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Joye Braun of Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) speaks outside the White House in Washington, D.C. during a #PeopleVsFossilFuels demonstration on October 11, 2021. (Photo: Adrien Salazar/Twitter)

'Biden, Can You Hear Us Now?' Ask Indigenous Leaders Amid Arrests at Fossil Fuel Protest

One activist had a message for the president: "If you're claiming to be a leader for our climate crisis... then you need to start living up to your word."

Brett Wilkins

More than 130 Native American Earth protectors were arrested in Washington, D.C. Monday, while others were blasted with sonic weaponry as tribal leaders and members from across the continent they call Turtle Island gathered on Indigenous Peoples' Day to protest Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline and other oil and gas ventures backed by President Joe Biden, and to call on his administration to halt all fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency.

"People are dying right now from the pollutants, the toxins, the climate catastrophes that are happening, and we have to stop the harm."

Thousands of Indigenous-led demonstrators rallied and marched, with hundreds engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience outside the White House as a week of #PeopleVsFossilFuels climate action kicked off. Ahead of Monday's march, protesters painted "Expect Us" on the pedestal of a statue of Andrew Jackson, the genocidal seventh U.S. president known to Cherokees as "Indian Killer"—and favorite of former President Donald Trump.

Indigenous Environmental Network tweeted video footage of police using a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against demonstrators sitting defiantly but peacefully outside the White House fence. Some observers contrasted the deployment of so-called "sound cannons" against nonviolent Indigenous protesters both on Monday and during past #StopLine3 protests with the absence of such heavy-handed tactics during the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mostly white mob.

Some critics decried Biden—the first president to officially commemorate Indigenous Peoples' Day, and the first to appoint a Native American to his Cabinet—for allowing the arrest of Indigenous protesters at Monday's demonstration. Others took aim at the chasm between the president's climate promises and his administration's fossil fuel-friendly actions.

"Biden claimed to be a climate leader during his campaign, and he made promises to steer our nation into a just and renewable transition," said Tasina Sapa Win, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation and co-founder of the Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective, 

Sapa Win had a message for Biden: "If you're claiming to be a leader for our climate crisis, to come up with solutions to our issues here, then you need to start living up to your word."

Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, told The Washington Post at Monday's protest that thousands of her people have become some of the first U.S. climate refugees, as a dozen villages must relocate to drier ground. She also said that people around her village are developing rare cancers and asthma, and need medication to help them breathe.

"People are dying right now from the pollutants, the toxins, the climate catastrophes that are happening, and we have to stop the harm," Maupin said, adding that Biden's election was "riding on climate change, his entire election on people of color, Indigenous people. But when it really comes to when it matters, our lives are still being sacrificed for oil and gas."

The president and his administration have faced backlash from Indigenous and environmental activists for backing the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, a Trump-era Alaska driling project, and other fossil fuel industry expansion, with critics calling Biden's actions a "horrible and unconscionable betrayal" of his campaign promises.

Winona LaDuke, founder of the Indigenous-led advocacy group Honor the Earth, told Democracy Now! that "it's so tragic that, on the one hand, the Biden administration is like, 'We're going to have Indigenous Peoples' Day, but we're still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.'"

Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux and anti-pipeline organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said that "Biden has turned a fork-tongue, and he needs to be held accountable to the promises he made to Indigenous nations when we helped elect him."

Speaking outside the White House, Braun said, "Joe Biden you have been making false promises. You stopped Keystone XL—what about [Dakota Access Pipeline], Line 5, [Mountain Valley Pipeline]? This is Indigenous land. Indigenous peoples will be here for thousands of years. Biden, can you hear us now?"

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