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IEN protests at White House

Climate activists and Indigenous leaders demonstrated outside the White House on Wednesday. (Photo: Laura Beth Pelner)

Indigenous-Led Action Outside White House Urges Biden to 'Protect People, Not Polluters'

Protesters are calling on the president and Congress to "prioritize climate justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights, housing justice, and transit justice in the infrastructure discussions."

Jessica Corbett

For the third straight day, climate action advocates descended on Washington, D.C. Wednesday—this time for an Indigenous-led demonstration demanding that President Joe Biden stand up "for the rights of our communities instead of doing the bidding of corporate polluters."

"If we can stop these pipelines, stop our dependence on oil and gas, and change to cleaner types of energy that are sustainable, it will protect the future."
—Crystal Cavalier-Keck, MVP opponent

The demonstration spearheaded by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) followed a blockade of the White House entrances by the youth-led Sunrise Movement that led to arrests on Monday as well as a Tuesday rally calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

"As Indigenous peoples on the frontline of the climate crisis, we knew it was only a matter of time before Biden's neoliberal agenda was revealed for what it truly is," said IEN Green New Deal organizer Ashley (McCray) Engle, absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma/Oglala Lakota Nation, in a statement.

"The truth is, neoliberalism is a tool to maintain the status quo, to perpetuate white supremacy, and to kick the can of problems down the road," Engle added. "We are here to say that is unacceptable and we will continue to stand for Unci Maka [Grandmother Earth], our communities, and future generations by any means necessary."

Organizers of the Wednesday event, which also shut down multiple White House entrances, urge the president to "act now to stop dirty fossil fuel projects in all our communities, from Line 3 to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and beyond, and call on Congress to prioritize climate justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights, housing justice, and transit justice in the infrastructure discussions."

The series of actions in the nation's capital comes as the White House and federal lawmakers are working out the details of infrastructure legislation. Democratic leaders are pursuing a two-track approach, aiming to pass a reconciliation bill focused on "human infrastructure" provisions not included in a bipartisan deal reached last week.

The night before Biden and centrist lawmakers announced the deal, the Biden administration filed a legal brief backing the federal government's 2020 approval of Line 3 under former President Donald Trump—a move that outraged climate and Indigenous campaigners.

Participants in Wednesday's action outside the White House emphasized that Biden could stop Line 3, a project of the Canadian company Enbridge, which is trying to replace an aging oil pipeline with a bigger one that crosses Anishinaabe treaty lands.

Crystal Cavalier-Keck, a member of the Occoneechee Band of the Saponi Nation and leader in the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline in North Carolina, pointed out Wednesday that the MVP "is going through a lot of sacred places."

"They are taking people's land. The federal government is supposed to protect people and sacred spaces, but they're not doing their job," she said. "Biden campaigned on the environment and protecting people. Letting all these pipelines like Line 3, DAPL, and MVP come through: that's not helping the public, that's not helping the people he campaigned for.”

Cavalier-Keck declared that "if we can stop these pipelines, stop our dependence on oil and gas, and change to cleaner types of energy that are sustainable, it will protect the future."

Speaking at Wednesday's event, Siqiniq Maupin, co-founder and director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, referenced the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people—especially women, girls, and Two-Spirits—whose disappearances and deaths haven't been investigated or solved.

Various reports and investigations have connected those cases to the fossil fuel industry's "man camps" for transient workers near Indigenous communities across the continent.

"I see this building and people that are so proud to be a part of this country that was built on the blood of Indigenous and Black and Brown bodies," Maupin said outside the White House. "I know there is a way forward, and it is not what we have been doing—and I will die trying to fight this, and I know there are so many that are willing to."

"This is not the future that my two little girls will grow up in," she continued. "We will not take white supremacy anymore and we will not take the police who support that, who don't give a shit about our lives—when we go missing they don't investigate it, but when we're in front of the D.C. building they're all over it."

Maupin added that "I hope the police look around and see what they are protecting—to see what they are defending and to see if they are really defending justice, or the big oil company and white supremacy."

Taysha Martineau, a water protector of the Fond du Lac Tribe who is opposing the Line 3 pipeline, also highlighted the connection, declaring that "as Indigenous women we face higher statistics of sexual violence than any other demographic. The ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women is exacerbated by these corporations."

"As a mother of four children, three of whom are female, it is my family that faces those statistics," Martineau explained. "If the Biden administration allows this corporation to build this unnecessary and harmful project, not only are they violating treaty rights, they are placing the lives of Indigenous children at risk."

"One in three Indigenous women go missing or are murdered, raped, or sexually assaulted before the age of 15," she noted. "I ask the Biden administration to take a look at my children, and answer a question I have to ask myself every single day, 'Which one?'"

A collection of groups joined the action and endorsed organizers' two key demands directed at the president:

  • Protect People, Not Polluters: Use your executive authority to stop approving fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency. Fossil fuel pipelines, infrastructure, exports, and leases fuel the climate emergency, pollute in Black and Brown communities, and violate treaty rights. Act now to end the era of fossil fuel production, protect our communities, and Build Back Fossil Free.
  • Pass a Climate Justice Infrastructure Bill: Use your bully pulpit to make sure Congress includes strong climate, Indigenous rights, housing justice, racial justice, and transit justice commitments in an infrastructure bill. Build on the THRIVE Agenda, to build a climate care economy, good jobs for all, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and a renewable energy standard!

Partners for Wednesday's event included, Arm in Arm, Center for Biological Diversity, Climate Justice Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Policy Studies, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, ShutDownDC, Sunrise Movement, and WECAN.

"To be the climate president we need, President Biden can use his executive authority today to stop approving fossil fuel projects and declare a national climate emergency," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute.

"With the stroke of a pen, Biden can take key actions to end the fossil fuel era and jumpstart a 100% renewable and just energy future," Siegel added. "We're starting to suffer a climate meltdown, and Biden has to seize the moment to Build Back Fossil Free.”

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