A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
"Fossil fuel executives and racist climate criminals continue to assault treaty rights and Indigenous sovereignty, attempting to ram toxic and unnecessary pipelines."
—Thanu Yakupitiyage, 350.org
That call from 350.org U.S. communications director Thanu Yakupitiyage for Indigenous #LandBack came just ahead of Thanksgiving in the United States and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate communities across the country—with more than 12.7 million Covid-19 cases and over 261,000 deaths nationwide as of Wednesday afternoon.
"As we embark on a just recovery from the compound crises of climate disasters, racist police brutality, economic injustice, and Covid-19, we are in a pivotal moment of reckoning that requires us to ground in the history of the United States as a country built on stolen Indigenous land by stolen Black and African labor," Yakupitiyage said.
"As we act to stop state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown communities," she continued, "we also acknowledge the decades and centuries of white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism that continue to have devastating and genocidal impacts on the lives, livelihoods, and traditions of Native and Indigenous communities across the United States, North America, and around the world."
The activist drew attention to three controversial pipelines against which Indigenous people have led the opposition, highlighting some of the destructive impacts that such projects have on Native communities and lands, in addition to the climate effects.
"Fossil fuel executives and racist climate criminals continue to assault treaty rights and Indigenous sovereignty, attempting to ram toxic and unnecessary pipelines like Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 through sacred Indigenous land and waters, while perpetuating threats and violence against Indigenous womxn, girls, and two-spirit people," said Yakupitiyage.
We are seeing day in and day out black and brown organizers across Minnesota gather to resist the Line 3 pipeline that was just approved. Follow @MN_350 and @resistline3 to find the best ways to support organizers on the ground. #StopLine3https://t.co/8cvPy4mbEv
— 350 dot org (@350) November 25, 2020
"Transformative climate solutions to truly tackle the root of climate change require systemic action to decolonize from the very systems that have created the crisis in the first place," she added. "Our leap toward a just recovery must start with honoring treaties with sovereign Indigenous nations and returning land back to Native peoples. The time is now for meaningful care and repair."
For months, 350.org has spearheaded global calls for a just recovery from the pandemic—demanding that policymakers prioritize human health, provide economic relief directly to the people, help workers and communities rather than corporate executives, work to create resilience for future crises, and build solidarity across borders.
Yakupitiyage's comments centering Indigenous communities in relation to a just recovery come as Biden is facing calls from Native Americans and climate campaigners to consider appointing Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a member of Pueblo of Laguna, as his interior secretary. Two years ago, she and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) became the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
When we say #landback, it means fundamentally undoing the harm that has been done to Indian Ppl...appointing an Indigenous person as Interior Secretary is a huge step in the right direction of getting the country’s relationship right w/ Indigenous people https://t.co/mdCjSfs2am
— NDN Collective (@ndncollective) November 18, 2020
Broadly, Biden is facing pressure from progressives—and public opinion—to stock the next administration, including his Cabinet, with people committed to serving in the public interest rather than corporate insiders. Earlier this month, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats launched a campaign that includes Cabinet suggestions; Haaland is among them.
"A visionary secretary of the interior has enormous latitude to crack down on giveaways to fossil fuel corporations, like permits to drill for oil on public lands and in public waters. With a progressive leader at the helm, we can make real progress," the groups explain on the campaign website.
"As the first Native American to hold this position, Rep. Deb Haaland would usher in a new era of Indigenous authority over stolen land," they added. "She is a fierce ally of our movement who has fought for renewable energy job creation in the House as vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands."
The Secretary of the Interior oversees the management and conservation of federal lands.
Who better to head the department than Rep. Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous woman elected to Congress? pic.twitter.com/ES6AV0BRRr
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) November 24, 2020
"When Sharice [Davids] and I got sworn in, everybody was so happy," said the congresswoman. "It means a lot to a group of people who have been here since time immemorial to know that they're truly being represented. I think it would really change the way people see our federal government."
"Being able to listen," Haaland added, "being able to move issues forward, bringing people to the table—I think that would make a huge difference."
From Arizona to Wisconsin, reporters have highlighted in the messy aftermath of Election Day that Native voters were key contributors to Biden's victory over President Donald Trump, who has yet to formally concede even though the transition process is already underway.
NEW from me for @CBSNews: Native American turnout in Arizona surged this year. Biden won Arizona by nearly 12,000 votes. With such a tight margin, every vote was critical, and Native American voters may have helped push Biden to victory in the state.https://t.co/rGjw3LRCk5
— Grace Segers (@Grace_Segers) November 20, 2020
When we talk about the rural vote, remember that it is incredibly diverse, and that Democrats can and must recognize that diversity as they build wining coalitions. Wisconsin’s Menominee County, overwhelmingly Native American, voted 82% for Biden.
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) November 22, 2020
After election-callers and major news networks named Biden the winner, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez released a statement noting the significance of the Native vote.
"The First Americans of this country, including a large majority of Navajo voters, had a major impact in the outcome of the presidential election in several swing states—that needs to be recognized and acknowledged by all," he said. "Both campaigns fought hard for Native American votes, particularly Navajo votes, and that's truly a reflection of the growing influence and power of tribal nations across the country."
Nez, who met with Biden and Harris to discuss tribal policy, added that "the Navajo Nation now looks forward to working together with the Biden-Harris administration to put that plan into action."