As one of the planners and participants in both of the January megaload protests mentioned in your recent article (see “Leading by example,” Jan. 30), I feel that it is important that I fill in just a couple of key pieces of information about our protest actions that were left out of the article.
I should begin by thanking the Independent for covering the events at all. The members of Indian People’s Action who made up the bulk of both the organizing committee and the actual participants in these events, along with our allies from Blue Skies Campaign, and the Idaho, Spokane and Northern Rockies chapters of Rising Tide, sent out a detailed press release to all local media outlets before each event, explaining what we were going to do and why. Although two Missoula TV stations covered the first protest on Jan. 22, the Independent was the only media outlet represented at the much larger and more successful protest on Jan. 24. But who can tell what was accomplished at the second protest from reading this article, except that three dear elder women allies of ours were cited or arrested that time, rather than just one? That is why I must fill in the major gaps.
As stated in the press release, it was our intention to enter Reserve Street together in front of the megaloads and halt the movement of this tar sands-bound equipment however long we could by leading ourselves and our non-Indian allies in a traditional round dance, which is a form of prayer and a symbol of unity, in the middle of the street. We aimed to do this while carrying our signs in opposition to the tar sands and the megaloads and for the development of non-fossil fuel alternative energy sources. We were also acting on behalf of our indigenous brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities in Alberta who have been affected most directly and severely from the contamination of their water, air and wild natural food sources, although we also expressed that all life on Earth is being deeply affected and endangered by this filthy and completely unnecessary business. We say “unnecessary” because if just one-fifth of the amount of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) presently harvested and already on reserve were used, it would make the atmosphere unsustainable and unsalvageable by as early as possibly 10 to 15 years from now.
Our leaders in Indian People’s Action decided in advance of the protest action that our group would not get arrested, but instead would very slowly obey the police order to disperse after the round dance. We decided that because we knew that we were trying to organize and mobilize many people from Native tribal communities all over Montana who had never engaged in massive, non-violent resistance actions before, and as anybody who is familiar with such activism knows, it takes both training and experience to engage non-violently with people who approach you attempting to stop your actions with force. It is not something that people just do naturally.
As your article stated, we had about 40-plus people in the Tuesday night action. But rather than saying “many from the Indian People’s Action group,” it would have been more accurate to say “most.” We made up about 30 of the 40 in attendance. Indians made up about 60 of the near 70 people who participated on Thursday night, but your article does not mention anybody being there at all except our dear and much appreciated three elder women allies. You mention nothing about our round dance and holding up the megaload for 12 minutes, followed by a short speech from one of our Anishinabe members, Charles Walking Child, which held up the load for another few minutes.
During this whole experience—from the planning that began during the first week of December, through the long wait for the loads to arrive, and then during the actions themselves—many, mostly young, Native American people learned much about the issues facing our planet and became first-time public activists for the Earth. They will be back, again and again, in greater and greater numbers, as long as all life on Earth cries out against this most grave injustice, corruption and destruction. That was our primary success in these actions, along with educating the public through what actually did get covered by the media and what the bystanders read on our signs and in our leaflets that we handed out. We look forward to seeing you out in the streets again for as long as this struggle continues.
Indian People’s Action