So much gratitude to Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) for allowing me the opportunity to attend two separate but related water forums that occurred in Brasilia, Brasil. Governments, corporations, and large NGOs converge every three years to discuss various ways to manage, control and, exploit our water at The World Water Forum. Companies who actively privatize water globally, like Nestle and Coca Cola, sponsored this conference. This convention does not allow much space for those on the ground struggling to defend the water in their communities. To fill this void, a variety of social movements from across Brasil and the world organized the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA). Their message to the world: water cannot be treated as a privately owned commodity; water is a human right and a common good of and for the people. At this gathering of people from different backgrounds, including indigenous peoples, fishermen, union members, people affected by dams, people without land, people without homes, and many fearless women shared their powerful accounts of resistance protecting our sacred waters.
I had the honor to meet an indigenous warrior named Alessandra Munduruku of the Amazonian Munduruku tribe who lives along the Tapajós River in the Brazilian state of Pará. She spoke about her people who bravely confront the many powerful and violent private interests that actively kill their river and people with dozens of dam projects, illegal mining, illegal logging, railways through their territory, and soy production contaminating the water. During her speech at FAMA, Alessandra powerfully underscored the necessity to protect water: “We need to preserve our river. We need to preserve our water. Because it is not just the poor who drink water. It is not just the rich who drink water. It is not just the Indian who drinks water. The whole world needs water. The water is sacred; the water is our mother who protects us and gives us life.” Water unites us. All the struggles represented at the forum (and in the world) are connected through water. We are protecting the same life giving substance that sustains all of our families and non-human relatives.
I participated in a panel called International Conflicts Involving the Water organized by the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB - Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens). Andreia Neiva, an MAB militant, described her local fight against large farming companies who steal massive amounts of water in a city called Correntina in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Those who oppose big agriculture interests are met with extreme violence. Bounties are put on their leaders’ heads leading to their unsolved murders. In the face of such repression, they continue fighting back, and occupied a large farm 1,000 people strong. Speaking about this action, she said, “The fight that happened in Correntina must be replicated in all territories. Enough of the people being patient. Our patience has run out…We need concrete confrontations. They only fear the people organized. They do not fear anything else…they are killing us every day. Enough of waiting for our death doing nothing.” Life on earth is under attack. We can no longer wait for corrupt governments to act. It is up to each and every one of us to organize our communities and stand up in the face of danger so our relatives yet to come have a livable planet.
During this panel, I shared our struggle to protect the water and air from the ever expanding fossil fuel industry. Five refineries constantly spew pollution along the San Francisco Bay Area coast. Governor Jerry Brown recently extended a cap and trade scheme in California that gives these oil processing facilities the green light to expand production and infrastructure, and prohibits local governments from setting limits on carbon emitted. Phillips 66, a refinery in Rodeo, California, is currently attempting to expand their wharf terminal to import more tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada. This expansion seeks to double the number of oil tanker ships entering their port. Tar sands, the dirtiest and most dangerous crude oil, presents an extraordinary threat to our air and our water. Drinking water sources and agriculture are poisoned in First Nation territories downstream from tar sands strip mines. The pipelines to the coast put even more waterways at risk. When (not if) a spill occurs during ocean transport along the Pacific Coast to the Bay Area, it will be impossible to clean up due to the heavy bitumen (a component of tar sands) that sinks to the bottom of the water column. Refining more tar sands increases particulate matter in the air leading to increased death rates to those living on the front lines in sacrifice communities near the facility. For these reasons, members of Idle No More SF Bay, along with many allies, organize to defeat this expansion. Our local experience of corporate controlled government putting water and lives at risk to benefit a small number of wealthy people and corporations is similar to what is seen all over Latin America.
Nestle, an infamous multinational corporation that uses corrupt governments to take control of water sources to sell bottled water, was the target of a direct action on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018. A group of 600 Rural Landless Women (MST - Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) connected to FAMA tore down the front gates and occupied the Nestle headquarters in Minas Gerais. They denounced the corporate takeover of public water facilitated by Brasil’s coup government led by President Michel Temer. MST’s director, Maria Gomes de Oliveira, sent this message: "Imagine you are being forced to buy all the water to quench your thirst during the day. No one can handle that. This is what the companies gathered at this moment in that [World Water] Forum want.” If multinational corporations like Nestle and Coca Cola succeed in their plans, only the wealthy will have the luxury to drink clean water.
A theme appears across these various struggles: multinational corporations, using corrupted governments, exploit every last natural resource with no regard for the systems that sustain life itself. So women all over Latin America and the world are standing up to violent private interests. Warriors put their lives on the line every day. These examples of resistance, massive direct action, and occupation can replicate in all of our communities to protect our water and future. If fossil fuel corporations, who threaten our water and climate, make any attempt to expand infrastructure and production, they must be met with continued direct action until their projects are eliminated. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground. Everything we love is at stake. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to do everything in our power so the beautiful gift of life we see today continues for generations to come.
