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Facing The Storm: An Interview With Mazaska Talks

Above photo: NoDAPL action targeting Wells Fargo. Seattle 2016. Alex Garland.

Formed in 2016 during the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Mazaska Talks seeks to leverage economic power to fight repression of Indigenous rights and the desecration of Mother Earth.

Co-founded by Rachel Heaton (Muckleshoot) and Matt Remle (Lakota), Mazaska Talks helped put a spotlight on the financial institutions behind the climate crisis and the destruction of Indigenous lands. In 2017, they would lead the largest global protest ever against banks financing the climate crisis.

I recently sat down with Rachel Heaton and Matt Remle as part of the Facing the Storm series focused on the Indigenous response to the climate crisis.

The first question I asked Matt, Wakinyan Waanatan (his Lakota name), Hunkpapa Lakota was how he came to the direct action of divesting money from financial institutions to stop their funneling of funds into fossil fuel projects. Specifically, as a way to combat against the companies many abuses against our Indigenous nations, our Mother Earth, and the detrimental loss they cause of our finite resources in the current climate crisis. Matt said for him it actually began before the Dakota Access Pipeline and on a smaller scale during the early fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. Matt said it became obvious to him that, “they [the energy extractive corporations] obviously have no morals, so there is no moral argument with them, there was no legal argument, because they had so much money that they did not mind paying the fines. So I decided to pull my personal money out of Bank of America due to their loans to build the pipeline.”

In addition to many corporations and financial institutions refusal to engage in Free, Prior and Informed consent with impacted Indigenous communities, it is clear that to the fossil fuel companies, policy makers, and their funders our lives, gravesites, cultural sites, and treaty rights simply don’t matter.. It was abundantly clear that talking and appealing to the companies behind the atrocities against Mother Earth was not working. He asked what really matters to them, trying to figure out how to make them listen.  The truth is that they value money and profit over the value of life. To stop fossil fuel giants from committing atrocities and escalating the climate crisis Indigenous people had to attack the monetary resources behind fossil fuel giants like Trans Canada Energy, Energy Transfer Partners, Shell and the many others.

For Rachel going back to support and stand with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline was eye opening. It was obvious to her that, “Financial Institutions have always financed the atrocities that take place on Mother Earth.” It is just the truth.

Every pipeline is a direct attack against the earth herself, it is a direct act to strip every one of us of our right to life. Every oil factory, pipeline, the tar sands, carbon footprint left enables fossil fuel giants and their supporters. Every dollar given by the banks, every new inch of pipeline, or man camp opened is a direct and premeditated attempt to kill off our future here on planet earth. The deprivation left behind by greedy companies, politicians, and monetary institutions is theft, stealing from the generations who are to young or not yet born, depriving them of clean water and breathable air.

Behind their every action reveals their motivation, profit over life. Profit is used to justify their heinous acts. That is what their actions and reactions tell us, profit over life, that their immediate need to accumulate wealth far outweighs even their own children’s right to a future on this planet. For those of us fighting big oil and their supporters, our fundamental truth inspiring our actions is a simple truth; we can live without oil, but not one of us can live without water.

NoDAPL

This time facing fossil fuel giant Energy Transfer Partners, Matt and Rachel decided to step forward and spearhead a localized divestment campaign targeting the banks behind the pipeline. Unable to travel back to Standing Rock as often as they wanted, they sought ways to take the fight to the local level. Along with social media campaigns, working with city officials, and community led organizations Mazaska Talks waged divestment campaigns against the banks financing the plunder of Mother Earth in the name of profit. The first step in the divestment campaign began with simple questions. Who is financing this pipeline?

The fight against DAPL opened up many firsts for Indigenous communities. It was the first time where social media sites allowed in depth coverage from folks on the ground, and it was the first time having non-native news organizations report to their audiences about the truth of what was happening to peaceful demonstrators. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now was the first non-native on the ground reporting. What she witnessed and captured was so chilling she went on CNN and told American media outlets that they had a responsibility to go out and report about the violence and violations committed against Water Protectors. For her efforts she was criminally charged and reprimanded. That is how these fossil fuel giants have continued to abuse native peoples while committing climate genocide while media sources misdirect information.

