Tara Houska, Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation, National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, a tribal rights attorney.
Transcript below, at the request of one our deaf friends.
Transcript below, at the request of one our deaf friends.
(Govinda at Standing Rock Spirit Resistance Radio SRSRR) This is 87.9 Standing Rock Spirit Resistance Radio, and we have with us…
(Tara Houska) TH: Tara Houska
SRSRR: And what organization are you oriented or focused with?
TH: I am the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth.
SRSRR: And what involvement or role is Honor the Earth playing at the No Dakota Access Pipeline?
TH: So, Honor the Earth has actually been fighting the Sand Piper and Line 3 proposed quarter in Minnesota for the last four years; that is spearheaded by the Enbridge company. Unfortunately when they announced that they were thinking about pulling the funding for that, they decided that they were going to put it towards the Dakota Access Project. So as an organization, we knew we had to stand with our relatives. We’ve had staff on the ground here for months, and I actually drove here from Washington DC once the call went for indigenous brothers and sisters to stand with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. And so we’re here to help in every way we can. We’re bringing media, I’m also an attorney. I’m helping out with legal, and with the direct action folks, but also looking at our other legal options. What complaints can we bring? What other rights have been violated? There’s some serious treaty violations happening here. Off reservation rights that are not being observed, and not even being acknowledged by Dakota Access in this project. So, we’re trying to do everything we can to help these folks that are our relatives - to say no.
SRSRR: So, it seems like it is a very important part of the resistance - the language of the warrior world, and to identify these specific infractions or whatever. If folks that are being impacted by similar situations, and need your expertise? How would they go about making contact with Honor the Earth, and getting some communication dialed in?
TH: We do have a facebook page and a twitter account, but the best way probably would be to contact us at HonorEarth.org. We do engage in different struggles all across Turtle Island. We’re heavily involved in regranting to different organizations and groups that are out there fighting on the frontlines. We know that these projects happen all over indian country. We are unfortunately hit first and worst. I think we know that pipeline projects, extractive industry across the board, is going to look out of sight out of mind. We’re not going to send this through white suburbia, we’re going to send this through indian country, because no one thinks about that and no one cares - but we care. And obviously the thousands of people that have joined here at Standing Rock Sioux tribe care.
SRSRR: One of the things I found fascinating in conversing with you earlier, was that Honor the Earth has an alternative energy component. Could you share that with us a little bit?
TH: Sure, so the pushback we usually receive is, ‘okay, well you drove to this meeting, right? You’re using fossil fuels.’ But we are heavily engaged in just transition as well. So we’re looking at how can we empower native communities with energy independence. How can we get you solar? How can we get you small scale projects to get your community up and running and having it’s own energy resources. We are sovereign nations. That is a form of empowerment that I think is incredibly important. We are doing those projects as far as solar and wind, but we’re also doing food sovereignty. So what are your traditional foods? We don't want you to have to get everything from the outside. We can do these things ourselves. We’re seeing here people are sharing foods from all over the country. Bringing them here. We brought wild rice. That’s our sacred plant. A whole bunch of that here. We call that pipeline free wild rice because that's actually whats at issue. The pipelines that were fighting would go through our wild rice beds and contaminate and destroy the most central piece of our culture and identity. So there are lots of different projects we’re engaged in.
SRSRR: So, I would imagine Honor the Earth has a platform about GMOs?
TH: Yeah, I mean, I certainly think we push very hard that our manomen (wild rice) is entirely GMO free. Actually initially knew about Honor the Earth back in undergrad. I watched Winona Laduke come and give a presentation about the genetic modification of wild rice, and I was actually working on that at the time because I was a science major, and looking out how you can protect something from modified rice that’s essentially changing a sacred plant. This is a sacred being. It has it’s own life, and they were looking at modifying it and patenting it to put it out to the masses. Changing that structure, and then also letting that GMO rice contaminate our rice supply, you know? I mean, they’re two completely different things.
