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Climate Change

Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021 & Climate Action

The climate crisis has had a disproportionate effect has on indigenous lands and people and has added strain as tribes respond to damaging climate events, which are increasing in frequency and severity.

The American Clean Power Association announced the first of its VIP speakers at its Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition October 13-15 at the Omni Boston Seaport Hotel. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is set to deliver the opening keynote address. Haaland’s participation is appropriate for a variety of reasons, including the fact that she represents indigenous peoples as the first Native American to hold the office.

During Haaland’s March, 2021 swearing-in ceremony, she spoke about the confluence of honoring indigenous people and the Earth. “Together, we will work to advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes, address the climate and nature crises, advance environmental justice, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation.”

Republican opposition to her confirmation centered on Haaland’s history of fighting against oil and gas exploration, and deliberations around her nomination highlighted her emerging role in the public debates on climate change, energy policy, and racial equity. She was confirmed on a 51-40 vote.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the US

The second Monday in October is a holiday in Maine, New Mexico, and South Dakota. Indigenous Peoples’ Day (known as Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota) speaks to the awareness that colonization by Spain and other European nations resulted in near disintegration of entire populations of indigenous peoples. The US White House issued a Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 2021.

“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

Acknowledging that it is imperative to uphold the rights and dignity of the indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began, President Joe Biden also admitted that US federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures. The future for indigenous peoples, Biden claims, will be grounded in Tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.

The State of Tribes & Climate Change Report

90 authors representing diverse entities and perspectives have come together to create a report which chronicles research into the effects of the climate crisis and the voices of indigenous people who are directly experiencing and responding to climate disasters.

This first-of-its-kind report produced in the US describes the efforts tribes are investing in adaptation planning and projects to keep their communities, ecosystems, and people healthy. In the process, they are implementing innovative work on climate. According to Nikki Cooley of the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals, ”

“Tribal nations are actively creating climate vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans, and hazard mitigation plans. Protecting traditional knowledge is an important part of these processes. Locally relevant and regionally specific information is needed to understand local climate impacts and develop solutions that incorporate local, traditional, and western knowledge for holistic solutions.”

The Connections among Indigenous Peoples & the Earth

Indigenous peoples worldwide play a vital role in countering global threats such as the destruction of nature, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and the risk of future pandemics.

The UN reminds us that indigenous peoples live in harmony with nature and safeguard 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They hold many of the solutions to the climate crisis, despite constituting less than 5% of the global population. Traditional practices to protect and regenerate nature in forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems stewarded by indigenous peoples provide essential assets in the fight against climate change.

The rights of indigenous peoples and enhancing their participation in climate policy is critical to achieving the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and fostering climate resilience.

Moreover, indigenous women play a leading role in reducing the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change, as they help their communities to address adverse climate-related impacts. “Indigenous women carry the knowledge of their ancestors while also leading their communities into a resilient future,” notes UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa. “When indigenous women engage, climate policies and actions at every level benefit from their holistic, nature-focused knowledge and leadership.”

Special Indigenous Climate Activism You Should Be Watching

The recipient of the 2021 Stanford Bright Award is co-founder of the Indigenous youth climate activism group, Te Ara Whatu, India Logan-Riley. The activist argues that “we have to address the climate crisis in such a way that means not only do we get to say ‘no,’ but we also get to say ‘never again.’ That way, we can just live beautiful, joyful, Indigenous lives without having politics come upon us.”

Logan-Riley is a Māori who is building on the work of relatives and elders, continuing a legacy of resistance to colonialism, development, and environmental degradation. The Te Ara Whatu philosophy speaks to how the “whenua” is not just water and soil. “Whenua” is the Māori word for “land” but also means “placenta.” All life is seen as being born from the womb of Papatūānuku, under the sea. The lands that appear above water are placentas that float, forming islands. They state that their fight is not just for a place to live, but, rather, how the whenua is central to an indigenous worldview.

Focusing on climate justice, and specifically, indigenous culture, adds another layer to what many people think of as climate activism. At the same time, explains Logan-Riley, indigenous existence is climate activism and what is good for Aotearoa is good for its people. “For indigenous peoples, there’s no way to not be involved in climate work. It just might not look like traditional activism.”

Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) is an indigenous-led organization guided by a diverse group of indigenous knowledge keepers, water protectors, and land defenders from communities and regions across the country. ICA believes that indigenous peoples’ rights and knowledge systems are critical to developing solutions to the climate crisis and achieving climate justice.

ICA works on connecting and supporting Indigenous communities to reinforce their place as leaders driving climate change solutions for today and tomorrow. They model their work and organizational structure on systems of free, prior, and informed consent and self-determination. By providing communities with knowledge and resources, they attempt to inspire a new generation of indigenous climate leaders, building solutions centered around their inherent rights and cultures.

Final Thoughts on Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021

Of all the climate stressors that indigenous peoples confront, external pressures are eroding their food systems, which have been considered one of the most sustainable, self-sufficient, and resilient on the planet. “Despite surviving for centuries, indigenous peoples’ agri-food systems are likely to disappear in the next years due to a number of drivers threatening their future,” said Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director-General of FAO partner, the Alliance of Bioversity-International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

With issues of territorial management issues, sustainability, climate change, and adaptability, it is important to raise awareness and enhance the protection of indigenous peoples’ food systems. After all, these food systems are a source of livelihood for the 476 million indigenous inhabitants in the world and contribute to the Zero Hunger Goal.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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