MIAMI — On the same day Native American environmental groups across Indian Country took to the streets to raise awareness about global warming, organizations in South Florida marched in Miami to demand action against climate change.
“The seas are rising and so are we,” chanted hundreds gathered at the Stephen P. Clarke Center government office campus.
Organized by the New York-based People’s Climate Movement, the Oct. 14 march was one of about 100 events scattered across the nation from Seattle to South Florida. The national effort was endorsed throughout Indian Country by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) based in North Dakota, which named the day Indigenous National Day of Action and called for Native Americans to make their voices heard.
Marcos Vilar, regional director for New Florida Majority, was among the organizers of the People’s Climate March in Miami. Vilar said the event drew nearly 2,000 protesters who carried signs, waved banners and shouted slogans demanding that the government seek cures to rising sea levels.
Participants included diverse groups, such as the Madre Tierra radio show, the Everglades Coalition and Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami – a Haitian women’s community empowerment group.
“No matter where we came from originally we share only one Earth,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami.
Demonstrators rallied amid musical entertainment, spoken word performances and speeches. William Smoke Snellgrove, of the Fishing Lake First Nation of Saskatchewan, Canada, addressed the crowd and led a prayer to the Creator before leading the march to the Torch of Friendship monument on Biscayne Boulevard.
“We have to pray for Mother Earth because when we poison her, we poison each other,” Snellgrove told the crowd. “All humans have the responsibility to care for the Earth, not the power over the Earth. Indians have always known that and sometimes it falls to us to remind others that the power over everything comes from the Creator.”
Seminole Tribe member Sam Tommie marched in solidarity with the crowd and shot video for a documentary he is producing about activism for political, environmental and sovereign rights throughout Indian Country.
Tommie said he recognized several non-Native protestors who consistently stand with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes on South Florida issues, such as the ongoing fight against Florida Power & Light’s proposed electrical power plant near Big Cypress Reservation and the proposed River of Grass Greenway that would negatively impact wildlife, wetlands and Native camps along the Tamiami Trail.
Tommie said Native tradition requires that when guests visit their homes, they should be provided with food or, at the very least, a drink of water. With that in mind, he treated the familiar faces with dinner at a nearby restaurant.
“We indigenous have lived close to the land, water and we try to follow our values, but I feel we’ve been holding our breath for a very long time. When I see other people marching for the environment, for human rights and all the justices given to us by the Creator, from the bottom of my heart I cannot thank them enough,” Tommie said. “Diverse people have to work together to solve common problems – it’s a very Native American philosophy.”