“We are all treaty people” : reflections from the Treaty People Gathering

Indigenous water protectors listen as someone speaks in a megaphone.
Credit: Photo from RISE Coalition.

In the first weekend of June, I traveled with friends to the White Earth Reservation for the Treaty People Gathering.

Over 2,000 of us came together from across Turtle Island to uplift treaties and to stop the Canadian corporation Enbridge from building the Line 3 tar sands pipeline through treaty territory.

It was hot. Like 100 degrees hot. We were in a record-breaking heatwave across the state, and it made our action feel that much more vital. My partner Julie runs a farm, so on our drive up we talked out our nervousness for the plants. I told her and my friends in the car that I have felt some fear this summer, watching vegetables struggle through the drought and heat and thinking about the years of heat to come. I’m thinking about farmers, about unhoused folks, and war in the driest parts of the planet. Because of the 40-year lag between greenhouse gas emissions and the warming we feel, we pondered how this heatwave is just the sign of pollution from the 1980s. There’s a long road ahead.

That’s a big reason I went north—to translate my fear and my love for the living world into collective action. I feel more and more certain that following Indigenous leadership is key to navigating our way out of the climate crisis. Indigenous people have been leading for generations to both stop the dig-burn-dump economy and remembering how to thrive in the face of extreme weather and extreme social stress. The brilliance of the Indigenous leaders at this weekend gathering only deepened that belief for me.

 “We have very few options left,” said Simone Senogles of the Indigenous Environmental Network and RISE Coalition. “We are here to protect the water, the wild rice, and the next seven generations of life.”

People lying face up wearing shirts that spell out WE ARE ALL TREATY PEOPLE, near tents
Credit: Photo from RISE Coalition.

“We are all treaty people.”  Many of the speakers on Sunday echoed this message. They told us that treaties are not just about Indigenous people—they are agreements between sovereign nations and must be upheld on both sides. I learned from tribal attorney Frank Bibeau and others that the US Constitution calls treaties “the supreme law of the land” and the US Supreme Court has upheld environmental protection in service of treaty rights. As Bibeau put it, “what good is a right to fish if there are no fish to catch?” One elder shared he believed that treaties are one of the last strong tools for environmental protection.

I felt a deep, powerful solidarity as trainers and speakers shared that they had shown up from across the world. I got the sense that many people are committed to show up to protect Indigenous sovereignty, wherever it is threatened, and defend land and water from harm. Being with these people and taking action together, I felt the clear blue skies. The long road ahead felt more filled with possibility.

“Keystone XL was stopped on the merits of environmental justice and treaty rights,” Simone Senogles said. “This is no different. We demand President Biden take action now.”

People are organizing to stop the pipeline through many paths, including legal appeals in the courts, raising pressure on President Biden, civil disobedience, and more.  Youth involved with Climate Generation keep finding new ways to show up—through testimony in the courts, marching in the streets, raising awareness, and most recently fundraising to support the RISE Coalition (Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging).  I was happy to see alumni I know from YEA! in years past, helping volunteer to welcome participants at the Treaty People Gathering.

As I write this, Anishinaabe and other Indigenous water protectors are in ceremony near the headwaters of the Mississippi, with non-Native supporters camped nearby. They set up this Camp Fire Light in front of the access road where Enbridge plans to drill under the great river. This is one of two places the pipeline would cross directly under the Mississippi. They are exercising treaty rights and putting a stop to construction of the pipeline at that work site.

Dozens of people line and block a road. The street is painted with the message: Biden Honor the Treaties, Stop Line 3.
Photo by Ron Turney @blkcldllc for Indigenous Environmental Network. Retrieved from RISE Coalition Facebook page.

In another mass action that week, water protectors shut down a pump station worksite for over 24 hours through a non-violent blockade. Nearly 250 people were arrested in this civil disobedience.

“This is, in the end, intended to be a 915,000-barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline, the largest tar sands pipeline in the world, and the most expensive,” said Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth.  She shared that tarsands is a dying industry—the Koch brothers and many multinational oil corporations have abandoned investment in tarsands.  There’s a chance that stopping this pipeline could end all extraction from the Athabasca tarsands.

Pipeline construction is over 50% complete and Enbridge has told investors they plan to be finished in the fall. That means the time for action is now.

The Treaty People Gathering was transformative for me.  To be in community with so many brave and visionary people; to pray, sing, and be led by Indigenous changemakers; and to act on what I know is right—it was powerful. As Tara Houska said “Find your bravery… Stand with us to Stop Line 3.”  Will you join me to take action?

From Treaty People Gathering website:

“Call President Biden. Call the White House and Climate Office of Gina McCarthy by dialing: 888-724-8946. Tell them: “President Biden must honor the treaties and protect our climate by stopping the Line 3 tar sands pipeline now.”

Help free the water protectors:

Donate to the bail fund for the approximately 250 water protectors arrested that week: https://treatypeoplegathering.com/donate

Join Camp Fire Light. Since Monday afternoon, a beautiful, growing community  has sprung up at the landing where Enbridge plans to drill under the Mississippi. Last night we named it “LeSalle–Camp Fire Light.” We need more people to camp with us to protect the Mississippi and all living things. Learn more at the Rise Coalition Facebook page where you can send a direct message for more information.”

Donate to fund Native elders holding space at Fire Light camp (see full Facebook post from MNIPL) — Cash App: $Hokawicasa

Donate to RISE

To learn about other opportunities to join in protecting our water at welcomewaterprotectors.com.

More ways to get involved

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