Dickinson College Environmental & Indigenous Rights Honoree Tara Houska: Don’t Disconnect Yourself From The Reality Of Nature; Endless Expansion Of Pipelines Have No Place In Reality; Find Powerful Moments Of Joy

On October 4, Dickinson College in Cumberland County hosted an evening with environmental and indigenous rights advocate Tara Houska to recognize her groundbreaking advocacy work with the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism.

During the program, she gave a presentation on her work and answered questions from students.

Houska, a citizen of Couchiching First Nation, is a prominent opponent of the Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota and Dakota Access pipelines and plays an active role in the movement to defund fossil fuels.

Houska grew up in rural Ranier, Minnesota, across the border from the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario.

She worked as a tribal attorney in Washington, D.C., clerking with the Obama administration, and then advising Sen. Bernie Sanders on Native affairs during his 2016 presidential campaign.

She committed to full-time advocacy with a nonprofit during the Dakota Access pipeline protests. Upon returning home to protect her people's territory from the Line 3 pipeline, she established the Giniw Collective.

Houska also co-founded Not Your Mascots, a non-profit promoting positive representation for Native Americans. She has contributed to publications including All We Can Save, The New York Times and Vogue.

Houska’s daughter's birth intensified her determination to protect the planet. She believes in fostering a holistic and pragmatic movement, centering values that emphasize natural law, humility, empathy and the translation of words into action.

Click Here to watch a video of the Dickinson College program.

Here are just some of the remarks she made during her presentation.

Don’t Disconnect From The Reality Of Nature

“I think for folks that are engaged in environmental issues, environmental science studies, whatever it happens to be, one of the pieces I see that's missing, at least in broader solution-making circles, is this almost wired-in now at this point, like hardwired-in sense of, it's all just numbers and it's all just figures and it's all statistical analysis, and if we just do this thing, that'll fix the problem, and coming at it like a math problem to be solved.

“I think the disconnection of ourselves from the reality of nature is what got us there in the first place.

“We forgot, apparently, that we need to drink water to live.

“We forgot that we can't endlessly exploit the earth without consequences.

“I hope that more folks spend time thinking about that reality and spending time with nature, spending time in dirt.

“I mean, I thought about that when I was walking around in D.C. The earth is so controlled in those spaces and so manipulated, it's really hard to feel that connectivity through your shoes on the concrete, but it's still there.

“I mean, I spend at least a significant amount of time in rooms of banking institutions and insurers and all those folks that are funding the [oil and gas] industry.

“And I usually at some point or another remind them that the room that we're sitting in is manipulated concrete, it's manipulated earth.

“The glass is sand. Their clothes, or maybe there's polymers in there, but that's all just manipulated earth.

“Everything in the room is coming from one place. And sometimes I can see one of them just looking at their shirt. You're like, "Yeah, it's all around you, every single moment of every single day, even though you've convinced yourself in this air-conditioned room that it's not, that you're not entirely dependent on the only home we have."

“So finding methods of, I think, trying to center those realities in ourselves as we're doing our work.

“And yeah, I mean, I think building the world that we want to see, walking with empathy.”

Meet People Where They’re At

“In the region that I'm from, [the] extractive economy is the economy. So I've got loggers, and miners, and all those kinds of folks in my family.

“The way that I've found a common ground to reach them or to sit at least in a place where they're not angry and whatever with me is they're also hunters and they're fishers.

“And that is a point of connectivity that-- "How's the trapping going?" You know what I mean? "How is the fishing going?"

"Oh, it's not so great." "I wonder why? What do you think is going on?" And then they are, "Well yeah, I mean, I know that all that's happening."

“But people do know, I think, at a very deep level. Everyone recognizes at least at some point that something is amiss.

“New York's flooding or whatever, Maui's on fire. Those things are huge things. But, it's not weather.

“But, whatever you can do to try to find common ground and reach people

“When I'm talking with folks at home I don't talk about climate at all, and I'm not using those words.

“It's just talking about nature, which they understand very deeply.

“I think that's a point too of just advocacy, which is something I see a lot of, I won't say liberals, but liberal types take a misstep with, which is coming into a very rural place and thinking that rural people just don't get it.

“That-- "Oh, it's a deep red place, they don't understand."

“No, I guarantee the farmers, and the hunters, and the fishers know exactly what's happening.

“They see it and work with it every day. It's not statistics on a page, it's the reality.

“So, wherever you can find commonalities, meet people where they're at.”

