4 stories of Indigenous Peoples’ struggle for climate justice

Posted by Martin Vainstein — 8 August 2016 at 3:58pm - Comments

Fracking, racism, powerful mining companies, colonialism, the oil industry – Indigenous People across the world are fighting so many things in the struggle for climate justice.

From Canada to Honduras to Brazil to Finland, Indigenous Peoples face systematic oppression, government ambivalence and corporate greed - and with a changing climate their battles have gotten even bigger. When your life, existence and culture is threatened there’s no way to run away - speaking truth to power is the only way to live.

There’s nobody better than Indigenous People themselves to tell you what it’s like to be at the forefront of Indigenous resistance. That’s why, in honour of Indigenous Peoples Day, I spoke to Indigenous People from across the world - here’s what they had to say about the struggles they face.

Arnaldo Kabá Munduruku - General Chief – Cacique

Dams in the Tapajos region of the Amazon could be about to force the Munduruku Indigenous People to leave their home against their will, losing their way of life, culture and livelihood. One million people globally have backed the Munduruku’s call for an end to destructive dams in the fragile Amazon - and the world is beginning to listen. Just last week the license for the first dam was cancelled. The Munduruku people are now fighting to stop the other dams which threaten their land - and most importantly, they are fighting to get their Indigenous land recognised by the government. Respect for their land will stop the dams for good.

As with all of the people I interviewed for this article, Arnaldo is full of the kind of energy and determination that makes it clear that he will win. Here is why Arnaldo continues to fight:

"The river and the forest give us everything we need to survive. They give us our food, our water, our drugs. If they build this dam they will kill the river, they will kill my people, our culture. The future of our children is threatened by the ambition of the companies and the government.  The forest is also important for other people from others country because its belongs to everybody."

Jenni Laiti - Saami – Artist and Activist - Souhpanterror

Jenni, member of the Saami People, is an artist and activist. She is a climate warrior with an unstoppable force that can make the impossible possible. Saamis, along with their Indigenous way of life, are currently under threat - but they have won in the past and they will continue to do so.

“We are not included, we are not questioned nor answered, and we are not in the agenda. It's all the same with all the politics in Sweden, NorwayFinland, Russia and these countries are devastating and dividing us. We use our land in sustainable ways with traditional Saami livelihoods but at the same time we have to live in colonial countries with their systems and their legislations where our own Saami customary law is not recognized. Our heritage, language and traditional knowledge vanishes everyday while it's covered under the Settlers culture

They see Sápmi and its last wilderness in Europe through a colonial perspective: they see us as an empty territory that they can still colonize, take away and practice any type of extractive and land grabbing activities. Once someone asked “What local people?” We local people! We are not only fighting against colonialism and capitalism everyday, but we are fighting against climate change as well: we see that our way of life is threatened and we are standing on this edge. For us to survive, there is no space for colonialism, there is nothing more to give for capitalism, we are already standing on the edge. I feel that me, my family, my people, my area, we are all threatened.”

Gaspar Sanchez - COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras)

Gaspar is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. He is part of the Lenca Indigenous Peoples and a member of the Indigenous Lenca organisation COPINH co-founded by Berta Cacerés. There are 51 concessions for hydroelectric projects in the area and COPINH has complaints against 49 of them and their struggle has taken away the lives of the people fighting against them.

“All of these projects are illegitimate and illegal. Illegal because they don’t follow international conventions such as article 169 that establishes the right to prior, free and informed consent (article 169 of the International Labour Organization Convention). It's illegitimate because not one or the other decision is taken with any type of consultation to us.

Our territories are vastly militarized. When the communities decided to raise their voice and make it loud and clear, they are criminalized, harassed and killed. Comrades have been murdered because of protecting our rivers, our territories. In the case of the defence of the sacred Gualcarque and Blanco rivers 5 comrades have been killed and 6 counting Berta Cáceres assassination. But, before them there have been others because it’s clear than in this country there are no institutions to respond to the need of Indigenous Peoples. Currently we are defenceless: the State and any of the public institutions work together with politicians and corporations in collusion with drug traffickers, organize crime and there’s absolutely nobody left to protect Indigenous Peoples.”

Clayton Thomas-Müller - Mathais Colomb Cree Nation - Stop it at the Source Campaigner, 350.org

Clayton, member of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba, Canada, spends his time being one of the coolest and most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met. He is a Cree activist for Indigenous self-determination and environmental justice.

"I feel very strongly that the shared consensus among many Indigenous Peoples here in Canada on the discourse of mitigating climate change and the development of adaptation programs to the global crisis is: the solutions lie in a much deeper dive into addressing colonialism and reconciliation. For Canada’s current economic model to be successful, They must enact policies that lead to the removal and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples from our lands to extract natural resources to sell to the highest bidder on the international free market. This must change.

The neo-colonialism playing out through Canada's economic extractive policies in Indigenous territories is a double-edged blade. Here in our lands we are disproportionately affected by industries impacts and also by climate change which affects our constitutionally protected inherent rights to hunt, fish and trap. G8 economies are using the climate crisis for profit. Through free trade agreements and institutions like the World Bank, Canada is banking on using carbon offset initiatives such as REDD and REDD+. By privatizing forests through the international carbon trading facility to be bought and sold as commodities, Canada can plant a million palm oil trees in the Global South to justify expanding controversial developments like the tar sands in the north. We have such a huge responsibility on our shoulders to keep the oil in the soil living in a region with the second largest carbon pool on the planet. If Canada’s tar sands are developed to the fullest of its capacity it's game over for humanity"

So what can be done to support Indigenous Peoples?

When asked what people could do to support Indigenous struggles Clayton said “Check your privilege at the door” and continued “When organizing, my resources are not focused on ruling class. Instead I look to communities whose liberation is tied to my liberation; whose oppression is tied to my oppression: solidarity is the most powerful device we have in our social movements toolkits."

There are various ways you can put solidarity into practice: get versed in the issues, spread the word, send a message of solidarity, pressure companies and governments and take direct actionWe need to build a diverse and inclusive movement, understand how race and class are barriers both in the UK and globally and ask ourselves questions about how we work alongside and in solidarity with front line communities.

More information about Indigenous struggles:

Indigenous Environmental Network

Indigenous Climate Action

Environmental Justice Atlas

Indigenous Rising


With contributions by Suzanne Dhaliwal, co-director UK Tar Sands Network.

About Martin Vainstein

'History is ours, and it's made by the people' - Salvador Allende, 1973

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