Spring 2017 Quarterly
In our winter fund appeal, we highlighted Nukewatch’s engagement with the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) led by Indigenous Water Protectors at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Since then, we have reflected on our position—as a mostly white organization—in relation to a Native-led struggle, and we realize we made some mistakes that perpetuated, rather than resisted, the forces of colonialism that continue to oppress and work to erase the presence of Native people in our society.
The letter included a photo of one of our members at a Standing Rock camp holding our Nuclear Heartland banner, which shows the location of US nuclear missiles deployed throughout the Great Plains. We referenced the intersection of our anti-nuclear mission with the No DAPL movement in an appeal for funds, excerpted here:
“The combination in North Dakota of nuclear-armed missiles, dangerous oil pipelines, and 3,000 active hydraulic fracturing wells, has created a literally explosive conflation of the worst environmental threats faced by rural communities anywhere. Help us relieve the region of at least the military leg of this terrible triad by donating to Nukewatch today.”
Simply put, we used the success of a Native-led struggle for justice to draw attention—and money—to our own issues and organization. This was wrong, and we deeply regret it. Because in doing so we failed to prioritize the concern of the Indigenous people who are leading this difficult battle: the fact that they have a fundamental right to exist on the land that white colonizers have been trying to take from them for generations. Native rights are the main issue here and should not be obscured by the concerns of more racially privileged activists.
We are grateful to writer and organizer Kelly Hayes for her piece, “How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective,” published October 27 on her blog transformativespaces.org, which helped us realize our mistakes. Here is an excerpt:
“In discussing #NoDAPL, too few people have started from a place of naming that we have a right to defend our water and our lives, simply because we have a natural right to defend ourselves and our communities. When ‘climate justice,’ in a very broad sense, becomes the center of conversation, our fronts of struggle are often reduced to a staging ground for the messaging of NGOs.
“This is happening far too frequently in public discussion of #NoDAPL.
“Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right—not simply because ‘this affects us all.’
“So when you talk about Standing Rock, please begin by acknowledging that this pipeline was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact white people. And please remind people that our people are struggling to survive the violence of colonization on many fronts, and that people shouldn’t simply engage with or retweet such stories when they see a concrete connection to their own issues—or a jumping off point to discuss their own issues. Our friends, allies and accomplices should be fighting alongside us because they value our humanity and right to live, in addition to whatever else they believe in.”
Rather than referencing Standing Rock’s relationship to our anti-nuclear work in our fundraising letter, we should have amplified the voices of Native Water Protectors and called for our fellow white activists to support their efforts. We acknowledge these mistakes here as part of an effort to improve the way we work in solidarity with those fighting for racial justice. We hope our white readers in particular might be reminded by our reflections to avoid similar pitfalls through truly listening to the voices of people of color and more critically analyzing our ally roles, as we intend to do.
Nukewatch is committed to amplifying and supporting calls for justice from marginalized groups not just because they are related to our anti-nuclear work, but because they need to be heard. We will continue to take action in ways that reflect the priorities of disenfranchised activists, such as answering calls from Standing Rock to organize local protests that target banks funding the DAPL. We will also send a portion of the donations received as a result of our fund appeal to the legal defense collective at Standing Rock. If you are not already involved, please join us in defending Native rights at Standing Rock and beyond.
For more about the continuing struggle at Standing Rock go to LastRealIndians.com.
To learn more about being an ally, see the Standing Rock Solidarity Toolkit from Showing Up for Racial Justice.
—Arianne Peterson wrote this piece, representing the views of the Nukewatch staff.