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Green Is The New Black

Indigenous Resistance is an integral part of the climate movement. Here’s why.

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Just weeks after the latest IPCC news, The Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International released a new climate report. Its findings demonstrate that Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. This is huge news. So, why is no one talking about it?

Despite the fact that Indigenous people make up just 5% of the world’s population, they protect 80% of the earth’s biodiversity. Now, this report proves that Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects all across Turtle Island, known as North America, has prevented at least 25% of annual US and Canadian emissions. The US is one of the top global emitters and so any reduction will have a positive knock-on effect. A 25% reduction is a big deal! Indigenous people are at the forefront of the climate movement creating change and yet they are woefully underrepresented in climate spaces. This needs to change.


What’s in the report?

The positive…

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) is an alliance of Indigenous Peoples with a shared protect nature and adhere to Indigenous traditions. For this report, IEN collaborated with Oil Change International, a research, communications and advocacy organisation. It has two primary goals. The first, to amplify the significant collective contributions made by Indigenous people in the fight against climate change and inspire support. Secondly, to gain recognition among settler nation-state representatives, organisations, institutions, and individuals for the pivotal role that Indigenous people play in the fight for climate justice.

IMAGE: from Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon report | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A map of Turtle Island, also known as ‘North America’. The map is marked with multicolour lines highlighting proposed fossil fuel projects that indigenous people have been fighting. The name of each project is written in the same colour as the line depicting where it is.

The report outlines 26 successful grassroots campaigns led by Indigenous groups against fossil fuel projects. It includes well-known campaigns like the Dakota Access oil pipeline and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The researchers then calculated the projected carbon emissions for each fossil fuel development. This enabled them to quantify the impact of the efforts of land defenders to delay or stop developments.


…and the negative

Although these victories are cause for celebration, the report also exposes a grim truth. Indigenous land defenders are too often targeted with extreme violence for their activism. It explains that “in parallel to the severe threats Mother Earth is facing from climate change, the rights, well-being, and survival of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world are at grave risk due to the same extractive industries driving the climate crisis.”

The researchers take the Dakota Access pipeline as a prime example of this. Tribes and their supporters viewed the proposed pipeline route in Standing Rock as a grave risk to water resources, treaty rights and sacred cultural sites. In response, their resistance became one of the most extensive Indigenous-led protests in recent history.

The report details the brutal response of the US local and state officials, who attacked thousands of land defenders and water protectors. They used military-grade weapons and tactics to suppress and intimidate the protesters. Tactics like provocation, disruption of communications, aerial surveillance and radio eavesdropping. To discredit the movement and prevent them from gaining public support, the media labelled peaceful protesters as ‘jihadist’ and ‘terrorist’ in a smear campaign. Protesters were also met with heavily armed forces, aggressive attack dogs, arrests and harassment. The resulting injuries were devastating. Two Indigenous women lost eyes because of tear gas, and a young white supporter lost an arm to amputation after she was severely injured.


2020 was the deadliest year on record for land defenders

Sadly, the US and Canada are not exceptional in their ruthlessness against Indigenous environmental activists. Another report published last week served as a chilling reminder that many pay the ultimate price for their work protecting nature, and by extension our global climate.

Global Witness released their annual ‘Last Line of Defence’ report which investigates the “industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders”. The key finding of the report is devastating. 227 land defenders were murdered in 2020 for protecting their local environment. Shockingly, researchers believe this is likely an underestimation due to restrictions on a free press and a lack of independent monitoring of attacks on defenders contributing to underreporting.

A sobering read, the report details how corporations use violence and intimidation to silence activists they see as trouble-makers. As our planet is heating up so too is the conflict between greedy corporate interests and those who seek to protect our natural world. Communities contesting environmental destruction face death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, criminalisation and murder. Among those murdered was South African Fikile Ntshangase, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine. As a consequence of her dedication, Ntshangase was shot dead in her home.

The research also confirmed that the trend of disproportionate numbers of attacks carried out against Indigenous peoples continued. Over 33% of all lethal attacks targeted Indigenous people. Indigenous groups were the target of 5 of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020. One heartbreaking example included was the killing of 9 Tumandok people on the island of Panay in the Philippines, reportedly targeted for their opposition to a mega-dam project.


