Native Nations Rise: Indigenous Solidarity in Action
- March 16, 2017
- Andrew E. Miller
Last week thousands of indigenous activists and allies traveled to Washington, DC for the Native Nations Rise march, convened by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and grassroots indigenous leaders. It was an important moment to bring the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline to the doorstep of the White House, stating unequivocally that far from being over, the North America-wide struggle for indigenous self-determination is kicking into an even higher gear.
The indigenous rights movement is global, and solidarity between indigenous campaigns to defend their collective rights is growing stronger. That multinational support was embodied this last week by Paty Gualinga, international relations coordinator for the Kichwa indigenous community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Amazon Watch was honored to facilitate Paty's participation in multiple events on International Women's Day, underscoring the leadership role of indigenous women.
"My people's territory was sold by the government to oil companies," Paty told a gathering at the tipi encampment along the National Mall. "And it's worth saying on this special day for women that we had a big discussion about what to do with the concession. We women decided there would be no negotiating, that there would be no oil drilling, that we were going to resist." Her statement resonated with the audience; she was interrupted by applause several times during her brief intervention.
"Over the course of our struggle, international solidarity has been key to generate pressure and communication. Part of the success was that a people – very far from mass media – were able to expose what was happening, to expel an oil company, to win a legal case. If a community of 1,200 people was able to make the difference and stop a mega-project, we have hope that others can do so as well."
Sarayaku weren't the only ones to send their encouragement to Native Nations Rise. Other indigenous peoples from around the Amazon followed suit with photo messages shared far and wide on social media. Many indigenous colleagues have said they identify with the issues embodied in the Standing Rock struggle: imposition of economic projects on indigenous territories, desecration of sacred sites, threats to water, and militarized repression as a response to peaceful grassroots mobilization.
This is certainly the case in Ecuador, where the Shuar people are facing large-scale mining within their territory, in Colombia, where the U'wa people have organized to protect their sacred mountain top from "eco-tourism", and in Brazil, where the Munduruku people continue to fight the construction of mega-dams along their rivers.
Amazon Watch circulated the photos of solidarity on social media and printed them for display during the march itself. Inspired by these images, indigenous activists and allies sent replies of solidarity referencing some of the specific battles our Amazonian colleagues are currently facing. We hope that this exchange contributes to mutual moral support and international movement-building.
Of course, we are under no illusion that these expressions will in themselves stop the DAPL pipeline or mega-projects in the Amazon. They do, however, contribute to a long-term resistance in which solidarity between movements can be a determining factor. In crucial moments, as Paty noted, that solidarity can bring higher profiles, increased pressure, and additional resources that tip the balance of power in favor of frontline indigenous communities.