More than 600 protestors were arrested during last week’s protests in Washington, D.C., where Indigenous and climate activists marched the streets and held a sit-in in the U.S. Department of the Interior demanding an end to oil and gas extraction on the Native lands and increased government urgency in tackling the climate emergency.
The 5-day People vs. Fossil Fuel demonstrations started on Oct. 11—Indigenous Peoples’ Day—with hundreds of climate activists and Indigenous tribespeople arriving in the nation’s capital from the sites of environmental disputes across the country, including Alaska, Minnesota and North Dakota.
On Friday—the last day of the weeklong protests—police arrested dozens of climate activists who locked arms as they staged a sit-in outside the U.S. Capitol asking the lawmakers to keep their promise to end the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and act to slow climate change. U.S. Capitol Police reported arresting 78 people for obstructing traffic and crowding.
Earlier, on Thursday, demonstrators attempted to “occupy” the Department of Interior, which resulted in scuffles between protesters and security attempting to break the sit-in and hauling away protesters from the premises.
People vs. Fossil Fuels reported 55 protesters were arrested, and an Interior Department spokeswoman said at least one security officer was injured and taken to a nearby hospital.
“I am so disappointed that President Biden has said nothing all week about the actions that have been taking place,” said Donna Chavis, a native elder from the Lumbee tribe from eastern North Carolina who demonstrated against the environmental ills associated with large commercial poultry farms in Robeson County.
“He did not acknowledge what was happening right outside his door,” Chavis said.
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She said the Biden-Harris administration had failed to make good on its promise to make environmental justice one of its cornerstones. Chavis added that, despite President Biden’s declaration of Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a lot more remains to be done. “That was a great symbolic gesture,” she said. “But we can’t stand on symbolism, we have to have hard action.”
At a news briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was “listening to advocates and people who have been elevating the issue of climate for decades.″ She presented Biden’s budget reconciliation plan and bipartisan infrastructure bill as evidence the administration is committed to addressing social and environmental issues.
“That’s in his legislative agenda that’s currently working its way through Congress now,” Psaki said. “It doesn’t mean his climate commitment ends once he signs this into law; it just means that’s what our focus is on now, and it will have a dramatic, important impact.″