Since August 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at the Oceti Sakowin encampment in North Dakota has captured hearts and minds around the globe. These indigenous water protectors have been at the frontline of an extreme energy project that threatens their drinking water, their sovereignty, and their way of life.
On December 4, 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers said it would reconsider the DAPL route. This announcement was met with celebration by those who had been working for months to stop the pipeline, and years to advocate for indigenous rights. “With [this] decision, it is clear that our voices have at long last been heard,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault, II.
All too often, native people find themselves at the frontlines of struggles against the fossil fuel industry, with a small number of indigenous-led environmental nonprofits standing beside them. As allies to tribal groups, these nonprofits provide much-needed material support and services to the tribes in their battles to protect their land and water.
Honor the Earth is a Native-led organization, established by Winona LaDuke and Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in 1993. Headquartered on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, Honor spent four years fighting a proposal by Enbridge to build a pipeline through White Earth territory. The proposed Sandpiper pipeline would carry Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, through White Earth territory, to ports on the Great Lakes.
When Enbridge withdrew its application for the Sandpiper pipeline in August, the celebration was unfortunately short-lived. Enbridge turned around and purchased a quarter share in the DAPL. Honor immediately shifted gears and moved their fight to North Dakota, in support of their indigenous relatives, the Standing Rock Sioux.
Two of Honor the Earth’s primary staff moved to Standing Rock in July and August and lived in the camps in tipis and wall tents. These staff filled a critical coordination role, connecting the camps to the outside world through media, and working in coalition with other groups on the ground to receive and distribute donations for the camps’ infrastructure needs.
Honor staff also worked closely with the Standing Rock Sioux as they held hearings on the reservation, and collected public comments and expert testimony about the impacts of the pipeline. In addition to battling the pipeline, they are also planning energy infrastructure for the reservation that actually serves its people; by constructing 20 solar thermal panels on tribal houses at Standing Rock, they begin to address fuel poverty on the reservation.
Honor’s ability to respond quickly as the situation at Standing Rock intensified this summer has been key to their effectiveness as an ally on the ground. The need for this sort of rapid response support at frontline fights is often difficult to meet. Donor circles are an excellent tool for providing quick, strategic funding grants to frontline grassroots groups in communities of color.
By pooling resources, donors can amass a small but necessary amount of funding that can be delivered directly to groups on the ground, while limiting exposure to each individual donor. Donor circles are often small enough that strong personal relationships develop between the donors, and so trust and direct experience with grassroots grantees facilitate the granting process.
Honor the Earth and their work on DAPL is just one example of a frontline ENGO that has benefited from strategic grants received directly from donor circles.
Winona LaDuke often shares this quote from Thunder Valley: “How long are you going to let others determine the future for your children? Are we not warriors? When our ancestors went to battle they did not know what the consequences would be. All they knew is that, without action, things would not go well for their children. Don’t operate out of a place of fear, operate from hope. With hope everything is possible. The time is now.”
When the time is now, it is important that we donors be ready to do our part.
Trish Weber is a free range climate justice activist in Corvallis, Oregon. The primary focus of her activism involves allying with indigenous peoples who are fighting extreme energy projects in their communities. She currently serves as board liaison for Honor the Earth, and as a board trustee for Sightline Institute in Seattle. Previous experience also includes five years with the Women Donors Network, where she led the Earth Circle and served on the Board of Directors. She also co-founded All Against the Haul, a grassroots coalition formed to protect pristine wilderness areas in Montana and Idaho from tar sands infrastructure projects.