Protect our public lands

Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

February 14, 2017
6 min read


Julie MaldonadoJulie Maldonado is a lecturer at the University of California and works on a range of environmental advocacy projects

(March for a Clean Energy Revolution, Philadelphia, July 2016. Photo by Julie Maldonado)

The Protect Our Public Lands Tour, a coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocates, activists, community workers, and scholars, caravanned across the United States with a clear message: support our public lands, air, water, and health!

The 24 participants of all ages – from youth to elders – and diverse tribal and community affiliations called for a ‘just and renewable energy future’. They travelled to document the lived experience and learn from the stories of frontline community members working hard to transition from toxic energy industries.

The action was envisioned to bring Indigenous community members to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to speak at the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution and to participate in the accompanying march, where over 10,000 citizens took to the streets in the largest anti-fracking demonstration in American history.

More than the destination, the journey was intended as an opportunity for frontline community members to learn and share their stories. As Kendra Pinto, a young Navajo community activist on the tour, asked in an article for the Huffington Post, “how are our lives not important?” Pinto had witnessed devastation to her community just days before setting off on the caravan, when an explosion at a fracking site near her home caused thirty-six storage tanks to catch fire. The raging flames, fumes and heat forced dozens of families to evacuate, leaving many with only 30 minutes to gather whatever they could save.

The tour was documented by Paper Rocket Productions, a Navajo/Hopi film crew whose members grew up in communities affected by fossil fuel extraction, and had been raised by families fighting for justice. Our strategy – of journeying, witnessing, and experiencing together to create platforms, and to support frontline community members as they tell their stories of historic trauma and current injustice – was designed to build both local and national awareness, and to demonstrate the needs for embedding justice into the transition to a clean energy economy.(Tour participants at the site of the proposed and blocked Desert Rock coal-fired power plant, July 2016. Photo by Julie Maldonado)

Challenges to this type of movement-building abound. Bringing people together from different cultural backgrounds, beliefs and practices, traveling far distances in limited time with limited funds and capacity, and facing systemic and overt racism across the country each took a toll. Re-telling (and in a sense, re-living) experiences of death, displacement, and cancers plaguing families and communities is emotionally demanding, and draining. These are, at heart, stories of people who continue to be brutalised and sacrificed by colonisers cloaked in the form of fossil fuel corporations.

The caravan members met these challenges with resolve and determination. As a Navajo elder participating in the caravan said to her family along the way: “I want to help protect our public lands. I’m very tired of living in the midst of the coal mine… It is now late at night, and [we are] still on the road, but it’s all worth it.” Public response to tour speakers affirmed her sense of achievement. After listening to tour participants speak at the summit, a community activist in the audience posted on a group Facebook page:

“I just witnessed one of the most moving and tragic tales of this country and its people I have ever encountered. A caravan of Indigenous people traveled more than 3,000 miles to come to a climate summit in Philadelphia. There was a grandma in her 90s, children and grandchildren. They were about 30 all told from many nations. Each one had stories to tell of how the white corporate structure and all the white consumers who support that structure has effected and affected them personally. They were in tears as they talked. I was in tears. The audience was in tears. And as their stories carried into what should have been the next session, no one moved to stop them, and the audience grew… We’ve walked out on these people too many times, and for me, nothing is more important than hearing and telling their stories.”

Over recent weeks and months, we have witnessed—all around the world—growing threats to our public lands, air, water, and health. Yet we have also witnessed incredible uprisings, determined to protect our most basic, vital resources from the greed of the few for the good of all. Now, it is more important than ever that we hear the voices of people who hold key knowledge and expertise on how to resist injustice, and how best to build movements to protect the water, lands, and life.

Paper Rocket filmmakers are hard at work editing footage of the Tour and capturing unfolding events—including the possible revoking of the Bears Ears National Monument historic designation—in order to finish the film. The completed documentary will show the power of working together, across communities and regions, and will tell a story of what we stand and fight for: empowerment and justice for the present and future – for all generations and relations now and for those to come. Together we can still make our voices heard!

You can support efforts to finish and distribute the film at the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (the fiscal sponsor for the project). Check the box ‘this gift is in honor of’ and type in ‘Protect Our Public Lands Film’.

Julie Maldonado (PhD, anthropology) is the Director of Research for the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), a think-tank for policy-relevant research toward post-carbon livelihoods and communities. She also works as a consultant for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, and is a lecturer in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Julie co-organises Rising Voices: Collaborative Science with Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Solutions

A coalition of groups helped organise the tour, including Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), Food and Water Watch, the Native American Producers Alliance, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, and the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on the Human Rights Impacts of Fracking.

(Placard photo by Susan Rose)


Julie MaldonadoJulie Maldonado is a lecturer at the University of California and works on a range of environmental advocacy projects


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


51