Social Justice vs. Fossil Fuels

The Social Justice Real Justice conference at the UO Feb. 14-17 and the culminating rally against fossil fuels on the last day of the gathering opened the doors to people who may not have thought in the past that they had a seat at the table, says Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemum Wintu and a speaker at the SJRJ conference.

The conference brought local activists and those new to activism together with internationally recognized thinkers and activists such as Cornell West and Winona LaDuke as well as well known voices of the alternative media.

Rowena Jackson, an enrolled member of Klamath Tribes, part Modoc Navajo and Paiute, says she is new to activism and was excited to march next to Sisk on Feb. 17 as part of the national Forward on Climate rally and in solidarity with Idle No More, Tar Sands Blockade and No Coal Exportation. Jackson, a screen-printer, has begun making T-shirts to call attention to the First Nations’ Idle No More movement that started in Canada.

Sisk, whose tribe is federally unrecognized and has been fighting to protect the salmon of the McCloud River of California, says Idle No More has been largely ignored by the mainstream media — Native Americans blocked a bridge between the U.S. and Canada for four hours and it was barely noted, she says — but the word has gotten out via social media about the pro-environment and indigenous rights movement.

Attention to Native American issues and to the climate-change inducing tar sands and Keystone XL pipeline has grown, says Kayla Godowa-Tufti, and the SJRJ conference “stoked our fires again.” She says when she organized her first small protest against the tar sands with Native American drummers by the Columbia River she didn’t know that in two years there would over be 200 people marching and a Native American round dance at the UO.  “Little by little you can be effective,” she says.

A recent decision by the Sierra Club to resort to civil disobedience to protest the Keystone XL has increased mainstream media attention to the issue, and the Feb. 17 Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C., with Bill McKibben of drew more than 35,000 people.

Jackson’s T-shirts, featuring the grassroots movement in support of indigenous rights, include a “woman warriors” shirt that replaces the faces of the Founding Fathers on Mt. Rushmore with the female founders of the Idle No More movement and features Sisk and LaDuke. They can be found at