Indigenous lives matter

Letter to the Editor Jul 7, 2020 Marietta Times by Aaron Dunbar

“The members of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for and solidarity with the people of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. We believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty and right to self-determination of First Nations, and rebuke all parties who would infringe upon such rights.”

So began a statement I authored on behalf of MOVCA in February of this year, in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in Canada. The country had recently been brought to a standstill by Indigenous protesters and their allies, who were blocking off railways, border crossings, service roads and more, as a response to the illegal construction of a pipeline, backed by the Canadian government and the force of the RCMP, across Wet’suwet’en land.

The members of MOVCA’s leadership team were instantly supportive of my authoring the above statement, and even went so far as to make a sizable financial contribution to the Wet’suwet’en people, to aid them in their struggle against TransCanada (aka, TC Energy), the same company infamous for terrorizing Native Americans at Standing Rock only a few short years ago. I was deeply moved by all of this, and remain incredibly grateful for our little organization’s willingness to step up at a moment when others were truly in need.

I don’t think I’ve ever harbored delusions about Indigenous peoples around the world being a particularly privileged class. But my ongoing education on environmental issues has largely opened my eyes to just how hideously Indigenous groups are treated, both in the U.S. and abroad.

It’s been said that Indigenous people, who make up less than 1% of the world’s population, are responsible for the stewardship of around 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. They are, as indicated above, frequently victimized for this fact- one need only to look at Jair Bolsonaro’s treatment of Amazonian tribes to understand the extent of such environmental racism.

Oil, gas, and other extractive industries have become increasingly known for the established links between “man camps” and a rise in missing and murdered Indigenous women. In the U.S., Native Americans are shot and killed by police at a higher rate than any other demographic. The ongoing pandemic has also been particularly devastating to America’s Indigenous people, with the Navajo Nation, in May, surpassing New York state as having the highest rate of infection across the U.S.

In May, Canadian politician Sonya Savage prompted outrage with her observation, “Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people. Let’s get it built.” I couldn’t think of a more concise depiction of the fossil fuel industry’s depravity, or the contempt for Indigenous sovereignty shown by colonial nations like the U.S. and Canada, if I tried.

As calls for racial justice continue to ring out across the country, there’s been some discussion over renaming Ohio’s capital city of Columbus. I wholeheartedly support these efforts. Christopher Columbus was, first and foremost, a genocidal maniac who sex trafficked Indigenous women and girls, some of them as young as nine years old. He wasn’t a “product of his time” (as if this is any kind of excuse anyway), as even his own men were shocked by the extent of his brutality.

It’s time to stop worshipping men like Columbus, George Washington (nicknamed “Town Destroyer” by the Iroquois), and Andrew Jackson (known as “Indian Killer,” and architect of the Trail of Tears.) These men were monsters, not role models. Tearing down statues and taking serial killers’ portraits off our currency is hardly a fraction of what must be done to provide justice to America’s Indigenous population, but it is a necessary first step. The debt we owe to Native Americans is, frankly, as incalculable as it is unpayable, and it is long past time for us to recognize that fact.