|Written by Winona LaDuke,
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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