STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER
TIMES ARE HARROWING for people trying to protect Indigenous ancestral land and prevent accidents from pipeline spillage that would poison and pollute the regions’ land and water. The movement is taking place on many fronts, several of them cultural and artistic, including an Oregon-produced documentary film, Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance, that focuses on the work of climate activists on the front lines and movement lawyers involved in supporting that struggle. And last week a group of Native American leaders and community allies in Portland gathered at the Port of Vancouver to protest the dangers of the continued use and expansion of pipelines, and alert us to what is going on farther north.
The Wet’suwet’en people in northern British Columbia, trying to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL), were arrested by Canadian police and tactical teams in the dark of night by militarized police with night vision and automatic weapons, their camps destroyed and media hindered from filming and reporting the police action. The BC Supreme Court granted the company behind the Coastal GasLink project, TC Energy, an injunction to continue construction activities, and issued an enforcement order for the RCMP to clear the area.
“TC Energy says it reached agreements with 20 elected First Nation bands along the pipeline’s route and has the necessary permits to build. It has hailed the Coastal GasLink project as a way to create jobs and bolster economic development. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who under Indigenous law hold authority over approximately 22,000sq km of land, say they never gave Coastal GasLink their consent to move ahead with the project.”
Protests are an urgent summons during a time when the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit failed to deliver, and scientific predictions of how fast we are approaching a point of no return are growing more dire by the day. The summons try to reach those who deny the dangers or the very existence of the climate emergency, those who ignore it, and those who are giving in to helpless passivity in the face of it.
Those who are determined to raise awareness about the crisis call for change, at a minimum, of our behavior, or, more urgently, of our whole system of relating to nature and each other. They are forging alliances across a whole spectrum of organizations and participants, setting aside differences in ideology and strategic approaches, and join forces to rescue this planet in whatever fashion is still possible. By necessity.
NECESSITY: OIL, WATER, AND CLIMATE RESISTANCE is a locally produced documentary film, directed by Jan Haaken and co-directed by Samantha Praus, that focuses on the work of climate activists on the front lines and movement lawyers involved in supporting that struggle.
Here is a trailer of the feature-length film that describes what is at stake for the health of our waters and the populations that depend on them.
THE FILM INCLUDES conversations with lawyers who are central in protecting those who protect the waters. The conversations make it clear what is involved with organizing the movement and defending those who are accused of crimes around protest actions or to be made an example by the legal system to alert those who are contemplating joining the protest movement. One of the defenses under consideration is the Necessity defense, which states that when all legal and political means are exhausted it might be necessary to engage in nonviolent illegal action to prevent irreversible harm.
One of the lawyers is Tara Houska, whose incisive opinion piece, My Culture Is Not Super Bowl Entertainment, was published on Super Bowl weekend in the New York Times. It called out the lasting damage done to Native Americans with the exploitation and degrading of their culture, particularly during the Super Bowl. The continuing use of mascots, and the nostalgic racism transmitted with stereotypes of the fallen noble savages, is dehumanizing, and it hurts every new generation of Native American children, never mind their parents who have to live in a world with systemic suppression of opportunities to right the historical wrongs.
People like Houska, an Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation, are changing that. As a tribal attorney; the campaigns director of Honor the Earth; co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a nonprofit group committed to eradicating Native stereotyping; and founder of the Giniw Collective she pushes back, fights hard and smart, and is central to building alliances with those who can and want to be supportive. Here is Houska in a TED talk on the Standing Rock resistance movement.
One of her statements during the interview, roughly paraphrased as best I remember, struck me as particularly important: As allies, non-Native Americans have to learn to listen and respect that there is knowledge and wisdom regarding goals and strategies to combat environmental destruction and other consequences of climate change. As survivors of genocide, indigenous people all over the world have accumulated strength and insights that should not be superseded by whites rushing in and thinking they know the next best tactic to achieve shared goals. Leadership in coalitions needs to be assigned to those whose very existence is threatened by potential environmental disasters.
IN THE INTENSIFYING conflict between industry and climate protesters, SLAPP suits abound. These are Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) that are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. These are in some ways only placeholders, until state legislatures get their ducks in a row to pass laws that make anti-pipeline and other protest activities a crime. Since 2017 18 states have put forward legislation criminalizing protest, constitutional rights be d-mned. West Virginia, as just one example, has hearings today, February 10, on industry-drafted legislation (HB 4615) that would make peaceful civil disobedience against gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects a felony.
Luckily there are experienced people one can turn to for issues concerning civil rights. One of them is Lauren Regan, a founding member and executive director of the the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) based in Eugene, Oregon, which supports “movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction. We provide litigation, education, legal and strategic resources to strengthen and embolden their success.”
As a trial lawyer she handles state and federal criminal defense, SLAPP defense, grand jury resistance, and federal civil rights litigation against police and government agencies for violating the rights of activists and organizations – 3,000 cases across the last 15 years together with her staff attorneys.
Here she is in a podcast in which she talks about surveillance of social movements. (It starts out with very loud music, be warned, but then goes to normal decibels…)
The topic of alliances, in all their strength and challenges, came up in our conversations here as well. You cannot swoop in and take over what are the existential fights of certain groups. To achieve trust and create a blueprint for constructive collaboration, you need to connect and build relationships before crisis hits. That means extensive and longitudinal involvement between and learning from allies, so that a structure is established that carries everyone through when the need arises.
Given the potential increase in actions around climate resistance movements, this is something to be acknowledged.
NECESSITY: OIL, WATER, AND CLIMATE RESISTANCE, depicting the efforts and challenges of the resistance movement, was selected by the Doc Society NYC for its Inaugural Climate Story Lab as a film about climate resistance that could make a difference. The nonprofit organization, with its mission “dedicated to the impact of art and the art of impact,” supports the production of documentary films and helps to connect them to global audiences.
Its partnering with the NECESSITY project makes it feasible to produce a film series featuring different regions where Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies confront the fossil fuel industry. The documentary series will educate about the front lines of climate resistance, including lessons that climate activists are learning about legal tactics and various rights and risks associated with the calls in the movement for acts of civil disobedience. Bearing witness: one possible contribution to climate activism in joint efforts to protect the planet.
- Friderike Heuer’s photo essay was originally published on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, on her site YDP – Your Daily Picture, under the headline By Necessity. It is republished here with permission.