“It is time we wake up the world to stop abusing and destroying a gift of life – before it is too late,” Chief Arvol Looking Horse from South Dakota said to a group of environmentalists from across the country who joined him at a water ceremony on the shore of the Mississippi River in New Orleans on World Water Day.
The ceremony took place on the fourth day of programming hosted by the environmental advocacy group Indigena, on climate change and communities fighting against it.
“Creative alliances are formed when you are invited to come together,” Janet MacGillivray, Esq., with Indigena, told DeSmog. “That’s what we did with the four days of gatherings at the New Orleans Healing Center.”
Keeper of the Mountains Foundation president Paul Corbit Brown, and Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, were among the invited speakers who stressed the need for groups to come together.
They joined Louisiana environmental groups and activists who participated in panel discussions in the days before a protest by hundreds of Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists from across the country against the federal lease sale of 44.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to the oil and gas industry.
Video: Paul Corbit Brown speaks in New Orleans
Holding up a bottle of polluted water from Fayetteville, West Virginia, at a panel discussion on climate change injustice, Brown told the audience that water from the river where he took the sample made it to New Orleans before he did.
“Polluted water in West Virginia doesn’t stay in West Virginia,” he said. ”It makes it way to other places, including here.”
The Keeper of the Mountains Foundation’s mission is to move Appalachian communities away from an extraction economy to an economy that values people, land, and mountain heritage. The foundation conducts outreach programs to teach groups from around the world about mountaintop removal and other negative impacts of the coal industry. The foundation is involved with fighting for human rights while working toward helping the region transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The foundation also acts as an environmental watchdog. Brown was the first photographer to document the site where a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed into a West Virginia creek and burst into flames in 2015. After a state trooper blocked his way, threatening him with arrest if he tried to get to the accident site, he chartered a plane and shot aerials of the wreckage that were published by the Huffington Post.
His photos contradicted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s description of how much oil contaminated the creek, according to Brown.
Brown’s work as a human rights photographer before he became an environmental activist taught him that you can’t separate human rights from environmental injustice.
“There is a growing movement of people trying to connect the dots,” Brown told DeSmog. “It is not that mountaintop removal is worse than uranium mining – or worse than what happened with oil and gas in Louisiana, or worse than frackng or any other environmental catastrophe created by the oil and gas industry. People are waking up to the understanding that this fight is all of these fights.”
On a panel of women in the environmental movement, Jane Kleeb announced that Bold Nebraska is expanding with the formation of the Bold Alliance, which will have branches in Iowa, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The alliance will continue Bold Nebraska’s work that includes stopping fossil fuel developments by developing clean energy projects.
Bold Nebraska is a progressive political advocacy group that was a leading voice in the fight to stop the northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The organization joined forces with indigenous tribes in the fight to stop the tar sands pipeline.
Video: Jane Kleeb speaks in New Orleans
When word reached Kleeb that President Obama rejected the permit TransCanada needed to build the northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline, she had a celebratory whiskey and then spent a little time with her family. But hanging up her hat was never an option for her.
“The fight to save the planet is bigger than stopping one pipeline,” Kleeb told DeSmog.
Kleeb announced that Cherri Foytlin will run Bold Louisiana. Foytlin, a Louisiana native, became an activist after the BP oil spill, and has been at the forefront of the fight against pollution and social justice ever since.
“We plan to continue to tackle fossil fuel projects while lifting up clean energy and developing a base of populist independent voters,” Kleeb said.
Hundreds crashed the government’s lease sale on March 23 held at the Superdome in New Orleans. Though the protesters weren’t able to stop the auction, their action sent a message to the federal government that further development of the fossil fuel industry is not a popular move with those concerned about climate change.
Video: Jane Kleeb and Mekasi Camp-Horinek protest against new oil and gas lease sales In the Gulf of Mexico.
“Here in New Orleans, apathy just isn’t an option,” MacGillivray told DeSmog. Despite the trauma from superstorms and the destruction of the environment, she believes the spirit of the people in New Orleans can’t be extinguished.
Paul Corbit Brown outside of the Superdome where protesters gathered after the lease sale for a rally. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
Brown was moved by the protest. It was a reminder that he is not alone in recognizing the need to unite people fighting for social and environmental justice, which happened at the protest.
“What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. It is that simple,” Brown told DeSmog. “If we continue to contaminate the earth and take from her as if there is no tomorrow, we will not have an Earth we can live on tomorrow – it is that simple.”
Video: Chief Arvol speaks in New Orleans
Lead Photo: Paula Horne-Mullen, Janet MacGillivray, Esq., Chief Arvil Looking Horse, Jane Kleeb and Jason Kowalski and others gathered in New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky