By Winona LaDuke
Think of crisis as opportunity. The Chinese characters for crisis are wei ji. Danger and opportunity. That’s now. Take a breath, maybe look at the night sky and see if you can see any stars. Enjoy this moment and breathe when Mother Earth gets a breath from our closed factories. Let’s be better when we come out of this cluster of crises. Let’s appreciate each other, localize our economy, get cleaner, healthier, and grow victory gardens, Resilience Gardens, or Sovereign Seed Gardens. Now’s a good time to start those seeds. Crisis often brings out the best or worst in communities. Fear is contagious, so is joy. Let’s catch hope and gratitude. Now is our time to shine in goodness.
The reality is that Federal policies have failed. Start with stuff from China. Tariffs on Chinese goods meant that some of the massive incoming (virtually everything is manufactured in China) products has been stuck in the ports or never arrived to the supply chain. That was before the virus. Then China shut down. We should rethink that material economy. We don’t need a lot of the junk we buy from China, and we could do it different. Take those shrimp on your dinner plate – raised in Scotland, deveined in China, and brought to you by Walmart. That’s a crazy equation.
The Trump Administration also canned the pandemic program. Maybe we won’t do that one again. As the Associated Press (AP) reports, “Public health and national security experts shake their heads when President Donald Trump says the coronavirus “came out of nowhere” and “blindsided the world.” They’ve been warning about the next pandemic for years and criticized the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to dismantle a National Security Council directorate charged with preparing for when, not if, another pandemic would hit the nation.”
There’s no easy answer to the opening of Pandora’s box: an airborne, very contagious and lethal virus.
Oil and Tar Sands
Then there’s the oil markets, pretty much a direct blow at North Dakota and the Tar Sands. That had to do with a price war between the Saudis and Russia, aimed at knocking out the marginal producers in the tar sands and fracking fields. In late February, the massive TECK mine project was abandoned, citing economics including the economics of successful resistance mounted by Indigenous Climate Action and thousands of people.
The buffalo of northern Alberta are pretty happy about that. Then came Suncor’s announcement that it will shut part of its production down in a two year old mine, Fort Hills. They are also delaying new mining projects. That’s massive. The Husky Refinery, the one with the explosion on 2018, is stopping the repairs.
As the Star Tribune reports, “Given the current safety and public health risks, Husky has begun a systematic and orderly suspension of major construction activities related to the Superior rebuild project,” spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said. Husky is also cutting $1 billion in expenses to keep the big tar sands producer afloat. Maybe that dangerous refinery will never reopen.
Then there’s this: pipeline companies are asking producers to cut back in oil production because the tanks are getting full. In the midst of this, it’s pretty ironic that the Line 3 Project is intended to go forward. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency cancelled the public hearings on the project, and generously extended the time table for one week, expecting people to testify for a minute and a half, at three video Town Hall meetings in April. That project, if it goes ahead, will bring 4300 workers to northern Minnesota, which in the midst of an oil price crash, a reduction in demand, and a pandemic, seems like a really bad idea for the state.
How a bat challenged the Black Snake
The fact is that a virus brought to us by a bat is changing the world, or the world of the Wiindigo. We have some stories of the epic bat in Ojibwe history, and this is a new one. Maybe our descendants will call this “The time that the Bat killed the Black Snake.” COVID 19 has caused unprecedented social disruption and wreaked havoc in the markets. With the world coming apart at the seams, Helen Mountford, of the World Resources Institute, thinks investment in clean technology and infrastructure could help put it back together again.“We have a great opportunity now to transition more quickly. This is a moment when we can implement measures to help boost the economy, create jobs, and build climate resilience.”
Forbes Magazine (now including links to homemade face masks), notes, “…even in these dark early days, it’s possible to make out what could be a silver lining: The crisis points to the potential of a new normal that’s better for our climate future as investors reweight their portfolios in light of current events. The virus has already given us a sneak peek into our dependencies on energy prices and the transition to a low-carbon future, a kind of stress test. The virtual freezing of air travel and shutdowns of factories has dramatically reduced air pollution in China and Italy, and will likely result in a significant drop in energy demand and, thus, carbon emissions, at least for a time.”
“But perhaps a more durable trend: Amid the wrenching market falls of recent days, which were also influenced by Saudi Arabia’s move to flood the world with cheap oil, we’ve seen that the renewable energy sector and other companies less reliant on fossil fuels have been relatively favored by investors.”
In other words, move on.
North Dakota and Minnesota Governors have a chance to make a real transition for a more secure future. Tribal leaders have the same opportunity. Here’s some suggestions: Victory Gardens would be the way to go. In 1943, nearly forty percent of all fruits and vegetables grown in the US were grown in victory gardens. There were gardens planted in backyards, empty lots, and schools grew gardens for their lunch programs. Even Eleanor Roosevelt took part by planting her own victory garden at the White House in 1943. Melania Trump could illustrate her gardening skills and garden wear. We can call them Resilience and Hope Gardens.
Then look to decoupling our relationship to big oil and big energy. I know that North Dakota and Minnesota have long been wedded to that economy, but with massive layoffs in the Iron Range, and the potential for Enbridge to inundate our state with 4200 mostly out of state workers coming into the north, we need a better plan. Think of it this way: Enbridge uses more energy to pump that sludge than any other consumer in Minnesota. That’s crazy. The main line uses the equivalent of two nuclear power plants worth of energy to move that dirty stuff. Now that seems like an ass backwards plan, Minnesota.
There are over l0,000 people laid off in the tar sands, Minnesota Governor Walz can be more visionary than to strap us all to the next decades of vagaries in the fossil fuel market. It’s a shame that while wind and solar are two of the fastest growing industries, most of that production is overseas, the parts come into the port at Duluth.. It’s the same with medicines, textile , equipment, you name it.
Its time to relocalize and re-industrialize in a way that makes sense. Now would be the time for a massive Green New Deal, sort of like an Enlightened Stimulus Package. We might call it the 8th Fire, or maybe the Sitting Bull Plan. Now is the time for our tribal leaders to be visionary, and courageous. The stimulus money can reboot the old economy, or we can move towards the next economy, the green one. How about better jobs? Like the ones which don’t require foreign oil, and the ones which build local economies and manufacturing.
Now in the quiet time of quarantine is the time to make that dream and plant those seeds. Let them be organic and bee friendly. That’s my hope and plan.