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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Environmental Movement of Indigenous People Gaining Momentum

A global environmental movement is sweeping the world. Native and indigenous peoples are rising up to protest the damage done to the environment by oil and natural gas companies, often risking their lives and their security in the process.

            According to David Escobar, aide to Marin County, CA Supervisor Steve Kinsey, when oil companies decide to obtain resources from certain lands, native peoples are generally the first to be affected. Reservations often have the richest oil and gas reserves, and energy companies have infringed upon the rights of the indigenous peoples who live on the land to obtain these resources. The process of obtaining fuel often contaminates the water supply or the environment where the people on the reservation are living.

This was the case of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria ( who began protesting after the Shell Oil Company started drilling on their land, causing environmental problems and contamination. Many members of the tribe were tortured, beaten, and shot by the people working with Shell, in an effort to stop the protests and to make the Ogoni relinquish their land. The Huaorani tribe in Ecuador ( ) had a similar experience while protesting the Petrobras oil company.

            Native groups in the California area, as well as in Canada, are protesting as well. In the Pittsburg area of California, several groups of Native Americans recently got together to protest the fracking which goes largely unchecked and unregulated in California. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method of obtaining natural gas in which a solution of water, sand, and chemicals (many of which are known to cause cancer) are injected at high speeds into rock, allowing the release of the natural gas. These chemicals are released into the air and contaminate the water supply, often leading to an increase in cancer and birth defects in the surrounding areas.

            The “Idle No More” ( movement in Canada is one of the most powerful indigenous movements. Its mission is to advocate for a safer environment as well as increased respect for indigenous cultures. This movement has been at the forefront of protesting abuses by the oil and natural gas companies. “Idle No More” is committed to “…a peaceful revolution to honor indigenous sovereignty and to protect the land and the water.” In addition to protests and marches, they hold festivals to celebrate native cultures and educational events to teach the history of the indigenous community from their point of view.

 In traditional indigenous cultures, worship of the earth was a part of everyday life and the natural world was something to live in harmony with, not to fight against. We all live together on the earth, and therefore have a responsibility to take care of the world and, by extension, ourselves.

For more information on environmental movements by indigenous peoples, please see

-Kate Iida