

Many of the social dangers are centered in ‘man camps’, large trailer complexes housing hundreds, even thousands of oil workers. In a context of lawlessness and disregard for local Indigenous communities and the land, where Kandi reports that rapes have shot up roughly 168%, with the vast majority of abuses falling upon Indigenous women.

“Violence against women follows violence against the Earth. Them digging, flaring, polluting – this is violence against our Mother…We are facing so many social problems and we haven’t even begun to really see the environmental problems, that’s why I get so emotional. Twenty years down the line we will see it, the bone cancers from the radioactive materials… I am scared for our children and our future and this horrible legacy we are leaving behind. And so we are saying we wont do this anymore, lets get out and fight this.”

Even in the face of great pain, Kandi held out countless examples of reason for hope.

She told the story of the Standing Rock Sioux in the Southern part of the state, who had witnessed the devastation of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara peoples to the north, and stood up to push back, block pipelines and ban fracking within their sovereign lands.

Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara youth in Fort Berthold are also standing up, joining local women like Kandi and Lisa DeVille who have been fighting to expose the extreme circumstances on their lands for years. As Kandi spoke via Skype, a group of young Fort Berthold youth had just mobilized and rode horses over a Lake Sakakawea bridge to interrupt a tribal council meeting and deliver their message against continued exploitation of the Earth and her peoples.

“People are starting to see it, youth are starting to stand up and say ‘What are we doing to our planet?… We are up against big money, big corporations, but over the past years we’ve seen more and more that all it takes is people power, our youth fighting back to make change.”

Kandi reflected that standing out and being an activist is often a frightening thing to do, but that “we are all we have…We as human beings taking action are the only ones that can change the problems that we humans have created…so use your voice, fight back.”

She provided more hopeful examples including a recently held water blessing on Fort Berthold reservation, which Kandi’s elders said was the first large collective water ceremony in over 20 years. She cited other important cases of Indigenous leadership and resistance, including the recent horse ride across South Dakota in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline; the story of youth who ran over 500 miles to the Army Corps of Engineers in Nebraska to say no to fossil fuel infrastructure; and the broad and quickly growing global #KeepItInTheGround movement.

Kandi spoke to the great need for creative activism and community organizing, and for the peoples’ movement to get together, hold onto tradition and show our power. She called for simultaneously organizing locally and connecting across borders, recalling powerful work connecting pipeline fighters from the US Gulf Coast to North Dakota and the Canadian Tar Sands, as well as the ground breaking work of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact signed between Indigenous women of the US, Canada and Ecuador in 2015 and now being signed by many Indigenous women worldwide.

“We have to make it so that it is no longer profitable and OK for them [oil companies] to continue their business as usual,” Kandi explained, emphasizing that rather that pursuing a ‘not in my back yard’ type of fight, we must stand together to stop extraction in North America, and the homes of all our global brothers and sisters.

“We are addicted, to oil, and it is no better that any other addiction people have. If we want to get off this addiction we need to come together, with Indigenous women leading all across the frontlines….We know we have to protect the water. It is no coincidence that our babies are born in water…. We know that water literally is life, and it has to be protected at all costs.”

Kandi ended by urging audience members to study and explore colonization of the mind.

“What we are really talking about is decolonizing, and changing our mindset, changing the way that people interact with each other…” Kandi explained, “We want to protect future generations, and protect seven generations ahead.”

Most politicians and corporate barons, she pointed out, don’t think of the past or future generations “because they have a sickness, and that sickness is called greed.”

To build a foundation of climate justice, she pointed to the need for decolonization and a move away from extractive capitalism, which both center on the idea that we can “take and take and never give back”, something explicitly discouraged in all Indigenous worldviews.

“As Indigenous people we have ‘Traditional Ecologic Knowledge’, but here is the secret – ‘common sense’. Whatever happens to one person happens to all of us.”

Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree of Treaty No. 6, Alberta, Canada took the floor next.

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Crystal Lameman – Photo by Joan Beard

Crystal Lameman is the Treaty Coordinator and Communications Manager for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, working previously as a Climate and Energy Campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, Prairie Chapter and as the Canadian Tar Sands Campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network. Since 2008, Crystal has been at the forefront of legal action by the Beaver Lake Cree, calling for action to address infringement of their people’s inherent and Treaty Rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather in perpetuity, due to over-industrialization and extraction in their territory.

Crystal opened in her traditional language, and provided background on her home in the lands of the Cree and Dene.

Today, Crystal reported that Alberta, Canada is the source of more than 37% of the countries greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly 22% of these emissions come from the Alberta tar sands, making them the single biggest source of climate change causing pollution in Canada, and one of the largest sources of emission in the world.

Crystal explained that tar sands extraction has a dire two-fold impact, contributing to long-term climate change, while also wreaking havoc through immediate environmental consequences. Both long term climate changes and direct pollution are having growing impact on the land and the Indigenous Nations, like Crystal’s, who maintain a close relationship with the land, and rely upon it directly for medicines, food and water. Because of this close relationship, Indigenous communities are often the first to see and experience the degradation of the land, and contamination and displacement of ecologic and social communities.

Crystal mapped out the three large tar sands oil deposits in Alberta (cumulatively the third largest global crude oil deposits after Saudi Arabia) and the three Indigenous treaty territories violated by their extraction.

“Through invasive energy extraction we have found ourselves, literally, in a fight over Mothers bones, her very core – playing environmental roulette with our lives… and there is one thing about that game, someone always looses, and right now it is our next generations that are loosing… Right now my biggest responsibility is that I am a mother, I am blessed to give life, and I have a responsibility to those children,”

In addition to speaking to the dire effect of tar sands air and water pollution, she also spoke to the dire situation around deforestation of Canada’s pristine Boreal forest.

According to Crystal, millions, if not billions of tons of ‘overburden’, the industry term for pristine forest and soil, and one of the worlds most important carbon sinks – is ripped away, moved and destroyed to make way for expanded extraction. In total, the amount of land destroyed and moved for extraction in Alberta is estimated to be more than for the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal, Great Pyramid of Cheops and 10 largest dams in world – combined.

A large portion of tar sands expansion is happening in and around Indigenous First Nations territories, on lands being taken and violated without respect to internationally recognized rights of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Crystal additionally cited Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples, which declares Indigenous rights to determine and direct priorities for use of land and resources that fall within or affect their territories.

34,773 of the 38,972 square kilometers of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s traditional territory as been leased to oil and gas and is suffering the cumulative impacts of removal of forests, soil loss, oil pollution, toxic spills, run off, and disruption of migration patterns, to name but a few.

Contamination of traditional foods, including fish, beaver and moose, is growing threat, with arsenic levels in caribous recently found to be reaching 450 times higher than safe consumption levels.

“They [the government and oil companies] like to talk about ‘reclamation’, essentially trying to give back what was never theirs to take,” Crystal asserted. Despite this, only 0.2% of tar sands extraction lands have seen any type of restoration attempts.

Despite the great loss faced by her community and others across Alberta, Crystal continued on to provide incredible reasons for hope.

“Some of our last remaining forests, the planets biodiversity, rivers, lakes and streams are in Indigenous peoples territories…So in order to fight climate change, stop deforestation and meet sustainable development goals, there is an urgent need to recognize the collective land rights of Indigenous peoples,” Crystal explained, making the case for Indigenous rights as perhaps the most important, effective rights-based legal mechanisms for environmental and social defense.

“Through the rights of Indigenous peoples, we have the last remaining stronghold in protecting our environment.”

Through the ongoing Beaver Lake Cree legal case, Crystal and her colleagues and allies are seeking to demonstrate that Indigenous rights are the strongest possible legally binding strategy to halt the expansion of the tar sands.

