Native activist Tom B.K. Goldtooth and peace advocate Kathy Kelly received the 2015 Gandhi Peace Award before a rapt audience at the United Church on the Green in New Haven last Friday (October 30). The prestigious award has been bestowed annually on select recipients for their outstanding contributions to world peace since 1960 by the national organization Promoting Enduring Peace. Past recipients include such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez and most recently to Bill McKibben and Medea Benjamin.
Goldtooth was introduced by Lynn Malerba, Chief of the Mohegan Tribe whose land runs along the Upper Thames River in Connecticut. (Malerba is also the former head of the Mohegan Tribal Council which runs the famed Mohegan Sun entertainment complex.) Malerba praised Goldtooth for his efforts to protect the environment and “all our relations,” and she cited Oak Flat, Keystone XL pipeline and the toxic goldmine spill (among many others) as environmental issues that require action. “Blue Feather,” a group of Native Americans who are students at Yale and part of the Native American Cultural Center there, sang and danced as part of the ceremony.
Goldtooth is of Diné and Dakota ancestry and is Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous Peoples to address environmental and economic justice issues. The hashtags on their site #KeepItInTheGround #SaveOakFlats #OurPowerSummer give an idea of their activities.
In 2011 Goldtooth and a number of other Native American leaders were arrested in front of the White House during an IEN protest of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. At the time he said, “The Canadian tar sands, the proposed Keystone XL and all the other current and proposed pipelines and heavy hauls are weapons of mass destruction leading the path to triggering the final overheating of Mother Earth. President Obama made promises to Native Nations. Here is an opportunity for him to honor those promises and be a man of conscience by standing up to corporate power, address the compounding changes of climate change and over consumption of the resources of Mother Earth; and saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline.”
He is co-producer of the award winning documentary film, “Drumbeat For Mother Earth,” which has received critical acclaim for its exposure of the effects of bio-accumulative chemicals on Indigenous communities. In 2010 he was honored by the Sierra Club and by the NAACP as a “Green Hero of Color.”
In September Goldtooth was in Paris to coordinate with indigenous leaders from many countries on how to influence the international climate decisions that are due to be made in December of this year in that city. It comes as staggering developments are being reported. Last week The New York Times told of a new study that estimates that people will no longer be able to live outdoors in the area around the Persian Gulf within just 85 years. Earlier in the month the respected Climate Interactive published a finding that despite all the limits being planned on carbon emissions the world temperature by 2100 will exceed the 3.6 Fahrenheit limit the UN set and that temperatures will rise a civilization killing 6 degrees.
Kathy Kelly, the co-recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, was recognized for what was described as incredible courage thanks to her history of working in world hotspots to try to prevent or halt war. She fought for peace on the border of Iraq and Kuwait prior to the Gulf War in 1991, did the same frequently in Iraq throughout the 1990s (defying U.S.-inspired sanctions estimated to have caused the deaths of over 500,000 children), traveled in 2002 to the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank of Palestine/Israel frequented the Gaza Strip, and most recently has been working with her group Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Afghanistan.
Organizers of the award ceremony said the award to Goldtooth and Kelly was meant to inspire others to work for a livable environment, climate justice and peace at this perilous time in human history. Malerba’s introduction of Goldtooth and Goldtooth’s speech can be viewed here.
This article first appeared in Indian Country Today.