SRSRR: And when we look at traditional foods, then we also begin to recognize our own physiology and how the cultural genetics have a propensity to assimilate different foods. So, there’s a big component to that, and I appreciate the bringing back of traditional foods. So, you have a food program as part of your whole presentation.
TH: We do, and we engage very heavily with the arts and with music. Bringing youth into the conversation. I think we’ve seen with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the youth have been some of the most powerful speakers and proponents of saying no. This is their future on the line, that’s what we’re all talking about. This is for future generations. They’re actually here, in saying no. There are lots and lots of youth here that have stood up and ran 2,000 miles to Washington D.C. to deliver a message to the president; who still has not said anything I’d like to add. Which I find frustrating, especially being that President Obama actually visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and he knows these people, and they are facing this incredibly destructive industry and he made promises to the youth, and did go back and start several initiatives. But this needs to be looked at as well. It really does. And I know that I also worked for Bernie Sanders and he’s aware of the situation, and I would keep your eyes posted on him just to see what's happening out there, just because there’s a lot of folks that are willing to stand up with us.
SRSRR: So it’s quite clear that you have a cultural foundation within indigenous politics, or culture itself, and so then we come back to the pipeline, and the resistance that is happening right here. And the fact that Keystone XL was shot down with a massive public outcry. It seemed that this one was hiding in the shadows somewhere. Like you said you’re standing on the front lines with the people impacted by resource extraction. When did you first find out about all of this and the evolution of where we are today, and in the legal of court cases?
TH: As I said we’ve been very heavily focused on the Sand Piper and Line 3 corridor. That’s proposed in Minnesota, going through Northern Minnesota and actually coming out of the Great Lakes, which is 1/5th of the worlds fresh water was at issue. And we knew that this was happening over on this side but we were kind of looking at it and it sounds like its okay. It sounds like we’ve got a good legal strategy. It sounds like there’s no way they’re going to push this through so quickly and here we are. I think that we’ve seen them using nationwide permit 12 to get this through as quickly as possible with very little environmental review. Almost no consideration of sacred sites that are here. No consideration for treaty rights that’s for the water and the land. So once we knew about the level it was at and how far along in the process it was, it brought almost all of our entire staff over here.
SRSRR: How can that happen? You would think an environmental review and an EIR and things of that nature would identify that the permit process just seems to flash over night. It was done. Is there complicity within the people that hold permits? One thing I heard is that the permitting agencies sole funding source is the permits themselves.
TH: With questions like that, obviously there should have been a full environmental impact statement done here. There should have been a full environmental review. They’re sending this through these folks water. That’s what this pipeline is supposed to do. It’s supposed to cross the Missouri River twice. If you go to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, you see a water tower that’s less than a couple hundred yards from the river. I mean, it’s madness. And to know that these people can't move. Reservations are set up places. You can't just pick up and move once the water is contaminated. That is your drinking water. I think with seeing this expedited through. I kind of look at this and wonder. Is this a test to see - can we get something like this through so quickly? That nationwide permit 12 that they’re now using. This loophole. I was talking to [not sure what company she said?] the other day and it sounds like it will be used thousands, tens of thousands of times, over the next two years to get these extractive industry projects through. I think that we saw with Keystone XL, that big oil saw that there’s actually these folks that are willing to stand up and actually block a project of that size, and they realized the strength of the people. So now they’re very concerned and looking at every they can to get their project in as quickly as possible to start new infrastructure that we do not need
SRSRR: Could you be more explicit about Permit 12? And for folks that say the black snake is creeping around, slithering through your neighborhood. We might not be quite aware how this may happen.
