The Energy Democracy Leadership Institute [EDLI] has been a long time in the making, so we’re thrilled to announce that last month, the first cohort of 16 Black and Indigenous leaders from Eastern NC graduated from our new eight month grassroots organizing program. EDLI is a collaborative program between NCCJC and NC WARN that trains emerging leaders to organize for a just and renewable energy future for their communities. Toward that end, EDLI graduates are calling for an end to new fossil fuel projects and forest destruction from wood pellets.
One recent EDLI graduate and Fellow--Chasity Hunt--is a member of the Lumbee Nation who is fighting against many energy injustices threatening her community in Robeson County. For her, EDLI has been a pathway to take on corporate polluters like Duke Energy. In North Carolina, our energy system has been in the hands of electric monopolies like Duke Energy and Dominion for far too long. Chasity is fed up with the way these companies “spit out words like safety and sustainability but continuously fail and harm [our] communities...Indigenous peoples need to stand up in NC against corporations taking and giving nothing back to our communities. Look at coal ash...long term, 20 years down the road, what is [Duke Energy] doing to our community?…Where does the waste go? In our rivers! We are the people of the dark water.”
A world where we have energy democracy means that Black and Indigenous communities don’t have to worry about or fight toxic companies building fossil fuel projects in their neighborhoods. Inspired through EDLI to stand for energy democracy not just in her own region but as part of “a planet-wide movement,” Chasity hopped in her truck last month and drove to Minnesota to join action camps there. She wanted to learn direct action tactics and “see the complete picture; the knowledge of how [other indigenous leaders] organize and take over spaces.”
Led by Indigenous leaders, the action camps aim to stop Enbridge’s LIne 3 pipeline from being put into the ground. Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion that would build a whole new corridor to bring tar sands from Canada through lakes, wild rice, waterways and treaty territories; the existing Line 3 is old and corroding and Enbridge just wants to abandon it (currently there are no regulations for abandoned pipelines!) Many Indigenous leaders, including Winona LaDuke, are calling for accountability for companies like Enbridge to clean up their messes and for investing in green jobs and infrastructure that actually serves First Nations.
Chasity offered ground support to make sure the action camps ran smoothly and helped ensure that people were taken care of while participating in daily protests.
Alongside actions to end the construction of Line 3, Chastity took part in the protests around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) to raise awareness of the multiple harms pipelines bring. Pipeline projects cause a sharp increase in violence against Indigenous women and girls because of the establishment of “man camps” of temporary housing for (mostly male) workers near a pipeline construction site. “Enbridge is trying to sell this pipeline to the people as something good. [We] need jobs but everyone here is out of state,.” said Chasity. It is never about localized energy choice or local permanent jobs or community safety; for the fossil fuel industry, profit is the only consideration. Chasity gained first-hand knowledge about the dangers that these “man camps” pose and how they violate many rules established for the protection of local communities.
Now that Chasity is back home, she is putting all she learned from the Line 3 Indigenous action camps into her next phase of activism as an EDLI Fellow. Over the next 6 months, she will be working to stop the construction of Duke Energy’s new liquified natural gas facility in Lumbee territory. Though the struggle may be difficult, EDLI has given her a strong sense of solidarity and support among frontline leaders from eastern NC: “I was put in all the right circles after I made my stance. I found my circle [in EDLI], I found my people. I need to learn all I can about energy democracy.”