You Can See The Wheels Going

“So, I was in this situation where I had been arrested, and a bunch of us were on the side of the road, and we're all kneeling, with our handcuffs on waiting.

“And the police officer comes over, and he is super aggro, right? 

“He's like-- "You're never getting out of jail. And your little friends aren't bailing you out. And blah, blah, blah. And you're never getting your cars back."

“And I was like-- "He's lying." And he's like, "And how would you know?"

“And I was like-- "Because I'm a lawyer, sir." And he was like, "Ugh," and just walked away, so mad.

“And then, his other colleague walks over. And he's a local guy, right?

“They often bring in law enforcement from somewhere else, just like they bring in pipeliners from somewhere else.

“And it's got to be from somewhere else, because the connectivity is-- "I don't want to destroy my land. I don't want to throw my neighbor in jail."

“Anyway, he comes over and he is like-- "Why would you do this? You're like a lawyer from DC. What are you doing, out here?"

“And he was wearing a Rapala vest over his outfit. Rapala is a fishing brand, right? They sell lures.

“I was like-- "So, you like fishing?" And he was like, "Yeah, I love fishing. I love fishing with my son."

“I was like-- "Oh. I'm from Rainy Lake." And he started telling me all about going to Rainy Lake.

“I was like-- "So, you ever fish in the Balkan [Lake, Minnesota]?" He was like, "No."

“I was like-- "Why not?"

"Oh, it's so contaminated. You can never eat a fish out of there."

“And I was like-- "Right."

“And then, you could watch the little wheels going. And he was like, "Oh, my God. Wait. Wait. This could be really bad."

“I was like-- "Yep."

“And then, he is looking down at me in my handcuffs, and then looks down the line of the rest of us.

“He's like-- "I'm going to go." And he just walked away. Walked away.

“So, that's negotiating with someone who's in a very different position than you, but meeting them where they're at, right?

"He's a fisher guy. Let me talk to him about fishing."

Meet People With Kindness

“I spend so much time trying to always center that, and no matter where we are, of empathy and meeting people with kindness.

“It's come up a few times today, even, this kind of ... I don't know, it's almost like a viciousness that I see that's present, or this anger and fear and all of that.

“That's especially rising in U.S. society, but it's bleeding out throughout the world.

“You see the rise of fascism everywhere and these ideologies of-- "It's their fault. It's these folks' faults," you know what I mean? It's somebody else to blame.

“I think there's so much to be said for acts of empathy and kindness towards each other.

“And I mean, this work that I'm doing with chaining my body or whatever it happens to be to a machine,

“I think that those are acts of empathy and kindness also, in a world that's going through so much change and is reacting to a lot of the choices that human beings have made.

“I mean, I think those acts of love are so deeply needed in the climate crisis, that somebody has taken that step and physically reminded the earth-- that somebody's willing to protect you.

“We do that in many ways, but I think that that is one that, to me, is deeply impactful to the person taking that action, too.”

Powerful Moments Of Joy

“To be fair, working [on the] environment, it is a tough scene, right? 

“Every person in this room that works on anything concerning knowing the science of the environment, it's a tough, tough scene.

“And, for the folks who are not working directly in the environment, the environment is still touching your life every single day, every moment that you are breathing and walking the earth.

“Okay, I'll tell a story. How's that?

“So, I'm sitting outside the [Minnesota] Public Utility Commission, and we're protesting for the umpteenth time at the Public Utility Commission Office.

“We've already given 98,000 comments, public comments submitted against the [Enbridge] Line 3 [oil] pipeline.

“We have given thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of testimony against the Line 3 pipeline.

“We are now inside the offices of the Public Utility Commission, who has unanimously approved the Line 3 pipeline for so many protests along the way, like all the years of that.

“And, I overhear a woman in front of me that just says-- "I don't know what to do. I've been making art, I've been making food, I've been to all the protests. I signed all the things, and we're still here. How does that happen?"

“And then, I look across the room and I see a bunch of new folks who are in a very different place.

“They're like-- "Oh, well, this system was never going to work anyway. Now we're going to continue doing what we've been doing, which is building resistance and building movement and building community."

“I get enormous hope from seeing folks that are in these situations, still finding so much strength and power and laughter and joy, as so much is happening, but that they can find a way to feel the impact of their actions, that someone can feel the impact of…

“We pressured and pressured and pressured, and we got this bank to pull out of the project.

“We pressured and pressured and pressured, and we got the [US] Army Corps [of Engineers] to walk the earth with us and to see what their decisions are doing.

“We pressured and pressured and pressured, and this is where, at least for me, a lot of it really comes in.

