By Jorge Barrera - APTN National News
One of the U.S.’s top environmentalists has thrown his considerable clout and that of his organization behind Idle No More’s planned Oct. 7 day of action.
Bill McKibben, a prominent journalist who wrote for the New Yorker magazine and founded 350.org which is one of the driving forces behind U.S. opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, said Indigenous peoples have “spearheaded the fight to preserve the planet at its most critical hour.”
Idle No More has called for an international day of action for Oct. 7 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation and the arrival of James Anaya, the UN rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, who also begins a visit to Canada that day.
So far, about 40 events are planned for next Monday across Canada, the U.S. and internationally in places like London, England, and Croatia.
McKibben said 350.org is prepared to swing into action that day on social media, promoting planned actions.
“We will be in solidarity in all the ways we can think of and spreading the word,” he said. “We will make sure everyone knows what’s going on that day.”
McKibben is no stranger to days of action. His organization was behind what was dubbed the “largest climate rally in history” in front of the White House this past February. About 48 people were arrested at the protest including McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah and other prominent individuals.
The protest targeted TransCanada’s proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline which would pump tar sands crude to the Texas Gulf Coast. The fate of the pipeline rests in the hands U.S. President Barack Obama because the project crosses an international boundary and needs U.S. State Department approval.
McKibben’s organization takes its name from the climate change statistic that states 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity.
McKibben said Indigenous groups and people have been a vital part of the climate change fight which would be much more difficult without their involvement.
Before he threw himself into work against Keystone, he first contacted the U.S.-based Indigenous Environmental Network to ask about joining the pipeline battle. McKibben said he’s since formed ties to several Indigenous activists and leaders in Canada including Clayton Thomas-Muller and Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus.
“It would be much harder (without First Nations),” he said. “Part of the fight is legal and rests on that and part of it is political and moral. In both cases the involvement of First Nations people has been critical.”
McKibben said First Nations in Canada remain “one of the few forces” standing in the way of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who he says wants to turn Canada into a “rogue petro-state.” He said the future would see more cooperation between groups like 350.org and Idle No More.
“The future of all these movements is to continue a sort of interpenetration…to be part of a larger movement that is about the future,” he said. “We are all trying to get the dead hand of the energy industry off our backs, try to shrug it off somehow and it’s incredibly hard because of their weight, because they have so much money. It’s only through that kind of unity that we have a shot.”
Thomas-Muller, one of the lead Idle No More organizers, said 350.org’s endorsement is a welcome boost from “an incredibly important tactical ally.”
He said it’s up to individual communities and local organizations to decide what to do on the day of action.
“Oct. 7 is an opportunity for Idle no More to reach out to communities and to encourage them to be counted,” he said. “We put a call out based on the historical significance of the day, not just for Indigenous peoples, but all non-native people as well to learn more about the foundational documents that led to this country called Canada.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III after Britain won the Seven Years’ War. Called the “Indian Magna Carta,” it acknowledged Indigenous title to the territory and it forbade settlers from taking land until ceded by treaty.
“This document, out of all the documents, was the first one that recognized our inherent rights and set the basis for a lot of the current legal strategies,” said Thomas-Muller.
Thomas-Muller said the arrival of Anaya is also a key part of the day. He said Idle No More representatives plan to meet with Anaya and present him with a report on human rights abuses in Canada.
The idea for the day of action grew from a meeting held in Toronto this past August between Idle No More, Defenders of the Land and other urban organizers, he said.
Aside from the ongoing anti-fracking fight involving the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet in New Brunswick, little happened over the summer months in Canada during a declared Idle No More-Defenders of the Land Sovereignty Summer.
Thomas-Muller said much of the action flared up in the U.S. which is starting to see more Idle No More-related protests, but he predicted the movement is far from done in Canada.
“Sovereignty Summer is having an Indian Summer,” he said. “We will continue to be thorns in the side of the Harper government.”