Indigenous leaders at the forefront of environmental injustices and solutions
The fight for a healthier planet is inextricably linked with indigenous rights. In all sectors and ecosystems, Indigenous leadership is leading the way towards a just and sustainable future.
This blog was co-authored with Jon Devine, Alison Kelly, Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Jade Nguyen, Helen O’Shea, Caroline Reiser, Garett Rose, Jennifer Sherry, Jennifer Skene and Zak Smith.
Indigenous communities in the United States and around the world are leading the fight against the interrelated crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Indigenous leadership, knowledge and innovation have been essential in protecting endangered wildlife, fighting fossil fuels, transitioning to just and sustainable economies, tackling destructive environmental setbacks and protecting some of the most carbon-rich places on the planet.
Today, the ecological peril in which we find ourselves is inextricably linked with the social injustices suffered by indigenous communities. Almost anywhere in the United States, the land could tell a story of discrimination, extraction at the expense, and efforts to systematically displace and erase its original peoples, whose ancestors have been here for ages. immemorial and long before European colonialism. Indigenous cultures are often ignored by settlers or even violently attacked by government agents. But we must recognize that the path to a better collective future is necessarily linked to reconciliation and Indigenous sovereignty.
These are just some of the many places and ways in which indigenous peoples are both on the front lines of impacts and at the forefront of solutions to climate change and biodiversity crises.
Fight dirty extractive energy cycles
For too long, the extractive energy sectors, including the fossil fuel and uranium industries, have had the social right to decimate communities, pollute entire landscapes and plunge our planet into a climate crisis. However, Indigenous community leaders are advancing collaborations between Indigenous-led organizations, nonprofits and water conservationists across the country to advocate for community health and well-being, natural resources and sites of cultural significance. This includes frontline efforts to protect critically important places including the Florida Everglades, the Grand Canyon, the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Bears Ears National Monument and Standing Rock. Many of these fights were brought to light during the Red Route to DC, a totem pole journey led by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation to honor, unite and empower communities working to protect sacred places.
A stop on the Red Route to DC was the Grand Chaco region of northwest New Mexico, which includes the beautiful and sensitive landscape of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park and adjacent lands that are sacred to the DinÃ© people and part of the Navajo Nation. The region was once a center of uranium mining and today is a hotspot for oil and gas production. The region’s uranium mines are now closed, but indigenous communities are struggling with the legacy that continues to impact their health. A broad coalition led by members of the indigenous community also actively opposes new oil and gas drilling and advocates for community protections and tribal consultation at every stage of decision-making, including free, prior consent. and enlightened. “It is unacceptable to continue with the existing strategy of building first, and fighting it with the tribes in court later,” Jay Julius (Lummi), executive director of Se’Si’Le, said in a statement. report at the start of the Red Road Trip to Washington, DC âThere is a conventional responsibility to obtain the consent of affected tribes that is not respected. This is creating a crisis in the Indian country, where our most sacred places are in danger. President Biden can and must take action today to address this issue. “
Protect clean water
Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of the fight against the recent setbacks to the Clean Water Act. In two cases – one brought by six tribes and the other by the Navajo Nation – the courts struck down a “dirty water rule” that endangered the country’s wetlands and millions of miles of waterways. ‘water. âAppropriate federal regulations protect wetlands and headwaters from irreparable damage and destruction. It also protects our history, our culture and the way of life of our people, âsaid Gunnar Peters, president of the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin in a press release.
Likewise, the Suquamish Tribe, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and the Orutsararmiut Indigenous Council sued the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a rule that weakened the ability of states and tribes to protect their water against projects such as pipelines, hydroelectric dams and wetland embankments. . “In order to uphold the values ââand traditions of the Suquamish Tribe, we will take steps to protect, maintain and preserve our ancestral waters which have supported subsistence, cultural and commercial uses from time immemorial,” said Leonard Forsman, President from the Suquamish tribe. and President of the Northwest Indian Affiliate Tribes. Partly because of strong tribal advocacy, the Biden administration recently announced that it plans to revise the rule.
In Bristol Bay, Alaska, tribes continue to lead the struggle to permanently protect the precious watershed from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine project, a giant open pit gold mine and of copper that would destroy the biggest wild salmon fishery on the planet. . They have helped lead one of the most diverse coalitions in an environmental battle, working alongside commercial and recreational fishermen, hunters, businesses, religious leaders and nonprofits to stop Pebble Mine. âSalmon are part of our life and part of who we are as a people,â says Gayla Hoseth, chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and director of natural resources for the Bristol Bay Native Association, which represents 31 tribes in the region. . âIt’s about what is really important to us: the land, our culture, our subsistence way of life. The tribes urge the EPA to use its authority under Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act to issue permanent protections for the area.
Wildlife protection and recovery
Indigenous territories, which make up about 22 percent of the world’s land surface, hold 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. And while biodiversity is threatened everywhere, it declines more slowly in areas managed by indigenous peoples. In every direction you look, the means to stop the mass extinction of species are deeply tied to the knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples.
The Columbia River Basin, for example, was once the world’s largest salmon-producing river system, but today many of its salmon populations are nearly extinct. The impact this has on the indigenous peoples of the region is difficult to overestimate. âAs a culture based on salmon, our whole life is wrapped around this species,â said Dr. Sammy L. Matsaw, fisheries biologist of the Shoshone Bannock tribes, in a recent panel. But there is hope thanks to the dedicated long-standing leadership of the tribes in the region.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and its four member tribes have developed a restoration plan called Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit (Spirit of the Salmon). “This plan integrates traditional ecological knowledge with Western scientific principles to holistically address the ecological needs of anadromous fish species in the Columbia River Basin throughout their life cycle,” said Aja DeCoteau, Acting Executive Director of the Columbia River Basin. CRITFC. âRecognizing the importance of the place and its relationship to human cultures and the communities that depend on them, Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit has helped halt the decline of salmon and reshaped management in the Columbia River. From scientific studies to habitat restoration projects to lobbying Congress, the tribes of the Northwest are leading the fight to bring this culturally and ecologically critical fish back from the brink.
Indigenous peoples have led the protection and restoration of carbon-rich, biodiversity-rich forests and other ecosystems critical to addressing climate change and species collapse. In Canada, First Nations such as the ÅutsÃ«l K’Ã© Dene First Nation and the Cree Nation have advanced new visions for the protection of Indigenous-led lands that center on Indigenous self-determination and nation. Through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and a growing network of Indigenous custodians that employ Indigenous experts to serve as âeyes and earsâ on their traditional territories. These indigenous communities and leaders, along with others, are focusing their knowledge, laws and traditions on land management and stewardship to protect climate-critical places like the boreal forest from extractive industries. And in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, Indigenous communities have long led efforts to protect and preserve the nation’s largest temperate rainforest.
Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change and addressing the biodiversity crisis will require transformative change in our society and around the world to respect the knowledge, secure rights and empower indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples Day serves as a reminder to recognize past and present injustices inflicted on the earth’s first citizens and to support Indigenous leaders and their extraordinarily powerful voices for wildlife, water and a healthier planet for all.