Rueben George has a rare ability to touch the heart and open the mind of all those who listen to him speak. He inspired and motivated the crowd at the Defend Our Coast rally at the BC legislature on Oct 22 2012. Rueben is a key member of the campaign to stop Kinder Morgans proposed pipeline and associated tanker traffic.
Activism is in the Blood, says Tar Sands Warrior
With piercings, thick-rimmed glasses and a tattoo across her heart–“Love Is The Movement,” its cursive letters read – the 33-year old Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation activist is not one you’d expect to be working in her Band office.
But in the foremost Indigenous community battling the Alberta tar sands, the world’s largest industrial project, the mother of two has for years wondered how to change the system.
Deranger has learned the tools of international Indigenous law; she’s campaigned to reform global banks; she’s worked as a land claims researcher; and she’s held positions in some of the biggest environmental organizations.
Today, alongside her partner Kelsey, her 13-year-old daughter and her 16-month-old son, Deranger has returned home to northern Alberta to fight the powerful oil and gas sector.
“We’ve been inundated with green-washing and propaganda from government and industry for so long, it’s not until our people start getting sick and losing their ability to go hunt and fish that we start to notice it,” she tells Windspeaker, leaning on her table.
“We’re learning the hard way, but at least we have some leaders willing to go out on a limb and take those chances, speak out, and say, ‘Enough is enough.’
“It can be rough, talking to people up here. The rivers, lakes and marsh systems they used to go to when they were younger don’t even exist anymore. Those parts of the Delta don’t even exist anymore – they’ve dried up.”
Pausing to collect her thoughts, Deranger admits, “We’re a little screwed.”
Despite the dark humour, Deranger exudes energy and purpose. There’s fight in this young warrior; a fight she says she learned from her upbringing.
While Deranger’s story is unique, she represents a new generation of young activists defending their territories using whatever tools are available across the country.
“Activism runs in my blood, I guess you could say.”
Deranger’s parents – members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a militant Native rights group started in the ‘60s – met at Wounded Knee during the famous armed standoff at Oglala, on North Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation.
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“After everything fizzled out... the whole thing went crazy,” Deranger says. “My mom said, ‘I’ve gotta get out of here.’ And my dad replied, ‘Just come with me – we’ll go back to the bush. We’ll go live on my trapline.’”
And so Susana Deranger left her homeland behind and eventually ended up raising Eriel’s older sister in the woods near Uranium City, Sask. After meeting at the confrontation at Wounded Knee, her parents would soon face a new threat: the Dorado mining company.
Exploiting a legal loophole at the time allowing family members to sell off their entire families’ land rights under certain circumstances, the company convinced Eriel’s relative – whom they found in a bar – to sign away their traditional trapline. Only one month before Susana gave birth to Eriel, armed Dorado security guards arrived.
“In the middle of the day… Dorado ... forcibly removed my family from our trapline,” Deranger said. “After that, we moved around quite a bit, but we spent a lot of time going back and forth, spending time on our traditional land, and understanding where we came from.
“My mom thinks that I’ve always been feisty. Growing up, my mom never stopped fighting. … I always joke that arts and crafts for me growing up wasn’t typical. It was making placards and banners, and helping come up with chants for protests and rallies. I was involved in occupations of Indian Affairs offices, at sit-ins at the Legislature buildings, in protests that took over the streets. That’s the backdrop to how I grew up: the framework that we have rights to the land.”
Through her organizing, Susana Deranger met renowned Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke. Decades later, the one-time U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate would come to know Eriel too, through her work with the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).
“Eriel’s a remarkable young woman,” LaDuke told Windspeaker from her home on White Earth nation in Minnesota. “She’s a really committed person from a beautiful community.
“She was raised in a community that was basically taken over by mining companies – they were basically driven out as a child. Then she moved to another community that’s now in the middle of the tar sands battle. So, her whole life, she’s fought the largest corporations in the world. She’s very smart and also very strong.”
Though Deranger has worked for the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and even as the Sierra Club’s interim Executive Director in its Prairie office, she doesn’t call herself an environmentalist. To the core, her fight is primarily to defend her territories, and Indigenous people’s right to self-determination.
“We have real rights, real power,” she said, explaining old Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s current lawsuit against Shell’s oil sands expansion plans. “It’s about understanding our power.
“We are key stakeholders – we are owners of this land. Our treaties and the Constitution dictate that we have the right to do this, and we’re going to challenge this as far as we have to. We’ll take it to the highest levels of the courts, if that’s what it’s going to take. We’re shifting away from necessarily challenging current governments to uphold this. We’re challenging the system as a whole, which is obviously flawed, to try to uphold our rights.”
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Her education in international Indigenous law, as well as her experience pushing global financial institutions to embrace Indigenous free, prior and informed consent, encouraged her to target the corporations and financiers behind the tar sands, not simply the governments approving and regulating the projects.
“How do you change the game?” she says, repeating her question. “You go to the people with the actual money.
“We’re going directly to the source.”
But the struggle for Native freedom, Deranger believes, is not one of convincing governments, corporations or non-Aboriginals to respect Indigenous rights.