We need solidarity

For millennia, Indigenous people lived off the land and helped it to thrive through careful stewardship. Since colonial interests threatened their way of life, they have resisted and faced brutal violence and even death as a consequence. Solidarity with Indigenous people is a fundamental part of our work as environmental activists and conscious humans. Indigenous people have a unique and intimate understanding of our planet. Climate action must include consultation with the original stewards of the land. Indigenous knowledge should be our guiding North Star.

For too long, the media has lauded people like David Attenborough and Leonardo di Caprio, as the faces of the environmental movement. While disregarding the efforts of Indigenous people on the front line. Who is risking their safety to protect our natural world? Recognising Indigenous resistance is long overdue, and this report is the perfect catalyst for turning the tide by quantifying just a fraction of those efforts in a climate context.


Indigenous cultures have much to teach us

Western culture usually defines ‘indigenous’ as first or native people to the land. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, explains that Indigenous People are not just native to the land. They are ‘of the land’. Indigenous groups across the planet lived in unity with and stewarded nature for centuries before colonialism. They possess a deep connection to and understanding of the flora and fauna of their ancestral lands.

Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, describes with great reverence her ancestral concept of ‘The Honourable Harvest’. The Honorable Harvest operates with a deep sense of gratitude at its heart, regarding everything the earth gives us to sustain ourselves as a gift. It is a promise of reciprocity between people and the land. The principles of this ancient practice are:

> Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

> Never take the first. Never take the last.

> Harvest in a way that minimises harm.

> Take only what you need and leave some for others.

> Use everything that you take.

> Take only that which is given to you.

> Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.

> Be grateful.

> Reciprocate the gift.

> Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

These explain what’s written in the Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon report. That “[a]dvocacy and direct action by Indigenous Peoples in opposition to threats to lands, waters, air, and future generations are not optional measures by those that adhere and live by traditional Indigenous knowledge. They are obligations.” Even though colonialism threatened to wipe out Indigenous culture and oral wisdom, Indigenous people continue to survive. And they continue to revive and record their histories…


What can we do?

As always, we want to leave you with some actionable steps we can all take to be part of creating change. Indigenous history is rarely if ever, taught in schools. So our understanding of their cultures is usually very limited and plagued by stereotypes in the media. A key part of solidarity with Indigenous peoples is learning from them, something much easier to do now thanks to social media. One particularly exciting trend is ‘Indigenous TikTok‘. Creative young Indigenous people are using the platform to celebrate their cultures and educate more people about their history and issues their communities currently face. Other actions that you can take include:

> Learn about Indigenous water protectors and land defenders

> Donate to Indigenous led-organisations and campaigns like Amazon Watch and Indigenous Environmental Network

> Decolonise your social media feed by following and learn from and be inspired by accounts like; LilNativeBoy, DecoloniseMyself, NotoriousCree, Niskapisuwin, IndigenousPeoplesMovement, Decolonize__, NatureChola, MarikaSila, MMIWhoisMissing

> Amplify Indigenous resistance and stories

> Ask the environmental groups and NGOs you support how they are working with Indigenous peoples and if they are not, make clear this is important to you and to the movement

> Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer


FEATURED IMAGE: Photo by Jolanda Kirpensteijn on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A group of Indigenous land defenders protesting a pipeline project. They are wearing warm clothing, a mixture of modern and traditional garments and some with bandanas over the lower half of their faces. They hold signs with messages like “Water is Life” and “Defend the Sacred”. In the background, the sky is light blue with some cloud coverage. The sun is low in the sky, as though it is dusk or dawn.

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Leanne has worked and volunteered in the NGO sector in Asia and the UK for almost a decade. She is a proud and passionate fundraiser who is motivated by connecting people to causes that they care about and giving them the opportunity to make a real difference. Since growing up on the West Coast of Ireland, she has always been a lover of nature, especially the ocean. Her journey towards living more sustainably and consciously started slowly through an interest in minimalism, plant-based diet, yoga and the zero-waste movement. She has attempted all of them with varying degrees of success! Seeing the Extinction Rebellion April actions in London this year was the biggest wake-up call to learn the truth about the scale of the climate crisis and Leanne now considers herself a bone fide, but imperfect, environmentalist keen to share the infinite benefits of slowing down and living more mindfully with anyone who will listen!