Early on the morning of Friday, Marth 14th, local citizens and members of Indian Peoples Action, Northern Rockies Rising Tide and Blue Skies Campaign led a group of about 80 people in an act of non-violent civil disobedience against the latest megaload as it passed through Missoula. Protestors occupied the street in front of the megaload, performing a traditional round dance and bringing the shipment to a complete stop for about 20 minutes. Protestors were issued a final warning and four people then chose to sit down and refused to move. Several more joined in but were forcfully escorted to the sidewalk. The action ended with the arrest of three Missoula women, Carol Marsh, Debbie Florence, and Gail Gilman. All were charged with disorderly conduct and eventually released.
The members of Indian People’s Action released a statement saying, “We are standing in solidarity with our cousins of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla, and the cousins to the north whose lives are being drastically affected by the destructive nature of the needless extraction of tar sands. This is leaving the land uninhabitable and our people with no place to go.”
These particular megaloads, weighing close to 750,000 lbs., have been heading through Oregon, Southern Idaho and Montana to Alberta, Canada to be used for extraction purposes. The hauler of the equipment, Omega Morgan, was trying a new overland route to the tar sands after the preferred route over Highway 12 was again shut down to megaload traffic, due in large part to an historic blockade by the Nez Perce nation in August, 2013. This shipment was the last of three controversial pieces of massive tar sands mining equipment, originating from the Port of Umatilla, OR, to make their way through Montana this year.
Opposition to the shipment of megaloads has been gaining ground in Montana over the past 6 months, spurred on by similar campaigns in Idaho and uprisings by Indigenous communities all over the U.S. and Canada. The last megaload rally in January drew about 70 participants from all over Western Montana and Idaho and resulted in three arrests. A common thread in the megaload protests in Montana, Oregon, and Idaho has been opposition to the use of indigenous and first nations territories, without consultation or consent, in order to serve the needs of the tar sands industry.
“We are at a critical point where there is no turning back. The land and water are being destroyed for a dwindling fuel source, we need to work now to transition into renewable energy sources that are already available to us and could create good jobs that can sustain and boost our economy, while also saving our agricultural land and diminishing water supplies” said, Naomi Odermann, media liason with Indian Peoples Action.
For the protestors and organizers at the action, the megaloads represent a critical piece of the tar sands industry, and they vowed to confront any future shipments. Drawing connections to the construction of Keystone XL, proposed tar sands development in the U.S. and a continued disregard for indigenous sovereignty, the message at the action was expansive, but very clear – that until the tar sands are shut down people will continue to put their bodies on the line.