“Many communities nations in our territories are moving towards determining what Indigenous economic sovereignty looks like by participating in the Just Transition and launching large renewable energy projections, exercising food security and sovereignty…we are growing and we are producing on our lands, while at the same time continuing to break down legislation that undermines our rights and labels us as bad people for wanting better for our children”

In closing her presentation, Crystal drew attention to the massive fires raging in Alberta, and the social justice components of work to end extraction.

“We need to stop pretending like genocide no longer exists. It continues, it is alive and well in extreme resource extraction. But we are here, as Indigenous people we are here and we are not going anywhere. And we continue to fight because the very essence of who we are is in the land and the water… so our land has not and will never be for sale,” Crystal concluded.

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Aura Tegria Cristancho – Photo by Joan Beard

Aura Tegria Cristancho, young woman leader and representative of the U’wa people of Colombia, spoke next, with Spanish translation by Leo Cerda.

At 18, Aura became the first ever Indigenous U’wa woman to attend university, receiving her law degree and going on to work as the legal advisor for the Asou’Wa Association of the U’wa people. Since then, Aura has worked extensively with EarthRights International, based out of Lima, Peru. In 2014, she traveled across the US to speak with hundreds of people at a host of public presentations, private advocacy meetings and media interviews – working to bring light to Caño Limón pipeline, Magallanes drilling project and other pushes to expand oil and gas drilling in U’wa territory, which has traditionally expanded across five Colombia provinces.

Aura began with reflections based upon the stories and prayers told to her by her grandparents. In the beginning, she recounted, the creator established and created the Earth in equilibrium, and in the heart of the U’wa people, left an original message – instructions to care and protect Mother Earth. Protecting the Earth thus became the mission and center of the U’wa mind, body and spirit.

When oil companies entered their territories, the U’wa knew automatically they had to speak out in defense of the land and had no misunderstanding about the perils of extraction.

The U’wa call oil “ruiria” and explain that this is the source of all plant and animal life, as well as the human spirit.

“For the U’wa, the oil is like the blood of Mother Earth, it is vital to life – if you take out the blood, the whole planet will die, including human beings. In this sense, we must gather our strength and unite in defense of the Earth, in defense of life. All of us together, black, white, Indigenous, old young, all of us,” Aura explained to the audience.

When Occidental Petroleum came to drill the oil from their lands in the 90s, the U’wa protested, stating that they preferred collective suicide than to watch the destruction of their community and lands. It would be a worthier death than at the hands of the exploiters, the U’wa reasoned.

The U’wa people had already witnessed the ruinous results of oil extractions in nearby territories. Their subsequent campaigns, in addition to support from international groups moved by the U’wa’s powerful dedication and message to the world, generated successful results. In 2002, Occidental Petroleum withdrew from U’wa territory. In part, the company claimed this was due economic problems and finding a dry well in an early phase of the project, however it is clear that the ardent protests weighed heavily on their decision. Unfortunately, this key victory was not long lasting and the U’wa have been and are facing many ongoing extraction threats in their territories from the fossil fuel industry.

Despite loses and struggles, Aura stated that the movement is only getting stronger. She and her people are fighting immediate environmental destruction, but also acting and teaching so that ‘little brother’ (the Western world) can come to understand again what life really is, namely the rivers, air, forests and all that sustains us.

On May 12, as Aura spoke to the crowd gathered in New York City, leaders in her community were taking direct action to protect their sacred Zizuma mountain, a critical source of water for the region.

In closing, Aura urged all present to engage with and support their ongoing struggle, and to think deeply on how we can change the dominant cultures way of living with the Earth.

“We need to change ideas around money. You cannot eat money. Without lands and water and territory, money serves no purpose. In this sense, this can be a huge contribution to change from all of us here today, to work to help change this philosophy– to return to the ancestral, the roots, to return to understanding of what is truly important in life – land, water, air and the sky.”

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Leo Cerda and Gloria Ushigua stand in solidarity with the U’wa people in their efforts to protect sacred Zizuma mountain– Photo by Joan Beard

Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, Turtle Islands, USA took the floor as the last speaker of the day.

Casey Camp is a Ponca Nation tribal Councilwoman, Indigenous Environmental Network representative and WECAN Advisory Council member, amidst many other roles. She is a long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist, actress and traditional Drumkeeper for the Ponca Pa-tha-ta, Woman’s Scalp Dance Society, working to maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation for herself, her family and her community. Casey has been at the forefront of grassroots community efforts to educate and empower both Native and non-Native community members on environmental and civil rights issues. In 2008 Camp-Horinek, as a delegate of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), was chosen to speak to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and present IEN’s global platform regarding the environment and Native rights. Since then, she has led and participated in countless international and local actions, events and high level policy forums around climate justice, Indigenous rights and care for the Earth. Recently, she embarked on a journey as a leader of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek – Photo by Joan Beard

Casey began by commending and sharing her love with the young women who spoke before her; “I could rest, but I am not going to!” she laughed.

Casey told of the genocide inflicted upon her people, including days of forced removal, boarding schools, relocation and five signed and broken treaty’s. Like Kandi and Crystal, Casey likened the modern boom in fracking to a continuation of these genocidal and colonial processes.

Ponca lands in Oklahoma are now surrounded by underground toxic waste storage facilities, drilling rigs and a “nexus” of pipelines carrying oil across the US and down from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking out a piece of paper, Casey explained that seven earthquakes had already happened in Oklahoma that very day. She reported 128 in the last thirty days and 2,388 in last year – all man-made and all directly linked to fracking injection wells, of which there are over 10,000 in the state.

Recently, Oklahoma’s new governor passed a law preventing communities within the state from passing local fracking moratoriums. In response, Casey, along with other leaders in her community, are working to organize the Ponca Nation to use their sovereign Indigenous rights to pass a resolution that stops injection wells, and puts a ban on fracking and dewatering.

The resolution points out that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the trustees of the Ponca Nation and its members, “with a fiduciary duty to protect tribal trust property and trust resources”, including federally reserved Indian water rights to a satisfactory supply of quality water.

Thus far, the BIA does not have a policy on fracking, injection wells and dewatering operations to guide the leasing of Ponca lands or to guide BIA approval of assignments of existing oil and gas leases for extraction. Even though there is not a policy in place, the BIA has been approving leases already, not taking into account Indian water rights or the public safety of the Ponca Nation and its members, amongst other destructive outcomes.

The BIA has also not obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the Ponca Nation according to Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Upon these points and others, the Ponca Nation has called for a moratorium on fracking in their territories to override the Oklahoma governors law, and have requested that the BIA to design a plan to protect the Ponca Nation water rights, in direct consultation with the Ponca Nation.

In pursuing due implementation of Indigenous Rights– the Ponca and other Indigenous communities offer a strong, tangible solution that will protect them and their non-Indigenous neighbors. Casey is confident that their method of protection will hold up in a court of law when they have the means to carry their work forward to the courts.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation) speaks with allies at the start of ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’ – Photo by Joan Beard

Casey closed with reflections on the “cellular memory” and DNA of her people and all Indigenous people as fundamentally tied to the land.

“We are willing to do anything we have to do to protect our Mother, and to protect all that she provides us with.”

She held up a cup of water, “the guest of honor”, and asked why negotiators and ‘leaders’ in United Nations were not willing to sit with a cup of oil in front of them to quench their thirst as they negotiate the fate of the climate.

Casey’s last words that brought home a vital theme highlighted by all event speakers;

“We [Indigenous peoples] got your back – so what you need to do is jump on board and demand the implementation of the declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples, because we are going to save your ‘you know what’s’…Our issues are your issues, we really can’t separate them, and that is why we are here today… we understand the same air flows around Mother Earth, the same rain comes in the thunders and down the streams – the same breath, everything is within us and we share it all.”

