Zahabiya Husain

Oct 11, 2021

3 min read

Some resources on Indigenous peoples’ experiences of climate injustice

Indigenous people are shockingly underrepresented in the climate crisis conversation. In fact, climate change conversations have traditionally added to Indigenous experiences of environmental injustice instead of alleviating them and COVID has weakened their resilience to climate change even more.

It’s not like we don’t know what we should be doing. Indigenous knowledge is seen as pivotal to the progress of so much of sustainable development. Indigenous concepts of sustainability are ancient, obviously varied (there being over 5000 indigenous ethnic group encompassing close to 300 million indigenous people) and incredibly important to incorporate if we are to have the most inclusive and thereby effective working definition of a sustainable world (i.e. a world that can sustain all life, equitably and perpetually). And it is these Indigenous notions of sustainability, knowledge and extraordinarily circular ways of life that can teach modern systems so much, but which also need to be equipped to battle the forces that would threaten their existence (ironically those same systems). But to do that, Indigenous communities must necessarily be a part of the climate conversation in a way that celebrates as well as acknowledges and respects their knowledge, and that’s something people have been saying for almost 30 years (at least).

Now, we know that racial justice and climate change have to be tackled together or neither will actually stop plaguing humanity. But what is actually being done to make this happen? The first step for me has been learning what Indigenous people consider environmental justice to be, for themselves. That means not just what the academics say, from useful allegories to expansive US specific studies on their unique experiences to committed 5-year projects seeking to include Canadian perspectives in existing Indigenous environmental justice research.

I’ve also tried to learn from Indigenous climate activists, like the award-winning India Logan-Riley and Hernán Payaguaje, and from groups representing Indigenous communities and their allies as we approach COP-26. What do they expect, what do they want?

We’re on the cusp, the very doorstep of this summit. As a part of my learning I’ve sought to understand how the Paris Agreement refers to Indigenous people. This is incredibly important, as it shows us where we’re ‘starting’ from, the work we have yet to do and the tools we have at our disposal. How has the UNFCC already begun to recognise and support Indigenous peoples’ rights to their natural environment, such as through their Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform? Again, is this a starting point, because it surely isn’t the end — but how hard did Indigenous people have to work to get to this point?

Ultimately, what gives me hope? Well it’s not just all of the above; the research, talks, passion, expertise, histories and awareness-raising. It’s not even the required critical lens, the looking up and forward to how much more we need to do and how quickly it needs to get done. It’s the bridges we build to each other, the way we see these problems as opportunities to learn, connect and fix. Like you, reading this now.