Profane Ecology

Climate & Culture

After Police Shooting of Teenager, A Brooklyn Neighborhood Dreams of Justice

On March 9, two NYPD officers in plain clothes shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray. At the marches and nightly vigils held in his memory, people are demanding a different kind of police department.Man with Sign that reads “Justice for Kimani Gray”

Photo by the author.

A few things are certain about Kimani Gray’s death on the night of March 9: We know that around 11:30 p.m., a group of teenagers gathered on a residential street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush after leaving a birthday party. We know it was a cold, clear night on the cusp of spring, and that Kimani, or “Kiki,” was the son of Caribbean immigrant parents, with a round face that made him look younger than his 16 years. We know that two undercover officers fired 11 bullets, seven of which pierced his body. We know that, when the ambulance pulled into the hospital, he was already dead.

The rest is in dispute. Kimani may have pulled out a gun—or he may have been hitching up his baggy jeans. The officers may have showed their badges and may have given him fair warning. His last words may have been, “Please don’t let me die.”

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Article in Austria’s Sudwind-Magazin

Aktionstag im Jänner im kanadischen Vancouver: Hunderte UnterstützerInnen von „Idle No More“ marschieren Richtung Rathaus.

Neue Gesetze bedrohen die Rechte von Kanadas Indigenen. Nun fegt eine Widerstandsbewegung durch das Land, die Unterstützung in der ganzen Welt findet.
Kristin Moe

Diese Szene hat sich in den letzten drei Monaten hunderte Male in Kanada abgespielt: TänzerInnen treten in traditionellen gefederten Kostümen auf, Trommeln werden geschlagen und eine Horde von Kindern und Erwachsenen jubelt dazu. Es hat minus 14 Grad im kanadischen Alberta, aber die Stimmung ist freudigund empört.

(Want to practice your German? Read the rest here.)

Indigenous Women Take the Lead in Idle No More

Motivated by ancient traditions of female leadership as well as their need for improved legal rights, First Nations women are stepping to the forefront of the Idle No More movement.

Late last year, amid the the rallies, dances, blockades, and furious tweeting that accompanied the burgeoning Idle No More movement, a young native woman was kidnapped by two Caucasian men in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was two days after Christmas. They drove her out to a remote wooded area where they raped and strangled her. According to one report, the men told her that they’d done this before, and intended to do it again. They allegedly said, “You Indians deserve to lose your treaty rights.”

Boy with Crayon photo by ND Strupler

The story was not widely reported in the press, maybe because the woman, publicly known as “Angela Smith,” is indigenous, or maybe because violence against indigenous women happens so frequently that it’s rarely considered news.

Which is what makes the very fact of Idle No More’s female leadership so significant. Across Canada, indigenous women are continuing a tradition of leadership that existed before colonization, and in spite of a political system which, over the last 150 years, has made every attempt to prevent them from having power. While the stated goal of Idle No More is “education and the revitalization of indigenous peoples through awareness and empowerment,” according to a press release issued by the group on January 10, the rights of indigenous women appear to be an inherent part of that revitalization.

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Idle No More: Indigenous Uprising Sweeps North America

Idle No More has organized the largest mass mobilizations of indigenous people in recent history. What sparked it off and what’s coming next?

Document Actions by 

It took weeks of protests, flash mobs, letters, rallies, and thousands of righteous tweets, but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally caved. He agreed to a meeting with the woman who had been petitioning him for twenty-four days, subsisting on fish broth, camped in a tepee in the frozen midwinter, the hunger striker and Chief of the Attawapiskat Theresa Spence.

The mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our relationship to the land.

No, this is not normal parliamentary process. The hunger strike was a final, desperate attempt to get the attention of a government whose relationship with indigenous people has been ambivalent at best and genocidal at worst, and force it to address their rising concerns. The meeting, set for this Friday, January 11, is unlikely to result in any major changes to Canada’s aboriginal policy. Yet the mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our collective relationship to the land. The movement has coalesced under one name, one resolution: Idle No More.

