Indigenous resistance is vital to climate action

News Unsettled Opinions

Without the centering of exceptional Indigenous people and movements, our struggles are pointless

News Unsettled Native Students Union column
Graphic provided by the Native Students Union.

In the last few years, climate change movements have grown increasingly popular, and many people are being exposed to these ideas through social media. Figures like Greta Thunberg and David Suzuki are propped up on an international stage and are able to demand that governments act to combat climate change. However, this propping up often comes at the expense of Indigenous voices.

These people on the world stage are making a positive change, there is no arguing with that. However, there needs to be more recognition of Indigenous battles against climate change, and a centering of Indigenous viewpoints and voices in these movements. Across Turtle Island and beyond, there are Indigenous people and youth taking a stand against the harmful and extractive practices of colonial nations.

Autumn Peltier is a 17-year-old Anishinaabe water defender, who has been fighting since she was very young. When she was only 15 years old, she was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation. Peltier has been fighting for the rights of water in Canada for years and is someone that does not have nearly the same amount of international attention as white environmentalists.

Jasilyn Charger is a 25-year-old land defender from the Cheyenne River Sioux. From the time she was 17 onwards, Charger has been on the frontlines, defending her territory from the encroachment of pipelines. She was one of the initiators of the 2016 protests of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Although the protests have gained international attention, Charger is scarcely mentioned as one of the original protestors.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 21-year-old Indigenous climate activist based in the U.S. Martinez began public speaking and fighting for climate change when he was only six years old. Over the years, Martinez has been involved in several court cases against the American government pertaining to the effects of climate change. In 2019, Martinez was the youth director of the organization Earth Guardians.

Not only are there countless Indigenous individuals fighting constantly to combat the impacts of climate change and pollution, but large groups are constantly fighting as well.

A report was recently released detailing Indigenous peoples’ impact on greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. and Canada. This report was written in collaboration between Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International.

This report details several different Indigenous resistance movements, and how exactly they impacted carbon emissions, whether stopping them altogether or delaying them for a significant amount of time. Some very key and continually significant local movements are included, such as the battle against Coastal Gas Link, and the Transmountain Expansion.

There is a chart within the report that includes each of the resistance movements highlighted, and how many million metric tons of carbon pollution each of the projects produce annually. In total, all the projects combined amount to 1.6 million metric tons of carbon pollution. This is a phenomenal number.

When referring to the overall impact of these resistance movements, the report shows that, “if these struggles prove successful, this would mean Indigenous resistance will have stopped greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of annual total U.S. and Canadian emissions.” This includes both activism in progress and Indigenous-led victories. 

Indigenous peoples are vital to climate action. We are not just props to lend credibility to white movements. There needs to be a centering of Indigenous perspectives, and a handing over of the lead to Indigenous people.

Indigenous resistance is extremely powerful. We need to keep fighting for the environment for our future. We can no longer be sidelined by white environmentalists in our own territories.