“So many people heard our call, across Turtle Island [Minnesota], and felt drawn and compelled to come out and stand with us, during a pandemic, during a moment where we had to do COVID protocols in a camp without running water or electricity.

“And, you still hear at night the sounds of campfires and people laughing and singing and sharing space and music and stories, and all that care with each other, and food with each other.

“Those are really powerful moments of joy, as so much chaos is around you.

“I think there is so much hope and seeing folks reconnect to the earth, even if the science is telling us one thing, those moments of connectivity are so deeply profound.

“I think they're calling to the reality of who we are, as the species of this earth, where you see that deep, powerful connectivity.

“Yeah, I think that's hope. It really is.

“I have a little one, and to me, it's meeting someone I've been fighting for and I have so much hope for the world that she'll walk into, and the community she'll be part of.”

Endless Expansion Of Pipelines Have No Place In Reality

“I don't think anybody was thinking about pipelines even before Keystone XL, right?

“The communities that were experiencing them certainly were.

“The communities that were experiencing fracked gas lines blowing up.

“Yeah, they were definitely talking about pipelines that are underneath our feet all over the place and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of pipelines that are already under us and corroding and all the things.

“And then the next, I think where the social license comes in that I see is like, oh, well, the obvious thing to do is we should replace them with a new safe pipeline.

“I'm like, no. The obvious thing to do is to transition away from fossil fuels and stop building pipelines.

“Right? That's the obvious thing to do.

“You have extracted more fossil fuels, that if we burn them all, we will be no more. You've extracted more than we could ever possibly consume at this point.

“Endless expansion and exponential growth is not a reality. Those are not concepts that have any place in reality.

“Those same folks, I'm sitting across the table from them as they're telling me, well, I'm not living in the real world.

“A lot of banking institutions, you're not living, there's an economy.

“And I'm like, okay, well, I'm living in a world where you have to drink water, and apparently I have to remind you of that with my very inept brain that somehow got into your office because of the thousand kids outside that are locked to whatever.

“But I'm sitting here reminding you that you drink water.

“I think that the social license of pipelines in particular as an infrastructure fight, has become a more readily understood issue ever since. Especially Keystone XL.

“I mean, that's actually where I first started becoming involved and went to my first protest.

“I haven't been protesting my whole life. I did not protest in college at all, ever. Not once.

“I went out to [Washington] DC and started working on all kinds of issues for tribal nations, including Keystone XL, and saw what was going on basically, out in the world, and it was shocking.

“But yeah, I think people understand pipelines a lot more easily.

“I'm going to visit the Mountain Valley pipeline after this. Just putting that out there. It's not too far away. It's really not, those folks could really use our help.”

What Can I Do?

“And yeah, lastly, I will say, I always get asked from students about-- "What can I do, specifically?"

“I think there's a need for more of us to try to separate ourselves from our privilege and our individualism that's present here in this particular society.

“But I also think there are ways to do something in this space that you are right now, which is to engage in mutual aid work. That's really, really helpful.

“Find out where your college is invested, where your endowment is invested, where your board of trustees is investing.

“Those are real things that have real impacts and are ways that you can show up as a student who is paying for your education.

“You have a very strong voice. I've seen many a student overtake their board of trustees and force them to stop investing in fossil fuels and mining and all the extractive industries that are not good.

“So yeah, see where we're at. I think I'll leave with that, but thank you.”

Click Here to watch a video of the Dickinson College program honoring Tara Houska that includes her remarks and Q/A session with students.

(Photos: Tara Houska at Dickinson program; Protesting; Law enforcement officers blocking the driveway to her home during Line 3 protest-- the local sheriff lost a legal challenge to blocking her drive.)

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 -- Company Tries To Limit DEP Investigation; Unauthorized Water Withdrawals; Can’t Pay For Reno Cleanup; Venting Gas Wells; More Abandoned Conventional Wells  [PaEN]

        -- Repsol Gas USA Issued Violation For Denying DEP Right To Document Damaged Shale Gas Well Casing During Investigation Of Uncontrolled Gas Venting In Bradford County  [PaEN]

        -- DEP Issues Violation To CNX Gas Company For Unauthorized Water Withdrawals For 17 Days From Beaver Run Reservoir In Westmoreland County  [PaEN]

        -- Petro Erie Inc. Again Claims It Lacks The Financial Ability To Comply With DEP’s 2nd Order To Cleanup Conventional Oil Well Wastewater Spill That Contaminated The Village Of Reno’s Water Supply In Venango County  [PaEN]