Osprey of WECAN International moderated a Question and Answer session, and then closed the event with words on supporting Indigenous allies, and solidarity with the global #KeepItInTheGround and #BreakFree movement. 

“Break Free from infringements on Indigenous rights

Break Free 

Break Free from patriarchy

Break Free

Break Free from the commodification of Nature

Break Free

Break Free from sacrifice zones

Break Free 

Break Free from colonization

Break Free

 Break Free from fossil fuels

Break Free”

Special thanks to Harriet Sugarman of ClimateMama and all the amazing NYC volunteers for their tremendous support of this event.

Additional Event Photos by Joan Beard:

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Speakers and allies stand in solidarity with the U’wa people in their efforts to protect sacred Zizuma mountain– Photo by Joan Beard

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Crystal Lameman presents on tar sands extraction and Indigenous rights and community mobilization in Alberta, Canada – Photo via Harriet Shugarman

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Aura Tegria Cristancho speaks on the situation of the U’wa people of Colombia. Pictured with Leo Cerda (Kichwa of Tena, Ecuador; Amazon Watch) – Photo by Joan Beard

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Event attendees stand to demand immediate action to #KeepItInTheGround – Photo by Joan Beard

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Uplifting Rights of Nature to Protect Our Living Earth: 2016 WECAN Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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Living forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon – Photo by Emily Arasim

For just and effective climate change solutions, we must transform dominant economic, legal, social, political and cultural frameworks surrounding our relationship with each other and the living Earth.

On April 25, 2016, activists, educators, students, mothers and many other diverse allies joined together to explore this vital concept via an open online training, ‘Rights of Nature: Protecting and Defending the Places We Live’, presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.

Over the course of the training, presenters Shannon Biggs (Movement Rights) and Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) shared the paradigm-shifting work of Rights of Nature, and explained how it is already being used around the US and the world to challenge legal systems based on exploitation of the Earth, and instead usher in a new set of frameworks based upon the inherent rights and natural laws of Mother Earth.

Osprey Orielle Lake began the training by presenting an overview of the dynamic international Rights of Nature movement.

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WECAN presents at a Rights of Nature press conference in Paris during the UN 2015 COP21 Climate Negotiations. Pictured left to right: Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) and Pablo Solon (Fundación Solón) – Photo by Emily Arasim

Osprey is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, working internationally with grassroots and Indigenous leaders, policymakers and scientists to mobilize women for climate justice, resilient communities, systemic change, and a just transition to a clean energy future. Osprey serves as co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and as a member of the Bay Area Alliance for the Rights of Nature, acting as a judge and secretariat at numerous Rights of Nature Tribunals and events in recent years. She is the author of the award-winning book, ‘Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature’.

For Osprey and WECAN International, encountering Rights of Nature was a breakthrough, defining moment which allowed the organization to begin to address climate change at the deep systemic level that crisis of this magnitude demands – a level that confronts and calls for changes in our entire way of being, from the personal to the political.

“Rights of Nature is a revolutionary and evolutionary concept – which at the heart, at a very deep level, can address the dysfunctional economic and legal frameworks that are currently destroying people and planet,” Osprey began.

“After decades of environmental protection laws, which have had some notable successes, we can see that modern legal frameworks overwhelmingly fail to prevent the threats of climate change, degradation of our ecosystems and the growing displacement of humans and other species. So to live sustainably, we really need to change the very DNA of our legal frameworks,” she continued.

Osprey explained that the vast majority of modern legal frameworks treat nature as property, meaning that life giving forests, mountains, rivers and lakes can be sold, consumed and devastated under the protection of trade, property rights and commerce laws.

Because the Earth is treated as property, it has no legal standing of it’s own, rendering violations and harms to the Earth invisible in the modern ‘justice’ system.

“Yes we have environmental laws, but who is writing them? Yes we have regulation, but they are just giving limits to pollution, not attempting to halt it.”

“It is clear that we cannot solve this crisis by further subjecting the Earth to the very same system and worldview that caused this crisis,” she explained, outlining how capitalism and extractive modern economies inherently and by their very nature rely upon this legalized ownership of the Earth.

According to Osprey, the consequences of dominant legal frameworks reach deeper than just empowerment of destructive economics and failure to protect the growing threats of climate change.

“In adhering to current structures of law, we are furthering a dangerous human relationship with the natural world, and a vision of exploitation that cannot be allowed to continue. It all comes from, and continues to support this old paradigm, based in patriarchy and colonialism. A paradigm of ‘dominion over’ – dominion over women, dominion over the Earth, and dominion over Indigenous cultures. This is why at WECAN our four founding principles are the Rights of Women, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Future Generations. ”

“Just as we recognize that it is wrong for men to consider women property, we really need to have an entirely different legal configuration that recognizes that Earth’s living systems are not the property of humans,” she continued.

Osprey went on to share inspiring news – action to challenge dominant systems of law and usher in a vision of rights and respect for the living Earth is not just theoretical, but rather is being put into action by a growing body of organizations, communities and countries.

Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador have adopted Rights of Nature measures within their national constitutions (albeit with serious problems in implementation). In New Zealand, a river has been giving legal rights and standing. Across the US and beyond, communities are passing local Rights of Nature ordinances to stop fracking, GMO’s, corporate theft of water and much more.

“Rights of Nature is a tool to directly stop corporate activities by raising human and Earth rights above those of the corporations,” Osprey emphasized, “We can change our laws, and we have the right to do that.”

With this strong vision, Rights of Nature thus emerges as a tool to challenge extractive industries, corrupt trade deals, carbon trading and false climate solutions, while also opening a door for personal and collective return to a life affirming relationship with the Earth.

“There is a real need to also change our fundamental personal values and what we uphold as meaningful in our lives…In this sense the development and implementation of Rights of Nature is best understood as a deep and necessary shift in our human understanding of our tie to Earth, as well as a change in legal and economic structures. It is about changing our values, our laws and our culture at the same time.”

In closing her presentation, Osprey highlighted a parallel and deeply interconnected movement from Indigenous leaders of South America.

“‘Sumak Kawsi’ or ‘Buen Vivir’, ‘good living’ has been described by Indigenous allies in many ways, including living in ecological and economic balance; harmony in relationships; personal and collective growth appropriate to local conditions; good health; living well in community, including the larger ecologic community; and a worldview centered on a “living cosmos that we are part and particle of.”

Sumak Kawsi is a worldview poised to helping bring life and actualization to the critical ideas encompassed within Rights of Nature.

Another avenue through which Rights of Nature are being put into action is International Rights of Nature Tribunals, a growing body of events in which expert judges and witnesses try diverse cases of Earth rights violations to demonstrate how Rights of Nature could be implemented, and the incredible momentum and results that can be engendered by their use. Osprey closed with a short video on the recent Tribunal in Paris during COP21 climate negotiations.

As the enchanting final words of Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation) closed the video, Shannon Biggs took the floor.

Shannon Biggs is the Co-Founder and Director of Movement Rights, an organization born in 2015 out of 12 years of work with Global Exchange, where she served as Director of Development before beginning the Community and Nature’s Rights Program.

Shannon is a leading international speaker, author and activist on the growing movement for Rights of Nature, and is the co-author of two books and many reports, including ‘Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots’ and ‘The Rights of Nature’. She is a lecturer of weekend ‘Democracy Schools’ that explore the rights-based framework for change, and leads Rights of Nature trainings around the country and world.

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Shannon Biggs presents on fracking as a violation of the Rights of Nature at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris during COP21

Shannon began her presentation my framing two critical questions – ‘What would it look like to live in a world in which the Rights of Nature are upheld?’ and more importantly, ‘How do we get there?’.

