Monday, June 26, 2017

Beware the rising people

All across the world, grassroots communities are waking up to injustice and to the ways in which greed and big business are destroying our precious planet.          
The protest at Standing Rock captured the hearts of
environmentalists all across the globe

From the Native American reservations threatened by an oil pipeline, to the rural community in North Mayo which was torn apart by a gas pipeline, or the people living near the edge of a beautiful woodland in Galway City, local communities say they have had enough.

They can see what the greed espoused by Donald Trump is doing to their rivers, lakes, and woodlands and they are awakening to the fact that they must do something to make sure their grandchildren will be able to live in harmony with a threatened world.

On Saturday, in Galway, I met an amazing woman who epitomises all that is wonderful about the human spirit and the benefits of connecting communities.

Her people, the Lakota, have suffered decades of abuse, of being told they are not good enough, of being denied the right to practice the beliefs which ran through their bloodlines for generations.

Like many indigenous people across the earth, she has been surrounded by alcoholism, abuse, violence, depression, and suicide through most of her life.

Standing Rock water protecter Chas Jewett
speaking in Galway on Saturday afternoon

But she’s not angry or vindictive. In seeking justice, she is finding her own strength and the strength of her own people and she was blown away by the support she has received during a speaking tour of Ireland.

Last October, at the height of the siege, thousands of Irish people “checked in” to Standing Rock on Facebook in order to confuse the US authorities and protests took place outside the US Embassy in Dublin.

Through social media, Chas Jewett is making connections. She is learning that a small rural community in Rossport, Co Mayo, has faced the same kind of pressures as the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where, through protest, Native Americans are beginning to rediscover the wonders of their own past and traditions.

A capacity crowd attended Chas Jewett's talk in Galway
At a speaking engagement in a Galway garden, Chas was overwhelmed by the number of Irish people who turned up to hear her talk about the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline which has captured the hearts of environmental activists all across the globe.

And how fitting it was that the water protector made her first trip to Ireland in the week in which an Irish town unveiled a sculpture of nine eagle feathers to commemorate a Native American tribe who remembered the Irish at their time of greatest need.

The Choctaw people, who were run off their own ancestral lands in 1831, were compelled to send money to the starving Irish when they heard about the Great Famine in 1847. They were honoured by the people of Midleton, Co Cork, last week.

According to Chas, the Native American people of Standing Rock took huge inspiration from the solidarity they received from Irish people during the stand-off on their sacred lands which attracted global attention late last year.

The idea that Energy Transfer Partners could move half a million barrels of oil a day between the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, has galvanised Native Americans and environmentalists all across the world.

Chas connected with the campaign to save Merlin Woods in Galway

Suddenly, a people who were forbidden to practice their own beliefs until 1978 – who were fobbed off to boarding schools where they were abused in attempted “assimilation” – are waking up to the wonders of their culture and their ancestors’ wonderful connection with their sacred lands.

It was not lost on many of us in the Galway audience that the Native Americans’ belief system is exactly the type of model all of humanity needs if we are to avoid a global environmental catastrophe.

They lived in harmony with the earth, rather than with the intention of exploiting it.

Chas talked about the “dehumanisation” of her people through The Washington Redskins American Football team or the belief among many people in the United States that Native Americans still live in tepees.

She talked about the extraordinary high suicide rate, seven times the national average, or the fact that the average life expectancy of a Native American man is just 45 years.

“Every woman that I know has been raped,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Anger has been driving us for a long time, but anger doesn’t do the warrior good.”

She described the damage which the fossil fuel industry has caused all across the world and how the protests at Standing Rock have given Native Americans back their pride.

They have learned to control their anger, to insist that the protests are peaceful, and that the threat to their drinking water has epitomised the environmental crisis being faced by young people all over the world.

Chas has learned to control her own rage.

Since the protests began she has learned that people have to learn to heal themselves before they can heal the world.                                                                                
Native American protesters facing police lines at
Standing Rock during protests against the oil pipeline

She said that the election of President Donald Trump might have been necessary to show people just how broken the system has become in the United States.

“I felt that big business only cared about property and that they wouldn’t hear us unless we broke their windows. Thankfully, I wasn’t in charge,” she said.

“For the past 150 years, people thought that our culture was one of violence and alcoholism. We want our children to stop killing themselves. We want hope.

“We are on the brink of extinction, not just our people but people across the world. We all need so much healing. We have to talk about the rapes. We have to talk about the violence. I myself was gang raped when I was nine years old. I took a long time to learn to love myself. We, all of us, have to move from ‘rape culture’ to ‘consent culture’.”

She said that the high alcoholism and suicide rates were a response to attempts to wipe out Native American people and traditions across the US, but the sight of so many tribes coming together at Standing Rock has inspired her people.

Messages of support from across Ireland, from environmental groups and land rights activists, have galvanised the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Sioux people and allowed them to begin to explore the forgotten treasures from their past.

She said that young people, impelled by a tragic series of suicides and guided by ancient prophecies, have been to the forefront of the peaceful protests at Standing Rock.

Coming together has inspired them and activism has given them the strength to tackle issues such as depression and drug abuse. It has given the Native American youth a sense of purpose which has been lacking in their lives for so long.

Chas Jewett, an inspirational speaker, following her talk
at the Secret Garden Cafe in Galway City
After her inspiring 90 minute talk, Ms Jewett was delighted to meet activists from the West of Ireland who have campaigned against the destruction of an urban woodland at Merlin Park and the Shell gas pipeline in North Mayo.

“I know that I’m so fortunate to be able to be here in Ireland, because most of my people are struggling to eat and to live,” said Ms Jewett.

“Water is our first love and water is being polluted all across the world. We have to go back to the basic elemental things that matter if we are to give a future to our grandchildren.”

Blog post from 2015:
'Protest has a vital place in a healthy democarcy'

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Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Check out his Facebook page here

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