Obama recently opened 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling at a lease sale in New Orleans. As an Indigenous Movement Artist, I was given the opportunity to work with directly impacted People of color from the Gulf in the lead-up to an oil and gas lease auction.
This particular target involved a lease sale happening at the Superdome in New Orleans which has historically been the site of much grief and sadness. During lead-up calls, I presented an action scenario that attempted to encapsulate the Superdome itself and the many stories and struggles of the Gulf and its residents even before Hurricane Katrina.
The action visuals I presented included turning the Superdome into a giant carousel with visual and text banners dedicated to the different elements being highlighted in the action. There were different colors associated with each banner creating a rainbow of stories that were rooted in transformative justice and healing the community was advocating for. The local grassroots accepted the sketches and proposal so I was flown in right away to help pull this off. There were many challenges working on this project which was very bold in terms of the art and artists involved.
Freshly painted banners were not drying in the humidity of NOLA so this required creating a mechanism to raise them into the rafters of the warehouse where the art was being created in. Late nights and early mornings had the artists busy while nonprofits especially the native ones created ways to co-opt the creative messaging for their own selfish and financial gain.
I wasn’t aware at the time however the following interaction would encapsulate my experiences working with native nonprofits and their wanna-be movement personalities. The green visual banner for the Indigenous struggle in the Gulf was on lock however we struggled with the text banner assigned to the native contingent. There were only so many letters physically allowed on it so grassroots community messaging had to be limited to a few words, no more.
It was suggested by Indigenous Environmental Organization’s media personality that the text banner be titled, “Indigenous Rising” which happened to fit the sizing needed. However, what wasn’t known to local Indigenous artists until after the event was that “Indigenous Rising” was a native media company that was just started by IEN. This parachuting underhanded co-opting of the Indigenous voices of the Gulf relegated their local historical struggle to nothing more than a commercial for a janky native news corporation that regurgitates 350.orgs. This type of selfish capitalist opportunism is rife within the nepotism of the relationship between 350.org to IEN therefore this spin-off so to speak is and was never going to be any different.
Working through the night before the action is usually standard practice to sew up the last-minute details and art. The visual portion of the banners was behind schedule sending the creative process into overdrive which was a zone I love to indulge in tapping into when needed. Adding lack of sleep makes this time seem like on a different plane altogether and this creative flow continued until morning.
When we arrived on site the day of action, the banners were laid out for the public to see and pick up to carry to the Superdome. I made note of some unusual attention the Indigenous green visual and text banners were getting. Upon walking over it was these same snakes from the native media company posing with the banner that hijacked and silenced the local native voices. Retrospectively this made perfect sense but not at the moment. When recalling, I remember being filled with strange uneasy energy emanating from these natives that I couldn’t put my finger on.
After the prayers and speakers, protestors marched with the banners to the Superdome with the morning light on their backs which illuminated the march at the moment of arrival at the oil and gas auction. These pictures would go viral and despite repeated requests for art credit to be given to me this was not fulfilled until after the event which greatly diminishes exposure at the time of impact. This can be detrimental to a BIPOC artist’s continued work who doesn’t have the luxury of a salary or exposure a huge NGO does.
Upon reaching the Superdome protestors made their way inside to disrupt the event. Those that made it inside voiced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s social impact analysis of the Deepwater Horizon disaster did not include public health consequences of their spill and cleanup. These and other environmental concerns and grievances took center stage by everyone involved and the police were called to mitigate by arrests.
Many federal oil and gas leases on public lands over the past several months have been disrupted and delayed. Some popular delay tactics included attending and bidding on millions of dollars worth of lease sales with no plan to pay for them . This was the first protest organized around lease sales in public waters.
Communities of color that live along the Gulf near oil refineries are exposed to toxic air pollution emitted by these refineries. The EPA adopted new rules on air pollution from oil refineries in 2015, but environmental activists would prefer to see an end to the oil industry altogether in the Gulf.
Unfortunately, the protest did not delay Wednesday’s sale. More than 24 oil and gas companies submitted 148 bids for the leases, which encompass waters off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. As of now, there are about 4,400 active leases in the Gulf of Mexico under BOEM’s control.
Sketches & Photoshop