Water Is Life Panelists Call for Urgent Action to Protect Water and Health

How to support Native American water protectors and the climate justice movement

Environmental Health

The Center's Native American Heritage Month event Water Is Life: Native American Leaders at the Forefront of Environmental Health on November 20, 2017, drew a crowd of over 200 people to Sommer Hall in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, while others joined through a livestream. The event was supported by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. Speakers said indigenous people are now "leading and advocating for the survival of the world—climate change is not going to wait."

Chase Iron Eyes

The Water Is Life movement grew around opposition to the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline and its threat to the water and heritage of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Supporters point out that pipelines leak—the Keystone pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil last week in South Dakota.

Pipeline opposition connects to the climate justice movement, which indigenous people play a strong role in.

Native peoples often live where extracting and transporting fossil fuels takes place. Indigenous peoples have a strong sense of the past and the future, how short-term profit turns into long-term damage and the rights of the collective over individual profit.

How you can help

There was a resounding call for all to take action to support the Water Is Life movement, including:

  1. Keep water protectors out of jail. "Don't forget the water protectors", said Tom Goldtooth (Diné & Dakota), Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network. "Put moral pressure [on states like North Dakota] to drop charges," said Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), an activist and member of the Lakota Law Project who was arrested with hundreds of others for opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over 55,000 people signed a petition to #DropDAPLCharges, and the petition was delivered to the North Dakota State's Attorney this week. You can provide legal representation for Chase Iron Eyes, Holy Elk, and other Water Protectors here. The fund will help demonstrate "the injustices perpetrated at Standing Rock by DAPL's owners and their private, militarized security."
  2. Oppose pipelines close to approval like Line 3, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin. "Only 30 people are out there [in the frontlines direct action resistance camp] fighting this pipeline, which will export dirty tar sands oil—a crater in the earth you can see from space," said Tara Houska, JD (Couchiching First Nation), the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth. Many, many others and dozens of organizations oppose Line 3. Learn more at stopline3.org.
  3. Oppose pipelines with huge opposition like Keystone XL. Despite overwhelming public opposition, state authorities in Nebraska gave TransCanada a permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, but it's not the route they wanted. Add your name to the Indigenous Environmental Network's Promise to Protect petition
  4. Support policy to move your city and state away from fossil fuels. "We live in the belly of the beast," said Mr. Goldtooth, "the challenge is to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy." One option supported by allied groups would put a price on carbon in Washington, D.C. All revenue from the fee would be rebated in equal shares to every resident of the nation's capital. Learn more here
  5. Divest your personal funds, and support your organization's divestment from fossil fuel companies. "Move your capital," said Mr. Iron Eyes and Ms. Houska.
    • Get started with the excellent resources provided by the indigenous-led umbrella organization MazaskaTalks.org, which describes the four major oil infrastructure projects the movement is focused on. This is also the centralized location for most Defund chapters around the country. 
    • Johns Hopkins trustees will soon consider a divestment strategy recommended by the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee, which comes in response to a December 2015 proposal from the student group Refuel Our Future asking the university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Read more about the proposal here, then write to the provost to ask where this proposal is and voice your support. 
  6. Reflect. "In school, we learn that water is a commodity," said indigenous knowledge advocate Kaylena Bray, MSc (Haudenosaunee/Seneca). Speakers urged the audience to think differently. "Treat your country as your homeland," said Mr. Iron Eyes, "Cherish the land, love it—it has loved us for time immemorial." 


A recording of the symposium is available on the Center's Youtube channel. Please feel free to share.

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