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Students discuss climate change at panel

On Nov. 9, a panel of Indigenous women joined in the Student Union to discuss the state of our environment and propose solutions for how to protect and preserve what is left of it.

The event, Climate Chaos – Indigenous Solutions, was led by environmental and Indigenous activists who sought to bring attention to the effect climate change has had on sea levels and the contamination of water, pollution and the increasingly threatened rights of Indigenous people.

The panel began by informing the audience that around the Bay, environmentalists are beginning to see more Superfund sites, which are highly hazardous and have several layers of contamination, according to Sheridan Noelani Enomoto, a community organizer and policy advocate for health and environmental justice. 

Later, Patricia St. Onge, who is an adjunct faculty member in the Ethnic Studies department at Mills College, detailed the history of banking and the origins of Wall Street in our country, before suggesting that banks have significantly contributed to the climate chaos and environmental destruction we are experiencing. 

“Do you know why they call it Wall Street?” she probed. “They actually built a wall, and they said ‘This is the street where Indians can’t come.’ And do you know what the first thing was that was traded on Wall Street? The first things were people and the ships that brought them here. That’s how we started banking in this country.”

St. Onge then highlighted the importance of divesting in big banks, such as Wells Fargo, CitiBank and US Bank. These banks, she said, are lending to energy transfer companies and, essentially, contributing to the problematic Superfund sites around the country. According to St. Onge, energy companies are responsible for building pipelines, refineries, prisons and detention centers.

Additionally, in an effort to minimize the number of banks that are approved to lend to energy transfer companies, St. Onge said she has created an organization called Defenders of Mother Earth (DOME) Huichin. DOME Huichin meets regularly to strategize how to work with the city of Oakland to encourage individuals and nonprofits to divest from big banks. 

One of their biggest achievements to date is that they have persuaded the Oakland City Council to approve a linked banking services ordinance, which prevents Oakland banks from doing business without disclosing any history of predatory lending. According to St. Onge, predatory lending includes, among other things, investing in prisons and detention centers and anything that may threaten Indigenous sovereignty. 

Towards the end of the night, Casey Camp-Horinek, a councilwoman of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, discussed how the necessities of life are becoming commodified by ego driven people and corporations.

“Man has become insane with trying to control its external environment,” Camp-Horinek said after denouncing genetically modified products. “If corporations can be called persons, legally, then why not understand that each and every living being has a right to the life that the creator gave us, and that human beings have no right to say otherwise.”

This echoes a similar sentiment from Enomoto, who earlier in the evening provided an analogy for our involvement in both environmental destruction and protection. 

“We all have a choice in a web. A web is either a network or a trap,” Enomoto said. “So, what kind of web are we going to weave?”