By Tara Ehrcke, CASJ Environmental Justice Action Group and Victoria teacher
“They stole the children from the land. Now they steal the land from the children.“
These words hung on a banner outside the BC legislature last spring as Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en occupied the front steps, demanding that the RCMP leave Wet’suwet’en territory. The Wet’suwet’en were once again under siege, as they courageously stood their ground, physically blocking Coastal GasLink from entering their territory to build a natural gas pipeline.
The Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs and the youth who supported them are only a few of the Indigenous climate leaders from across Turtle Island who are focused on simultaneously defending Indigenous rights and the health of our planet.
Across the world, Indigenous land defenders are often the front line of land and environmental defence.
In British Columbia, defenders of the yintah (land) include not only the Wet’suwet’en and their fight with Coastal GasLink, but also the Tiny House Warriors, who for years have been reclaiming their traditional territories and defending them from the Trans Mountain pipeline crossing the unceded Secwe’pemc Territory.
The Tiny House Warriors emphasize that they have never provided consent for the pipeline and that the damage would be catastrophic, both for them as a nation on their territory, and for everyone else on the planet facing the consequences of climate change. Their strategy is land based and community oriented. A variety of literal tiny houses have been constructed by volunteers and allies in different communities and then transported to the traditional territories to “re-establish village sites.”
Molly Wickham, the spokesperson of the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, which stands on Wet’suwet’en territory, describes how land defence is so intimately related to larger environmental issues:
“At this time, our rivers, the lifeblood of our nations, are facing drills, toxins, and invaders. Indigenous people are standing up to state violence, big industry, and corporate greed for the future of all of humanity— of all life on our yintah.”
In addition to nation-based land defence, a variety of Indigenous or Indigenous-led coalitions are working to advocate and organize for climate justice. Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) was founded in Alberta but works across Canada to support the struggles of land defenders and to advocate on a national and global scale for Indigenous-led climate justice.
ICA members have travelled to the United Nations climate meetings to represent Indigenous interests and to work with Indigenous peoples across the globe to demand that decisions by international bodies do not interfere with free, prior, and informed consent of the peoples on whose lands they occur.
ICA succinctly describes the principle of Indigenous-led climate justice:
“ICA works on connecting and supporting Indigenous communities to reinforce our place as leaders driving climate change solutions for today and tomorrow. We model our work and organizational structure on systems of free, prior, and informed consent and self-determination. By providing communities with knowledge and resources, we can inspire a new generation of Indigenous climate leaders building solutions centered around our inherent rights and cultures.”
Further south, the members of the Red Nation, a coalition of Native and non-Native activists founded in New Mexico, have developed an alternative to the Green New Deal that centres Indigenous rights and recognizes the place of Indigenous struggle in the climate justice movement. Their far-reaching platform envisions a global transformation that addresses not just renewable energy, but also decolonization, through the abolition of racialized borders, police violence, and even the concept of the nation state.
Red Nation members clearly acknowledge the role of colonialism and capitalism in maintaining the racist, extractive exploitation that began with the slave trade and the theft of Indigenous lands and continues to this day. The Green New Deal does not go far enough because it fails to address these underlying root causes of the environmental crises we face.
More information on these Indigenous climate nations and organizations is available on their websites.