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Indigenous Voices in Climate Activism: Autonomous or Subjugated?

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center Page.

Over the past few years, the climate fight has been predominantly fixated on a single piece of symbolic infrastructure, the Keystone XL pipeline, whose recent environmental impact statement from the US State Department has set the stage for a green-lighting of the project.

As activism heats up in response, environmental organizations are likely to pull out all the stops to prevent tar sands extraction and shipment, including growing more powerful connections with both potential and already established allies. In particular, mainstream environmental NGOs and First Nations have increasingly worked in solidarity and aligned with one another in the past year.

As environmentalists built their strategically structured campaigns on KXL and climate, indigenous peoples continued their historic fight for the environment on the basis of sovereignty and self-determination, with recently mounting voices. Just a little over a year ago, Idle No More (INM) mobilized around Chief Teresa Spence's hunger strike in response to Canada's Bill C-45, and INM quickly grew into an international movement.  Idle No More has put indigenous voices on the map.

Yet, we don't often hear indigenous voices in mainstream reporting on these issues.

In the United States especially, we are privy to the messages of immensely mobilized and savvy campaigners like 350.org, Sierra Club and Greenpeace, but indigenous voices are largely excluded from the mainstream debate. While in Canada the landscape is filled with a diversity of indigenous voices and communities, mainstream environmental NGOs have traditionally been - and remain - the loudest.   


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