Nansemond Nation in Virginia

2016 Nansemond Nation powwow in southern Virginia

My June spirituality column for Sojourners reflects on my money practices. One practice I’m working to incorporate into my life is paying Native organizations an “entrance fee” when I enter their sovereign territory. This is part of what community economics leader Chuck Matthei called my “social mortgage” (or reparations) to offset my unearned economic privilege. I do this because I’m a Christian.

When I traveled from D.C. to Norfolk, Va, a few weeks ago to celebrate Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk’s birthday and new anointing to ministry, I did a little research on the Indigenous community there: the Nansemond Indian Nation. I made a modest $25 donation. It took about 3 minutes.

I got a note back: “Thank you so much for visiting Norfolk and for remembering us. Your support is greatly appreciated and a wonderful reminder that there are visitors who care about our ancestors and tradition. We wish you and your family blessings and hope that you will visit us again soon!”

This practice provides me with a chance to learn a little bit more about the people whose homeland I’m entering:

Nansemond, are the indigenous people of the Nansemond River, a 20-mile long tributary of the James River in Virginia. Our tribe was part of the Tsenacomoco (or Powhatan paramount chiefdom) which was a coalition of approximately 30 Algonquian Indian tribes distributed throughout the northern, southern, and western lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Our people lived in settlements on both sides of the Nansemond River where we fished (with the name “Nansemond” meaning “fishing point”), harvested oysters, hunted, and farmed in fertile soil. …

The nation recently received federal recognition through the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017,” signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018, The bill granted federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia, including the Nansemonds. This allows the tribe to have legal standing with the U.S. government and access to educational scholarships, health care services, and other benefits. This federal recognition took generations of pressure, conviction, and organizing from tribal members.

Refinery Healing Walks Around the San Francisco Bay

Indigenous activists from Idle No More San Francisco (SF) have been working with 350.org to stand up to Big Oil for years. These brave warriors live near 5 oil refineries in what is known as the “refinery corridor.” This corridor includes California’s largest refinery, owned by Chevron. A 2012 explosion put this refinery on the map, sending 15,000 people to the hospital with respiratory problems.

In response, Idle No More SF organized 16 “healing walks” over the last four years. These healing walks have brought to life a beautiful vision of different communities coming together to pray for clean air, clean water, and clean soil for all who live alongside these refineries. Many of the communities near the refineries are people of of color, poor people, and Indigenous Peoples. These communities experience high rates of respiratory problems, cancer and other health conditions due to the extreme air pollution the refineries create.

350.org has proudly partnered with Idle No More SF in organizing and supporting past healing walks. In the months ahead Idle No More SF will be joining with 350.org and other partner organizations to begin work to stop new tar sands fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Together, we are also organizing to make sure that CA Governor Brown’s 2018 Climate Summit lives up to its promises to communities in the refinery corridor.

Thank you for supporting Idle No More SF and 350.org’s ongoing work to shut down these refineries and keep fossil fuels in the ground in the name of public health and a safe climate for all.–350.org

When the White House Calls to Say ‘Okay, You Win’

It didn’t take long – after news broke this afternoon that President Obama had indefinitely kyboshed the climate-killer Keystone XL pipeline – for my phone to ring.

“Hi Rose, I’m calling from White House on behalf of President Obama. We wanted to makes sure you’d seen the President’s executive order postponing the permitting of the pipeline until another environmental impact report can be done, especially focusing on sensitive environmental issues in Nebraska. And we want to thank you for your good work on this issue. We’re just reaching out to let you know that the President hears you and we hope you’ll continue to help us focus on the really critical issues that are facing us right now.”

This afternoon President Obama made an official announcement on the Keystone XL Pipeline that so many of you have been working on these last several months: “Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood. … The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

Wow! What started as an issue among First Nations folks on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, expanded to the American Midwest where churches, farmers, and environmentalists were warning of corporate shenanigans that could poison the Ogallala aquifer (“America’s well”), and has become an international issue with more than 650,000 people signing petitions to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, has now shifted a United States president and his administration away from their earlier stated intentions.

Developing the Canadian tar sands to extract unconventional petroleum has been a disastrous proposal from the very beginning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that Canadian tar sands carbon emissions are “82 percent greater than the average crude refined in the U.S., on a well-to-tank basis.” This pipeline is a climate killer. It is morally right for President Obama to delay this decision until he can deny the permit.

We must remain vigilant to make sure powerful corporate interests don’t merely drive the decision-making process underground. We can also thank the President, the State Department, and especially the Environmental Protection Agency for truly acting on our national interest by giving more deliberate scrutiny to this particular pipeline, tar sands development, and push them continue shifting our nation toward renewable fuels and energy and the “clean jobs” needed to take us forward.
This is a great win. Who are the winners? Poor people who are most critically affected by climate change. Midwest farmers who must protect their land and our water supply. Indigenous communities who lives are threatened by tar sands development.

Who are the biggest “winners”? People of faith. Our earth is a prayer that we offer back in praise of our Creator. Let us dance and celebrate and praise God for God’s guiding presence – and keep a watchful eye those who would lead us down the road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Thank you everyone who is working so hard to stop this pipeline. Take a moment to do a little dance! Because those who don’t dance have run out of steam when the revolution arrives!

[See God’s Politics blog for more on this topic.]