Indigenous Dialogues on Climate Change in the 21st Century

Recognizing Indigenous voices on climate change is one of the critical ways to acknowledging Indigenous sovereignty, traditional land rights, and self-determination—all things crucial to Indigenous communities. 

A characteristic of Indigenous environmental values is a focus on the renewal of indigenous knowledges of the past; an acknowledgement of the intergenerational awareness of socio-ecological approaches to a transforming environment.

The idea of dependency on recorded narratives of our past to manage and respond to ecological conditions is demonstrated in two speeches, a Speech by Chief Water Commissioner of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont, Autumn Peltier and a Speech by Couchiching First Nation citizen and Tribal attorney, Tara Houska.

Autumn Peltier

Published by the Global Landscapes Forum in 2019, Autumn Peltier, a Wikwemikong First Nation water advocate, addresses several points to the UN on the importance to the access of water and how that access has been leveraged against Indigenous and marginalized communties in Canada and the United States. 

The condition of the infrastructures of water access, according to Autumn Peltier, means Indigenous communities are disproportionately more likely to lack access to clean, drinkable water. This threat concerns not only a public health crisis, but the Indigenous right to sovereignty and self-determination that is connected to the sacricity of water as a cultural role in numerous Indigenous societies.

Autumn Peltier, Chief Water Commissioner of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont., gives a speech to the 2019 UN Global Landscapes Forum.

"This brings me to what means the most to me and what I have been learning and sharing. The Sacredness of water."

--Autumn Peltier, UN Global Landscapes Forum

Peltier presents water in similar narratives to how her relatives have shared knowledge, in the tradition of oral history, to emphasize the power of its role as a life-giving force. Her narration calls attention to the immediacy of action on delivering water to communities, whilst presenting us with a renewal on Indigenous knowledges of the past.

Autumn Peltier's speech presents an acknowledgement in the reciprocal nature of ourselves and the recorded knowledges of our Past. This renewal of Indigenous knowledges of the past, heavily influenced by the dependency on the reciprocity of knowledge between Indigenous relatives for ecological conditions, is now being adapted and narrated in our concerns for the climate crisis of the 21st Century.

Tara Houska

Whereas Autumn Peltier's speech concerns the details of drinkable water, Land Defender and Tribal Attorney Tara Houska concerns the precendent of how systemised oppression has effected the legal and social authority of Indigenous Nations to care for its citizens.

Published by TEDTalks during the TEDWomen 2017 session, Houska's speech considered the issues of the "level of Prosecutorial ability" of Indigenous nations in protecting its citizens; underscored by the very present fear of how climate Change is upending Indigenous communities at a disproportionate rate due to access to food and adequate shelter, as well as water.

"Here in Louisiana, the first US climate change refugees exist. They are Native people being pushed off their homelands from rising sea levels. That's our reality, that's what we live."

--Tara Houska, TEDWomen 2017

Framed by her attendance of the NoDAPL protests, a grassroots mobilization of Indigenous climate activists in 2016 concerning the construction of a pipeline that intersected with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Houska speaks on the renewal of Indigenous knowledges in ecology. Demonstrating the importance that these past knowledges have on modern Indigenous issues; her speech concerns the power of collective unity and the rememberence of what the the Earth has given to us for time immemorial.

Houska's narration functions simarly to Peltier's, to assess the role and agency Indigenous people possess in the North American landscape and the ecological condition of the region and provide solutions from the reciprocity of the past.

"That food you eat comes from somewhere. The tap water you drink comes from somewhere. We're trying to remember, teach, because we know, we still remember. It's in our plants, in our medicines, in our lives, every single day."

--Tara Houska, TEDWomen 2017

Indigenous Dialogues on Climate Change