Social Activism is Climate Action; Indigenous History is Integral to this Movement

Written by Renee Marino

Surely, you have heard of Greta Thunberg, but have you heard of Autumn Peltier? Autumn is a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, of the Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. She is a water protector. Native people have been working as “activists”, protecting this land long before it was cool.

Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Haven Coleman, and countless other youth activists and groups have emerged on my timeline since the Climate Strike on September 20th (check out Extinction Rebellion, a worldwide non-violent movement). Needless to say, my own climate activism and search for information has surged. An access point, and something that resonates deeply with me is the interconnectedness of social justice and climate justice.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about protest. The history of protest, of strikes, boycotts, and all forms of non-violent direct action in this country and in the world is inextricably tied to the civil rights movement and to human rights. And how could it not be? With so many humans showing up together for a cause, it’s a collective act of embodiment, which in practice in supremely empowering, in and of itself. Even just one body has a loud enough voice to disrupt the norm, and affect many people.

We know the revolution will not be televised. It will be live streamed, instagrammed, and tweeted about furiously. But the real revolution happens IRL. On the ground. With our feet. The art of protest is certainly not lost. It’s outright intuitive, even for a generation of youth raised on screens and social media.

The first protest I ever attended was a march along 16th Street mall in downtown Denver in 2015. It was called “Sing Our Rivers Red” and was organized by Indigenous women and groups to bring awareness to #MMIW: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This phenomenon is of course, as old as colonialism, but the idea that this is occurring modernly, and at such high rates isn’t common knowledge. Though it is no longer new to me, I wonder how many people have still not heard of this. It’s not publicized by mainstream media, thus further allowing for such atrocities to occur silently. Still, indigenous women have marched, or have done some kind of action consistently every year in Denver for the past 4 years to bring awareness to MMIW.

On the day of the Climate Strike this year in Denver, there was to be a Red and Black Dresses installation for MMIW on the 16th Street mall. Due to lack of support by the City of Denver, it was taken down and destroyed, even though the proper permits were in place. The Red and Black Dress Installation was created and organized by the International Indigenous Youth Council, and Womxn of the Mountain (an educational organization founded by several women, including Renee Millard Chacon). Here is an excerpt from a press release from Womxn of the Mountain-

“In an effort to support the narrative of bringing attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous WXM, Black WXM, Trans WXM lives the International Indigenous Youth Council,, and Womxn from the Mountain are working together to bring art installations to Colorado to change the dynamic to correlate SOCIAL JUSTICE is ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.”

I believe strongly in the power of art for our collective healing. Art has the ability to show the unseen- give voice to the silenced. There is pain in this unveiling, but we must surface our collective traumas for them to be seen. This principle has been a part of feminist movements, where talking groups were formed and became necessary to allow for a collective realization- what women thought were their own private problems were actually widespread social issues, and out of this grew entire political movements.

There is oh so much trauma to address still, with current and historic systematic killing, rape, and silencing of native, black, chicano, latinx, asian, trans, and migrant people. There is trauma from the desensitization, silencing, and purposeful elimination of ways of living that don’t align with colonizers, with a white* identity, with the U.S. American hierarchies of patriarchy and capitalism. None of this is inseperable from the rape of the Earth’s resources. Activists from Standing Rock are facing life in jail. Don’t even get me started on the use of imprisonment to uphold systemic violence. However, addressing all of this and it’s interconnectedness is part of the healing. It’s not neat, or nice and pretty. Healing collectively doesn’t look like a group trip to the spa. There’s a reason we need to heal and it’s because we still have so much harm to address. Healing is our shadow work. All that being said, it’s also a beautiful thing. It’s a very human choice- to evolve. Art helps us to remember that being alive, being witness to our own choices and creation, is a privilege.

If you are still reading, thank you. Full transparency- this article is my own healing, and processing around my experience with the Climate Strike and what comes after. I can’t make it look pretty. It’s ugly, and I hope it lights your fire. I can’t tell you how to protest. I can’t tell you how to heal. That’s a choice you've got to make.

As the momentum from the climate strike continues in Colorado, I encourage you to educate yourself. Our blind spots are places for more research. Only once we’ve educated ourselves on these issues, can we be of any help. Our knowledge and experience is a prerequisite for our activism. This is the way for me. This may not be the way for every body. Some may choose different paths toward healing, but for me, actions and deep dives into rhetorical analysis is the way. For now. Intention is a big player. Vulnerability, and exposing your own truth is right action. Look for ways to engage! Ways that inspire you. Because though it is not all hunky-dory, it also needs to be sustainable. For me that means I need art to be involved (my own broad and whole definition of art), and it needs to bring me lots of joy and pleasure in my body (writing, yelling, dancing, marching). I hope you take my words in with love.

