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Winona LaDuke & Indigenous Canadian Activist Back Campaign to Stop SLAPP Suits That Silence Protests

Web ExclusiveSeptember 04, 2018
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In a major victory for indigenous groups and environmentalists, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals has rejected the government’s approval to triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental and civil liberties groups are launching a new campaign called “Protect the Protest,” to fight back against lawsuits aimed at limiting free speech. Corporations often used so-called SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, to try to silence activists. We continue our interview with Winona LaDuke, Native American activist with the Ojibwe Nation and executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. And joining us from Alberta via phone is Eriel Deranger, founder and executive director of the group Indigenous Climate Action. She is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. To see Part 1 of this conversation, click here.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in a major victory for indigenous groups and environmentalists, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals has rejected the government’s approval to triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. On Thursday, Justice Eleanor Dawson nullified licensing for the $7.4 billion project and brought construction to a halt until the National Energy Board and the federal government complete court-ordered fixes.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental and civil liberties groups are launching a new campaign called “Protect the Protest” to fight back against lawsuits aimed at limiting free speech. Corporations often use so-called SLAPP suits—that’s strategic lawsuits against public participation, S-L-A-P-P—to try to silence activists. Rallies launching the campaign are planned today and tomorrow in New York and San Francisco and Dallas. The company behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, is based in Dallas. Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP, has sued Greenpeace, Earth First and BankTrack for up to $1 billion for undermining their project, the Dakota Access pipeline.

For more on both of these issues, we’re joined by Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe activist, executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, now joining us from Mexico City. And from Alberta, Canada, we’re joined by phone by Eriel Deranger, founder and executive director of the group Indigenous Climate Action, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

As we continue Part 2 of this conversation, Winona LaDuke, can you talk about the significance of these SLAPP suits, or how they’re attempting to silence people? Have you felt that pressure? And this kind of organizing to protect the protest?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, across the country, there’s been a number of bills passed in state legislatures that criminalize public participation in rallies and in demonstrations—basically, the exercising of your First Amendment rights. And, you know, I’m 59 years old, and my interest is not in getting run over by a bulldozer. But when the system is wrong, you have to stand there. And they’ve made that a criminal activity in many states.

Now, Minnesota did not pass that law, but instead they are indeed trying to put fear across all of us with both the charges and convictions that came out of Standing Rock, although, you know, it has not been as bad as it could have been, but still, you know, a lot of people facing felony charges. And now in Minnesota, you know, we are preparing for a new set set of legal challenges to all of our people, and we are looking at a lot of surveillance, and we’re looking at the possibility of SLAPP suits.

You know, we are going to continue ahead, because these suits are wrong, and the silencing of people’s right to say no is wrong. But besides that, I really want the system to work. You know, I’ve had the system shoved down my throat for my whole life, and for, you know, 200 years for my people. We’ve been told that this is democracy and this is what you want. And now we want a system that works. And if the regulatory system crushes under a Canadian pipeline company, and, you know, pressures by corporations mean that you get to pay for the police and they’re paid for by the corporation, then the system is not working. So I’m going to stand here, and I’m going to make the system work. I’m going to do my damnedest to make the system work.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Eriel Deranger, what kind of attempts by the energy companies in Canada have you witnessed to suppress the right of the people to be able to protest these lines?

ERIEL DERANGER: [inaudible] very blatantly at Kinder Morgan the presence of police and RCMP, basically being employed by the corporation to ensure that protesters were arrested quite regularly. There were many, many arrests, including politicians that stood in line with the First Nations. And in Alberta what we’ve seen is that there has been a huge amount of fear placed in the local indigenous people to stand up against these these corporations. So, you know, if you drive down what we call the Syncrude Loop, where the largest operator exists right now, and you stop along that highway even for a minute—so, I’ve taken many people up there. We stop. You take some photos. And within minutes, you have the RCMP asking you what you’re doing. So—

AMY GOODMAN: RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

ERIEL DERANGER: Thank you. Thank you so much. And so, what we see is that there is heavy police presence that are basically in collusion with these corporations to ensure that people don’t get curious, that people are afraid to approach these sites, and many of the people in the region don’t really feel safe in protesting. And that was the real sentiment that we took when we developed the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which went through that region, in protest against these projects. And it was one of the first times that the people felt empowered to actually stand up and do something. But that really isn’t a sentiment that’s very well supported. Many people have a real fear in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’re having like a NAFTA panel. Here we are, Juan and I, in New York. You’re in Canada. And Winona LaDuke just happens to be in Mexico City. But, Winona, you are there for an interesting conference. Can you explain, as we wrap up?

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah. The conference I’m at is called the Conference on Degrowth. And as everybody probably knows, this is the biggest city in the world. And I was terrified to come here, I must say, because I’m a pretty rural person. But, you know, the question is: What the hell are we doing? I mean, the fact is, is that, you know, Forbes magazine, every magazine has come out and said capitalism is not sustainable. Duh! It’s a wendigo economy—that’s what I call it—a cannibal economy. If you destroy your mother, you have nothing.

And so I’m here at a conference of economists and social movements and political thinkers that are saying how we hit the reset button on this or how we transform it. And, you know, what I know is, is that Canada, and certainly the United States, need a structural adjustment, as does a lot of the rest of the “First World,” so that they don’t destroy the rest of the planet. What we need to do is to relocalize, to have renewable energy, to have local food, to have respect for people and rebuild relationships, and to have some trade that makes some sense. But, you know, what we have now is a global economy predicated on endless access to fossil fuels and endless violations of human rights. And that is not the way that we’re going to go.

So I’m here at this conference to discuss this. I’m really pleased to be here in Mexico City. I find it ironic that I’m having this conversation with you, because I’ve never been to Mexico City, but, you know, I’m certainly interested in the social movements and the thinking of Mexicans.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Eriel Deranger, as we wrap up, this court decision, does it give you hope? And where are you next focusing your efforts?

ERIEL DERANGER: I think the hope is really that we’re seeing that the courts are finally siding with First Nations. And this really draws a lot of attention to the failing consultation process. And I hope that we can take the steps to actually really take a look at what that means for the long term for our nations, and look to actively implementing U.N.—United Nations—standards of free, prior and informed consent in this country, because I think if that were the case, we would not see a lot of these projects be approved, and we would see a much healthier, safe environment, not just for the generations now, but for future generations.

AMY GOODMAN: As the indigenous chief Rueben George called the battle against Kinder Morgan “David versus Goliath” fights, still indigenous communities won. We want to thank you both for being with us, Eriel Deranger, Indigenous Climate Action founder, and Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe activist from—who heads up Honor the Earth, speaking to us from Mexico and from Canada.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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