Today was education day at COP22, and it ended up being nearly the opposite of what I expected. Taking a step back, I realize it was cultural ignorance that led to my surprise at how this day manifested itself at COP. This surprise stemmed from the focus of the education discussions, which was Indigenous, traditional knowledge. I think this came as such a surprise because the idea had not crossed my mind that other countries actually respect and value the knowledge of their Native populations, and work to share that knowledge with other communities and education systems. This had not crossed my mind because in my tar sands resistance work at home, all I see is the continuous destruction of our Indigenous people’s medicine, land, culture, knowledge, and lives.
This focus brought up a whirlwind of emotions for me. The intersections of climate justice and social justice, particularly with Native lives, is an issue that sparked my passions and grounded my work on tar sands. Seeing the push for working with the knowledge holders in those communities, and discussing the best ways to teach climate change in schools while still preserving those communities – not just taking their knowledge and using it for our good – was empowering. But, I held this up in contrast to the United States and our treatment of Indigenous knowledge and culture. Indigenous knowledge is a major resource for adapting to climate change. Our Native people live in the most vulnerable ecosystems, directly affected by climate change, but they have thrived and adapted for years. Yet, we continue to further marginalize Indigenous peoples and take their land away, while contaminating and demolishing their resources and perpetuating the impacts of our climate crisis on their communities.
Throughout these discussions and this day, the thoughts that persisted through my mind were thoughts of the work I have been doing to elevate the Indigenous voices in the pipeline fight. I also thought back on my time in North Dakota at the Sacred Stones Camp. In those spaces, I was fighting for their right to have their treaties respected and to have uncontaminated water, medicine, food, and land. Put simply, in my mind, this should not be the case. We are not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, and there is no time left for risky fossil fuel expansion. We need urgency and we need momentum. We should not be fighting to protect Indigenous rights, we should be engaging in dialogue with them, learning from them, and addressing this climate chaos together.