Shannon’s reply to the second question was short and powerful; “System change starts where you live.”

Through Movement Rights and other allied organizations, Shannon is working to build towards system change by “shifting law and culture”.

Her works sits at the intersection of Rights of Nature and community rights, focused on helping communities take back power in their locale by writing new laws that recognize their right to protect the Earth and determine what happens in their community, effectively placing their rights and Earth Rights over the supposed ‘rights’ of corporations.

“We are told that things like fracking, or dams or water withdrawals or the many other things that makes our homes sacrifice zones, we are told that we don’t have the ability to say no to say to those things,” Shannon explained.

“…but the kind of rights we are talking about are not gifts from governments, the kind of rights we are talking about are inalienable – the right to clean water, clean air… We cannot give these away and this is not something the government can grant us.”

“So our work is about changing the rules. If the law is standing in the way of us protecting our children, protecting our families, protecting Nature – then it is time to change the law and change where decisions are made.”

“Imagine, for example, what would it look like for the Gulf coast if the ecosystem had rights in a court of law to sure BP for full restoration? How quickly would we have changed how deep sea drilling is done, or if it is done at all?” she questioned.

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Shannon Biggs and Osprey Orielle Lake pictured in front of open hydraulic fracking flares in North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Shannon framed law as “how we use power to make real a worldview”. Currently, law is empowering a worldview based on patriarchy, rights and dominion over the Earth and endless material growth, but this need not be the case. In challenging and changing law, we break down structures of power and dangerous worldviews.

“History shows us again and again that culture changes law, and law in turn broadly changes culture,” Shannon explained, drawing attention to Right of Nature as a continuation of the trajectory of past peoples movement for rights, including movements to abolish slavery and fight for women’s rights.

Shannon also spoke deeply to the centrality of Indigenous rights and leadership within the context of Rights of Nature.

“This is a time for Indigenous leadership. This is about learning from the original instructions… and this is what we need most desperately – how do we begin to restore our relationship with the Earth – in our mind states, laws and cultures?” she reflected.

“Indigenous people are standing up at this time, all around the world, to showcase how to protect the Earth. They are the defenders and protectors of the most biodiverse places on Earth, and from them we have so much to learn about how to live in balance. As part of Rights of Nature we must support global communities to make sure that Indigenous lands stay in Indigenous hands.”

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, Oklahoma) and Gloria Ushigua Santi (Sapara, Ecuador) standing in mutual solidarity in Paris for the COP 21 (in front of their respective portraits by Mona Caron. Photo via Movement Rights.

Shannon closed by sharing the case of Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, USA, the first global community to enact a local Rights of Nature ordinance.

In the face of attempts to fill a nearby mine site with contaminated sludge, citizens organized successfully to create a local law declaring the right of the ecosystem to be free from further contamination. Since this 2006 victory, the movement has spread quickly.

“What started as a ripple in the pond in Tamaqua Borough went to Ecuador, to Bolivia, to New Zealand, to India and it also came back to countless small communities who began asking ‘how can we do that here?’.”

Shannon noted that most Tamaqua Borough residents did not necessarily see themselves as environmental defenders, or as beings spiritually connected to the Earth, but rather saw Rights of Nature as a practical and effective tool for community, home and land protection.

“This is very important to consider as we explore how this movement can grow and spread. We must meet and start where people are.”

Nonetheless, Shannon explained that recognizing Rights of Nature and the legal standing of the Earth does ultimately means taking responsibility for our personal stewardship, recognizing that we are part and parcel of the Earth, and involving ourselves in organizing and action to defend and ensure that her rights are effectively and justly upheld once recognized.

Shannon closed by sharing information about the Bay Area ‘What Would The Delta Say? Rights of Tribunal’, held in April 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Tribunal was used as a stage to discuss and try corporate and state actors seeking to build tunnels to take water from Northern to Southern California to spur development and continued fracking and oil drilling.

“Through the Tribunal we want to give a voice to the Delta ecosystem. It is an opportunity for the fish to speak, for the marshes to speak, for us to truly look at how this affects the people and ecosystems of the Delta. It is an opportunity to pursue environmental justice and to envision a world in which rights were upheld.”

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Mobilizing to protect the Bay Area Delta. Photo via Movement Rights.

In closing the training, Osprey framed Rights of Nature as a powerful tool to take back power in our communities, reassert our democracy, and challenge corrupt ‘1%’ governance structures facilitating environmental and social abuses around the world.

The training ended with a fascinating Questions and Answer session in which participants delved into topics including the applicability of Rights of Nature to movements to protect seeds, farmers rights, and stop GMOs; connection between Rights of Nature and work to defend and support land defenders; Rights of Nature as an element of preparations and community capacity developments for Treaty negotiations of Indigenous peoples in US, Canada and beyond; problems with commodification of the Earth and assigning monetary value to ecosystem functions; and reflections on identity, “deep and ancient reciprocal relationship” and our sacred interconnection with the Earth.

More information about this and other recent WECAN US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Education and Advocacy trainings available here.

Rights of Nature Training Resources (shared by presenters and training participants):

 

 

Women In Defense Of Territories, From Their Bodies – Mujeres En Defense De Territorios Desde Sus Cuerpos

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Women land and community defenders of the Ecuadorian Amazon stand for justice and an end to oil extraction during an International Women’s Day March – March 8, 2016 – Photo by Emily Arasim

English – WOMEN IN DEFENSE OF TERRITORIES, FROM THEIR BODIES

Throughout memory and history, women have always fought shoulder to shoulder, weaving movements, building roads and reducing inequalities

By Kiyomi Nagumo, WECAN Coordinator for the Latin America/Caribbean Region

National commitments made under the Paris Agreement, aiming to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and avoid climate crisis, focus on providing mechanisms for adaptation and mitigation, and work to quantify losses and damages. Structures of global governance have the same focus, hoping that participating countries will meet their goals and objective.

Global activists however, are demanding systemic change, a transition of our energy models and above all, an end to exploitation of natural resources and intensive production systems, all with focus on gender equity and equality, inter-generational justice, respect for Indigenous territories, Indigenous rights, human rights, and a guarantee of access to participation and climate justice for all.

Despite all this – countries like Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru have opened their development policies in favor transnational corporations under the structure of overexploitation of natural resources and the opening of its tropical forests for exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons, construction of mega energy projects, etc. These energy policies pollute, emit high levels of greenhouse gases, and critically violate fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples and rights of women and their communities, causing environmental disasters, generating environmental violence and deeply affecting Mother Earth.

It is these same women who are violated that come to fight for respect for themselves and their territories – seeking equality and the reduction of inequalities, and working to create real governance regarding the management and conservation of natural resources located in their territories. They are the ones who have come repeatedly to the defense of water, forests, and the biodiversity of their lands, ecosystems, communities and peoples.

From the core of their bodies, out from under the social and familial roles ascribed to them by a patriarchal system, women have raised their voices, have mobilized, organized, revealed and fought, but they still too often remain violated, silenced, intimidated, arrested, raped and murdered.

So to talk about a systemic change necessitates self-questioning and questioning of others; if these development policies disguise themselves as global governance and exert themselves above local territories and rights – how will they affect and violate women and their environment?

Español – MUJERES, EN DEFENSA DE LOS TERRITORIOS DESDE SUS CUERPOS

Desde la memoria y la historia, las mujeres siempre han luchado hombro a hombro, tejiendo movimiento, construyendo caminos, disminuyendo desigualdades

Por Kiyomi Nagumo –  Cordinadora Regional Latino America y el Caribe

Los compromisos nacionales adquiridos bajo el acuerdo de París, con el objetivo de disminuir las emisiones de los gases de efecto invernadero y evitar una crisis climática, enfocadas aportando con mecanismos de adaptación y mitigación, así como cuantificar las perdidas y daños. La gobernanza global, se centra en estos mismos con la esperanza de cumplir las metas y objetivos adquiridos por los países participantes.