*white: all such people whose cultural and ethnic identity is conveniently erased, dissociating them with any "othered" and oppressed groups, thus allowing for an invisible superiority- white supremacy, and its violent practices.

Please read the rest of the press release from Womxn of the Mountain below, which details the connection between MMIW and environmental exploitation...

"In an effort to support the narrative of bringing attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous WXM, Black WXM, Trans WXM lives the International Indigenous Youth Council,, and Womxn from the Mountain are working together to bring art installations to Colorado to change the dynamic to correlate SOCIAL JUSTICE is ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.Womxn from the Mountain are cultural educators inclusive of all women from all backgrounds including those that identify as women. We believe that to transform towards a healthy future in education, media, and for future generations for girls and Womxn, there needs to be an inclusive and more realistic approach to education now. This directly means preparing the next seven generation for the social justice and environmental issues they are facing now. We offer educational workshops and curriculums to question are you “colonized or indigenous” in your concerns for the future of the next seven generations as an exercise to bring awareness into the connection to respecting the Earth and why it is sacred. Our Earth is sacred and honoring ALL Women is how we return to the sacred. Several issues that are important to indigenous groups, including: 1) human rights and international law, 2) lands and territories, 3) biodiversity and conservation, 4) development strategies, and 5) culture, science, and intellectual property. For Indig- enous Peoples, conservation of biodiversity is not new; on the contrary, it is part of their own culture, history, and spirituality. We are here to correlate the issues of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls have long been a direct result of environmental exploitation and degradation. Large numbers of women go missing around factories, man camps, and truck stops around North America and there has been no policies changes to protect a vulnerable population invisible to the American identity. The political systems that have allowed environmental negligence and protection for these targeted populations are responsible for the exploitation of the land, resources, and womxn. Often times the same banks funding the projects, including detention centers, contribute directly to this plight of slow genocide. Furthermore the people affected are poor, lower class, people of color that do not have the ability to defend themselves with legal protections and privilege of more affluent people to say “no” to their local resources being exploited.We are here today to support the narrative Social Justice is Climate Justice because we are all connected socially, economically, and environmentally like it or not and we need to change local and national policies to protect the sacred of our Earth and Womxn.We support a Green New Deal and a transformation of a change to 100% renewable energy which includes in immediate halt to all leasing and permitting for fossil fuel projects immediately, including fracking, coal and oil refineries. Adhering to environmental justice principles to ensure that that transition is equitable for fossil fuel workers and pollution-impacted communities; Honoring treaties protecting Indigenous land, water, and sovereignty from the impacts of fossil fuel industrialization; and Protecting and restoring biodiversity through sustainable agriculture and protection of half the world’s land and oceans--including habitat and wildlife corridors in Colorado. The exploitation of land and resources do correlate with the exploitation of women and Indigenous people. The transition must be and should be indigenous led, and more inclusive of the Indigenous narrative of how to steward and honor our Earth.A transition that invests in prosperity for communities on the frontlines of poverty and pollution, including reparations for the communities that have been most impacted by climate change and fossil fuel development. Welcoming those displaced by the cumulative effects of the climate crisis, economic inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity. A just transition for workers and communities who depend on fossil fuel jobs. Ensuring the protection of our air, water & land through enforcement of testing for toxins, pollution & other contaminants Protection and Restoration of Biodiversity Protection and restoration of 50% of the world’s lands and oceans including a halt to all deforestation by 2030. Protections for local wildlife including the implementation of wildlife corridors near major highways and development . Implementation of Sustainable Agriculture. Investment in farmers and regenerative agriculture and an end to subsidies for industrial agriculture.List of Demands- We demand political officials and departments, the FBI and criminal justice institutions gather and report accurate data about out missing and murdered Indigenous and Black Wxm.We demand this information be easily available for public record for families and investigators across state and federal jurisdictions to bring justice to families and victims.We demand action from our elected officials and law enforcement to work with local communities to create safe spaces for wxm to go for help and protection, no matter their background.We demand our Indigenous and black Wxm community members and leaders be able to have equal representation in political offices to change and diversify the narrative to bring justice to the issues facing our communities."

written by Renee Marino

photos from Global Climate Strike, Denver

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