“You Fly to the Edge of the Tar Sands, and … No Life”: A Montana Professor on the Issue of Our Time

I learned about George Price when I got to Missoula on August 21, as I was beginning my Edge of Change roadtrip, and began asking around about the megaload protests. A few years back, I’d heard about a group of grandmothers and native people who had round-danced and sat down in front of the trucks carrying giant equipment up the highway toward the Alberta tar sands. I wanted to meet these people and hear their stories. Several people said I should talk to George Price, a University of Montana professor of African American and Native American Studies and one of the organizers of the protests. Price lives on the Flathead Reservation, and I was thrilled when he invited me and a couple of the grandmothers to visit his permaculture farm.

Sarah van Gelder: Let’s start with the present. What is the Indian Peoples Action and how did it form?

George Price: It’s a Montana-based organization working on multiple fronts: native rights, anti-discrimination, the unjustice in the justice system. Native people make up a little over 6 percent of the population of the state of the Montana, but over 30 percent of the incarcerated population.

Voting rights is another area, and last year we won a case so that there now has to be at least one on-reservation polling place.

But my involvement began a few years ago on the other major issue, which is the environment—and primarily climate change resistance and fossil fuel resistance. Coal is a big one in eastern Montana; it’s right in the face of the Crow and the Cheyenne people. A little ways away, you have the Assiniboine Nation of Fort Peck, also with coal activity nearby. And now fossil fuel activity around them has increased, spreading from the Bakken area in North Dakota, just over the border. The Fort Peck Reservation is dealing not only with an increase in oil and fracking around them, but also the laborers that show up and do a lot of carousing when they’re not working—assaulting native women, and bringing more alcohol and drugs into the area.

Montana has been kind of a corridor for tar sands equipment and products, going both from the West Coast up the Columbia River into the tar sands, and going from Alberta to refineries in eastern Montana and central Montana and to wherever they can sell it. All the way to the Gulf of Mexico. But also they’re trying to get to the ports in Washington state. I formally joined IPA after we’d worked together on some Idle No More protests, when the megaloads were coming through in 2013 and 2014. We went out into the street and stopped the trucks.

Read the rest of the interview here…

3 thoughts on ““You Fly to the Edge of the Tar Sands, and … No Life”: A Montana Professor on the Issue of Our Time

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