Tom B.K. Goldtooth, the leader of an organization that advocates for environmental, climate and economic justice, first greeted his Franklin & Marshall College listeners in his Native American tongue, then introduced himself.
“I come from northern Minnesota,” the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network told a large gathering at the March 1 Common Hour, a community conversation for every Thursday classes are in session. “I live at the headwaters of the Mississippi River … in the western part of the Great Lakes water basin. If you travel about another 40 miles from where I live, you go into the prairie lands. I live at the edge of the woodlands.”
Goldtooth, a member of the Navajo Nation, spoke about “Ecological Justice: Indigenous Peoples, Mother Earth and Father Sky.” He discussed the events leading up to the indigenous rights protests against building the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
From April 2016 to February 2017, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 indigenous people and other protestors camped at the site in North Dakota the 1,172-mile pipeline passes through, linking oil shale fields in the northwest part of the state to an oil tank farm in southern Illinois.
“Within this moment of an industrialized mindset, many people in society have been removed from that sense of nature,” Goldtooth said.
He talked about the Standing Rock protest as significant in a moment when there is debate about the environment, corporate responsibility and respect for the rights of others. “What happened at Standing Rock and what led to Standing Rock? … What are the things that came out of it that have changed the world?” he asked.
Goldtooth touched on the lineage of indigenous peoples fighting for their rights to live as they believe, from the impact of colonization to manifest destiny to what Native Americans views as the occupation of their tribal and sacred lands.
“I come from occupied territories,” he said. “We’re talking about this identification of who we are.”
He spoke about the word “dominion” in regard to oppression and colonization, which indigenous people fight against today. He referred to the laws of governance that Native American tribes felt imposed upon them by the U.S. government in 1936.
“Electoral politics, completely replacing our traditional form of governance,” Goldtooth said. “What is the mentality of a society that implements their laws and imposes their laws on us?”
Goldtooth presented a short film about the indigenous rising to protect lands and waters critical to Native American traditions, about how corporate industries traverse these sources with little regard. One of the film’s messages: “Mother Earth is a source of life; not a resource.”
“When we use the term ‘rising,’ we are part of a movement to bring power to our communities,” he said. “It’s a process of decolonization, of our own mindset as an indigenous people … to challenge head-on and to battle with that process of internalized oppression so we can feel good about ourselves. So our children can be proud of who they are.”
Referring to the oil pipeline controversies in Pennsylvania including Lancaster County, Goldtooth said, “There’s hundreds of other Standing Rocks in North America. … standing up to protect water is life.”
All people, he said, “need to re-evaluate what [their] relationship is with the sacredness of Mother Earth.”
Goldtooth ended his talk with a song in Navajo as the audience stood and listened.