Indigenous Climate Activists Arrested After ‘Occupying’ US Department of Interior

Skirmishes outside resulted in “multiple injuries” to security personnel, with one officer hospitalized, and the tasing of activists.

Police officers escort a protester out of the Department of Interior building after a sit-in held by climate activists on Oct. 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Police officers escort a protester out of the Department of Interior building after a sit-in held by climate activists on Oct. 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

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Dozens of Indigenous climate activists were arrested and removed from the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington on Thursday after taking over a lobby of the department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs for several hours.  

Videos posted by activists from inside the building showed a large circle of protesters sitting on the floor with their hands zip-tied together to make it harder to be removed.

The protest at the Stewart Lee Udall building on C St. NW was largely peaceful, but skirmishes between activists and law enforcement erupted outside the building. Pushing and shoving resulted in “multiple injuries” sustained by security personnel, with one officer being transported to a nearby hospital, said Jim Goodwin, a spokesman for U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service. Two medics who were with the protesters were tased during the altercation, Joye Braun, an Indigenous activist, said. Other protesters were hit with batons, according to media reports.

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The protest was part of People Vs. Fossil Fuels, a week-long Indigenous-led demonstration in the nation’s capital that has resulted in hundreds of arrests. Protesters are calling on President Biden to declare a national climate emergency and stop approving fossil fuel projects, such as the Line 3 pipeline that was recently completed in Minnesota despite fierce opposition by Indigenous communities.

“People are tired of the United States pushing extractive industries on our communities,” Jennifer Falcon, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said from inside the Interior building. “Our communities are not a sacrifice zone.”

Goodwin said that Interior Department leadership “believes strongly in respecting and upholding the right to free speech and peaceful protest. It is also our obligation to keep everyone safe. We will continue to do everything we can to de-escalate the situation while honoring first amendment rights.”

Thursday’s protest came nearly half a century after a week-long occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in D.C. by hundreds of Native Americans in 1972.

Many of the concerns raised at the time resonate today, said Casey Camp-Horinek, a tribal elder and environmental ambassador of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, whose brother, Carter Camp, was a leader of the 1972 occupation. She was arrested for protesting outside the White House on Monday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“We still have genocide that is happening to our people,” Camp-Horinek said of the impacts of the fossil fuel industry on Indigenous communities. “We still have every treaty that has not been upheld.”  

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Camp-Horinek said a key difference between now and 1972 is that, for the first time, an Indigenous leader, Deb Haaland, is Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

“I have full belief that this type of action that was taken today won’t be ignored by her,” Camp said. “I have to put my trust in the heart of this Indigenous woman to say, ‘I understand where these people are coming from because I am them.’ If that doesn’t happen, then she is not us.”