For Indigenous climate activists, 2023 has already been a busy year. On March 20, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest full report on the health of Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth. Then, a couple weeks ago, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues' (UNPFII) twenty-second session convened. This year, the theme for the gathering was “Indigenous Peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health and climate change: a rights-based approach.” It’s no coincidence that Indigenous People constantly find ourselves on the frontlines of the climate battle. Our connection to Earth is deep and nuanced, and we live in connection with her. Simply put, we are guardians. That’s why we’re always under attack by Big Extraction and all those who couldn’t care less about her wellbeing. It’s also why our knowledge must be more widely understood and applied in her defense.
On that note, before you read on, here’s something we can all do right away to take a concrete step toward climate health. If you haven’t already done so, please tell President Biden to put a moratorium on drilling on public lands and waters!
The IPCC, a group of thousands of esteemed climate scientists and advisors from all across the globe, works together as a body under the United Nations to address the scientific truths of climate change. This year’s report, their sixth, synthesizes the research and data collected over the past five years of these meetings to make a comprehensive summary of the current state of the human-caused climate crisis. The report acknowledges the current impacts of climate change, details the probability of unavoidable and/or irreversible changes to our planetary health, and warns us of the associated risks.
A large part of the narrative surrounding the releases of the IPCC’s reports in the past seems to encourage the same general doomsday sort of feeling. Frankly, that may be necessary if human beings are ever to take the climate crisis seriously and actually solve it as a collective. But I am here to tell you that all is not lost. While certain media may create a feeling of hopelessness for some people, this narrative may ignore the knowledge we have and the work we’re doing together.
Let’s remain positive. By underestimating our capacity to create change, we have a tendency to undermine our own progress. Rather than summarize all the takeaways from the IPPC report, I’ll point you to this article written by Sabrina Skelly of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. It does a good job of giving you a quick rundown, and it lists some victories we’ve already achieved — including an increase in listening to Indigenous voices.
The synthesis report also includes a summary specifically for policy makers, which — at just 32 pages — is a bit easier to digest than the full 85-page version linked at the top of this blog. The IPCC report not only consists of accurate data as to the losses and damages produced by the climate crisis, it also gives us a wealth of information specific to the types of substantial, crucial changes which we must enact for a sustainable future — and it highlights the pathways by which we can achieve that.
Again, much of this knowledge is nothing new to Indigenous nations. I believe a combination of our understanding plus science — and the growing embracing of both — is a cause for radical hope. But in order to achieve what we critically need, Indigenous nations now more than ever need our land back. Because the land needs us.
Meanwhile, a full official report on UNPFII has yet to be released, but I’m confident some of the discussion mirrors points I’m making here. Here’s an excerpt from materials expanding on its theme: "Transnational and national extractive industries, at best, consistently disregard their responsibility to respect Indigenous Peoples' rights and engage in free, prior, and informed consent processes. At worst, their practices and behaviors contribute to serious human rights abuses."
And this quote from a talk given by Dakota scholar Kim Tall Bear at U.C. Santa Cruz highlights an essential notion. She says:
"The genocide over hundreds of years of Indigenous peoples in the Americas and the co-decimation of nonhuman relatives and their societies brings us and you to here. It is this world built out of our apocalypse that is now at risk."
Kim Tall Bear
Let’s be clear. Native Peoples have already lived through and are still surviving an apocalypse. The systemic processes of genocide and displacement at work for centuries are still ongoing. The colonial perspective, one of privilege, cherished unknowing, and feigned ignorance has allowed and will continue to contribute to the violence that has created the climate crisis. "Doomsday" came early for some, and only recently has the reality and depth of our being in relationship to the Earth been acknowledged by a global audience and governmental bodies.
Indigenous People protect 80 percent of the globe's remaining biodiversity. It’s our Indigenous prerogative that the land and the water — which are responsible for our survival and the future at large — grant us our rights, and not the other way around. Indigenous resilience and resistance are proof, in and of themselves, that we as a human species are fully capable of solving the climate crisis. Let’s keep working on it together!