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'Unlikely Alliance' of Native, Rural Americans Defends Environment

Alliances between rural communities and Native tribes have sprung up across the West and Midwest to protect local lands and waters. (Zoltán Grossman)
Alliances between rural communities and Native tribes have sprung up across the West and Midwest to protect local lands and waters. (Zoltán Grossman)
May 28, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Native American and non-Native communities have joined forces across the country to form what could be the base of a new environmental movement.

Zoltán Grossman, a geography and Native studies professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, is the author of "Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands."

He says a local example of this was the blocking of a large coal port terminal proposed near Bellingham.

Grossman notes the Lummi Nation prevailed because of its treaty-protected fishing rights.

"They were joined by some of the same non-Native fishing communities that, back in the '60s, '70s, even '80s, were opposing tribal treaty rights,” he states. “And so, this is a very powerful, really locally based alliance."

Grossman also cites the Quinault Nation's success opposing a proposed oil terminal near Aberdeen, which he says gained support from the mostly white, working class Washingtonians of former logging towns in the area.

There are more examples across the West and Midwest.

The Midwest Treaty Network was formed between Native and non-Native communities to defeat plans for a copper mine in Wisconsin. White ranchers and farmers and tribal members have teamed up in the Cowboy Indian Alliance to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.

Grossman says rural community members learn more about Native cultures in these fights and also about the sway Native communities hold to launch large-scale opposition to environmentally destructive projects.

"The tribes in particular, because of their treaty rights, possess certain powers, especially to bring in federal agencies, etc. that local governments don't," he explains.

Grossman says these alliances offer a different way to look at environmentalism and its base, which he adds tends to be urban, white and upper middle class.

He says in defending their homes, Native and non-Native community members have created a different form of populism than we're used to hearing about.

"It's a populism that cuts across cultural and racial lines to take on corporate power and to reinforce power of ordinary people against these big machines," he points out.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA