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  • Climate Countdown protesters join with Indigenous demonstrators in their environmental occupation of the US Congress.

    Climate Countdown protesters join with Indigenous demonstrators in their environmental occupation of the US Congress. | Photo: 350 Seattle Facebook Page

As the 115th Washington state Congress met in Olympia, protests erupted demanding a stronger political stance on environmental issues.

The opening ceremony of the state Congress in Washington was interrupted by at least 200 Indigenous environmental activists Wednesday morning, who chanted "We're in a climate crisis! You need to act now!" before they were forcibly removed by security guards.

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By 6am on the Capitol Building's front lawn in Olympia, the protesters – led by seven women from different Indigenous groups – had installed themselves in tarpees, a type of teepee, to demonstrate their opposition to the new Puget Sound Energy Tacoma Liquified Natural Gas facility and planned expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

The protest, which continued outside the premises, was organized by social and environmental organizations with shared goals. One of them, 350 Seattle, is calling for the immediate halt of all new fossil fuel infrastructure and for the establishment of an economy running exclusively on renewable energy by 2028.

Eva, a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe, vowed on Monday that the protesters will not leave until politicians understand they don't want fracked gas factories or coal mining, and also understand "that the native nations people are watching them." 

In her statement, Eva cited her reasons for protesting as being based on the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, which guarantees hunting and fishing rights to the nine Indigenous nations in the northwest United States.

Paul Che Oketen Wagner, a member of Protectors of the Salish Sea and of the Saanich First Nation of Canada, echoed her sentiments. "We are here today in prayer," he said.

The Salish Sea spans Canada's British Columbia and Washington, and is currently facing a variety of environmental threats, including excesive fishing and oil spills.

Wagner said the group will continue to occupy the space between the Capitol Building and the Washington State Supreme Court during the session because the Medicine Creek Treaty states that the legislative grounds are native lands.

Fran Tatu, member of the Metis Nation, told Al Jazeera: "We're here in our native structure facing a colonial structure behind us." 

Last November, Democrats regained control of Washington's Senate with a 49-48 majority, meaning both houses now have a Democrat majority. As such, environmentalists are hoping they can be more easily persuaded to act against climate change.

Among other demands being made are greater respect for the Medicine Creek Treaty; stopping liquified natural gas construction in Tacoma, and abolishing open-pen fish farms.

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In addition, Bill Layman of Climate Conversations is calling for a carbon tax, all-electric link transportation and water-based renewable energy. The governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, has already proposed a carbon tax.

Ed Chaad, the founding member of Olympic Climate Action, is calling for legislation protecting the Salish Sea from noise pollution and risk of oil spills.

Melanie Greer, also from Olympic Climate Action, said the US government will fail in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels without a significant policy change.

"I want to see real legislation that matches what scientists say has to be done, as well as demonstrable action," Greer said.

Senator Kevin Ranker has proposed a Salish Sea Protection package of legislation, which would protect it from oil spills, increase enforcement on orca whale protection laws and eliminate new leases on Atlantic salmon net pens.

As part of the protest, 350 Seattle is counting down the session days with a "Climate Countdown." As the 350 Seattle communications coordinator has said, every minute is precious.


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