OLYMPIA — On Tuesday morning, a group of indigenous activists had set up shop on the steps of the state Capitol, calling for Gov. Jay Inslee to take stronger action against climate change.
Known as the Indigenous Protectors of the Salish Sea, the group erected tipi-like structures dubbed “tarpees” on the Capitol steps.
Topping the tarpees were platforms upon which climate activists perched throughout the day and after nightfall. The group seemed prepared to stay awhile to make their point.
But by the wee hours of Wednesday morning, dozens of Washington State Patrol troopers in riot gear had forced the activists to disassemble their tarpees, which were then confiscated, at least for the time being.
“I’ve just been shoved away, told I cannot be here, that we cannot have an indigenous structure on the bones of our ancestors,” said Paul Wagner, one of the demonstration organizers.
Washington State Patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis said state officials had informed demonstrators throughout the day that there are rules against camping at the Capitol. The demonstrators were also told they’ll be able to retrieve their tarpees, Loftis said.
After removing the tarpees, the troopers withdrew around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, leaving the demonstrators to the denuded Capitol steps.
One person was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a law officer, Loftis said, but no injuries were reported on either side.
Inslee has been in New York this week taking part in a United Nations Climate Action Summit. In an email Wednesday morning, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote, “The governor’s office supports the right to peaceably assemble and exercise free speech.”
In addition to the ban on camping, permits are required “for displays on the campus for safety reasons, and to ensure that people have access to conduct business on the campus,” Lee wrote.
The demonstration comes as calls to combat climate change grow louder.
Last Friday, thousands of Seattle-area students joined millions of protesters worldwide, cutting school to call for stronger action to address what studies and data show is an increasingly severe ecological disaster. That day also saw a couple thousand demonstrators at the Capitol in Olympia.
A day before that, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company would go carbon neutral by 2040 — a decade ahead of the 2050 projection that scientists say is needed to avoid the harshest impacts of climate change.
This week’s demonstration in Olympia was a little different. Indigenous activists focused on Inslee, who has built much of his political career — including his recent unsuccessful presidential bid — fighting climate change. The governor is now running for a third term.
While Inslee’s climate proposals had for years stalled in Olympia, the governor got a series of wins this year, as expanded Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate pushed through several clean-energy bills.
But indigenous protesters this week took aim in part at a pair of proposed natural-gas projects that Inslee supported in the past.
Earlier this year, Inslee yanked his support from the two projects, citing the “accelerating threat of climate change.”
One project in Kalama — which Inslee had earlier called “one of the most innovative clean-energy projects in the nation” — would turn natural gas into methanol. In Tacoma, another would produce a transportation fuel for the maritime industry.
The governor’s opposition is not likely to alter whether those projects ultimately get built.
In Tuesday’s daylight, before the confrontation with law enforcement, while the tarpees still stood on the Capitol steps, Wagner and other demonstrators called for the state to block those projects.
The demonstrators are also calling on Inslee to declare a climate emergency and convene a special legislative session on climate change. They want the governor to honor existing treaty agreements with Native American tribes “by helping secure a livable future for all children in Washington state.”