At 12:30 am on Friday morning, January 24, a convoy of pilot and flagger vehicles, state, county, and city police escorts, and a 804,000-pound transport of tar sands mining equipment hauled by Portland, Oregon area-based Omega Morgan hesitantly rolled down Reserve Street in Missoula, Montana, and ground to a halt. For a third night, about sixty mostly indigenous people from Missoula, Butte, Helena, and all over Montana and Canada sprang from the sidewalk near Central Avenue and filled the five-lane width of Reserve Street with singing, drumming, and round dancing. Police respectfully backed off and stood by, letting the ceremony symbolizing solidarity and friendship continue for 10 to 15 minutes, while dozens of the vehicles and workers facilitating ecocide, genocide, and climate chaos idled all around the beautiful circle. Together with the spirits of the Earth, ancestors, and elders, the strong prayers and actions of the Salish, Cree, Anishinabe, Blackfeet, and Cheyenne people who participated in person or from afar impressed everyone who heard the songs and watched the round dance. A handful of drummers and singers – Amanda, Charles, Lionel, Q.J., and others – led two rounds of dancing around them, before the joyous blockaders slowly vacated the street.
As police encouraged the protesters to move toward the sidewalk, Charles stepped forward toward the convoy vehicles and police to speak for a few moments. Three heroic grandmothers and friends, Claudia Brown, Gail Gilman, and Carol Marsh, stayed behind and sat in the road. Police cited and released Gail and Carol, and arrested, booked, and released Claudia on bail, all on charges of disorderly conduct. They had also arrested Carol on Tuesday night, when she bravely sat down in front of a megaload, blocking its path. As the tar sands megaload convoy resumed progress toward the most destructive and expensive, fossil fuel extraction project on Earth, a young Native woman smudged its passage, and drumming, singing, and praying blessed the cool night air with hope that the injustices, devastation, and resulting climate change of tar sands exploitation will soon stop. After Reserve Street cleared, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) videotaped Missoula city police issuing citations to two of the grandmothers, and interviewed Carol and Gail, to discern and share their motivations for responsibly blockading tar sands supply shipments. Their courageous acts mark almost four years of similar on-the-ground resistance staged by tribal, climate, and conservation activists in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington since April 2010.
WIRT and our allies admire the determination, organization, and community spirit of Indian Peoples Action, Blue Skies Campaign, and Northern Rockies Rising Tide, who coordinated the Thursday night round dance blockade. They have been standing up to this industrial juggernaut and bringing awareness of tar sands production and transportation damages to the public for years. We appreciate the mutual support, input, and opportunities for cross-state neighbors to confront the unnecessary invasions of Big Oil. As we anticipate future, peaceful, tar sands protests around the region, wild Idahoans will carry the inspiration of this week’s amazing experiences into impending demonstrations against Highway 95 megaloads soon (but ideally never!) tripling a Great Falls tar sands refinery’s output. After their Friday morning court hearing and fines that have cost them each a few hundred dollars, Carol, Claudia, Gail, and our Montana comrades are gratefully accepting contributions toward their legal and travel funds, as checks written to Carol Marsh or Indian Peoples Action and sent to Wild Idaho Rising Tide at P.O. Box 9817, Moscow, Idaho 83843. Idle No More!