“We understand that we are not separate from creation, we are just the only ones who have strayed from our roles and responsibilities”,  Matt Remle, Wakiyan Waanatan.

The raping and desecration of Mother Earth begins with the dehumanization of the original people. Even more than the obvious loss of finite resources is the very real consequences that come along with building workforces that have little to no knowledge or respect of the communities they are forcing these pipelines through. The work force brought in to extract these unnecessary resources contribute to the already high volume of mostly male, non-Indigenous work forces in close proximity to our Indigenous communities. They are called Man Camps. Man Camps have irrefutably contributed to the high number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men, Women, and Children. Man Camps are a byproduct of big oil companies disregard for the territories they are violently forcing their pipelines through. Make-shift camps are created and built for workforces, they are almost always set up near indigenous populations without the affected nations knowledge or consent. Man Camps have brought sexual abuses, drugs, and violence into our communities effectively causing irrevocable harm and detrimental losses.

Life is sacred. That is why we have to fight. The divestment campaigns are a direct action to stand up to corrupt systems that call for and allow the rape and desecration of Mother Earth and her people. The rape, molestation, and desecration of Mother Earth is not progress. It is a corrupt few who have built an empire of monetary wealth they hold dearer than the lives of their own children. There goal is to take until there is nothing left. We all have a responsibility to the earth and all life that depend on her. It is sad that to many people have forgotten this basic truth. But it is not to late, it is never too late to stand up for the earth and our future here. We are at a critical crossroad and every action will make a difference. That is what the divestment campaign was for Matt and Rachel one way they could contribute to saving our future.

The success of the divestment campaigns has made it clear that those committing environment atrocities main concern is monetary. The divestment campaigns were designed to adapt to the enemy’s strategy, hurting them by hitting what is most important to them. For the people running big fossil fuel corporations, banks, insurance companies and legislative reform, it is too often money. Not their family, their children, or a future with clean water. As sad as that is, it is also an awakening because what they consider wealth is different than what most Indigenous would call wealth. To me wealth is my loved ones that surround me, my community, and the future I can leave my children. Life is sacred. To those who profit from attacking Mother Earth, wealth is most important. Cold hard materials like gold, are more important than life.

We are Indigenous to a part of Mother Earth. Imprinted deep in the heart of our DNA is our Original Instruction, the part of us that calls out to remind us of our roles and responsibilities. Some people call it our conscience, others may refer to it as the voice of reason, a premonition, or an instinct. I personally believe it is the part of our DNA that remembers our original instruction. It is the voice reminding us to protect our communities. The call to step forward and fight for our waters, and for the land we belong too is an important call to heed.  Our roles and responsibilities differ, but each one of us does have a role to play in the fight for our future here on Mother Earth. The selfishness of instantaneous gratification and the integration of material wealth as a way of establishing our self-worth was designed to manipulate our minds. It is a ploy to disguise greed, replacing what we know with monetary value in place of our responsibilities to each other and our Mother Earth as a whole. They have to keep us distracted, They have to keep us uninformed to destroy the waters and land we all need to survive. It is because of colonized instruction we have seen so much destruction within and around our communities. It is time to put a stop to this!

Climate crisis is real, and we are at a crossroads where every decision we make going forward counts toward the final outcome. Mother Earth will eventually heal, with or without our human nations. The question has become, what future, if any, do we want for our children and all the generations to come?

Matt and Rachel want you to know that taking a stand does not have to be painful or even difficult. You don’t have to build a non-profit, you don’t have to write a resolution, organize a protest, or testify before the United Nations. Change can start by seeing where the bank you use invest your money. If they financially contribute to the climate crisis, the privatization of prisons, or any other atrocity take your money out and switch to a banking institutions that invest in making a better future and invest it’s wealth back into your communities. There are many things we need to change the current destructive path policy makers, fossil fuel companies, financial institutions, and insurance companies have set us on. It can be as simple as a conversation, changing your bank, donating, or buying local products. It doesn’t matter how you start; it is only important that you start.

Take a first step forward and keep moving toward a future that includes clean air and clean water for everyone. Everyone of us has something important to bring forward or contribute in the fight to save our world. We just have to take that first step.

*Watch screening of Facing the Storm: The Indigenous Response to the Climate Crisis at the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center

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