        -- Environmental Hearing Board Will Hear Key Arguments On Appeal By A Washington County Family Alleging Shale Gas Drilling Contaminated Their Water Supply With PFAS And Other Chemicals  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - October 7   [PaEN]

        -- DEP Invites Comments On PA General Energy Constructing 3 Shale Natural Gas, Water Pipelines Thru Exceptional Value, High Quality, Wild Trout Streams In Lycoming County  [PaEN]

        -- DEP Now Accepting Comments On 2 Proposed Olympus Energy Water Withdrawal Structures At Beaver Run Reservoir To Support Shale Gas Development In Westmoreland County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Posted 69 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In October 7 PA Bulletin  [PaEN] 

NewsClips This Week - Shale Gas:

-- WPXI: Activists, Washington County Residents Concerned After Study Explores Link Between Natural Gas Development, Cancer

-- FarmAndDairy.com: Orphan Conventional Oil & Gas Wells Hard To Plug, Despite Influx Of Federal Dollars In PA, OH

-- JD Supra: Repurposing Oil & Gas Wells For Ground-Sourced Heat Energy In PA Raises Multiple Legal Issues

-- AP: PA Chocolate Factory Fined For Failing To Evacuate Before Fatal Natural Gas Explosion

-- TribLive: Car Rally Held To Raise Money For Rustic Ridge Families Impacted By Home Explosion, Fires In Allegheny County

-- TribLive: At 16%, Westmoreland County Tops Local Population Loss Estimates 

-- Post-Gazette: Study: Westmoreland County Will Lead Population Decline In Western PA, While Others Will Boom

-- PA Capital-Star: Population Projections Highlight Need For Long-Term Solutions To Sustain Rural PA Communities; Population Expected To Shrink By 5.8%

-- Forbes: How One Contrarian Company [Mostly Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owner Diversified Energy] Thrives In A Shale And Gas World  [Check The Company’s Compliance Record In PA ]

-- WOSU: The State Of Natural Gas Development/Fracking In Ohio

-- Observer-Reporter: DEP Secretary To Be Featured Speaker At Washington & Jefferson Hydrogen Seminar

-- TribLive: Columbia Gas Tests Hydrogen Blends In Natural Gas Appliances

-- Reuters: Equitrans Reaches Agreement With US Regulator For Mountain Valley Pipeline For Inspections, Integrity Testing, Among Other Measures

Related Articles This Week:

-- House Unanimously Passes Bill Against Lawsuits Aimed At Silencing Citizen Critics And Dampening Public Participation  [PaEN]

-- Dickinson College Environmental & Indigenous Rights Honoree Tara Houska: Don’t Disconnect Yourself From The Reality Of Nature; Endless Expansion Of Pipelines Have No Place In Reality; Find Powerful Moments Of Joy  [PaEN]

-- DEP Updates Location Of Scranton Public Hearing On Interim Final Environmental Justice Permit Review Policy  [PaEN]

-- Member Of Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group Briefs DCNR Advisory Council On Siting Of Shale Gas Well Pad On State Forest Land To Accommodate Taking Gas From Private Land In Tioga County  [PaEN]

-- Agencies Celebrate Eastern Hellbender License Plate Recognizing PA’s Clean Water Ambassador; Shale Gas Development On DCNR Land Threatens Habitat  [PaEN]

-- DCNR Announces Appointment Of Seth Cassell As Pennsylvania's 18th State Forester  [PaEN]

-- The Allegheny Front: Three Rivers Waterkeeper Citizen Monitoring Finds Plastics Maker Styrenics LLC Discharging Plastic Nurdles Into Ohio River, Threatens Lawsuit To Stop Them  - By Reid Frazier  [PaEN]

-- PUC: Focus Of Natural Gas Explosion In Port Richmond Section Of Philadelphia Now Inside The Buildings  [PaEN]

-- Center For Rural Pennsylvania: Rural Population To Shrink 5.8%; Fewer Young People, More Older People; Current Policies Failed To Sustain Communities, Ensure Long-Term Rural Resiliency  [PaEN]

-- PA Interfaith Power & Light 10th Annual Conference- No Faith In Fossil Fuels - Nov. 5: Virtual Keynote & Panel Discussion, 5 Regional Workshop Locations  [PaEN]

-- Washington & Jefferson College Hosts Oct. 17 In-Person Harnessing Hydrogen: Exploring Local & Regional Opportunities In Appalachia Program  [PaEN]

[Posted: October 5, 2023]


Go To Preceding Article     Go To Next Article

Return to This PA Environment Digest's Main Page