OPINION: In the Moon of the Falling Leaves


I’ve just returned from New York


There, I attended the People’s Climate March, where 400,000

people walked the streets of the city, demanding that governments

take action on the climate. It was the largest such rally in U.S.

history. I was joined by my two l4 year-old sons, to witness history

in the making.

Since we were in town, we also went to

the United Nations to see Indigenous peoples. This is to say, the

Tadadaho – the leader of the Iroquois Confederacy – open the

General Assembly at the United Nations. (He’s sort of like the

Dalai Lama of the Iroquois confederacy in my mind). This was the

first time that an Indigenous spiritual leader has spoken his

language at the United Nations and opened the General Assembly,

representing – in this case – the oldest North American democracy

and a people much older than the United Nations.

Let us say that history is often made

in some moments, those moments are part of a force which changes the

course of history. That we know and what that means now, is what I am


History, after all, teaches that there

is a moment when a paradigm shifts. Those moments are often a result

of many actions – whether lawsuits, police and civil society

conflict, or demonstrations. One moment was the March on Washington,

where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream”

speech on Aug. 28, l963. That was a defining moment in the American

Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Act was passed one year

later. That law guaranteed people the right to desegregate the

schools and motels, restaurants and almost all public facilities.

When the 1970 Kent State University

student anti-war protests resulted in students being shot by the

National Guard, our country took a moment to pause. After all, the

guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four

students and wounding nine others. The Vietnam War did not end until

1973, but that was a moment I clearly remember as a child. I think we

questioned what we were doing in our own country and abroad. Wars, I

think we all know, take a while to stop.

In l993, South Africa had its first

elections, after decades of repression, violence and the 28 year

jailing of Nelson Mandela under Apartheid. That year, all people had

a right to vote and what had been a modern slavery system was

abolished. It took time, consciousness and many forces to make


I don’t know, but maybe we will

learn something from Ferguson, Mo. as well. Like, perhaps military

weapons should not be sent to civilian forces. Perhaps we will

consider if U.S. citizens who protest should be tear-gassed or shot

by their own police. Even if they are not white college students.

So, here is to say, that it is time to

be conscious of this time and opportunity to make our world better.

It’s time to change the course of our collective history. After

all, governments have been negotiating on climate for about half of

my life. It turns out that carbon dioxide levels are 63 percent

higher than they were in 1990. North Dakota itself, has some of the

dirtiest coal plants in the country, along with neighboring Montana

and Wyoming, all big sky states, with an aging coal generation.

Flaring off all that fracked oil and gas is not helping much either.

On a percentage basis, more gas is

flared in the state than in any other domestic oil field and at a

level equal to Russia and twice that in Nigeria. It’s about the

equivalent to 300,000 cars on the road. We might want to look into

that, if we want to hang out for a bit longer and not end up in


Change happens in different ways. The

day after the climate rally, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an $800

million foundation that made its money on fossil fuels, announced

that it would divest in fossil fuel holdings, because holding them

when the planet combusts is a bad idea.

It’s called a stranded asset and

even the Rockefellers see the need to change. That’s a different

form of change, but it is a shift.

I witnessed history on Sept. 21.

Native leaders, after 40 years of asking the United Nations to

recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples, were present in all their

glory. There’s a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the

police use of force in Ferguson, which I hope will result in some

rethinking of police behavior and weaponry. And who knows what else.

In this moon of the falling leaves, we

were all present for some remarkable moments. We all should be that