(Click here to read the full text)

Alberta Tar Sands Illegal under Treaty 8, First Nations Charge

Treaty 8 fort Chippewyan-555.jpg

Fort Chipewyan is a small indigenous community on the edge of vast Lake Athabasca in Alberta’s remote north, accessible only by plane in summer and by snow road in winter. The town is directly downstream from the Alberta tar sands—Canada’s wildly lucrative, hotly debated, and environmentally catastrophic energy project.

Residents say that tar sands mining is not only dangerous but illegal because it violates the rights laid out in Treaty 8, an agreement signed in 1899 by Queen Victoria and various First Nations. Their legal challenge to the tar sands project could have a powerful impact on the legal role of treaties with First Nations people.

Being first in line downstream means that residents are the first to feel the effects of pollution: poisoned water, air, and animals.

It should come as no surprise that Fort Chip’s relationship to the tar sands industry is a contentious one. Being first in line downstream means that residents are the first to feel the effects of pollution: poisoned waterair, and animals. Thedeformed fish with bulbous tumors that residents pull from Lake Athabasca are legendary, as are the stories of Fort Chip’s abnormally frequent cases of rare forms of cancer.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), many of whose members live in Fort Chip, responded on October 1 with a landmark constitutional challenge to Shell Canada’s expansion of its Jackpine tar sands mine. The challenge states that the expansion would be a further assault on their rights as First Nations people, which are federally protected under Treaty 8.

The Jackpine expansion, which will be reviewed at the end of the month, would destroy over fifty square miles of land and begin mining portions of the Muskeg River in Canada’s most important watershed. AFCN members point out that both the federal government and Shell have ignored their legal duty to consult with them. This time, they’re going to fight back.

“As long as the sun shines”

As indigenous people, the relationship with the land sustains the Chipewyan: the plants and medicines they gather, the moose and fish that form the basis of the traditional diet, the water from the lake, and the deep spiritual connection with this particular place. Land is the basis for culture and identity; when the land is destroyed, so are the people.

According to the treaty itself, this agreement will remain valid “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.” So, forever—in theory.

When the threats to health and traditional ways of life associated with tar sands mining are lamented, what’s often missing is the recognition that the mining is also in violation of Treaty 8. The Treaty, which covers an area twice the size of California within northern Alberta and neighboring provinces, guarantees basic rights such as health care and education, as well as the right to pursue traditional ways of living, including trapping, hunting, and harvesting. If the government does decide to reduce the amount of land used for these activities, it has a duty to consult with and accommodate the affected First Nations. According to the treaty itself, this agreement will remain valid “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.”  So, forever—in theory.

Treaty 8—along with the ten other treaties that were signed a hundred years ago and supposedly guarantee the continuation of native ways of life—isn’t supposed to have an expiration date. But the treaty’s language begs the question: what happens when the sun no longer shines because it’s obscured by smog? When the grass has been turned into an open pit mine, and when the rivers no longer flow because that water is siphoned off for bitumen processing? If the original signatories had known that this remote outpost would be turned into a smoke-belching Mordor, it would probably have raised some eyebrows. On both sides.

Wide repercussions for native land rights

Chelsea Flook of the Sierra Club, which works closely with AFCN, is hopeful about the case. No constitutional challenge based on Treaty 8 rights has ever been fully argued before a judge, she says. It’s a test case that, if successful, could set a precedent for stricter enforcement of treaty rights and change the way industrial development is regulated. More importantly, though, it would embolden indigenous groups all over the Canada to fight abuses by both industry and government.

Honoring the treaties means honoring the most basic of agreements: the protection of a way of life—and, by extension, life itself.

For those of us in the United States, the gains and losses of a tiny native community, closer to the Arctic circle than most of us will ever get, may seem remote. But what’s at stake here isn’t just a few hundred people’s ability to hunt moose and conduct ceremonies in a particular spot. Both the U.S. and Canada share a history of colonizing what is essentially stolen land; our societies were built on a common system of disenfranchisement.

