Standing with frontline communities

Dear Friends,

As Energy Transfer Partners pushes to double the flow of oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline, it’s important to remember not only fossil fuels’ impact on the climate crisis but the devastation pipelines and extraction projects have on “sacrifice zones” — often communities of color, and almost always in regions with little economic and political clout.

I found this message and the accompanying photos from Jennifer Falcon a powerful statement about what we’re fighting for. Thanks to Regina Tsosie with Sage Sisters for bringing it to my attention. Regina and Josie Ironshield are two Indigenous leaders in the Quad Cities who continue to accomplish amazing things. Thank you! – Ed Fallon


Háu Koná,

It’s 1:30 am as I write this from a hotel room in Fort McMurray, Alberta a “boom town” in the heart of the Alberta Tar Sands region of so-called Canada.

Sleep evades me as I am unable to shake what I saw at work this week and think about what lies ahead for the Indigenous communities of this region.

Earlier today, I was given a tour of the oil production operations in Fort McMurray, in what many call the belly of the tar sands beast and saw first hand the devastating effects the tar sands is reeking upon the local Indigenous communities.. The area is the starting point for several oil pipelines Indigenous communities are fighting throughout Canada and the United States. I returned to my hotel with a heavy heart- literally sick to my stomach from the toxic fumes that hang in the air so thick you can see it as it clings to the siding of the homes of Dene, Cree and Métis peoples.

A study conducted in collaboration with the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations, the University of Manitoba study found fish and animals consumed as part of a traditional diet contained unusually high concentrations of contaminants emitted during the extraction and upgrading of bitumen creating higher rates of cancer to the impacted communities. The study took samples taken from beavers, ducks, fish, moose and muskrats which showed high concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and levels of arsenic, mercury, cadmium and selenium. These toxins have adverse effects to their brain and nervous system of young children.

This tour was part of a six-day all Indigenous frontline organizing strategy summit Indigenous Environmental Network hosted with Indigenous Climate Action, Keepers of the Water and the NDN Collective. Local community members showed us impact sites and shared their experiences of being forced to live alongside the big oil industry. One of the most disturbing parts of the tour to me as a communications person was the public relations campaign Suncor has used to give the illusion that the industry hasn’t ruined the ecosystems here. It’s downright criminal the monuments to the large excavating diggers, seeing sacred bison Suncor donates to tribal communities live alongside smokestacks, and the Indigenous art used to distract you from the scarred forest and the toxic tailing “ponds.”

Syncrude Giants of Mining Monument, Wood Buffalo, CA.

Littered across the beautiful Boreal Forest these nations live amongst are unlined tailings ponds that contain the highly toxic, deadly waste from the extraction of the heavy crude oil, bitumen. While these “ponds” look like little bodies of water there are many precautions like sound cannons, radar, and scarecrows to try and make sure no one enters the deadly pools of toxic waste. These “ponds” are unlined and the deadly toxins they hold leak into the environment, including drinking water. Nearby communities have documented higher rates of cancer, attributed to contaminated food and water sources.

Community members told us that far too often Suncor admits to them months after a toxic spill that their waterways have been poisoned.

Tailings Pond outside of Fort McKay

Violence against Indigenous land from forced industry begets violence against Indigenous women and children. With extraction industry comes human trafficking which fuels our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. A recent study by the Sovereign Bodies Institute found that Alberta has the highest rate of Missing and Murdered Women.

Two industrial man camps are being built as part of pre-construction for the KXL pipeline on the east and west side of my tribal nation, Fort Peck. These camps only add to the violence the Bakken Oil Field has brought to the community of Fort Peck. Missing family members are all too common for our communities.

Man Camp in Wood Buffalo

To see the devastating effects dirty tar sands development continues to have on Indigenous people’s culture, economy, and health left me feeling a bit overwhelmed with the fight ahead of not just my tribal nation Fort Peck, but all of Oceti Sakowin.

We will shut down the dirty tar sands and all the black snakes it feeds, we will stop the KXL, our lives depend on it.

When the call sounds to come to camp to stop the KXL pipeline, will you stand with us?

Aba Wasté Yuhá,
Jennifer K. Falcon
(Hay Shaw Wiÿa)
Communications Coordinator
Indigenous Environmental Network