Colonialism Is Burning!

“Indigenous people know what it takes to save our planet and the life giving resources it provides.” -Jade Begay, Director of Policy and Advocacy at NDN Collective, citizen of Tesuque Pueblo, also Dine and Southern Ute

The climate chaos we are witnessing so dramatically in the last few weeks – raging wildfires from Maui to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, from the Tiger Island Fire in Louisiana to tropical storms in Florida and California – is the result of settler-colonial capitalist practices that dispossess Indigenous communities of their land.

Since the U.S. occupied the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1898, corporations stole and reshaped the land for their purposes, destroying wetlands to develop monocropping – like pineapple plantations – then diverting water for hotels and golf courses. In the words of Kaniela Ing, Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and national director of the Green New Deal Network, “The natural form of Lahaina would have never caught on fire. These disasters are anything but natural.” In what some call “plantation disaster capitalism,” real estate agents immediately began contacting Native Hawaiians in Lahaina to pressure them into selling their ancestral lands, while corporate interests are grabbing for control of water.

In Northern Alberta, a watershed once rich with muskeg and boreal bush went up in flames after years of extraction from mega Tar Sands mining projects, forestry and other extractive mining. The natural ecosystem that supported the Dene and Cree since time immemorial has been drastically changed to enable profits for the colonial governments and oil corporations that dominate the landscape. 

Indigenous communities have always fought against colonialism and climate chaos, advocating for responsible land practices, warning us of what is happening now:

Indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse since the early days of colonial occupation. We should be thinking of climate change as part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.” –Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist

Indigenous peoples around the world are at the forefront of many of the most impactful climate justice movements. These struggles are ongoing, such as the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s continued resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline and other destructive projects in their territories.

Last month’s historic vote by the people of Ecuador to halt the country’s largest oil project in the Amazon’s Yasuní National Park, offers powerful leadership towards a fossil-free future:

“We are going to share this model of direct action on climate change with all peoples and countries, because at this time of climate crisis the world needs models of struggle that put power in the hands of the people.” -Nemonte Nenquimo (Huaorani), winner of the Goldman 2020 environmental award

True climate justice holds Indigenous sovereignty at its center, far beyond a romanticized idea of Indigenous leadership. It fights for land back, and the return of autonomy over the land, to Indigenous Nations. It challenges settler governance systems to show up with humility as guests who have forgotten their treaty responsibilities. 

Time has long passed for us to have patience with colonial politicians and policies to address the increasing climate disasters that we are experiencing around the globe. Our collective survival requires transformational change; change at our relational levels with ourselves, our governance systems, the lands we call home, and the original peoples who continue to fight in defense of healthy communities and ecosystems. This is a time to show up honestly, embracing that we live on stolen Indigenous lands and leverage this social location to confront the legacy of colonialism.” -Sheila Muxlow, Associate Director, Indigenous Climate Action 

Indigenous peoples have been ignored, blamed, silenced, jailed, beaten and killed for resisting what is now here. We have an opportunity as white people and settlers on this land to show respect for Indigenous leadership, disrupt systems of oppression, and demand accountability from the colonial politicians which govern us. 

Confronting colonialism for climate justice makes room for solutions that go beyond concern for greenhouse gas emissions, and uplifts the heart of what has been broken in our relationship to the land and to each other. The survival of the planet and our ability to build the world we want depends on this.

We are not defending nature; we are nature defending itself.” Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation), activist, environmentalist, actress, author

Take action: 

Both at the New School Auditorium, 66 W 12th Street, NYC, Room A106

  • Support Indigenous leaders during the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change processes, including COP28 in Dubai, November 30 – December 12
  • Learn more about Unist’ot’en Village and Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territories

Learn from Indigenous organizations working for climate justice:

Anna Lippman, Annie Morgan, Rog Drew, Sheila Muxlow

For Catalyst Indigenous Solidarity Working Group