TH: Sure, so permit 12 is this little loophole that was intended to be for small scale projects. So something like a boat ramp. It was a way to not have to do a full environmental review. Instead you could apply for permit 12 and you don’t have to go through the full environmental review. What they’ve done with these massive infrastructure projects now is segmenting them into pieces and saying that these are little infrastructure projects that don’t need environmental review. You can't consider one little segment of a project. You need to consider it in totum. I mean there is a serious impact this is going to arise from this. There’s going to be climate change damages. There’s going to be damages of the human cost. Literally drinking water supplies of people. There’s cultural damages. There’s all kinds of things at stake that are not being considered, and they should be.
SRSRR: Like you say chopping it up into little pieces and getting this little piece approved and this little piece approved. And the cumulative impact of the whole thing is that we end up with the Keystone XL kind of project in the long run.
TH: Exactly, we have the same thing over Line 3, although they said they pulled their funding over Sand Piper. Line 3 is a tar sands line coming from Alberta, Canada, and going through Minnesotas lakes and into the Great Lakes region. 880,000 barrels a day. That’s larger than Keystone XL and they’re saying basically what happened is that Keystone XL didn’t get that international permit right from the President. That the State Dept has authority over transnational crossing. What they did is they looked around and said, ‘okay, well what's the closest?’ And they found an existing crossing. Very very old line, over 60 years old, that already was in place. So what they did was build a pipeline all the way up to it. Build a pipeline on the other side and hook it up. And they’re saying this is just maintenance issues, so we don’t need an environmental review. We can get this across the border without that environmental review.
SRSRR: How is it that the people that are in charge of EPA or whoevers supposed to be the governmental agencies. Are they not intelligent enough to figure this out? It seems very obvious what’s going on. Are they the revolving door concept where you have people that are writing the legislation and then they retire and are part of the corporation that utilizes the legislation that they just wrote. Is that something of what's going on here. How can this get approved and pass through these environmental barriers or roadblocks or safety measures.
TH: The State Department is aware that we have pushed very very hard to say that you do need to do a permit. To say that you need to do an environmental review. These agencies know. I’m actually going out to DC on monday to meet with the army corps to talk about Line 3 and to talk about Nationwide Permit 12. They know that these are serious issues and we are very concerned about them. If you’re going to do a project that you say is so safe, then why are you not doing an environmental review first? If you’re saying it’s so safe and it’s not going to leak this time - even though they all do. Then why aren't you going to do an environmental review.
SRSRR: And satisfy the people?
TH: Exactly. I think at some level there obviously is a lack of funding for a lot of these agencies. I know that EPA struggles. I know that all these different agencies that struggle with the overall cost and the appropriations they get from our congress. Who is very very tied to the oil industry. We know this. Some of the largest funders of our congresspersons are big oil. So you know you’re kind of looking at it with the pressure of the legislature which is getting this incredible corporate influence (something that Bernie Sanders is against). Then in turn you’ve got an administration that has these regulations in place that congress is working on, how they can deregulate this and how to get the project through faster. It's a situation that’s very much for the corporations and not for the people.
SRSRR: I think you bring up a very powerful point in that the elected officials spend a lot of time getting re-elected in their campaign funds that cost millions of dollars. And they get it more from these big corporations rather than the people their constituents. So with that disconnect their actively pushing for these corporations. The other thing that we look at the price of oil. We look at the incredible environmental collapse that we’re experiencing and you mentioned that traditional indigenous people are on the frontlines of resource extraction and living traditional ways. Why are we even thinking about more oil here. Is this the last gasp of the dying bull, so to speak.
TH: I think we’re seeing an incredibly trenched industry that has a lot of power and money that wants to keep it that way. We have the technology to move past into the next green economy. We have that power right now. Instead we’re saying incredibly subsidized fracking projects. We’re seeing incredibly subsidized tar sands projects. We’re seeing the renewable industry on one hand, which is radically exploding but still not making much money when it should be. So I think you’re seeing a power struggle that’s already been in place so long. But where we can stand up and say what's wrong. I think it sends a very strong message that we’re all here together saying no. At the same time I think it's also very important that people do vote regardless of how much money they get from corporations and who they’re representing, they need our votes to get into office.
