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OPINION: In the Moon of the Falling Leaves
Saturday, October 11 2014
 
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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I’ve just returned from New York City.

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 pondering.

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 change.

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 catastrophe.

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 change.


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