SOMETIMES TRAVEL exposes you to new things, and sometimes it reminds you how much is the same the world over.
I’ve just returned from a long organizing expedition from one end of the Pacific to the other: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, the San Francisco Bay. Many of the issues were the same, of course: plans for new coal mines and oil pipelines.
But what really struck me was that almost everywhere I went, Indigenous people are driving the fight. Whether it is battling new coal mines in Australia, protecting the Great Australian Bight from offshore drilling, stopping fracking in New Zealand, battling the Kinder Morgan pipeline headed for Vancouver, or standing up to California Gov. Jerry Brown over the Golden State’s endless oil drilling, native activists are leading the way.
This should come as no surprise. Groups such as Tom Goldtooth’s Indigenous Environmental Network have been at the forefront for decades; younger leaders such as Clayton Thomas-Müller and Melina Laboucan-Massimo have long been raising the alarm about Canada’s tar sands; and in the low-lying islands of the Pacific, great organizers are fighting against rapid climate change in every forum they can find. Winona LaDuke, Pennie Opal Plant, Rueben George—it’s an endless list. But perhaps Standing Rock—the great battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline—helped everyone see the depth and breadth of this leadership. New leaders appeared, and new groups, and arguments that had been too little heard got a much broader airing.