The climate crisis is having adverse effects on many communities; however, Native and Indigenous people are feeling these effects even more due to centuries of settler colonialism and racial capitalism that have added to the interconnected nature of the climate crisis and are threatening Indigenous ways of life.
The UConn Reads program hosted an event titled “Native Scholars and Artists on Climate Justice” to discuss the impact of climate change on Indigenous communities and invited a panel of Native scholars and artists to share their experiences working on the front lines and how their work is heightening awareness of these issues.
“When we’re thinking about climate justice, we need to understand that it is extremely gendered from an indigenous perspective,” Melanie Yazzie, an assistant professor of Native American studies and American studies at the University of New Mexico, said.
Native and Indigenous women have historically been the targets of high rates of violence and, according to the National Institute of Justice, over 84% of Native and Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime, more than 1.5 million women. These statistics can be traced back to things like economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, unemployment rates and discrimination, which are all difficulties that Native and Indigenous communities face.
When you add the climate crisis into the mix and Native people’s close relationship with the environment and its resources, these communities face some of the harshest direct consequences of climate change.
Yazzie focused her portion of the discussion on the social and political violence present in border towns, which are towns and cities surrounded by Native land and reservations, and organizations fighting for Native freedom. Yazzie said that places like Albuquerque, New Mexico experience high rates of violence against Native and Indigenous communities because the mandate associated with colonialism is that Native and Indigenous people are supposed to be eliminated from these places.
“When we come into these kinds of spaces, like Albuquerque, we are seen as out of place, we are seen as a threat, we are seen as an anomaly within the larger narrative,” Yazzie said.
In 2014, following an increase in vigilante violence in Albuquerque that resulted in the murder of several Native people, Yazzie and a group of mostly Native people founded The Red Nation. This organization is a coalition of Native and non-Native activists, educators, students and community organizers who are bound by the mission of liberating Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism. Their work is centered on Native political agendas and they take part in direct action, advocacy, mobilization and educational efforts.
Sandy Grande, the host and moderator of the panel and a professor of political science and Native American and Indigenous studies at UConn, emphasized the fact that we are not facing a climate crisis, but instead a culmination of centuries of colonialism and racism that have stripped Native and Indigenous people of their land and their freedom.
Moving forward, the panelists said that restoring trust in Native and Indigenous communities is an important step on the path to decolonization.
“They do not trust us to manage or govern our own territories,” Anne Spice, acting assistant professor of geography and environmental studies at Ryerson University, said. “My first demand is to trust Indigenous people and that means following Indigenous laws and protocols.”