Environmental Justice means always standing with frontline communities most impacted—and recognizing that the center of the storm is often where innovation and courage meet to propel our movements forward. We neglect organizing in “sacrifice communities” to the detriment of our movement for meaningful change.
Oklahoma has been called an “American sacrifice zone” for the oil and gas industry. It is home to massive fossil fuel infrastructure buoyed by an oil-friendly state government that has prohibited communities from regulating or banning harming activities locally. Despite the devastating impacts on communities and ecosystems, there is tremendous leadership, innovation and hope being generated by the population perhaps most deeply impacted—the Ponca nation of Oklahoma. Additionally, there are other community-based efforts that are rising to reshape the dialogue about the future of fossil fuels in the state, including a willingness to challenge the state’s false narrative of religion and patriotism with oil and gas production.
Indigenous and POC Leadership
Over the last several years, Indigenous peoples and frontline communities of color have taken their rightful place at the front of our movements for system change. We have so much to learn about what is truly needed to stand for the earth and our communities from Indigenous and peoples of color, and it is definitely time to strategize together around oil and gas action, and to learn how to organize with intersectional integrity.
For Native Americans and first nation peoples, they see their role as the first victims of environmental racism and genocide on this continent, but also as teachers and holders of ancient wisdom for how to live in balance with the Earth. Standing Rock was a historic moment in the climate justice fight. It exemplified the collective power of holding space for the positive ideas of “water is life” and for putting our bodies on the frontlines of the struggle as protectors, not protestors.
In order for movements to grow we need leadership development- and one of the key ways of building leaders is bringing them together to learn and strategize. Past National Summits within the Environmental Justice movement have seen direct impacts on local movements—by improving the knowledge and skills of those on the ground. They also provide a space to talk through strategies that are working on the ground- and provide an onramp for new activists.
Movements are strong when there are connections across the boundaries of fights. As we have seen from past national summits there is nothing more powerful than being in a room of fellow activists fighting issues similar to your own. Helping those directly impacted by oil and gas extraction realize that they are not alone- creates a much needed sense of hope.
This Indigenous-led organizing summit will be held in the epicenter of Oklahoma’s oil and gas activity in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Coming at the request of Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation of Oklahoma elder, tribal councilwoman and international movement leader, this conference will bring much needed energy and attention to a key battleground state in the fight against the fossil fuel Industry. With an emphasis on innovative strategies led by frontline indigenous, POC and grassroots communities, the conference builds on the People Vs Oil and Gas Summit held in Pittsburgh in 2017 with improved structures for environmental justice. We hope to bring together 200+ participants 75% of whom are frontline, POC, and grassroots participants. Topics will span the gamut from technical trainings on the impacts of industry, to a track on Rights of Nature, Indigenous rights and allyship, and other skills based trainings.