Many indigenous climate activists’ voices are underrepresented and discarded due to whitewashing in the media. This is a social, political and racial injustice, which is inhibiting the progression of climate action.
The absence of representation of indigenous input in climate action is not limited to social activism, but is also missing within climate change research, policy and decision-making; both locally and on a global scale.
According to ICA, “Indigenous Peoples all across the world are impacted the most by climate chaos, and yet, we are the least responsible. Our communities make up less than 6% of the world's population, and yet Indigenous Peoples protect 80% of global biodiversity.”
At current, the accessibility of climate action policy and decision-making at a federal government level is extremely limited. Not only this but Indigenous environmental and land rights defenders are disproportionally persecuted: one in three environmental and land rights defenders murdered since the Paris accords were signed six years ago were of Indigenous heritage. Among the many, was Berta Cáceres, winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders, who was killed in March 2016 for voicing her opposition to the construction of an internationally financed dam on a river considered sacred by her Lenca people.
Cop26, last November, discussed the urgent global action needed to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. The overall outcome of which was solemnly summed up by climate activist Vanessa Nakate, stating that “we are drowning in promises”. These decisions on these promises are made by all States that are Parties to the Convention, however heavily excluded the views of Indigenous people.
There is abundant evidence that Indigenous people’s voices and opinions on climate action are disregarded. For example, Ita Mendoza, 46, an indigenous land defender from the Mixteca region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, stated that Cop is “a continuation of colonialism where people come not to listen to us, but to make money from our land and natural resources”.
Indigenous climate activist, Dallas Goldtooth, similarly states that "Western scientific evidence is now saying what Indigenous peoples have been expressing for a long time: life as we know it is in danger. We’re at #COP26 to demand swift action on climate justice and no more false solutions like the loopholes in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.”
Indigenous representation was even further limited during last year’s Cop26 negotiations in Glasgow due to COVID restrictions; around two-thirds of civil society organisations could not attend due to visa and accreditation issues, and lack of access to vaccines.
Although some progress has been made through the recognition of indigenous people’s cultural and territorial rights being recognised in 2001 as a formal constituency, interviews with indigenous people reveal little has changed inside the UN-led negotiations.
Indigenous representation in climate reports & the media
Since the first Cop was held in Berlin in 1995, vast indigenous traditional knowledge of the land and innovations by local communities have since been recognised as beneficial to the progression of climate change. However, true, explicit representation and research from indigenous voices and perspective are still very limited. In a report investigating the ‘Representation of Indigenous people in climate change’, it was found that out of six articles screened from Australian newspapers, three discussed potential impacts of government initiatives on Indigenous communities, with only a few including first accounts from Indigenous Peoples’ voices or perspectives.
This lack of appropriate research and representation into Indigenous Peoples’ viewpoints and their climate change impact is represented by Executive director of ‘Indigenous Climate Action’, Eriel Deranger - “They’re trying to collect and preserve indigenous knowledge while continuing to leave us out of the actual decision-making and positions of power”.
Within studies on the representation of Indigenous voices within climate change, it was found that mainstream media tends to present Indigenous people as victims of climate change. Whilst statistically, Indigenous areas contribute less to climate change, Indigenous communities are used by the media to argue for urgency for mitigation action. Simultaneously, the inclusion of Indigenous people in mitigation decision-making is ignored. Eriel Deranger supports that “Indigenous people are more visible but we’re not taken any more seriously; we’re romanticised and tokenised,” thus, supporting that the lack of true inclusivity of first-hand Indigenous voice within climate reports perpetuates tokenisation and exacerbates racist tropes.
Although the education, protests, campaigning and ultimately, progression that current spotlight activists are achieving should not be undervalued, it is evident that the media favours a white cis-female voice over a wider cultural and racial representation of views regarding social and environmental issues.
The amount of Indigenous voices within mainstream climate action discussions in the media coverage is extremely disappointing. There are currently many climate activists who are extremely under-celebrated and overlooked.
Below are some links to websites and accounts that highlight the voices of those who are currently not being heard in mainstream media-
Recent climate change accomplishments & efforts by Indigenous people
The first federal Indigenous research-grade opens in Okanagan.
For 108 years, scientists at the Summerland Research and Development Centre have been studying how to sustainably grow popular food in B.C.'s Okanagan region, such as wine grapes and fruit trees. The centre has now opened up its first-ever Indigenous research garden. This project is funded by the federal government, in an attempt to learn about revitalising food plans that have traditional significance to local Indigenous communities like the Syilx Okanagan Nation.
Indigenous leaders, protesters gather in Vancouver to oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline
Protesters against the federally-owned Trans Mountain pipeline gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to show the government and investors that opposition to the project is still strongly being considered a "risky investment". Signs that read "Don't fund the Trans Mountain", "Protect the Ocean" and "Protect the Land" were held by a few hundred gatherers
First Nations drinking water settlement is open for claims from communities and individuals.
After a year of delegations for clean drinking water, Indigenous communities and individuals in Canada are a step closer to receiving money from a class-action lawsuit that was settled with the federal government for $8 billion last year.
It is ethically important for both the progression of climate change and supporting equal human rights that we continue to research, educate, represent, and truly listen to those from every culture and background. A true call to action for successful climate change requires an understanding and recognition of all cultures uniting in the name of progression.
This action could mean: diversifying your online consumption and following, having inclusive conversations with Indigenous people on how to support their voice within the climate change action, or taking part in protests and activist events that amplify varied viewpoints.