Sep 11

Empire, Indigenous Sovereignty and the Environment

With Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, wildfires and droughts fresh in our minds and threats of greater global aggression, we take a look at  the connections between Empire, war, Indigenous rights and the environment. This week is the tenth anniversary of the official adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We speak with Gar Smith, editor of The War and the Environment Reader, about his new book and a conference he is organizing later this month with World Beyond War on the topic. Then we speak with Charmaine White Face, author of Indigenous Nations’ Rights in the Balance, who participated in and protested the process used by the United Nation, about Indigenous sovereignty and her work to protect the Black Hills, a sacred site.


Listen here:


Relevant articles and websites:

The War and the Environment Reader

World Beyond War – War and the Environment Conference

Environmentalists Against War

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Nations’ Rights in the Balance by Charmaine White Face

It Is Time to Recognize the National Sovereignty and Human Rights of Native Indians by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

Defenders of the Black Hills

Clean Up the Mines



Gar Smith is editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal and a former editor of Common Ground magazine. He lives in Berkeley, California, where he serves as director of the nonprofit Academic Publishing Inc. As co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org), he has posted more than 20,000 articles on the impacts of war on nature and human society. At the
Journal, Smith promoted the “greening” of the printing industry and created a Green Pages Fund that planted thousands of trees around the world—from Haiti to post-war Vietnam. A veteran of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, Smith has been imprisoned for First Amendment and peace actions. During the Vietnam War, he was jailed for stopping a napalm truck at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. He has covered revolutions in Central America, sailed on the Rainbow Warrior, and engaged in environmental campaigns on three continents. A Project Censored award-winning journalist, he is the recipient of the Health Journalism Award and the World Affairs Council’s Thomas More Storke International Journalism Award. Smith is the author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth. (Chelsea, 2012)

Charmaine White Face, Zumila Wobaga (A Little Wise One Who Makes a Mark), is an Oglala Tetuwan (Lakota dialect) from the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) in North America.

From her early childhood, her paternal grandmother taught Charmaine White Face about the treaties that the United States and the Great Sioux Nation entered into. Her grandmother also taught her about the cultural differences between these two nations. This influence has permeated her writing and continues to affect
her philosophy, thought, work, and life.

One of the few members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to pursue a degree in the sciences, Ms. White Face completed a double major in Biology and Physical Science in 1973. She has used this education to teach environmental science at the college level.

A long-term community organizer, Ms. White Face began her organizing work thirty years ago as a volunteer on the Board of Directors for the South Dakota Indian Education Association, of which she was a member
for five years. Over the years, she not only continued to volunteer her organizing skills but also worked as a professional organizer for a national environmental organization. She also worked as an administrator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She took an active role in developing tribal laws, managing departments, and administering federal programs.

Woven throughout, she has been a political columnist. Her writings have appeared in magazines and essay collections in the United States and Great Britain. She authored a book entitled Testimony for the Innocent, which is a biographical account of her experiences as the Treasurer for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. For the past twenty years, her editorials and essays have urged political reform, social justice, and environmental protection and restoration.

Through her published work, the Sioux Nation Treaty Council, established in 1894 by He Dog, a Headman, came to recognize her understanding of the sovereignty of the Great Sioux Nation. In 1994, unknown to her, the Council appointed her to be the Spokesperson’s successor—Spokesperson being a lifelong appointment. She assumed the duties as Spokesperson in 2004. Her work for the Treaty Council is to uphold the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Since 2002, she has been participating at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City, New York, to advocate for the Great Sioux Nation and other Indigenous Peoples. At a critical juncture in the development of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she participated in the prayer fast/hunger strike held in December 2004 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2002, she founded a volunteer environmental and social justice organization called Defenders of the Black Hills. The organization advocates for the protection, preservation, and restoration of the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories. The organization is composed of members from many different Indigenous Nations as well as non-Indigenous people from the United States, Canada, and Europe. She is currently working on cleaning up thousands of abandoned open pit uranium mines and prospects. The radioactive dust, waste, and leaching from these sites are polluting the environment in western South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains—1868 Treaty Territory.

Ms. White Face is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her hobbies include sewing, reading, gardening, and old movies. She resides in Rapid City, South Dakota.