The fourth Healing Walk, Rodeo to Richmond, took place on a brilliant Saturday, July 12th. The event drew dozens of residents from neighboring communities. Steve Nadel documented the day with excellent photographs. The East Bay Express recently published Colin Murphy's fine article about the Walk, its organizer, Pennie Opal Plant, and the goals of Idle No More.
Photos by Steve Nadel. More photos.
Indigenous Leaders Mobilize Against Fossil Fuel Industry
By Colin Murphy
A group of indigenous activists are organizing against the expansion of oil refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area. Known as Idle No More San Francisco (INM-SF), the group is led by Pennie Opal Plant and is spearheading a series of "Healing Walks" to protest the corridor of fossil fuel refineries in five cities along the Carquinez Strait, including the Chevron facility in Richmond and proposed WesPac terminal in Pittsburg.
"It's time to begin a graceful transition to clean energy," opined Opal Plant. "This is preferable to an abrupt transition that could happen in the future when people realize how fossil fuels are profoundly damaging the world's climate." The indigenous leader said that the first healing walk arose after citizens of the refinery cities Pittsburg and Martinez began to get to know one another and understand that their health issues had common oily roots. Happily, the walk facilitated alliances between the citizens being affected in the refinery communities and their Bay Area neighbors. "It was powerful to walk in prayer past the proposed WesPac site, Tesoro and Shell refineries," said Opal Plant. "Praying for a just transition as well as the safety of the refinery workers." Although the walkers expected dissenting honks from passing vehicles, drivers instead "honked their horns and shouted" cries of support and encouragement.
Resistance began in Canada in November 2012, when four women created Idle No More (INM) in reaction to legislation proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that would have violated First Nations' rights and decimated environmental protections. A non-violent indigenous mass movement, INM endeavors to "protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations."
Since its inception two autumns ago, the INM movement has swept the continent with speed, utilizing the full battery of non-violent resistance techniques: round dance flash-mobs in malls; protests; direct action; blockades; and even a high-profile hunger strike. INM seems to have successfully galvanized a public front opposed to the Harper government's assault against the health of North American people and ecosystems. Such is the support around the world that solidarity events have taken place on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.
The INM movement has two primary targets. First, it seeks to stop the extraction and processing of oil tar sands, a type of fossil fuel whose withdrawal requires egregious amounts of water, energy, and destruction of soil. The largest industrial project in human history, tar sands excavation produces three to four times more greenhouse gases than regular oil extraction. These oil resources happen to lie under 140,000 square kilometers of pristine boreal forest, an area the size of England, which the tar sands industry is already decimating to get at the oil.
At least a few facts about tar sands industry operations deserve our attention. First, they produce lakes of toxic sludge large enough to be seen from outer space, eviscerating the habitats of many species. Secondly, transporting the volatile chemical-crude oil mixture through pipelines and over rail imperils the health of communities, both human and non-human. This became strikingly evident when in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic last summer, a number of tanker cars derailed, exploded and killed 47 people. Furthermore, extracting all of the existing Canadian tar sands could liberate more climate pollution than the US and China combined have released in all their history. That scenario would very likely be a death sentence for much of life on Earth due to the runaway global warming it would indubitably cause.
INM's second major objective appears to be to shut down the construction of major oil pipelines, some already operational, that would transport highly volatile oil from Canadian extraction plants to the US's coasts for processing and export. The southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline — the object of widespread protests by farmers, ranchers, and Native people of all political persuasions across the Midwest — is already online, and fossil fuel corporations are pressuring President Obama to approve the rest of the project. In opposition to the Keystone XL, an unlikely alliance has formed between mostly white rural landowners and Native Americans. Calling themselves the Cowboy Indian Alliance, or CIA, this group staged a wildly successful protest at the White House this spring, drawing in thousands of concerned citizens from all over the country. Their slogan is "Reject and Protect": reject the Keystone XL Pipeline in favor of protecting the health of all present and future living communities.
Born and raised not far from the Chevron refinery in Richmond, INM-SF Bay's leader Pennie Opal Plant has a history of environmental and Native American activism going back thirty years. She is not enrolled in a tribe, but is Yaqui, Mexican, Choctow, Cherokee, and European. After discovering the INM movement online, Opal Plant and her husband traveled to San Francisco's Canadian Consulate to express solidarity with their First Nation sisters and brothers. The leader described how she took initiative in connecting with the 5,000 person-strong Forward on Climate action in San Francisco, empowering INM-SF Bay to head off the demonstration with a round dance and prayer. "We were very well received and after that became connected with activists who later formed The Sunflower Alliance, of which I am a member," she said. Since then, INM-SF Bay has crafted "many actions, including several at the Chevron refinery, Kinder Morgan in Richmond, and the Canadian Consulate."
INM-SF Bay's momentum seems to be increasing rapidly. Beyond being invited to Earth Day San Francisco for the last two consecutive years, the group was privileged to lead a 2,800-strong march from Richmond Station to the Chevron Refinery on the anniversary of that facility's 2012 explosion.
Last Saturday, about 150 people tread 13 miles from Rodeo to Richmond in the last of this year's Connect the Dots Healing Walks organized by INM-SF Bay. At the end of the route, the group's leaders pledged to organize "four walks over four months for the next four years" to protest the continued expansion of the area's fossil fuel processing infrastructure and call for a swift transition to renewable energy.
The purpose of INM-SF Bay is to serve as an affinity group of Native Americans and allies united in mutual aid. To learn more about INM-SF Bay, visit its Facebook page. To get involved with the organization and help ensure the future for coming generations, all are invited to join the group at any of their actions.