More than 30 activists from Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell and Climate Justice Cornell demonstrated on the Ag Quad on Friday afternoon, advocating against the University’s continued investment in fossil fuels and the industry’s toll on indigenous women.
The Iroquois flag and signs calling for “No more stolen sisters” flew high above the quad, as Della Keahna ’22 and her sister, Cleo Keahna, sang in honor of the plight of indigenous women. A crowd of CJC and NAISAC members watched in silence. The demonstration began at around 12:30 p.m. and lasted for 45 minutes.
“These [fossil fuel] industries target our lands, and they target our women, our girls, and our two spirit people – our life givers and our warriors – the people often on the frontlines to protect our land and water,” Della said.
Fossil fuel extraction is connected with violence against native women, the demonstrators argued: The influx of predominantly male workers in “man camps” onto native lands to build fossil fuel pipelines increases the risk of sexual violence against native women as well as a spike in other violent crime.
“Cornell is complicit in the trauma of murdered and missing indigenous women,” the organizers wrote in the Facebook event description. “The [U]niversity’s abuse of native peoples spans its origins, and divestment from fossil fuels is a necessary step.”
This demonstration was part of NAISAC’s larger movement toward exposing the systematic oppression and abuse of indigenous women.
In October, NAISAC organized artist Jamie Black’s installation of the REDress Project, which illustrated the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the United States. NAISAC also collaborated with Thread Magazine in December to photograph indigenous women wearing red handprints across their mouths, symbolizing the violence against them.
This demonstration is not the first time NAISAC has advocated against fossil fuels because of their harm to indigenous people.
In 2017, the NAISAC worked with the Student Assembly to pass a resolution that called for the University to oppose the West Dryden local pipeline and to cut ties with Wells Fargo because of its connection with the Dakota Access Pipeline. NAISAC also helped coordinate a letter-writing campaign opposing the Dakota Access pipeline.
CJC organizers see a connection between their fight for divestment from fossil fuels and NAISAC’s advocacy for indigenous people.
“In the fight for divestment, we have been trying to create more coalition relationships with organizations that represent marginalized groups,” said Ellie Pfeffer ’23, a CJC organizer. “Especially other social justice organizations and groups that are especially affected by the climate crisis.”
Last week, CJC worked with Friends of Farmworkers, Cornell DREAM Team and Cornell Welcomes Refugees to run a teach-in in Willard Straight Hall, which discussed the connection between migrant issues, labor rights and climate change.
CJC also previously distributed flyers with QR codes to encourage users to contact the Canadian government to protect the Wet’suwet’en people, on whose ancestral land a natural gas pipeline may be built.
Climate protests advocating for indigenous rights have occurred off-campus as well. Twelve members of Extinction Rebellion Ithaca were arrested after occupying Chase Bank, to protest against the same pipeline in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. Charges against the protesters have since been dropped.
“Cornell’s investment in the fossil fuel industry is not just affecting molecules of carbon in the air,” Pfeffer said. “It is also affecting the lives of indigenous peoples, especially native women.”