Activistas del mundo reclaman un cambio sistémico, una transición de los modelos energéticos y sobre todo, evitar la sobre explotación de los recursos naturales y sistemas productivos intensivos; enfocados en la equidad e igualdad de genero y generacional, respeto a los territorios indígenas, derechos humanos e indígenas y sobre todo garantizar el acceso a la participación y justicia climática.

Países como Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brasil y Perú han abierto sus políticas de desarrollo en favor a empresas transnacionales bajo la estructura de sobre aprovechamiento de sus recursos naturales y la apertura de sus selvas tropicales para la exploración y extracción de hidrocarburos, construcción de mega proyectos energéticos, etc. Estas políticas energéticas contaminantes y altamente emisoras de gases de efecto invernadero, violan derechos fundamentales sobre todo de indígenas, derechos de las mujeres y sus comunidades, ocasionando desastres ambientales, generando violencia ambiental y afectando a la madre tierra.

Son las mismas mujeres, las que salen a la lucha por el respeto de ellas y sus territorios buscando la igualdad, la disminución de inequidades, y conseguir una verdadera gobernanza sobre el manejo y conservación de los recursos naturales ubicados en sus territorios. Son quienes han salido a la defensa del agua, los bosques, y la biodiversidad de sus tierras, ecosistemas, comunidades y sus pueblos.

Desde sus cuerpos, con las cargas sociales y familiares de un sistema patriarcal, que les son atribuidas como roles, las mujeres han levantado sus voces, se han movilizado, organizado, revelado y luchado, pero aun así siguen siendo vulneradas, acalladas, amedrentadas, arrestadas, violentadas y asesinadas.

Entonces, para hablar de un cambio sistémico es necesario auto-cuestionarse y cuestionar; sí las políticas de desarrollo se disfrazan de gobernanza global y estas se sobreponen a la territorialidad, a los derechos, y cómo éstas afectan y vulneran a las mujeres y a su entorno.

Women for Climate Justice Celebrate KXL Victory & Look To The Future

For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Emily Arasim, emily@wecaninternational.org, +1 (505) 920-0153

SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 9, 2015) – Last week US President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all. The following is a statement from Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International):

“After a seven-year fight and a deal that was claimed ‘done’, US President Obama has rejected the KXL Pipeline – a project that would have locked in devastating emissions and tipped us closer towards climate chaos. We commend President Obama for taking decisive action, and are hopeful that this momentum will continue forward into COP21 climate talks later this month.

As we celebrate this great victory – we remember the terrific efforts of all those who made this happen and the dedicated and fearless grassroots activism and organizing that has grown ceaselessly across this continent in the defense of all we hold dear. The sheros and heroes of this victory are our Indigenous sisters and brothers and the frontline communities who have been at the forefront from the very start.

As a network of women for climate justice, we are filled with hope and energy as we move forward into the next phase in this fight for justice for people and planet.  Stopping KXL is huge – but we see it as another step in our sustained campaign with all our allies to demand that world governments keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground and immediately begin an earnest transition to a 100% renewable energy future.”

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Click here to view more photos of WECAN and allies participation and organizing in the fight against Keystone.

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

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:

Health & Climate: Changing the Narrative – Training Recap Day Two

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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On June 25, 2015 the U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative held the second day of an online education and advocacy training, ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’. A detailed review of day one is available here.

Day two featured four outstanding women leaders, Susan E. Pacheco M.D of the University of Texas, Pandora Thomas of EarthSeed Consulting LLC & the Black Permaculture Network, Angela Monti Fox of The Mothers Project, and Hannah Vogel with Climate Nexus.

Osprey Orielle Lake, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International), spoke first, welcoming participants to the call and providing a brief background of WECAN International’s framework and vision for this training and other related work.

According to Osprey, the training call aims to bring together women from diverse groups across the US, acknowledging differing experiences and struggles, and working to build a powerful women’s voice for action on climate change. The training, and WECAN’s work in general, is centered on a climate justice framework, which means dedication to the communities who experience climate and health impacts “first and worst”.

“While we are all exposed to environmental degradation, we must take into consideration that frontline and Indigenous communities bear the biggest brunt of health and climate impacts, and that the only way to change this is through our involvement and action,” Osprey explained.

She noted that genuine action on climate change requires “systemic social and political analysis,” and asserted that women’s voices must be heard if we are to develop effective, long-term solutions. Osprey closed her introduction by inviting all participants to join WECAN International for a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, happening on September 29. Learn more about the Day of Action here.

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Dr. Susan E. Pacheco

Dr. Susan E. Pacheco took the floor as the first training presenter. Dr. Pacheco is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center specializing in pediatric asthma, allergies, and immunology. She is also the founder of the Alliance Of Health Professionals Against Climate Change and the Texas Coalition for Climate Change Awareness, and serves as the health representative for the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. Susan’s presentation, ‘Children in a Changing World: Silent Victims of Climate Change’, focused on climate-related threats to maternal and children’s health.

According to Susan, 88% of the worldwide disease burden falls on children under five years of age. Some of the things that make children especially vulnerable include the fact that they ‘breathe more air and drink more water’, have immature and developing organs, lungs, and nervous systems, are at a stage of rapid change, spend more time outdoors, need more ‘emotional shelter’, and face a lifetime of exposure and climate stress.

Dr. Pacheco discussed air pollution as a health impact stemming directly from fossil fuel use, and touched on a few more subtle health problems with severe impacts on children. Changing climate patterns are causing increased pollen production in plants, which is worsening allergies and causing respiratory problems. Rising temperatures are affecting ozone production, which changes air quality and has increased the prevalence of asthma. 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. In U.S 20 million people are afflicted, 7 million of them children.

Echoing calls made during day one of the training, Susan pointed out that very little research has been done on the mental health impacts of climate change, which are thought to include apathy, depression, social stress, and PTSD, to name but a few. As a poignant example, Susan drew attention to the 160,000 children displaced and 15,000 children who did not go to school during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Pacheco also spoke on maternal health, discussing studies connecting women’s exposure to air pollution with autism risk in their children. She highlighted long-term brain damage and developmental issues as effects of exposure to industrial pollutants and fossil fuels during pregnancy, and commented upon pregnant women’s increased vulnerability during heat waves and other extreme weather events.

Susan presented passionately on issues of justice, reminding participants that the burden is not distributed evenly, with socio-economic background determining children’s relative exposure. She spoke to the fact that those who produce the least carbon emissions are the most effected, whether we are discussing differential impacts on children and adults, or between high and low-income communities and countries. According to her presentation, there are more than 700 million children living in the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Critically, Dr. Pacheco explained that re-framing the climate conversation to bring health impacts to the forefront has the potential to inspire meaningful action like perhaps nothing else could.

“The moment that we change our conversation to bring health to the climate change debate our action will change,” she asserted, describing how health discussions can make climate change more relatable and bring an even greater sense of urgency to our response efforts.

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Pandora Thomas

Pandora Thomas spoke next. Pandora is a teacher, writer, designer, speaker and co-Founder of Earthseed Consulting LLC, a holistic consulting firm working to expand opportunities for sustainable living to diverse communities across the U.S. Pandora’s other projects include the Black Permaculture Network and Pathways to Resilience, a program working to engage people exiting the prison system in permaculture concepts and practices.

Pandora spoke with training participants about building community resilience and helping engage people in climate change and health issues by “meeting people where they’re at” and creating relevant, appropriate, and community led projects and initiatives.

