• Tue, 1, Oct, 2019 - 5:00:AM

Supporting indigenous rights is climate action

Balinese celebrations / Vytalis Arnoldus / | Pacific Islanders at the third SS4C in Auckland / Niu Creatives

Let Southside rise, not our sea levels!

Boasting witty, gritty signage and vibrant cultural attire, hundreds of South Auckland students marched among the 80,000 protestors that attended the third School Strike 4 Climate in Auckland’s CBD last Friday.

South Auckland is home to the largest concentration of Pacific Islanders in the world, and many other indigenous populations like Māori and South Asians. It’s young, it’s brown and it’s sorely underrepresented in conversations around climate change.

Indigenous communities stand to lose the most to climate change. The low-lying islands of the Pacific Ocean, especially, are susceptible to rising sea levels, extreme weather and the spread of tropical diseases.

Yet SS4C haven’t, in the past, engaged with indigenous voices as much as the marches should have.

This year’s Polyfest (an annual celebration of culture that is considered a rite of passage in many families) coincided with the second SS4C, forcing hundreds of South Auckland youth to choose between celebrating their culture in the spiritual sense, or saving their culture in the literal sense. 

Both are important. Both should have been possible.

The lack of diverse input on the SS4C organising committees that led to the oversight was criticised by Aigagalefili Fepulea’i (climate justice advocate and the 2019 winner of NZ’s youth public speaking competition Storytellers) in an interview on The Project.

In her winning piece, ‘Waiting for Water,’ Fepulea’i recounted her experiences at the Auckland Climate Change Summit. Minister for Climate Change James Shaw answered a question about tackling climate change in the Pacific with “when the Pacific Islands sink…”, implying that it was inevitable.

“He could talk about the death of our islands like it was nothing,” she said. “Like we were nothing.”

Sadly, these detached and apathetic perspectives regarding the impact of climate change on indigenous communities are common.

Australian deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack made blunder after blunder at a business function in August.

Of Pacific Islanders, he said, “They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour.”

And it got worse.

“I also get a little bit annoyed,” he explained, “when we have people in those sorts of countries [saying] we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive.”

You’re right, Mike. How dare they want to survive.

For McCormack, and the many wealthy business people like him, climate change is an inconvenient barrier to making tons and tons of profit. It’s a political and economic problem.

For indigenous people, climate change — and whether or not we can decelerate it — is life or death.

The Ponca Nation (a First Nations community in Oklahoma, U.S.A.) experienced a spike in cancer rates after fracking began in their area and polluted their airways.

Avalanches, like the one that killed sixteen Sherpas in 2014, are likely to occur more often as warming of glacial and alpine environments destabilise ice-forms.

Everyone agrees by now that the powers that be (a.k.a. the 100 companies that emit 71% of the world’s greenhouse gases) should loosen their desperate grip on their wallets if it means funding the development of more sustainable practises and infrastructure.

But we also should loosen our subconscious grip on our familiar, capitalist way of life. Sometime between the industrial revolution and now, developed economies stuffed up.

Indigenous communities, however, have never stopped tending to the environment. Their climate action movement is thousands of years old.

If our idea of climate action doesn’t encompass protecting and returning indigenous land, preserving indigenous resources and rejecting the colonialist practises (i.e. capitalism and imperialism) that allowed the emergence of such harmful economies, can we truly save the whole world? 

Or just the spaces we occupy?

While helpful, adopting veganism and buying second-hand everything isn’t the full solution to stemming climate change. These are measures that make the very best out of the system we’ve got.

Which is fine, except... we need a different system.

A system where treaty violations that dispossessed indigenous communities of their resources are reconciled. A system where pipelines and housing developments on indigenous land are not tolerated.

A system with no erasure of indigenous voices.

If climate change affects all of us, the solution better involve all of us.


  • Climate Change /
  • Indigenous Youth /
  • Representation /
  • School Strike 4 Climate /
  • Environmental Issues /
Support Villainesse

Comments ( 0 )

Be the first to have your say login or register to post a comment

You might also love


Regular Contributor All Articles