A new CIA (the Cowboy and Indian Alliance) recently completed six days of an encampment on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Throughout the week, indigenous people from Canada, Idaho, South Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and elsewhere joined with ranchers and farmers from Nebraska to dramatize and bring to public consciousness their historic alliance to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. They and their supporters have had meals together, have prayed together, have taken action every day together and have built connections and relationships that are a source of hope for our wounded earth and all of its life forms.
Several thousand people rallied and marched in DC in support of this alliance. We marched for a clean energy revolution away from fossil fuels to a renewables and efficiency-based economy, and we marched in support of the historic righting of the great wrongs to indigenous people that have been done over the last five centuries. We also marched in support of ranchers and farmers up and down the planned route of KXL whose homes and lands will be put in danger if tar sands oil is carried over their property. For many of us, this historic coming together of seemingly unlikely allies may look like a once-a-century type of thing, but it isn’t. Zoltan Grossman, organizer and writer, tells of the examples in U.S. history of European Americans standing with Native Americans in support of their rights and lives: “The Cowboy Indian Alliance is part of a long, proud tradition that has been conveniently covered up in American history. Our history books present Manifest Destiny as inevitable and uncontested in the 19th Century, so we never read about the white Wisconsin settlers who opposed the forced removal of Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe, the Washington settlers put on trial for sympathizing with Coast Salish resistance or other atypical stories that highlight the ‘paths not followed’ of cooperation rather than conflict.”
The moral and political power of the new CIA was demonstrated, in part, by the media coverage that it garnered. On the first day of the encampment on April 22, Earth Day, the opening ceremony brought out so many media cameras that it was difficult for non-media people to see and hear the interactions between representatives from different indigenous nations and Nebraska farmers and ranchers as they spoke with and presented gifts to indigenous leaders from the DC area. Though KXL is the way-of-life-threatening issue that brought this alliance together, there is no question that the participants in DC were about more than just winning a victory over TransCanada and the oil industry. In the speeches and talks throughout the week, people were clearly thinking longer-term. I was struck by some consistent messages. All of the speakers talked about the importance of love, about the joining of the spiritual and physical into an organic whole and about the importance of the land and its protection.
I happened to be reading, for a second time, Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth during this Alliance week. If felt like more than a coincidence when I came to the chapter, “Historical Role of the American Indian.” Among the insightful things he says are these words addressed to white people: “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence they need to be themselves. This involves radical abandonment of the policy of assimilation. To do this requires much of us because of our compulsive savior instincts. We take up the burden of saving others even when, in fact, we destroy them.
“The art of communion with the earth we can relearn from the Indians. Thus, a reverse dependence is established. Survival in the future will likely depend more on our learning from the Indian than the Indian’s learning from us. In some ultimate sense we need their mythic capacity for relating to this continent more than they need our capacity for mechanistic exploitation of the continent.”
I’ve believed for years that the issue of the climate crisis could well be the issue which brings about the alliance and the cultural and political changes, that lead to new ways of organizing society in the future that are much more just, much more loving, much more democratic, than what exists today. For a week on the National Mall, I saw concrete evidence of this belief.