Indigenous Rights and Environment Rights are Intrinsically Intertwined

[DISCLAIMER: I am blessed to have native friends. I have been learning all I can from them, and doing a lot of research on many things related to the history and outlook of Indigenous cultures, including not only spirituality and ways of seeing the world, but also of oppression and genocide. There is an underlying principle in justice work that those who suffer oppression should not be asked to teach others about that oppression. More bluntly, White people should be working among White people. I take responsibility for errors I make as I learn and write. I would like to check with Indigenous friends about many of these things, but that is often not appropriate. What is appropriate is to listen and learn in any way I can. This is an important time for White people to learn more from Indigenous cultures, so we can help other White people learn and support Indigenous ways to heal Mother Earth, among many other things.]

The title of this blog post is by Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, speaking as Indigenous youth rallied in front of the British Columbia Legislature building February, 2020. (https://jeffkisling.com/2020/07/12/the-tower/). He was speaking about the RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia.

The same RCMP, that all throughout this country vilify criminalized and dismantled our governance systems in order to facilitate extractive industries and settlement on our territories and that is the legacy, the exact same colonial legacy that we are seeing play out again what’s happening with the Wet’suwet’en.  This is the front line and if we are going to reverse the course of colonialism and genocide if we are going to start building relationships and good faith between peoples, if we are to start upholding each other’s laws,  if we are build a better future in which we have the chance to protect our territories, protect the waters, to stop the extractive processes that threaten our climate.

Indigenous rights and environmental rights are intrinsically intertwined within this country. You can’t separate them. They are both so intrinsically intertwined because for people, indigenous peoples like many of the young indigenous peoples that are standing here with me, that are holding the legislature, our culture, our language, our identity, our history, everything is derived from the land that our ancestors have lived on for centuries. Our knowledge is derived from thousands of years of experiences, of lifetime’s that have been handed down through stories telling, oral history, through laws, through trials, through tribulations, through great catastrophic events, to great victories, We have been here for so long, maintaining these same territories. Like Wet’suwet’en law, many of our laws compel us to protect those territories and so when we stand up for the Wet’suwet’en, we’re standing up for all of our futures. Like a lot of us are saying, a victory for the Wet’suwet’en is a victory for all of us. (see https://youtu.be/JRLDYDWxVsE)

Kolin Sutherland-Wilson at the British Columbia Legislature

The recent Dakota pipeline decision is a part of a broader movement for decolonization that seeks to restore land to Indigenous people.

The recent Dakota pipeline decision is a part of a broader movement for decolonization that seeks to restore land to Indigenous people. The U.S. legal system from the Supreme Court on down delivered a suite of rulings over the past week that have reaffirmed Indigenous land rights and environmental protections. From the Virginias to the Dakotas, they pushed back on the industrial development that would have further imperiled tribal lands and the environment.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that 3 million acres of eastern Oklahoma — including most of Tulsa — remain American Indian reservation land. Last Monday, the court also denied a Trump administration request to allow the construction of the long-delayed northern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry slurry crude from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska.

On the same day, a federal judge ordered that oil must stop flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, by Aug. 5. And the day before, two of the United States’ largest utility companies — Duke Energy and Dominion Energy — announced that, because of pending lawsuits from environmentalists, they had canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have transported natural gas from Virginia to North Carolina.

These are welcome legal victories. But taken together, they only serve to highlight that Indigenous people can’t merely rely on the courts of the conqueror. Because courts can only protect our land, not expand it, much more is needed. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power — the kind that energized the 2016 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline but that in fact goes back much further.

“The Supreme Court ruling on Oklahoma was welcome, but Indigenous people deserve more. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power” by By Nick Estes, assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, NBC News, July 12, 2020.

Estes then writes about the new Indigenous movement and Black Lives Matter.

That Indigenous movement reawakened in 2016 at Standing Rock, unleashing a cascade of uprisings against fossil fuel projects and winning important legal battles, from victories against pipelines to securing land rights. And it is that momentum we must continue to harness now.

As with Black Lives Matter, the seeds of the new Indigenous movement were sown during the Obama administration and bore fruit during President Donald Trump’s term. Amid the recent George Floyd protests and calls to defund the police, statues of colonizers and symbols of white supremacy have also begun to fall. The changes, however, are more than symbolic. Now the fossil fuel economy — the key driver of global warming, once thought indomitable — appears to be on the ropes despite its recent historic growth.