“Where we are is very urgent, but ripe full of opportunities,” she began, introducing the West African concept of Sankofa, which translates roughly to ‘we must know from where we came in order to move forward’, used here in reference to the need to build on centuries of wisdom and tradition as we move forward in addressing climate change and its dire health impacts.

Pandora shared a powerful discussion of the disproportionate climate-health impacts felt by African-American communities across the U.S.

Pandora shared research that 71% of African-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollutions standards. 78% live within 30 miles of coal-fired plant, and they are also more likely to live near landfills or incinerators. African-Americans have a 36% higher rate of asthma and die from this condition at twice the rate as Caucasians Americans. They are also at greater risk of heat-related deaths, (which will increase by at least 90% due to climate change) due in part to the fact that they are more likely to live in inner city areas. African-Americans are also more likely to reside in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise, and experience food insecurity at a rate 25.7% higher than the national average.

Pandora also drew connections between climate vulnerability, economic insecurity, and crime and violence, presenting the story of the Pathways to Resilience program as an example of how we can tackle the nexus of climate impacts in a constructive way.

In sharing the work of Pathways to Resilience, Pandora introduced the concept of permaculture as a key tool for restoring the health of the planet and people. Permaculture is a design system and way of living based on observing how natural systems work and seeking to emulate these patterns and principles in all that we do. Among many things, permaculture includes ecologic farming, soil and plant stewardship, green building, Earth-centered economics, water conservation and care, reduced consumption, and clean energy– making it a potent tool for build the kind of world we want – one that insures health for people and planet.

Some of Pandora’s other insights for addressing climate and health impacts within a justice framework include “connect to that which gives you strength”, “think of our potential instead of being mired in the problems”, “feed what you want to see grow”, and draw upon and uplift the existing experiences and solutions of frontline communities.

Angela Monti Fox spoke next. Angela is a mental health professional and founder of Mothers Project, an organization established in 2012 in reaction to the expansion of fracking and natural gas exploitation in New York and Pennsylvania.

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Angela Monti Fox

“[They are] drilling in everyone’s back yard and creating a public health crisis without the public actually knowing it,” Angela explained, noting that similar stories are repeated across the country, “poisoned water and sick children.”

Angela described how extractive industries and other big polluters are allowed to slide-by, dumping toxins into water and claiming that chemicals are diluted to such small quantities that they cannot affect people. The Mothers Project and countless other groups and communities across the world however, are testifying otherwise.

Angela cited a 1996-2009 study in Colorado which followed pregnant women living near gas wells and found birth defects and a 30% greater chance of these women giving birth to a preterm and/or underweight babies. It is being revealed that this kind of exposure can also result in endocrine disruption and DNA damage, meaning that children could be affected for life.  Angela also noted disruptions of children’s ability to “learn, love, bond”.

Angela and the Mothers Project team wrote and sent a letter to Michelle Obama asking for her support in addressing fracking and its health impacts on children. They received no reply, but continue undaunted in their work to expose and prevent these dangerous health impacts.

“A child centered model would bring the entire fossil fuels industry down in a massive action,” Angela explained, expressing her sentiment, much like Susan’s, that the public would care deeply if they understood the depth of the climate-health crisis. Mothers can and should be at the forefront of the movement to educate and inspire action.

We have the power and the science to shift our energy system, Susan concluded, “do we have the power in the people?”

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Hannah Vogel

Hannah Vogel, an associate with Climate Nexus, spoke as the fourth and final presenter of day two. Hannah presented an overview of an important climate and health report that was released just days before the June 25th training. The ‘Lancet Commission on Health & Climate Change’ frames climate disruption as the most pressing global health risk of the century, while conversely drawing attention to action on climate change as our greatest opportunity to address health problems worldwide, with immediate and long-term benefits.

Hannah touched on a theme highlighted by many presenters over the course of the two-day training –we simply must start paying a lot more attention to what our energy decisions mean for our health. According to Hannah’s overview of the Lancet report, we need to fundamentally shift our energy model and implement an ‘emergency-style’ response to climate change.

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During the training Q & A session presenters and participants returned to the subject of the Lancet Report to discuss concerns that, while the report makes powerful calls for action to shut-down coal based energy production, it does not make similar statements on fracking and natural gas, two toxic energy sources whose major health impacts were reviewed by Angela Monti Fox and other speakers during training day one. WECAN International will continue to review the Lancet Report and speak out about discrepancies in an otherwise powerful and important document.

Other topics discussed during the Q & A session include; why we need to pay attention to changing consumer behavior and companies visions rather than just policy, the importance of “finding peoples entry points” and framing climate and health discussions in a positive, inclusive way, and how we can create bridges between diverse movements for justice, referring specifically to the devastating Charleston shooting and Black Lives Matter movement.

In reflecting on the two days of ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ training a few key themes become apparent:

  • Children, women and elders are disproportionately vulnerable to health problems stemming from climate impacts.
  • Low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to toxic industrial sites, fossil fuel infrastructure, and extreme weather events.
  • The fossil fuel industry is the root source of much pollution and climate change-related health problems – addressing health impacts thus means working towards 100% renewable energy.
  • Direct action at the local community level is effective and we all have the power and potential to get involved.
  • Re-framing climate change conversations to reflect pervasive health impacts is central to insuring deep, sustained action on climate change.
  • Education is the key – it is up to all of us to raise our voices and get out in our communities to help connect the dots and re-frame the climate change conversation to include critical health impacts.

For information on future WECAN International education and advocacy calls, please click here.

Health & Climate Change Day Two Training Resources

For Our Children & All Generations: Health & Climate Change Training Recap Day One

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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Human health and the health of the planet are inseparable. A constantly interacting cycle, our destruction and waste is stressing Mother Earth’s vital organs to the point of collapse, which in turn is causing epidemics of pollution and disaster related health problems in our communities.

Children, elders, and women are impacted with disproportionate severity – and low-income communities are often marginalized and placed directly in the path of toxic sites and extreme weather events. The topic of health and climate thus emerges as both an existential crisis, and as a question of deep social and environmental injustice.

On June 23, 2015 women from across the United States joined together to participate in the first day of ‘Health and Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’, an online education and advocacy training presented as part of the WECAN International U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative. Day one of the training featured Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, M.D. , Pramilla Malick, and Cherri Foytlin.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) opened the call and passed the floor to Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, M.D. of the Institute for Health & the Environment.

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Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient

Shelia presented a broad overview of the myriad of health impacts emerging as a consequence of accelerating climate disruption. She began with a discussion of air pollution, which is characterized by ground level ozone, smog, and particulate matter accumulation. She cited health impacts including increases in asthma, allergies, cardiac and pulmonary disease, lung and heart related hospitalizations, diminished lung function, and premature deaths.

She also spoke about heat waves as a major climate related health concern, drawing attention to devastating cases emerging in Pakistan and India in recent weeks. May and June 2015 brought temperatures of 113- 119 degrees F to India, killing more than 2,500 people as of June 5th. On June 19, days before the training, extreme temperatures in Pakistan killed more than 260 people in just a few days.

Health impacts from heat waves include dehydration, heat stroke and exhaustion, as well as increased mortality rates and exacerbated heart problems. Urban dwellers experience even higher temperatures as a result of the ‘heat island’ effect – and children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

Extreme heat goes hand in hand with drought conditions, which stresses plant and animal communities and can lead to parched, failing food systems. The Western U.S has been experiencing intensifying impacts over the last decade– and at the global level, failing crops mean malnutrition, starvation, job and income loss, shortened life expectancy, compromised immune systems, and increased disease vulnerability.

Wildfires are another drought-related concern with direct impacts on air quality and heart and lung disease. A map generated on June 22, 2015 revealed twenty-four major fires burning in the US – thirteen of them in Alaska. As of June 28 there were at least 319 large and small fires burning in the state, a strikingly clear example of the wildly off-balance world we are faced with.

