Indigenous Leaders Mobilize Public Against Fossil Fuel Industry

A group of indigenous activists are organizing against the expansion of oil refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area. Known as Idle No More SF Bay, the organization is spearheading a series of “Healing Walks” to protest the corridor of fossil fuel refineries in five cities along the Carquinez Strait, including the Chevron Refinery and the proposed WesPac terminal in Pittsburg.

“It’s time to begin a graceful transition to clean energy,” opined Opal Plant, a longtime activist. “This is preferable to an abrupt transition that could happen in the future when people realize how fossil fuels are profoundly damaging the world’s climate.”

The indigenous leader said the first healing walk arose when citizens of the refinery cities Pittsburg and Martinez began to get to know one another and understand that their health issues had common oily roots. The walk facilitated alliances between the citizens being affected in the refinery communities and their Bay Area neighbors.

“It was powerful to walk in prayer past the proposed WesPac site, Tesoro and Shell refineries,” Plant said, “as we prayed for a just transition as well as the safety of the refinery workers.”

Although the walkers expected dissenting honks from passing vehicles, drivers instead “honked their horns and shouted” cries of support and encouragement.

A resident of Richmond, Plant described how early last year, she connected with the Forward on Climate rally in San Francisco, empowering Idle No More SF Bay to head off the demonstration with a round dance and prayer.

“We were very well received and after that became connected with activists who later formed the Sunflower Alliance, of which I am a member,” Plant said. Since then, the Bay Area group has crafted “many actions, including several at the Chevron refinery, Kinder Morgan in Richmond and the Canadian Consulate.”

This movement’s roots go back to November of 2012, when four women created Idle No More in reaction to legislation proposed by Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, which violated First Nations rights and decimated environmental protections.

Since then, the movement has quickly swept the continent, utilizing a full battery of nonviolent resistance techniques: flash-mob-style round dances in malls, protests, direct action, blockades and even a high-profile hunger strike. INM seems to have successfully galvanized a public front against the Harper government’s assault on the health of North American people, especially indigenous peoples, and ecosystems. Such is the support around the world that solidarity events have taken place on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

The movement has two main targets. First, it seeks to stop the extraction and processing of oil tar sands, an unconventional fossil fuel with a withdrawal that requires egregious usage of water and energy. The largest industrial project in human history, tar sands excavation produces three to four times more greenhouse gases than regular oil extraction. Furthermore, these oil resources lie under 140,000 square kilometers of pristine boreal forest, an area the size of England, which the tar sands industry has been decimating for years.

The second major objective appears to be to shut down major oil pipeline construction that would transport highly volatile oil from Canadian extraction facilities to the United States’ western and southern ports. Already, the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline is online, and fossil fuel corporations are pressuring President Obama to approve the northern leg. In opposition to the project, Native Americans and mostly white rural landowners have joined forces. Calling themselves the Cowboy Indian Alliance, this group recently staged a protest at the White House drawing thousands of concerned citizens from all over the country. Their slogan? “Reject and Protect” — reject the Keystone XL Pipeline in favor of protecting the health of all present and future living communities.

The most recent healing walk went from Rodeo to Richmond and was held Saturday. For more information, call 510-619-8279 or visit the website at