Megaloads from ExxonMobil began piling up at Idaho's Port of Lewiston this month in advance of their trek through Montana to the Canadian border. But the issue of big rigs served as a mere five-minute endnote to a weekend panel in Missoula that instead focused on the greater impacts of tar sands mining across North America.
Grassroots groups and Native American activists from as far away as Alberta, Utah and Oklahoma gathered at the University of Montana Sunday evening to discuss what Heather Milton Lightning, an organizer with the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), called "an octopus with many, many tentacles." The panel proved a highpoint for the International Tar Sands Resistance Summit, a three-day affair held at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest with the goal of uniting scattered organizations in the U.S. and Canada in opposition to Alberta's 10-million-acre tar sands operation.
"From the beginning it's been local groups and individuals drawing attention to this issue," says Northern Rockies Rising Tide (NRRT) organizer Nick Stocks. "It's the same in Alberta, the same in Utah."
The summit drew 90 individuals from groups like IEN, Utah's Peaceful Uprising and Idaho's Fighting Goliath for workshops, activist training and strategy sessions meant to put local concerns into greater context. Each group has been working on its "own little side project," NRRT spokeswoman Suzie Rosette said during the panel, but came together with the intent of "building alliances."
"It would be ridiculous to ignore the bigger picture," says All Against the Haul organizer Zack Porter. "While we're focusing our energy on this local issue, and while this is what's most important to us, it's important to recognize where these trucks are going and to find that common ground with people working on serious issues across the country."
Sunday's panel—attended by roughly 60 people—was the only portion of the summit open to the public. But Porter says the summit has laid the groundwork for an even larger resistance gathering.
"We want to hold an event—and I can't say when or where—that will really allow residents along the 500-mile stretch from Lewiston to Alberta, as well as people from Washington and Oregon, to participate in a broader conversation about this issue," Porter says. "At All Against the Haul, we're all about the 'all.'"