In ‘Required Reading’, Indigenous Leaders Call for Land Reforms and Climate Justice

At a time, Indigenous peoples of the United States and of the whole world converge in Scotland to talk about the climate impacts on their communities and stand up for their own solutions, the ones they have successfully used to manage land for millennia. And on the brink of crisis, people can finally be ready to listen.

The new book, Required Reading: Climate Justice, Adaptation + Investing in Indigenous Power, can serve as a practical guide to this movement, during COP26 and after. It was organized and produced by the NDN Collective, a national organization based in South Dakota. It is a manual for grassroots advocates, Indigenous leaders and traditional politicians on how to support Indigenous communities and their allies in healing our planet and towards a post-oil future.

The book presents in-depth essays and analytical pieces on topics ranging from the growing LANDBACK movement for the return of indigenous lands to the impacts of lithium mining in the Andean Altiplano and criticism of the rigidity of traditional environmentalists in the face of change. climate.

Civil Eats recently spoke to Kailea Frederick, NDN Collective’s climate justice organizer and publisher of the book; Jade Begay, group director of climate justice; and Demetrius Johnson, organizer of NDN’s LANDBACK campaign, on the power of kelp cultivation, the problems of carbon markets and why climate solutions don’t need to be ‘scalable’.

Frederick, Begay and Johnson are currently in Scotland as part of COP26 delegation of the NDN Collective and distributed the book to US government officials, policymakers and world leaders this week.

Before entering the trials of Mandatory readings, can you tell us about the NDN Collective and its role in the climate justice movement?

Jade Bégay.  (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Jade Bégay. (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Jade Bégay: We are an Indigenous-led collective working to empower Indigenous people through advocacy and philanthropy. Our work in philanthropy is not just about granting and sharing resources, it is about intentionally organizing within philanthropy. Indigenous communities receive only 0.4% of all philanthropic dollars in the USA [although they represent 2 percent of the population]. When we do the math and recognize that Indigenous peoples protect and preserve 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, it doesn’t make sense that we get a little bit of resources, especially in investments in nonprofits and frontline environmental organizations. Our collective is therefore developing strategies to dismantle white supremacy within philanthropy so that we can eliminate the barriers and barriers in this sector.

NDN Collective also has a subsidiary for profit [NDN Partners], where we do community development and support indigenous tribes and entrepreneurs who build regenerative and renewable solutions to fight racial injustice and climate injustice. And we have a impact and investment arm, which does similar work to help fund projects that are truly meant to bring our communities into the realm of building regenerative economies and local systems to address deep inequalities. Our defense houses four campaigns: climate justice, GROUND, racial equity and educational equity.

Kailea Frédéric.  (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Kailea Frédéric. (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Kailea Frédéric: Our campaign for climate justice has the same goal as the collective: we are trying to empower indigenous communities to tackle the climate crisis. We lead and support campaigns to end mining, contamination and violence, as these three elements are intertwined and so prevalent in our lands and territories. We also do political work, building larger coalitions and advocacy.

One of the main messages of our book is that indigenous peoples hold climate solutions inherently through our cultures and land-based practices, with which we have not lost touch. This is a direct link to our LANDBACK campaign work, as restoring land to indigenous peoples is a critical part of climate change mitigation work. We need land returned in large quantities right now so that indigenous peoples can have direct conversation with the land and engage in their traditional practices, which inherently mitigate climate change.

More and more Americans are realizing that they live on land that was taken by white settlers who exterminated many original native inhabitants. Your LANDBACK campaign is a direct response to these injustices. Can you talk about this job and why it is so important?

Demetrius Johnson.  (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Demetrius Johnson. (Photo courtesy of NDN Collective)

Demetrius Johnson: Our LANDBACK campaign is about making sure that before we help cultivate other people’s gardens, we can take care of our own. We must understand that public land is stolen land. We are talking about national parks, national forests and other wild areas that are now recreation areas but were once [Indigenous] lands, which we took care of. We are now focusing on reclaiming these public lands, which are under the control of the federal government. One of our most important jobs right now is reclaiming the Black Hills, which is located near Mni Lúzahaŋ Otȟúŋwahe, or Rapid City, in South Dakota.

This is where indigenous activists protested against stolen land and white supremacy
and were arrested last summer when Donald Trump visited the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. What is the significance of the Black Hills?

Johnson: The Black Hills manifestation This is where the seed of our LANDBACK campaign germinated. But the LANDBACK story didn’t start there. Its history dates back to the time when our people resisted colonization, invading governments. More recently the term was popularized by a group of native young people who started making memes and it caught on. Anyone can make it their own and I think that’s why it’s a very powerful campaign and movement. It can be used nationally in the United States, but it can also be used internationally.

LANDBACK is also directly linked to the climate issue. For indigenous peoples to survive, we must have a connection to the land. When you steal land from us, you are literally killing us, you are committing acts of genocide. What happens to the earth happens to us. And this violence has been happening since the arrival of the settlers. We also need to understand that indigenous peoples hold the keys to saving the world, and this is not hyperbole. In recent decades, we have seen an increase in forest fires, droughts and floods in places that were previously protected by indigenous peoples. What we are seeing now is a direct result of taking earth from people who loved it and putting it in the hands of people who use it for profit.

Even today, when we try to protect our sacred sites, when we try to protect our lands and our waters, the military and the police are coming after us, stop us, even kill us. So, as a member of the LANDBACK movement, we need to take a stand on militarism, incarceration and capitalism because they are all linked and all are actively killing our people.

Photo of a Landback protest in the Black Hills in July 2020 (Photo credit: Willi White, NDN Collective)

Protesters at a LANDBACK protest in the Black Hills in July 2020 (Photo credit: Willi White, NDN Collective)

The book amplifies a range of indigenous solutions to the climate crisis and the fact that indigenous peoples are in a unique position to develop them. Can you share some examples of solutions that are happening across the country?


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Estelle D. Eden

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