Sheila discussed floods and hurricanes next, citing impacts ranging from bodily injuries, acute illness and deaths, to increases in homeless populations and sickness from contaminated water and food sources. Changes in the range and characteristics of infectious vectors is another very real climate impact, with diseases like West Nile, Lyme disease, Dengue, Malaria, and Chikungunya all shifting and spreading.

Sheila’s presentation circled back to impacts on food systems as a key human health concern. She explained how the vitality and diversity of oceans and freshwater bodies are collapsing due to pollution, rising temperatures, and melt-water, and spelled out what this means for the wellbeing of the worlds waters and human health and nutrition.

Sheila concluded with comments on the psychological health impacts of floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events, which can include Autism spectrum disorder, PTSD, depression, anger, family conflict and separation, and even civil conflict and war. Reflecting on these deep climate impacts with Sheila was an enlightening and eye-opening experience.

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Pramilla Malick of Protect Orange County and Stop the Minisink Compressor Station spoke next. Pramilla is a journalist, blogger, mother, and grassroots community organizer who has been working ceaselessly to expose and prevent the damages caused by fracking and gas infrastructure in her community in upstate New York.

Pramilla started by noting the painful irony of our situation. Faced with depleted resources and planetary stress, we have decided to use even more destructive techniques to unearth fossil fuels. She explained how these more violent forms of extraction are driving the health of the Earth and our communities along a parallel trajectory – towards more deadly and extreme impacts.

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Pramilla Malick

For the past two years her community has been living with a compressor station that pushes fracked natural gas along a large pipeline. According to Pramilla, compressor and metering stations are needed every 10 miles along many pipelines, placing millions of US residents in close proximity to dangerous, and even deadly infrastructure.

Pramilla quickly became aware that radioactive gas and liquid was seeping into the soil and being released into the air, and that at least 26 toxic chemicals (many known carcinogens) were being pumped through and around her community. As soon as she understood the dire implications of the compressor station, she began collecting testimony’s from neighbors and photographing the health impacts appearing among residents.

Pramilla documented rashes and skin irritations, nose bleeds, reparatory illness, nausea, vomiting, swollen joints, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, organ damage, and neurological symptoms, all radiating out up to 150 miles from the station.

Reaffirming Shiela’s comments on young peoples heightened vulnerability, Pramilla drew attention to the fact that these exposures impact not just children’s immediate wellbeing, but also their long-term health and development.

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Mid-way through her presentation, Pramilla took our breath away with a shocking video of the compressor station in her community. At first nothing was visible, but when an infrared camera was switched on a massive plume of emissions became visible, rising up from the compressor like an uncontrollable fire.

She expressed deep concerned about the toxins and carcinogens that her community is breathing in directly, but also about the effects of bioaccumulation in soil and dairy products, which make up a large portion of the local economy and are distributed across the US.

Pramilla and allies also connected the dots between the toxins and the inhibition of agricultural crops, and observed that the constant noise from the station was driving away bats and insects central to pest control and natural ecosystem balance. Soon people in Pramilla’s town began packing up and walking away from their homes – a forced migration that often only the better-off can afford.

On the subject of justice, Pramilla reminded us, “We are all connected. We are connected by the pipelines that are poisoning us. We are connected by our water. We are connected by our air.”

She concluded with powerful comments on the fracking and natural gas industries, which are being promoted by the US government as a type of positive transition fuel. These are unacceptable false solutions she explained,

“We have to choose a different course. We cannot trade one poison for another…the system we have in place is simply not sustainable. It is acting on the bodies of our children as we speak. We as mothers must come together, nothing is more important than the health of our children.”

Cherri Foytlin joined the call as the third and final presenter of day one. Cherri is a mother of six living in Southern Louisiana. She hails from the Dene Nation, and is a photographer, speaker, Idle No More Gulf Coast member, and author of Spill It! The Truth about the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion. Cherri spoke with training participants on health and climate impacts in her Gulf Coast home-region, where there have been five major hurricanes in the last five years.

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Cherri Foytlin

The area is a center of industry, with mega-ports and refineries lying directly in the path of extreme weather events. Major oil spills have poisoned the ocean waters and inland aquifers, exacerbating the health and environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina and Rita as oil and chemical dispersants washed back onto the land and into peoples homes. Asthma, pneumonia, respiratory issues, and cancer have all been documented in people involved in Katrina cleanup efforts, and the true reach of the oil spill and hurricanes health impacts are only beginning to be revealed.

Despite the challenging conditions Cherri is facing in her community, her presentation was filled with a wealth of positive, uplifting insight into how we can all take action to engage with issues health and climate change.

She explained that we must not give up hope and should boldly “sound the alarm”- getting out on the street to talk with our friends and neighbors and help them see the connection between climate change, health, pollution and fossil fuel infrastructure. She asserted that we must continue to demand strong, meaningful action from public officials, but that we also must realize that real change happens only when people stand up, act, and push governments to step up to the plate as leaders.

Cherri commented on the need to strengthen our health systems, assess vulnerabilities, and take action to insure that health professionals have the training to deal with toxic exposure and climate disasters.

She also suggested policy action to require developers to prove how they will protect human and environmental health- with clear guidelines for shutting down projects if and when they cannot provide this evidence. Touching on an absolutely vital theme, Cherri declared that we must end the fossil fuel era and challenge “an archaic industry that is feeding on our health” and the health of the Earth as a whole.

Cherri also explained that working to actively build another vision is of the upmost importance, suggesting action to get renewable energy in homes and show people that a clean economy can support jobs and economic health. Thus far, her community has put solar panels on 26 homes, focusing on the elderly and low-income families first.

We were inspired by, and in full agreement with Cherri’s statements about the need to create a new culture and challenge the idea that our mission in life is to consume. She called for the re-building of a culture that respects the planet, sees reducing emissions as a source of great pride, and lifts up the stories of those who are on the frontlines of impacts and solutions.

During the Q & A session, presenters and participants reflected more on ways to get involved with critical health and climate issues.

Pramilla emphasized support for the transition to 100% renewable energy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and action to expose the fact that natural gas and fracking are not “bridge fuels”, but rather “bridges to catastrophe”.

“As mothers, we must tell policymakers that the health of our children comes first, and that clean air and water is a fundamental human right that cannot be compromised in any shape or form,” she explained.

Sheila shared hopeful information about ongoing work with the American Medical Association to call for legislation that requires comprehensive health impact assessments of existing and proposed infrastructure projects. Cherri asked participants to join her in speaking out about the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, building awareness and framing it as the climate and health disaster that it was.

Cherri provided a powerful statement to close the session,

“Inaction in the face of climate change and injustice is an act of violence towards our women and children and future generations. But the opposite of that, if you take that backwards, is that action for climate justice for all of us is an act of love. That is the most important thing because that is how we win… our love for eachother will win this, we can do this.”

Check back soon for a recap of day two of the ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ training.

You can join our next training, ‘Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change: Resistance & Solutions’ on Wednesday, July 8. Click here for details.

Training Resources

Revisiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC): A Mothers Plea

BLOCKADIA - THE BEYOND EXTREME ENERGY ACTION in Washngton DC

Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. Photo via Erik McGregor.

We are honored to share this article written by Harriet Shugarman, Executive Director of Climate Mama and honored WECAN U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Steering Committee Member, and Linda Reik, scientist, mother, and New York resident. 