At the center of it all is Indigenous sovereignty, which is at the forefront of protecting the rights to a clean environment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The recent Dakota pipeline decision is a part of a broader movement for decolonization that seeks to restore land to Indigenous people and implement a much more comprehensive framework for environmental justice.

“The Supreme Court ruling on Oklahoma was welcome, but Indigenous people deserve more. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power” by By Nick Estes, assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, NBC News, July 12, 2020.

The demonstration at Mount Rushmore against the visit by the president was also about the Lakota rights to the land of the Black Hills. And about trying to reduce the chances of spreading of COVID-19 from the president’s audience, who were not wearing masks or social distancing.

Lakota people led a protest against Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore in the sacred Black Hills this month. The action was about more than the president’s visit. It was about the continued dispossession of the Black Hills from the Lakota and the refusal of the U.S. to honor its own Constitution, which says treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land.” A poem was spray-painted on a riot shield as police advanced on the road blockade. It read, “LAND BACK.”

“The Supreme Court ruling on Oklahoma was welcome, but Indigenous people deserve more. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power” by By Nick Estes, assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, NBC News, July 12, 2020.

The only way to upend this form of sociopolitical and economic ordering, I argue, is through the reinstatement of Indigenous authority and sovereignty.

We live in a historical moment marked by grave uncertainty about the fate of planet Earth. Our children and grandchildren are inheriting a world almost singularly defined by climate change. Temperatures are rising. Oceans are experiencing acidification. Arctic polar icecaps are melting faster than they should. Small islands states are being swallowed up by rising sea levels. The American Psychological Association is mapping the mental health consequences of what they are calling “eco-anxiety.” And, in the midst of this planet-wide crisis riddled with debates about the Anthropocene, Indigenous peoples and their longstanding resistance to environmental devastation are clear signposts of who should guide us into the future.

Standing Rock, I argue, illustrates that a fight for environmental justice must be framed, first and foremost, as a struggle for Indigenous sovereignty. As I have written elsewhere, the colonial violence that fostered the ruination of the planet has, for the most part, been blurred out of focus in public dialogue. An accurate examination of the social and political causes of climate change requires a close look at the history of genocide, land dispossession, and concerted destruction of Indigenous societies and cultural practices that accompanies the irreversible damage wrought by environmental destruction

Colonial systems of capitalist accumulation, tied directly to the invention of private property, opened the floodgates for “natural resources” to be transported, as Glen Coulthard explains, “from oil and gas fields, refineries, lumber mills, mining operations, and hydro-electric facilities located on the dispossessed lands of Indigenous nations to international markets.” The economic infrastructure in settler colonies, like the United States and Canada, depends on extractive industries. Indeed, Kyle Whyte points out that “in the US settler context, settler colonial laws, policies and programs are ‘both’ a significant factor in opening up Indigenous territories for carbon-intensive economic activities and, at the same time, a significant factor in why Indigenous peoples face heightened climate risks.” DAPL, then, must be viewed as the most recent incarnation of environmental harm that has found its legitimation and footing in colonialism and occupation.

This violent suppression of resistance at Standing Rock raises an essential question: How can we expect the same colonial government that is partnered with an international mercenary security firm enlisted to brutally halt opposition to a pipeline project to work in the service of climate recovery? We can’t. Our strongest chance of restoring balance on the planet and respecting the interconnectedness of all things, human and other-than-human, is to fervently advocate for justice for Indigenous communities and return to them the power of governance—which was violently apprehended through war, genocide, starvation, disease, abuse, the dispossession of land, and forced repression of Indigenous communities on reservations. The only way to upend this form of sociopolitical and economic ordering, I argue, is through the reinstatement of Indigenous authority and sovereignty.

What Standing Rock Teaches Us About Environmental Justice by Jaskiran Dhillon, Social Science Research Council, Dec 5, 2017

This is the diagram I keep updating as I think and learn more about the interconnections between White settler colonists and Black and Native peoples. Our broken political and economic systems, based on capitalism, are failing dramatically now. The pandemic worsens our situation. We need Indigenous culture, spirituality, sustainable practices and a subsistence economy to build better communities.


This entry was posted in #NDAPL, Black Lives, climate change, decolonize, Indigenous, Indigenous Youth for Wet'suwet'en, Native Americans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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