Privilege and Oppression

Want Climate Justice? Then Support Indigenous Sovereignty!

The climate change movement continues to demonstrate how to build cross-issue strategies.

We must go beyond the desire to “focus on one issue at a time,” even though I know it follows the traditional Alinsky-style organizing model.


“What’s connects indigenous sovereignty and climate justice work?”


Photo: Tar Sands Blockade via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Tar Sands Blockade via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Nearly everyone I have ever organized with, whether from indigenous or non-indigenous peoples, has described the climate justice movement in terms of a moral struggle against unjust impacts of climate change.

With this ethical stance in place, replacing persistent colonialist structures of control over indigenous peoples with sought after self-governance is a natural extension for those striving to fight oppression.

At an even more fundamental level, native sovereignty would make natural resource management, such as coal and oil, more in line with desired limited extraction (with the acknowledgement that many communities would still face tough choices of whether to use nonrenewable resources or not).

For those like myself who wish to fight climate change on moral grounds, must also extend our efforts to not only the impacts of burning fossil fuels, but also to questioning who controls the land and the ability to extract those resources.


Making steps in the right direction


Many of you know that the indigenous rights movement is already a step ahead in terms of cross-issue efforts, due to its continual support for action on climate change.

Now we just have to get the same commitment from a broader range of climate change folks (e.g. following the great collaboration between and indigenous organizers).

The climate justice movement has often publicly described the disproportionate impact climate change has on indigenous communities and the need to have them more involved in climate discussions.

However, I’ve noticed it’s taken a bit longer for those same climate change activists to direct calls to advance the cause of native peoples to control their own resources and land.

Currently, I see the alignment between the climate change movement with indigenous sovereignty, stemming from the emergence of the Idle No More Movement in the past year as an example we need to build upon.

The Idle No More Movement, led by First Nations in Canada, has put a spotlight on the sovereign rights of indigenous peoples, while denouncing the continuing impacts of colonialism.

With many climate change organizations announcing their solidarity with Idle No More, we’ve got to continue the momentum and push for granting indigenous self-sufficiency.


Next steps for the climate movement


There are many places where the climate movement could support the move for indigenous sovereignty; however, the best place to start is to follow the calls from indigenous communities themselves.

From within the climate movement, we need to incorporate clear and persistent calls to action, messages, and analysis of how to build a cross-issue emphasis that takes into account the struggle of native peoples for their rights (e.g. the Idle No More Movement).

This should come from folks at all levels of organizing.

With an anti-colonial perspective, the climate movement can advocate for the moral claim for indigenous sovereignty and their right to decide how to use their natural resources.

Native communities have joined in the climate change struggle, now is time for much more of the climate change movement to join with their allies for Native rights to self-determination.

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+