Now 30, Big Wind spent most of their 20s fighting extraction projects. They were at Standing Rock, then, immediately after, traveled east to fight the construction of the Tennessee Gas pipeline. A Northern Arapaho tribal member from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Big Wind learned important financial lessons during those actions: Working collectively in resistance camps means resources are pooled and shared. That’s because climate work, at least at the individual level, doesn’t pay much.

“You’re not really using money inside a camp, even though it’s helping get resources to function,” said Big Wind. “There’s so much possibility, because nobody had to worry about their basic necessities,” they said.

Outside of the camps is where people like Big Wind have to worry.

A member of the 30×30 White House Advisory Committee, and a long-time climate activist, Big Wind spoke in Dubai at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December and, from a young age, has crowdfunded conservation initiatives on the Wind River Reservation.

“I’m not getting paid to go to these things,” said Big Wind, “by these institutions, by the feds, or by the international community.” Big Wind’s day job with the Wyoming Outdoor Council helps pay for some of these trips, and they continue to rely on crowdfunding to support travel.

The unpaid labor that Big Wind provides to fight climate change is at the heart of a new paper published in Cambridge University Press called “Wages for Earthwork” — “earthwork” being the term to describe labor that takes care of the planet and provides benefits to all. That work should be compensated, argues essay author David Temin, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

“If we’re going to think about a just transition to a world without fossil fuels, we need to put a lot of this invisible labor at the center,” Temin said. “A lot of this is obvious to Indigenous communities. Everyone is implicitly benefiting from this.”

The argument may seem quite basic, but the exploitation of unpaid earthwork has far reaching economic dimensions. Take unpaid housework or childcare: labor that maintains society and allows for the economy to continue operating but that is invisible in everything from labor markets to gross domestic products. Because productivity in most economies is a matter of goods and services, unpaid labor — like eldercare or earthwork — lies outside the market.

“The parallel is absolutely apt,” said Erin Hatton, a professor at the University at Buffalo who specializes in gender and labor markets. “Because of our capitalist system, labor outside the home has a measure of respect.”

Earthwork, Hatton says, broadens that definition of home by taking care of the Earth as one would tend to a household where everyone lives. “It’s a home more broadly constructed,” she said.

Whereas unpaid housework and childcare have historically fallen to women, unpaid earthwork typically falls to Indigenous peoples, who are expected to steward land and share traditional ecological knowledge for free, says Micheal Mikulewicz, a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “The argument is they should be grateful that we are actually asking and trying to help, which doesn’t help them put food on the table,” Mikulewicz said.

Read the full article about Indigenous climate labor by Taylar Dawn Stagner at Grist.