Protecting Sacred Sites and Economic Resources – AKA How to Stop a Mine that is Threatening Your Clan’s Land and Livelihood

Two current events have shown us how our communities can directly protect our sacred sites and economic resources from further exploitation, theft and destruction.

The first strikes closest to home, as it is American Indians who are taking direct action to protect Glen Cove, a sacred gathering place for tribes in the area for centuries. The tactics employed are fairly simple: occupy the location and peacefully refuse to leave. Currently, the occupation of the site is in its 18th day.

Read more here:

Protect Glen Cove

We would like to affirm clearly: We have the right to be here. We are here to stay, until this situation is resolved. In Fred Short’s words, “This is Indian Land. We don’t need permission to stay here and protect our ancestors.” We don’t need permits to hold ceremony on our sacred grounds. And we thank all those who have brought tents, because our people who have been in ceremony and prayer with us have needed shelter from the rain, winds, and cold.

Certain spectrum of the American public are particularly sensitive to the plight of American Indians. I don’t imagine it would go over well if the media showed video of police in riot gear storming a peaceful occupation; kicking over the chairs elders are sitting in, scattering screaming children, etc. We should use this to our advantage. Our brothers and sisters protecting their sacred land at Glen Cove have shown us that you don’t need a tribal government petitioning in Washington D.C. while bulldozers dig up the graves of our ancestors at home. All you have to do is camp out in front of the bulldozers. This takes resources, of course. Donate to the cause here.

But what happens if things start to turn ugly? Short of full scale warfare, how do we protect our land, resources and sacred sites from further theft and exploitation? I have written and theorized on how we can respond to further attacks on our natural resources using Geohedral LLC’s mining claim in the Yakutat Forelands as an example. Karatea, a small town of 15,000 people outside of Athens, Greece has shown us exactly how it is done:

As economic crisis bites, one Greek town erupts in violence over plans for a garbage dump

“There’s no way we will back down. If they don’t accept that this project cannot happen, we will be here as long as it takes.” – Kostas Levantis, Mayor of Karatea

“The anger is most palpable in Keretea, a town of 15,000 people 30 miles south of Athens which appears to have spun out of control. The state’s attempt to start work on a planned landfill site on a nearby hillside in December caused locals to set fire to construction vehicles and erect massive roadblocks on a road that bypasses the town and runs to the capital. It’s a fight that has galvanized the town, from the mayor and the local priests to shopkeepers, farmers, schoolteachers and teenagers.”

Over the past four months, locals have developed increasingly inventive roadblocks to stop contractors from getting to the site. They have parked trucks across the street and built piles of rubble and dirt. Apparently in it for the long haul, they have erected a protest headquarters, complete with campaign posters, news clippings and children’s drawings of the riots. Their latest move was a nocturnal expedition to dig a shoulder-deep trench across both lanes of the road.”

One more time:

“There’s no way we will back down. If they don’t accept that this project cannot happen, we will be here as long as it takes.”

“It’s a fight that has galvanized the town, from the mayor and the local priests to shopkeepers, farmers, schoolteachers and teenagers.”

How important is salmon to your community? How important are your sacred sites? Over the past 200 years, how many Tlingit have starved or had to move away from their ancestral homelands because of depletion and theft of our resources and territory?

Why are the Greeks of Kereta so successful at resisting the planned landfill in their community? First, the focal point of their resistance is a simple goal: “Stop the landfill.” This is a simple message that everyone can get on board with, “from the mayor and the local priests to shopkeepers, farmers, schoolteachers and teenagers.” What would the equivalent message be in Tlingit Country? For Yakutat, if things had moved forward the Geohedral mining project, it could have been: “Stop the mining.” Who’s on board with this message? At least 450 out of Yakutat’s 700 residents are. Likely these people include subsistence fishermen, commercial fishermen, charter boat operators, and everyone related to someone whose livelihood depends on the salmon runs of the Yakutat Forelands; in other words, every soul in Yakutat. You could say the same thing for any other community in Tlingit Country if (or when) their fishing grounds are threatened.

Second, their tactics are unstoppable. Their focus is not necessarily to directly engage the police in open combat. Their focus is to hamper, disrupt and harry construction of the land fill from any and every angle. I would also make a bet that their leadership is decentralized. So while they may have spokesmen and inspirational leaders (such as the mayor, and likely dozens of individuals throughout the community’s social fabric) the action on the ground would likely continue if any of these leaders was taken out. No one is waiting on orders from a central authority to go into action. The protests simply swarm the enemy’s weak points as they present themselves. There is no leadership to decapitate.

What is the social fabric that would keep our communities together in the midst of a conflict such as this one? What if we were defending our natural resources from plundering or destruction? Who would keep us together? What of our institutions could organize defense, provision of supplies, food, water, transportation, energy and even look after the social welfare of our vulnerable citizens? At the top of the list are our houses, clans and organizations such as ANB, ANS and our tribal village associations. These institutions are so intertwined into our communities that we likely wouldn’t even be battling our community’s police in such a conflict. We should insist that our clan cousins on the police force remember that among the Tlingit, the clan is everything.

This whole scenario may sound scary to some. But I would remind my fellow Tlingits that such a conflict would only arise in the implementation phase of something like the Geoherdral mining efforts in the Yakutat Forelands. Until actual implementation there are a number of ways we could peacefully stop further exploitation of our lands, resources and communities. I would also like to remind my fellow Tlingits that this conflict was brought into our homelands. The men, women, children and elderly of the Tlingit community have been on the receiving end of colonialism, assassination of our culture, destruction of our economy and way of life, theft of our resources and coerced assimilation into the Anglo world over the past 200 years. We didn’t pick this fight.

There was a time when a Tlingit Clan responded to theft or destruction of its resources by going to war. This is because theft or destruction of any community’s resources is a declaration of war and threatens the lives and welfare of the community members. In the days of the battle of Sheet’ká this meant taking up weapons and engaging in open, pitched battle. Today, equipped with smart phones, social networking sites, a drum and a war song, we can do it with no loss of life, and a whole lot of ruckus.

In nearby streets, gaggles of teenage girls, cut lemons held to their noses in a futile effort to ward off tear gas, mingled with young men in balaclavas stocking up on rocks to throw at police. An elderly man wielding a shepherd’s staff stormed past.
“We’ve learned at the age of 60 about Molotov cocktails,” he thundered through his gas mask — an accessory sported by young and old alike. He would only give his first name, Panagiotis.

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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3 Responses to Protecting Sacred Sites and Economic Resources – AKA How to Stop a Mine that is Threatening Your Clan’s Land and Livelihood

  1. Pingback: Protecting Sacred Sites and Economic Resources – AKA How to Stop a Mine that is Threatening Your Clan’s Land and Livelihood | American Indian/Alaska Native – Attack The System

  2. Pingback: Stopping the Peace River Dam | American Indian/Alaska Native – Attack The System

  3. Pingback: Stopping the Peace River Dam | Lingit Latseen

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