SRSRR: So can you talk about the subsidies for just a moment. Do you know how much money the extractive industries are actually getting?
TH: I can't give you a number. But I do know that the amount of subsidies they get is significant to continue funding their projects. I also know that they’re the ones pushing so hard for deregulation of their industry while at the same time pushing for heavier regulation of the renewable industry. I was over in Minnesota just last week and saw here's these perfectly brand new wind turbines that are sitting there not moving because there's actually a system in place where they can only make so much power and then they have to stop because otherwise they’d be able to sell it back to the state. So we don’t want them to do that.
SRSRR: What story is this? I’m not familiar. That is incredible because base load is the reason we have nuclear and coal. If we had wind going into the network then we could reduce the baseload there that's dependant on the coal nuclear foundation.
TH: That’s where we should look at the state legislature. The state are the ones controlling things on the ground. A lot of these pipeline projects are controlled by the state. They have to go through the public utilities process. The state legislators are the ones writing these “safety concerns” into the code. So looking into your local officials is very important as well. I mean everyone gets really hung up on the presidential campaign, but your local officials are the ones putting it as “here’s this great new technology” and it’s not being fully utilized. Instead we’re building new fossil fuel infrastructure which makes no sense.
SRSRR: Right, it’s an 1800s technology. The whole thing. It does seem. For folks that are listening that are outraged as they should be and want to participate and contribute somehow. Remember that democracy is participatory. That mandates that people get involved in the process. What can people do to help facilitate what Honor the Earth is doing and also to be specific with the projects that you folks are working with.
TH: So if you go to HonorEarth.org we put up an inner report every year that says all the different grantees that we’re helping out across indian country. We specifically stick to indigenous projects and we try to do as much as we can with everyone that’s out there fighting different coal industry, mining. This is such a push on indian people. So if you want to go there and check it out. We’ve got materials if you want to call your senator, call your congressperson, call you state legislators. Here's this fact sheet I have on this project you have or this permitting process.
SRSRR: The fact sheets are available on the HonorEarth.org website?
TH: You can go check that out. There’s videos. Voice your concern because as a constituent you have a lot of power. If you want a t shirt too that’s cool (laughs).
SRSRR: Let’s bring it back to the Standing Rock event here. What is your sense of what needs to happen. What do you see as the possibilities of what needs to happen. You can talk about the court things that need to happen that have been pushed to September sometime. The implications of that in reference to what the corporation is allowed to do. Because I would have thought there would be an injunction to stop them until there was a court decision. It’s sort of like someone breaks into your house and they’re stealing everything. You call the police and the police come and they’re watching the guy take all the stuff because they haven’t received something from their commander or something. It’s crazy.
TH: That is what essentially is happening. They may file this lawsuit against the army corps. You didn’t do any environmental impact statement. You didn’t consider cultural resources. You didn’t do a full review of what’s really happening here. This is an incredibly huge project. So that’s what happened. They filed it. And then they filed an injunction while the construction while they considered that suit. The injunction now has been pushed out to the judge who’s saying September 14th, he’s going to convene the attorneys in a status conference. But in the meantime, we have no guarantees that the construction has ceased. Dakota Access said they’re not going to construct. But that was up until that last hearing in DC that was up until the 24th, and now we’re sitting here with what? A promise? That you’re going to do this? That you the industry that has to get this project through. Who has very rapidly shrinking windows of your permits expiring. That I also, looking at your guarantor agreement know that you’re running out of money. I know that you need to get this project done. There’s no way that you’re going to look at this and say, ‘oh yeah, we’re just going to stop.’ I did hear that the sheriff is actually putting out a lot of pressure. The local sheriff is saying it’s not safe because they’re still pushing this narrative that we’re very violent (laughs). That we’re carrying pipe bombs and knives.
