Session: Integrating Climate Justice Into Ecology Education - Elevating the Human Dimensions of ESA’s 4DEE for a Sustainable Future
What environmental justice means in Indian Country: Challenges and opportunities in the 21st century
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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James Rattling Leaf Sr., North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, University of Colorado - Boulder, Boulder, CO, Robert Newman, Biology, University of North Dakota and Amber Finley, Environmental Management Program, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
James Rattling Leaf
North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, University of Colorado - Boulder Boulder, CO, USA
Background/Question/Methods On Feb. 23, 2016, militarized police evicted at gunpoint the last remaining water protectors in the nearly year-long standoff at Standing Rock in North Dakota. In many ways, the culmination of the movement to protect tribal lands and resources was a replay of centuries of history in which Native peoples succumb to United States’ brutal military hegemony, and a long line of broken treaties. The Standing Rock conflict coalesced a number of different issues, bringing together the history of treaty violations and Native rights, sovereignty, civil and human rights, and environmental justice into one movement, known by its social media monikers #NoDAPL, #Mniwiconi, #Waterislife, and #StandwithStandingRock. It followed a pattern that has emerged in the past few years. The climate justice movement is increasingly led by Indigenous peoples in North America and beyond, and highlights the inseparability of environmental and climate justice. But there are distinctions to be made with regard to environmental justice (EJ) battles when it comes to Indigenous people. EJ is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as: “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The EJ movement started, unsurprisingly, not as an academic discipline, but as activism in communities where toxic industries and other discriminatory practices were disproportionately occurring in low-income areas (which tended to be communities of color), resulting in increased health problems. This gave rise to the term “environmental racism.” Results/Conclusions Native peoples have very different world views when it comes to land, though. Those views are not based on monetary value, but are invariably characterized as relationships. In Indigenous value systems humans are seen as part of interrelated networks in much the same way human families are interrelated networks. The natural world is imbued with life in non-hierarchical ways; humans are no more important than any other aspect of the world. Relationships mean obligations to responsibility for the quality of those relationships, a sense of reciprocity, in the context of continuity with place.