We Need to Indigenize Environmental Activism

“We can't eat money or drink oil," said Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, while addressing hundreds of guests at the Global Landscapes Forum at the United Nations headquarters in New York on June 28th.

Many people refer to Autumn as “Canada’s Greta Thunberg,” but that’s not an accurate assessment. Autumn Peltier isn’t Canada’s Greta Thunberg; she’s the world’s Autumn Peltier. Autumn is an intelligent, passionate and capable activist in her own right. She’s also one of many Indigenous environmental activists who are part of a centuries-old resistance that consistently faces erasure and criminalization from colonial governments and settlers. 

We need to do better at giving a platform to the creators of the environmental movement that we so passionately participate in. Greta Thunberg is a badass, but we shouldn’t see her as a deity of environmental justice. 

Indigenous climate activism has to be the foundation of all environmental justice movements. It’s not niche. It’s not a token. 

Colonialism has a lot to do with why and how we’ve come to a climate crisis. Indigenous peoples have been, for hundreds of years, vocal and adamant about the importance of environmental protection and respect for the land. While politicians and leaders have ignored and silenced these advocates, our earth has suffered. 

We need to do a better job at listening to people like Autumn, and people like Helena Gualinga, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Maka Monture Päki, Amelia Telford, and Artemisa Xakriabá.

Every time we share something on Facebook or retweet something on Twitter, we’re choosing who gets a platform. We’re choosing who is seen and heard. As media consumers, global communicators, and agents of political change, we play a role in who gets space. Let’s try a little harder to give space in this movement to those who created it. 

Photo by Hailey Rodgers