A colleague recently told me that climate justice is about building ties between people, their land, and their traditional, ancestral ways. In all my years of doing environmental work, this is one of most succinct ways I’ve heard to describe what climate justice means for Indigenous People and communities: Reconnecting to our land is an integral piece of addressing climate change, for both our Nations and our wider communities.
The policies enacted in the 19th and 20th centuries didn’t just violate Indigenous rights and sovereignty, dissolve treaties, and eliminate reservations. They also made way for the extraction of resources by oil and fossil fuel corporations from our Native and Tribal lands. But even though connections between the climate crisis and the removal of Indigenous peoples from our lands are stark, they are too often overlooked. If we are to truly save our planet and its resources, we must be willing to interrogate this harmful, pervasive connection, and work to repair it at the source.
After all, we know now that the mismanagement of forests by the US Forest Service has led to worsening wildfires across Western states like California, Oregon, and Washington. And because capitalism—powered by the fossil fuel industry—prioritizes profit over human life and ecological well-being, we see this story repeatedly play out across the country, whether it be pushing pipelines through sacred lands and water systems, or destroying old-growth forests in Alaska, which are some of our best carbon sequesters.
Removing Indigenous Peoples from our land took away our ability to carry and pass on traditional ecological knowledge, like how to manage lands, our connection to traditional food ways, and our traditional economic structures. There is much to learn, for example, from the Indigenous Peoples who have practiced controlled and deliberate burns that restore ecosystem-wide health. Recently, the Yurok people in California have partnered with local fire departments to bring back the ancient practice of controlled burns, which allowed hazel to grow in the area for the first time in many years. The success in this partnership demonstrates the importance of centering Indigenous people and our knowledge of the planet in the fight against the climate crisis.
Read the full article about the Indigenous knowledge to address the climate crisis by Jade Begay at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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