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Glendive Oilspill on the Land of Via Campesina Leader

January 2015

The toxic oil spill in eastern Montana oozed onto the land of one of Grassroots International’s partners and a fierce voice for food sovereignty and environmental justice.  Now her denunciations of the gluttonous crude industry and on behalf of small farmers and the environment are reaching far and wide, but at a terrible price.

The first time I met Dena Hoff, the remarkable co-chair of the Via Campesina-North America and vice president of the National Family Farm Coalition, she handed me a basket of homemade jellies. “These are all from my farm,” she told me right before receiving the Global Partnership award from Grassroots International. “You can put them into your silent auction to raise money.”

That day and since, Dena reminds us that she is both a farmer and rancher from Glendive, Montana and a part of a the powerful global movement of peasants and small producers pushing forward real solutions to hunger, inequality and climate disruption. The last of those pushed back on her yesterday as 50,000 gallons of Bakken shale crude oil poured into the Yellowstone River that abuts Dena’s farm.

Dena told Common Dreams by phone, “The nasty truth is that pipelines leak and pipelines break. It is a disaster for everyone and everybody downstream. Until we start valuing water more than we value oil, this is going to happen.”

This is much more than a not-in-my-backyard condemnation of the expansion of oil pipelines and resource-exploitation. As Dena told the Northern Plains Resource Council, “People should understand how serious pipeline spills are because they don’t just affect the specific site where the spill happens. They affect everyone for miles downstream to municipal water users, irrigators, wildlife, recreationists, soil, water, air, everything.”

Fortunately, viable alternative energy solutions do exist. “I hope tragedies like these prompt decision-makers to push for more renewable energy, such as solar and wind. I’ve never seen a solar panel spill deadly toxins into our water or onto our land, or pollute our air,” Dena says.

Hearing Dena’s voice on NPR describing the toxic spill in her own backyard reminded me that the global struggle for food sovereignty and the rights to land and water are both inextricably global and fundamentally local. And no one knows this more than Dena Hoff. We stand in solidarity with her now, just as she has stood, marched and organized in solidarity with farmers around the world.

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