Just as she benefited from her mother teaching her about the 1763 Royal Proclamation and the treaties as a child (“This stuff was drilled into my head!” she chuckles), Deranger says that Indigenous people still need to educate themselves and each other.
“The Indian Act is an example of how segregation still exists in this country,” she said. “Unwrapping all that and digesting it all is really hard, but once we get through that, the process of decolonization can begin.
“We have to talk not just to government and the settler community. First Nations need to understand our rights.”
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We need more people working for the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of the WORLD TODAY, my mother used to be one of them, but my niece is taking over for her mostly right now. My mother is the TRIBAL HISTORIAN for our Tribe the KLAMATH Tribes in Southern OREGON State. I need to get back to working for this CAUSE in our State. But when I get a CAR I would have more chances to go to meetings & cause EVENTS. Right now I am disabled & very much in PAIN. It's so hard but I do love the tRIBAL FUNCTIONS & Events for all INDIGENOUS PEOPLE.
Among the notable leaders involved in the civil disobedience were Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org; Julian Bond, former president of the NAACP; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance; Danny Kennedy, CEO of Sungevity, and Daryl Hannah, actress.
After blocking a main thoroughfare in front of the White House, and refusing to move when asked by police, the activists were arrested and transported to Anacostia for processing by the U.S. Park Police Department.
“The threat to our planet’s climate is both grave and urgent,” said civil rights activist Julian Bond. “Although President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone, and the decision to allow the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. is in his hands. I am proud today to stand before my fellow citizens and declare, ‘I am willing to go to jail to stop this wrong.’ The environmental crisis we face today demands nothing less.”
“We really shouldn’t have to be put on handcuffs to stop KXL—our nation’s leading climate scientists have told us it’s dangerous folly, and all the recent Nobel Peace laureates have urged us to set a different kind of example for the world, so the choice should be obvious,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben. “But given the amount of money on the other side, we’ve had to spend our bodies, and we’ll probably have to spend them again.”
“For the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history, we have joined the ranks of visionaries of the past and present to engage in civil disobedience, knowing that the issue at hand is so critical, it compels the strongest defensible action,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We cannot afford to allow the production, transport, export and burning of the dirtiest oil on Earth via the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama must deny the pipeline and take decisive steps to address climate disruption, the most significant issue of our time.”
48 Leaders Arrested in Historic Act of Civil Disobedience to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline
The State Department has just released its environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and, as we’d feared, the results are recklessly insufficient.
Despite the President’s tough talk on confronting climate change, his State Department shrugged off the devastating climate impacts of a pipeline that would drive dramatic expansion of heavily-polluting tar sands development.
Tell President Obama to reject the State Department’s flawed assessment and send them back to the drawing board.
The clock is ticking -- 45 days and counting -- on the most important comment period yet for stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The State Department released its latest report on the pipeline last Friday, and it utterly downplays the profound impact Keystone XL would have on the climate.
Last summer, activists like you sent 75,000 comments against the tar sands. This time, it will take 100,000 to show President Obama how fast our movement is growing.
Tell the president and Secretary of State Kerry that they cannot fight climate change while simultaneously investing in one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet.
On March 1, the US State Department issued its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, claiming that KXL will not “likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.”
Alas, the erroneous State Department claim arises largely from the report’s blanket assumption that tar sands will be extracted and burned anyway – by somebody – regardless of US action.
Such fatalistic reasoning minimizes the terrible climate-change consequences of processing tar sands, which even the SEIS report admits will generate far more greenhouse emissions than conventional petroleum.
Tell the Obama Administration you oppose KXL »
The clock is ticking on what’s likely our last chance to weigh in on the Keystone XL Pipeline before the President makes his decision.
Experts are saying that it’s “game over” for the climate if the plan moves forward. And Exxon’s recent pipeline spill in Arkansas highlights just how underprepared oil companies are to respond to inevitable pipeline failures.
The stakes for the State Department’s public comment period couldn’t be higher. We must send a clear message to the Obama administration that Americans oppose this dangerous project.
The comment period is ending soon and time is running out. Click here to submit your comment telling President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Today, Friends of the Earth released a shocking expose of the State Department’s handling of the Keystone XL pipeline's environmental review.
We discovered that the company hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review for this risky pipeline has done extensive work for TransCanada and the many oil companies that stand to benefit if the pipeline is built. Making matters worse, the firm, Environmental Resources Management, lied on its federal conflict of interest disclosure forms when it declared it had no such ties.
Where does this leave the Keystone XL review? It’s now time for Secretary of State John Kerry to determine how a firm with financial ties to TransCanada and the oil industry was allowed to write the government’s environmental impact statement, and why the State Department never investigated the company’s claims to have no such ties. Only then can we have a fair and accurate assessment.
The fight against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline got a major boost this summer when President Obama vowed to reject the pipeline if it would "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." Keystone's hopes now rest on a flawed State Department environmental report that claims the pipeline is harmless, despite mounting evidence that it would have significant negative effects on our climate and environment. And now comes breaking news that State's own ethics watchdogs are calling the report into question, thanks to a list of problems with the pipeline and the review process presented by the Sierra Club and our partners.
Tell Secretary of State Kerry that the State Department's environmental report must tell the truth -- KXL would be a disaster for the environment!