Oklahoma Indigenous activists urge Biden to declare climate emergency during D.C. rallies


Indigenous environmental activists and allies protest in front of the White House at the People Vs. Fossil Fuels rally. (Robert Viamontes/Gaylord News)

Robert Viamontes

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Indigenous activists came to the nation’s capital this week to urge President Biden to stop all fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency.

Casey Camp-Horinek, councilwoman and hereditary drumkeeper of the Womens’ Scalp Dance Society of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, and JoKay Dowell, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer and a member of the Cherokee Nation, started protesting on Monday when the rallies officially began. They will stay in Washington until the conclusion of the protests.

“We have to stop selling out to the corporations and protect the people who are what this country is all about,” Dowell said.

Black Tiger, a cultural preservationist and Indigenous hip hop artist from the Pawnee and Seminole nations, arrived in Washington last Friday to perform at the Indigenous Peoples Day Event. He stayed to support the rally and said organizers asked him to perform. 

“I wanted to be there to support, to stand in solidarity with people at the event in regards to protecting Mother Earth and protecting the water,” Tiger said.

The People vs. Fossil Fuels weeklong rally, organized by Build Back Fossil Free, a coalition of grassroots organizations, has brought hundreds of Indigenous, Black and Latino environmental activists and allies from across the country to demand the government take action against the climate crisis. 

“We urge Biden to declare a climate emergency, in fact, it needs to be a global emergency declared by the United Nations,” said Camp-Horinek. “Oklahoma is the seed of the petroleum money that is fueling this climate crisis.” 

Camp-Horinek has been fighting for Indigenous rights and against fracking, pipelines and plastics facilities in Oklahoma. According to the rally’s website, she is one of the primary mobilizers of the event.

On Tuesday, after the last protesters left the White House, a second rally took place in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters, where hundreds protested the recently completed Enbridge expanded Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which passes through Oklahoma.

At Tuesday’s rally, Tiger sang a song created in 2017 during an oil pipeline protest at Standing Rock, “Nawa mni wiconi tatacikstahu.” He said it symbolizes two tribes, the Pawnee and Lakota, who are ancient enemies, but are camping together with a common enemy.

The song, Tiger said, represents unity between the tribes’ languages, which allows the tribes to camp in peace.

If the Biden Administration moves forward with 21 major fossil fuel infrastructure projects currently under federal review, the emissions equivalent of 316 new coal-fired power plants would be added, according to a new report from Oil Change International, a fossil fuels activism group.

 “With the power of a pen, President Biden could stop these pipeline projects. He promised he would listen to us. He’s not listening. We’re coming every day of this week to tell Biden: stop this madness,” said Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the organizations leading the week of protests. 

Tiger said Indigenous people have suffered many lies and many broken treaties at the hands of the government, and it seems like the Biden administration is “just talk, no action.”

“The power of the people in government is rooted in land theft, and so, can they give that up? Because their addiction to it is so deep, fighting for that change seems like a long battle. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Tiger said.

“If our people keep standing up for what’s right and for all the creations, the land, and the water, I believe in time things will change.”

On Wednesday, Dowell said the government must take immediate action against the climate crisis because communities are losing their water sources, the weather has become more extreme, and there is no point of return. 

The rally will conclude on Friday with a march to the capitol where demonstrators will tell the government they did not vote for fossil fuels, according to the planned schedule, and will urge the Biden administration to declare a climate emergency.

Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News visit gaylordnews.net.