To read FAMA’s final declaration, follow this link
There was no better sendoff to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change than the art build and Thunderbird Woman action in front of the Wells Fargo head quarters with Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belecourt organized by David Solnit and Idle No More SF Bay. The love and positive energy propelled us into the Convention of Parties 23, which was the most intense week of my life. With very little sleep, we helped plan multiple actions in just a few days, were part of on the spot interviews, and participated in press conferences. Taking part in the It Takes Roots delegation was hands down the most rewarding experience in my life.
photo credit: Indigenous Rising Media
The night I arrived in Bonn, Germany, I was asked to speak out at the Jerry Brown event the next morning. I accepted and wrote the following statement that our group shouted during Brown’s speech: “Northern California refineries expand pollution. Carbon trading, a false solution. Keep it in the ground. We are here to shut it down.” We highlighted Cap and Trade because it is a distraction from the real solution of reducing fossil fuel extraction. It is a fraudulent scheme that puts a cap on carbon emissions, but allows polluters to buy carbon offsets so they can exceed these caps. Refiners are using Brown’s Cap and Trade Legislation to increase their production (e.g. Phillips 66 refinery intends to expand their bay terminal to import 100,000 more barrels of crude per day).
We spoke up for people that live near refineries in the Bay Area who already deal with elevated rates of asthma and cancer. Governor Jerry Brown responded to our demands with, “Let’s put you in the ground so we can get on with the show.” His threat of violence illustrates that our government representatives, funded by the extraction companies, are willing to put our lives at risk to protect the profits of the oil and gas industry.
photo credit: Indigenous Rising Media
Chief Ninawa also interrupted Brown’s speech right after our group. Ninawa is the leader of the Huni Kui, 13,000 indigenous people in 12 territories in a state called Acre in Brasil. He stood up in his traditional clothing, and proclaimed: “The Carbon trading of California is a false solution for the planet. The indigenous people are the solution. Nature is not commercial. Respect Mother Nature. No to fracking. No to offsets. Live the good life.”
Ninawa understands that his struggle in Brasil is connected with our fight in California. California has been pushing the state of Acre to adopt carbon-offset programs under the guise of helping them protect their ancient forests. In reality, these programs threaten indigenous sovereignty. Through offsetting, people have lost their right to use the land to make their homes, hunt, fish, and other traditional practices. Furthermore, the push for carbon trading in Brasil has turned leaders against each other due to the amount of money being offered. Ninawa also understands that accepting this dirty money implicates his people in the system that impacts people (like those living in the Refinery Corridor in the Bay Area) and poisons the air and water at the source.
Connecting our struggles around the world and standing up side by side against the extraction industry is one of the many powerful outcomes of this past week. I am extremely thankful for the It Takes Roots delegation and the Indigenous Environmental Network for giving us the amazing opportunity to be a part of the delegation and willingness to teach us so much. Every single person in the delegation inspires me so much. I carry this knowledge and energy home with me to help create the sustainable future we need for life to continue.
photo credits: Indigenous Rising Media
It seems a bit unrealistic that I am really in another part of the world doing climate justice work. Daniel Ilario and I have the honor and privilege to represent Idle No More SF Bay, refinery communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, environmental justice groups in California, and the Indigenous delegates here at the UN climate talks UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany.
The Climate Talks occur for two weeks. Dallas Goldtooth and Kandi Mossett from the Indigenous Environmental Network were in Bonn during the first week of the Climate Talks and Daniel and I arrived as they left. We are members of the Indigenous delegation.
I arrived hours after California Governor Jerry Brown was hosting a public event called “Pledge to America” where he was promoting his carbon cap and trade program. Delegations from It Takes Roots, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, SustainUS and others from the United States teamed up to disrupt Brown’s event. The action began with Daniel Ilario standing up to begin a mic check on the Governor. Those who disrupted Brown’s event wanted the world to know that his plan is a false solution toward ensuring a safe climate and to diminish his claim as a “climate leader”. You may have seen the media reports where Brown said, “Let’s put you in the ground.” This action received media attention around the world. It was a good moment for all the delegations involved.
Later in the evening, Climate Action Network hosted one of the largest social gatherings on the UNFCCC agenda. Many young indigenous activists were disappointed that Indigenous rights, issues and voices have been eliminated regarding climate control. While champagne flowed inside the gathering, Maori women from Aotearoa and I maintained a demonstration outside of the event to bring attention to Indigenous issues. As Indigenous women we are outraged that the Paris Agreement does not include our right of consent regarding corporate take-over of our lands and is a violation to the rights of Mother Earth. We demand to be seen and heard.
It has been a rollercoaster to keep up with the intense load of information everywhere I go here in Bonn. I am thankful for the Indigenous Environmental Network and It Takes Roots for accepting Daniel and me to be members for their delegations. My knowledge base about climate change, environmental justice and control by governments has dramatically increased. I am looking forward to continuing to learn and share with others my experiences here when I return to Richmond, California.