We are your mothers and your sisters. We are your neighbors, your co-workers and your friends. At different times in our lives we have been called farm worker, engineer, professor, economist, scientist, daughter, and mommy. What we have never been called, until now is: pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure expert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority, activist or terrorist.
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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

These are new names for us, as we work to understand what is happening in our communities. We are listening closely as we hear repeated accounts about children who are ill, crops that are failing, tainted water, farm animals whose progeny die young, incessant noise, dust and smells in the air, and declining property values which threaten our ability to insure our homes and businesses.We have begun to think of creative ways to have our voices heard, as we try to raise the alarm that few citizens and even fewer elected officials are listening to. We are now discovering that our actions have been noticed, but rather than working with us to drill down on the facts, they have caused some government bodies to label us as possible “terroristic threats.” (See end of document for links)

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman

By necessity we have come to know the ins and outs of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the names of pipelines and their routes, where they connect, if they are attached to a compressor station, if they are headed for an LNG export facility, what bodies of water they are going to cross under, and more often than not, we also know their FERC projects docket numbers.

We are watching as FERC has been thrust into a hugely important role of overseeing the expansion of our country’s natural gas extraction. According to the FERC website there is no review of FERC decisions by the President or Congress, maintaining FERC’s independence as a regulatory agency, and providing for “fair and unbiased decisions.” In addition, the website states: “the Commission is funded through costs recovered by the fees and annual charges from the industries it regulates.”

This last sentence bears serious consideration. FERC’s annual budget, which was over $304 million in 2014, is 100% dependent on the fees and charges it assesses to the industry it regulates. FERC regularly holds educational seminars and events with industry allowing for easy access to FERC commissioners and staff. Yet, as public citizens, it is very difficult, if not impossible for us to meet with FERC officials and speak at FERC meetings.

To be sure, FERC currently has the authority and wide latitude to interpret the rules under which the Commission was established. In August 2014, Cheryl LaFluer, then FERC Acting Chair, and now FERC Commissioner, more clearly defined this role: “What we have said is that we believe under [the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA] that we look at the direct project impacts, we do not do a cradle-to-grave, molecule-by-molecule analysis of where a fuel is coming from, what’s going to happen at the end of the ship when it goes off to the other side of the Earth and what other fuel it displaces.” Continuing,LaFleur said: “We don’t believe that’s in our authority or in our role under NEPA.”

LaFleur was also quoted at a National Press Club event on January 27th saying: “I believe meeting the goals of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan will also lead to construction of a lot of new natural gas generation.”

So, here too, we are watching with disappointment and concern as the Clean Power Plan, set up to lower our country’s heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and to act on climate change, has as one of it’s four established pillars anchoring the President’s climate plan – shale gas, a fossil fuel. Natural gas – a fossil fuel that the world’s climate scientists have told us must stay in the ground if we are to have hope for a livable future – is instead being promoted as a viable climate “solution.”

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

Federal rules allow for the dramatic expansion of shale gas production in our country, and gut previous rules for reporting and protecting us from toxic chemicals; effectively exempting the gas and oil industry from regulations that all other industries must adhere too. As long as industry complies with the rules, the bigger picture – our health, clean water, clean air, our security and our future, doesn’t count. The mandate and reach of FERC must be revisited and revised by Congress. We must connect the dots at all levels and jump into the future now, there is no bridge, there is only a cliff. There is no Planet B.

This wasn’t part of our plans when we put down roots in our communities and birthed our children. But this is where we find ourselves now; experts on technical topics we never imagined as we work feverishly to sound the alarm. Our children are watching.

Sources:

Blog by Harriet Shugarman and Linda Reik

WECAN Joins 63 Groups Calling On President Obama To Reject Enbridge’s Illegal Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Scheme

WECAN International is one of 63 environmental, Indigenous, and inter-faith groups who sent a letter to President Obama last week, demanding an end to the back-room approval of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion project. In the letter we call for follow-through on mandated environmental reviews and express our serious concerns about threats to land, water, climate action, and Indigenous rights. Check out the press release and letter to the President below.


For Immediate Release: June 18, 2015

Alberta-Clipper-BypassA letter from 63 national, regional, and local groups demands that the tar sands pipeline project be held to the same standard as the proposed Keystone XL

Washington, DC — In a letter sent to President Obama this morning, 63 environmental, tribal, and faith groups called for a full environmental review of the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion, expressing serious concerns about the project, which threatens land, water, and climate and tramples on tribal rights.

The groups urged the president to hold the project to the same legally required review process as Keystone XL, and to reverse a decision made by the State Department last year to illegally allow Canadian oil giant Enbridge to use a backdoor scheme to increase the amount of dirty, climate-polluting tar sands flowing through the Great Lakes region.

The full text of the letter and list of signers is below:

June 18, 2015
President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Subject:  Environmental Review of the Enbridge Alberta Clipper Pipeline Expansion

We applaud your Administration’s commitment to combating climate change. On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we thank you for ongoing efforts to prioritize what we believe is the most pressing issue of our time. To that end, we also look forward to an imminent rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the State Department’s recent authorization of pipeline company Enbridge’s plan to dramatically increase the amount of tar sands they are importing across the border via their Alberta Clipper and Line 3 pipelines. Enbridge’s plan allows them to blatantly skirt environmental reviews that even the State Department has previously said were necessary.

In 2012, Enbridge announced plans to nearly double the amount of tar sands crude oil it brings across the border on its Alberta Clipper pipeline, from 450,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd. Pumping this increased amount of tar sands crude under higher pressure would increase the risk of a tar sands spill in the Great Lakes region and would jeopardize important regional water resources, including the headwaters of the great Mississippi River. This increased pipeline capacity would also trigger more development of destructive, high-carbon tar sands fuel. Therefore, the State Department correctly determined that it must evaluate these and other environmental impacts before deciding whether to allow Enbridge to expand Alberta Clipper’s flow of tar sands crude into the country.

Alberta Clipper and Line 3 also run directly through the 1855 Treaty Territory where indigenous and tribal members live and work. This territory is used by tribes for hunting, fishing, and gathering.  Native plants, including wild rice, animals, and sites within the territory traditionally have been important to members of native tribes for subsistence, spiritual, medicinal, and other purposes.  The territory is also used for other important tribal spiritual and cultural practices.  Tar sands expansion would put all of these tribal resources at risk.

For the above reasons, the State Department correctly determined that it must evaluate these and other environmental impacts before deciding whether to allow Enbridge to expand Alberta Clipper’s flow of tar sands crude into the country.

Rather than wait for this requisite environmental review and permitting process to run its due course, Enbridge decided it would immediately increase the flow of Alberta Clipper by diverting the oil onto an adjacent pipeline for the actual border-crossing, then diverting the oil back to Alberta Clipper just south of the U.S.-Canada border. Enbridge claimed that the Department’s permit for the adjacent pipeline, Line 3, which was built in 1968 withoutany environmental review, does not contain express language limiting its capacity.

Unfortunately, in early 2014, State Department staff acceded to this scheme following several closed-door meetings with Enbridge.

The Department has both the authority and obligation to reverse this decision. The Department should not be complicit in an interpretation designed to attack its own authority and undermine its review process. Rather, the Department must stand by the environmental review that it indicated was legally obligated when this expansion was first announced, and prevent Enbridge from moving forward until that full review process is complete. Failing to do so would compromise the presidential permitting process, would limit public input and transparency around this process, and would undermine the Administration’s expressed commitment to addressing climate change.

It is the duty of your Administration to decide whether cross-border tar sands pipelines are in the national interest, and you have made clear that you take that duty seriously. The State Department simply cannot allow Enbridge to dictate the outcome based on a back-door scheme to avoid full review. The Alberta Clipper expansion must be held to the same national interest and climate standards as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

We therefore call on the State Department to withdraw its back-room approval of the Alberta Clipper expansion, and complete its ongoing environmental review of the project before allowing any more climate-polluting tar sands crude oil to be imported.

Sincerely yours,

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Cc: U.S. Secretary of State, John F. Kerry