It’s such a different experience to be here, and then to go up and see their blockade with guys carrying assault rifles and spotlights at a checkpoint. It’s just two different worlds. When you’re over here you’re sharing food and stories. Singing and praying. Kids are running around. This is an incredibly historic moment for indian people that have come here from all over to stand together about this and to really voice our power and concerns. And then you go up there and it’s ‘you guys are violent and terrorists (laughs)’ and all these crazy things that are happening.
SRSRR: It’s almost as if it’s like a mirror. That the narrative that you get from them, is them describing themselves. It’s phenomenal that way. So the injunctions and the suits go the army corps of engineers. Why doesn’t it specifically go to the corporations? Or does it? Those that are implementing and doing the construction?
TH: I mean, we’re looking at the reason that suit was filed because that’s an actual process. An EIS, and Environmental Impact Statement that they should have done. They’re the federal agency in charge of this. The federal government has a trust responsibility to tribes. That is a unique position that tribal nations have in exchange for the lands that were ceded. In this case they never were which is a serious issue.
SRSRR: So the Fort Laramie Treaty?
TH: The Fort Laramie Treaty. In that treaty there are very specific reserve rights for these people. There are rights to land. There are rights to water. There are rights to enjoying the sustainability of their people Oceti Sakowin. To see that so flagrantly violated. This is a moment in which we are seeing the continuation of the federal government’s policy towards native people.
SRSRR: Now, because of the BIA’s trust responsibility, so to speak. Why isn’t the BIA suing the army corps of engineers?
TH: That’s kind of where the federal government wears two hats. They can sue each other. Sometimes they do intervene on behalf. Sometimes they do intervene on behalf of the tribe. There are moments when the department of interior have filed a case with us. But there are also times where they don’t. Where they say the army corps says here, and they did what they thought was correct, and they filed a process and were saying no you didn’t.
SRSRR: But isn’t the possibility of a strategy is to try to get the BIA to actually protect the quality of life. Or is that just wishful thinking? Did they actually do what they’re supposed to be doing?
TH: Well the department of the interior, which is over the BIA - this overarching agency. They did actually say that their opinion that an EIS should be done. They said that. The EPA said that. The historic preservation agency said that. So we’ve got three different federal agencies that are saying army corps, you need to do an EIS. You need to do a full environmental review, and it wasn’t done.
SRSRR: How is it that the army corps of engineers has the ability to disregard the department of interrior and all these agencies that are over them?
TH: They’re not over them. The army corps of engineers is an independant agency.
SRSRR: For the armed services?
TH: So the army corps of engineers is kind of more in charge of projects. And they are kind of really their own entity. And you know they're in charge of a lot of EIS’s. They’re in charge of a lot of infrastructure. I’ve worked with them in the past on climate change issues. They wear a lot of hats. So I don’t know where the call was made to not do an EIS. Like I said, I’m going to go talk to them on monday so (laughs).
SRSRR: So we’re gonna find out! Once again we’re speaking with..
TH: Tara Houska with Honor the Earth.
SRSRR: And is there anything else you would like to leave with the community in reference to the support of this project as it relates to hundreds of projects where indigenous people are being impacted by resource extraction.
TH: I would really ask my relatives to come here if they can be here to support what’s happening here. This is a moment in time and history where we are standing together and saying no more. We do all have these different things that are pressuring in our communities. Whether it’s oil, gas, mining, coal, all over. But the call was made here and there are so many people that have come here. But right now we’re facing a state and a federal government that is putting pressure on these people to leave. They want us to leave. They want to wait us out. That’s really whats happening. They are looking at let’s extend this court hearing. Let’s push this back a little bit. Let’s put john and jane doe on a complaint, so we can name more of you as you stand up for what’s right. So we need more people here to stand with us. We have strength in numbers. I think that the more of us come here and stand and say no more, the more powerful we’ll be.
SRSS: Thanks so much for joining us here at Earth Cycles. This is 87.9 Standing Rock Spirit Resistance Radio, and we’ll know more later. Thanks, bye.