• Rebecca Cho

“It’s My Homeland”: A Fight Against Corporate Greed

Updated: Sep 5


Art by Michelle Dong, staff artist

“It’s my homeland.” These were the powerful words of Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women to be elected into Congress and embody a perfect description of the indigenous fight to protect their lands. Haaland is one of many strong advocates for the protection of public lands (Osbourne, 2018). Indigenous grassroots movements and their allies continue their fervent conflict with politicians and corporations to maintain ownership and sanctity of their sacred sites. 


One prime example of the indigenous fight is their struggle to maintain the Bears Ears National Monument. This monument was designated as a special site under the Obama administration due to several native tribes and their ancestral ties to the land. Now, under Trump’s administration, two million acres of the monument became reserved for oil and gas extraction (Osbourne, 2018). “Trump turned around and basically told the tribes, ‘hey, you ain’t got no say, just sit there and take what I give you,’” said Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian tribe (Tobias, 2019). Only  a few months later, the Bureau of Land Management also leased 51,000 acres nearby to fossil fuel companies and eventually auctioned another 250,000 acres of land for resource extraction (Podmore, 2019). 


With 35% of America's fossil fuels located in the proximity of indigenous lands, Native Americans face repeated violations by oil, gas, mining, and energy industries of treaty rights,  especially those that protected their traditional lands (Thomas-Muller, n.d.). Over 20 years ago, the Indigenous Environmental Network and its allies developed a campaign to help tribal communities work together in order to halt energy resource reliance and development on sacred sites. 


Indigenous communities have shown strong disapproval of America’s fossil-fuel exploitation. One example is the Standing Rock conflict, where Native Americans and many others fought against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Fortunately, under former President Obama, the project was put off. However, President Trump re-approved the project in 2017. Now, oil flows under Lake Oahe, a primary water source and sacred place for certain indigeneous groups. In order to spur job creation, President Trump’s policies further promote fossil fuel development. Ironically, though, the renewable energy sector has shown more benefits for the environment as well as employment rates.  According to a World Bank report, wind and solar produce about 13.5 jobs per $1 million spent in the U.S. compared with the 5.2 jobs created in oil and gas and 6.2 in coal. Currently, the number of jobs in coil, oil and gas industries have declined while work for solar and wind power has increased (Osbourne, 2018). 


Scientists also support the natives’ fight with basic statistics showing that fossil fuels are detrimental to our planet in face of climate change. Researchers suggest that the optimal, possibly the only, way for us to effectively mitigate global warming is to prevent fossil fuel extraction (Osbourne, 2018). If climate change is not halted, there will be increased hunger, relocation of people, and increased  severity of natural disasters. 


Authorized fossil fuel extraction gives permission for companies to defile ancestral homelands for many tribes. The Pueblo of Acoma, a New Mexican tribe, argued that certain parts of the leased land included symbolic artifacts such as rock art and kivas, which are chambers used by Pueblo Indians for religious rituals (Podmore, 2019). Exposing these types of culturally significant objects is a gross violation. Natives rely on these sites as vital mediums to gain insight into their ancestors’ lives, touch into their tribal spirits, and chronicle their history. 


Haaland states, “Public lands are a statement about who we are as Americans. The most pristine and beautiful places in our country should never belong to one person” (Tobias, 2019). The damage we are doing to the environment is irreversible and there must be a global comprehension of the expensive price tag and disproportionate sacrifice that accompanies the continued extraction. World leaders need to understand that mitigation of global climate change does not only fulfill our innate duty to save our Earth but to maintain our moral responsibility as people as well. For indigenous people to suffer the underside of these decisions - from colonial conquest to treaty violations - we are destroying our land and our sense of humanity. 



References

Osbourne, T. (2018, April 9). Native americans fighting fossil fuels. Scientific American. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/native-americans-fighting-fossil-fuels/

Podmore, Z. (2019, February 28). Oil and gas drilling threaten indigenous cultural sites. Sierra. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-2-march-april/protect/oil-and-gas-drilling-threaten-indigenous-cultural-sites

Thomas-Muller, C. (n.d.). Energy exploitation on sacred native lands. Reimagine Movement. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://reimaginerpe.org/node/307

Tobias, J. (2019, May 15). 'It's my homeland': The trailblazing native lawmaker fighting fossil fuels. The Guardian. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/15/deb-haaland-public-lands-fighting-trump-drilling




#climatechange #NativeAmericans #equality #environmentaljustice #activism



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