Honoring the treaties means honoring the most basic of agreements: the protection of a way of life—and, by extension, life itself. In the years since that day in 1899 when Treaty 8 was signed, every attempt to erase or assimilate indigenous people has been made, regardless of any commitment on paper. Native language and culture have been criminalized, children have been relocated to residential schools, and genocide has been a government policy. Industrial destruction of land is one final assault.

It’s a brutal and violent history, one that’s not taught in school. Coming to terms with our own past—as Canadians, as Americans, as colonizers—is unpleasant. It means seeing ourselves, here and now, in an unflattering light. Honoring agreements such as Treaty 8 means acknowledging all the ways these documents have been violated.

With this constitutional challenge, AFCN is forcing the Canadian government to look in the mirror. It’s a small step with huge implications, and a starting point for redressing more than a century of broken promises. 

(orginially appeared in Yes! Magazine)

Maine Voices: Much at stake for Maine as possibility of tar sands pipeline looms

(From the Portland Press Herald)


PORTLAND - Conservation groups recently held a news conference to sound the alarm over an oil pipeline project that isn’t even officially on the table. What’s the big deal?


It seems simple: Take an existing oil pipeline that connects tankers in Casco Bay to refineries in Montreal and pump a different kind of oil through it in the opposite direction. The difference seems minor.

The difference is that this is no ordinary oil. It’s called “diluted bitumen,” and it’s highly toxic, corrosive and hot — and, according to a recent report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute, three times more likely to spill than conventional crude.

A spill would threaten Sebago Lake, where Greater Portland gets its drinking water, or even Casco Bay and its fisheries. One spill here could be devastating.

I spent the last three months in Alberta, Canada, at the tar sands, the source of this so-called “oil.” It’s the second-largest petroleum deposit in the world — roughly the size of Florida — and an industrial megaproject of unimaginable scale.

Much of the bitumen is mined in open pits that stretch out to the horizon, an ecological dead zone. The waste water from the processing is dumped into vast toxic lakes, witches’ brews of arsenic, mercury and countless other carcinogens. The smell is sickening. It gets into your clothes, your skin.

I spoke with people who live on the edge of this wasteland, whose health and livelihoods have been destroyed by the tar sands industry. High rates of cancer are normal for these communities, where fishermen bring up deformed fish in their nets, evidence of hidden pollution. A woman named Susana — who now works to fight the abuses of the tar sands industry — lost 13 members of her extended family to cancer. In one month.

I stood in the middle of a crude oil spill, saw it coat the grassy banks of a river, rubbed the sticky tar between my fingertips. The next week, the pipeline company responsible for the spill said it would be cleaning up only some of the oil, and that the 100,000 people affected were “lucky” that it wasn’t worse.

The broader political and economic arguments around the tar sands are heated and complex, and there are big bucks at stake for governments and oil companies. The important thing, though, is that every time a pipeline crosses a community or threatens a water source — from Texas to Montana to Vancouver to Maine — people are beginning to ask: Who’s really going to benefit? And who will bear the risk?

These pipelines connect us all: to each other, through our shared risk, and to the communities in Alberta that are most affected, and that deal with the consequences of our oil addiction every day.

Recently, I spoke with a pipeline expert at the Canadian company Enbridge — on the condition of anonymity, since Enbridge is behind this project — who confessed to me that, in his opinion, the tar sands industry and its pipeline infrastructure are risky and unsound. He’s looking for a new job.

Pipelines spill, he told me, because they’re created and monitored by humans. Oil spills will happen. And if Enbridge’s tragic record in Michigan — where a 2010 pipeline break resulted in the discharge of at least 843,444 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River — is any indication, they can happen on a devastating scale.

I’m new in Portland. Over the last few weeks I’ve explored Maine up and down, talking to people, hearing their stories. I have seen, in a million small ways, how connected Mainers are with the land, be they fishermen, hunters or lovers of autumn leaves.

I have seen, too, how essential water is to Maine’s character and livelihood: the boats in Casco Bay, the rocky coasts, the fishing industry, the lakes where mist rises on cold autumn mornings.

This land and this water are too precious to be put at risk.

Kristin Moe is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and activist who is enrolled this fall at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland.