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Power in the pipeline: How SF can build on Dakota Access protests for future generations

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Hundreds of protesters gather outisde the Federal Building in San Francisco last week to denounce President Donald Trump’s revival of the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. (Courtesy Peg Hunter/San Francisco Protection Department)

Among President Donald Trump’s many ignorant decisions last week, he also opened the door to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines again. In doing so, he dismissed the many pipeline spills, the right to clean water, the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, climate change and Americans’ safety. San Franciscans immediately rose up, taking to the streets to protest twice in three days.

“We’ve been here before!” Hartman Deetz of Idle No More SF Bay shouted to the crowd of several hundred at the Federal Building last Thursday. “We’re going to survive this! We’re stronger than they’ll ever believe!”

But this is about more than just surviving. This is about creating a change now, so our children don’t have to protest and face persecution in the future. For too long, lawmakers have prioritized big money above our health and environment. For too long, Native American culture and history has been desecrated, dismissed and commoditized.

“Standing Rock is everywhere,” Morning Star Gali of the Achumawi band of Pit River told me.

If San Franciscans want to lead the resistance, we must fight backward policies in Washington, D.C., and our own backyard. We must divest from banks and companies that fund pollution and invest in future generations. Here are some ways:

Write the Army Corps of Engineers

The federal branch responsible for permitting the Dakota Access pipeline has asked the public for help identifying potential issues. San Franciscans need to respond.

Email Gib Owen at gib.a.owen@mail.mil with “NOI Comments, Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing” in the subject line. Ask the Army Corps to count the number of pipeline spills, including the spill 150 miles from the Dakota Access protest camp, and analyze the impacts of these spills.

Write the Berkeley Planning Commission

San Franciscans shouldn’t only direct ire at Washington, D.C. Right here — in our progressive corner of the country — Bay Area Native Americans are fighting to protect their history. They’re asking Berkeley to protect land where their ancestors prayed and were buried from construction of a new retail and residential complex.

Before modern borders were drawn, groups of Ohlone used shells gathered from the many wetlands, ponds and creeks to build massive ceremony sites. While these shellmounds are mostly paved over today, occasionally Bay Area cities have the opportunity to celebrate one of these links to California’s precolonial past instead of further destroy them.

Don’t let California’s history be developed and dismissed. Write to Shannon Allen at ShAllen@cityofberkeley.info with “Comments on 1900 Fourth Street” in the subject line. Tell the Berkeley Planning Commission preserving Ohlone history is important to all Bay Area and California residents.

Support a new Native American Cultural Heritage Center in San Francisco

Almost 50 years ago, San Francisco’s American Indian Center burned to the ground. For 19 months, Native Americans and allies occupied Alcatraz in an effort to establish a new facility on The Rock. It didn’t work. Although other groups have places to celebrate their cultural traditions, San Francisco’s oldest residents still don’t have a center in The City.

“It’s a feeling of being forgotten,” Antonio Chavez, a San Franciscan who identified as a person of the earth, told me.

Community leaders are developing plans for a new, state-of-the-art American Indian Cultural Center. Along with standard education programs, they want a media center and a museum to display local Native American art and history in a culturally appropriate way.

Implementation of these plans, in addition to procuring a location, costs money. San Franciscans can help by donating to or partnering with the advisory committee. Contact the program coordinator, April McGill at aiccsfcalifornia@gmail.com or the interim executive director, Andrew Jolivette at ajoli@sfcu.edu, (415) 235-8237.

It’s a local action that could benefit generations.

Tokala (American Bear) McGill, a 10-year-old Mission resident, told me, “I’d like a cultural center so I can go there after school and hang out with my friends and practice my dances.”

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.

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