The Dakota Access Pipeline and Our Shared Kuleana to Stand Up for Our Land

Growing up in Hawaii, I learned the value of respect for the delicate balance of nature. Miles away on the mainland, thousands are standing up for this reality each day in what has become the largest Native American protest in a century.

The gathering of Standing Rock Sioux members and allies in North Dakota is about more than preserving the sole water source for one of the nation’s poorest areas. The Dakota Access Pipeline also represents a threat to hundreds of thousands of people downstream, the nation, and the world. Moreover, it is a relic of an outmoded energy paradigm, an unneeded acceleration of a fossil fuel economy that is hastening the effects of climate change.

In Hawaii, we have a beautiful word, “kuleana.” It’s often translated as “right” or “privilege” but in fact, it means both our right and our responsibility. Those two things are intimately intertwined. We don’t have rights without responsibilities — responsibilities to take care of each other and our Mother Earth.

Day of Action to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline on September 13, 2016

One of the core principles of the environmental movement is the understanding that we are all connected in a great chain of cause and effect, in this great web of life. This movement owes its roots to the original stewards of the Earth. Our Founding Fathers also took great inspiration from Native Americans and their forms of governance, and the democratic principles they were founded on.

Their unique form of governance was built on an agreement called the Great Law of Peace. The core principles of this law were Peace, Equity and Justice, and it states that before beginning their deliberations, the council shall be obliged “to express their gratitude to their cousins and greet them, and they shall make an address and offer thanks to the earth where men dwell, to the streams of water, the pools, the springs and the lakes, to the maize and the fruits, to the medicinal herbs and trees, to the forest trees for their usefulness… and to the Great Creator who dwells in the heavens above, who gives all the things useful to men, and who is the source and the ruler of health and life.” This recognition of our debt to the Creator and our responsibility to be thoughtful members of this great web of life, was there from the beginning of Western democracy.

Last month, a panel of three federal judges took a step towards this recognition by temporarily halting construction of a 1,134 mile stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline intended to transport crude oil. This legal struggle is only just beginning. That’s why I hope you will join me in standing for our land, our water, and our people and working to slow the effects of climate change. We can affirm Peace, Equity and Justice by calling on President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to respect the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, to respect their right to clean water, and to acknowledge our shared responsibility to stop investing in dirty oil and start investing in a clean energy economy for the wellbeing of our nation and the world.

We can’t undo history, but we must learn lessons from the past and carry them forward — to encourage cooperation among free people, to protect the sacred, to care for the Earth and for our children, and our children’s children. What’s at stake is our shared heritage of freedom and democracy and our shared future on this Great Turtle Island, our great United States of America.

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