How To Celebrate Indigenous People’s Day At This Moment Of Climate Crisis

Did you know that last year President Joe Biden issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day? The date, formerly named for Christopher Columbus, is a way to celebrate and honor the invaluable contributions and resilience of Native Americans.

The new holiday challenges the US founding myth called Manifest Destiny and reminds us that indigenous peoples have the knowledge and practices the US and the global community need to implement and scale up climate action.

Indigenous Peoples Day background

As of 2021, 15 states and 130 municipalities had designated the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day prior to President Biden’s proclamation. The proclamation was a long time coming, the culmination of decades of Native American advocacy to get the United States to stop commemorating a sailor who never really made it to North America. Instead, the holiday now honors the indigenous communities and their inherent stewardship of the land. The occasion is significant at this height of the climate crisis, as it is a time when we can reach out to Native Americans and learn how to apply more nature-based solutions to a warming world.

The arrival of Columbus in what is now the Bahamas marked not only the beginning of western European settlement of the continent, but also the long-running, violent conquest of groups that had inhabited the continent for thousands of years.

To uncover this central expression of US identity, the Zinn Education Project has published A History of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who tells that there are more than 500 officially recognized indigenous nations with nearly 3,000,000 people in the US today. They are descendants of the 15,000,000 indigenous people who once inhabited the land. The book chronicles the centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler/colonial program that has been largely omitted from US history.

Anti-Indigenous policies were colonialist, aimed at confiscating, expelling or eliminating the lands of the original inhabitants Local News. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, these policies have been praised in popular culture by writers such as James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and at the highest levels of government and the military.

Today and over the next few days, communities across the country are celebrating Indigenous People’s Day with prayer vigils, powwows, symposiums, concerts, lectures and rallies to recognize Indigenous people’s sovereignty, culture, history and language. The day is also an opportunity to move forward together, full of appreciation of our colonialist history and a desire to transform ourselves into a kinder, more compassionate and just future.

Day of Indigenous Peoples and Climate Protection

Through generations of close interactions with the environment, indigenous peoples protect an estimated 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Collectively, the global community has an opportunity to recalibrate the way it interacts with nature and build resilience for all by collaborating with and learning from indigenous peoples, the stewards of nature.

An iconic article in Quarterly magazine for cultural survival reminds us that the problems facing indigenous peoples were harbingers of what all peoples will ultimately have to face. These issues dramatically reveal the hegemony the rest of us have been unwilling to examine: market-based solutions to every problem, the tendency to see carbon trading as a means of continuing business as usual, the desire to sell our cars to everyone price to retain, a reluctance to bring renewable energy to our neighborhoods, and so many more.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have gained greater international recognition under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the establishment of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) in 2015 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. The LCIPP helps amplify their voices and facilitates their effective participation in the United Nations climate process.

How to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and honor the earth

Ahead of Indigenous Peoples Day, Home Secretary Deb Haaland hosted a virtual commemoration event attended by several tribal leaders. Topics covered included the climate crisis and how indigenous knowledge can benefit the department’s efforts to protect communities. Haaland’s event was complemented by a White House “Indigenous Peoples Day 2022 Proclamation,” which was intended to “honor our diverse history and the Indigenous peoples who are helping shape this nation.”

Native American Day celebrations are capturing communities across the country as Native Americans and their allies honor the immense contributions and resilience of Native peoples. A list of key Indigenous Peoples Day activities is available here courtesy of Local News. There are many ways you can also immerse yourself in Indigenous Peoples Day from your home or community to make deeper connections with the natural world.

Support Indigenous Activism: As the climate crisis escalates, activists fighting to protect the world’s remaining forests risk being persecuted by their governments — and even killed, as described in an opinion piece in New York Times. Indigenous peoples and communities operating in the Americas, Indonesia and Africa banded together and collectively formed the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities. They work to protect their rights and territories totaling nearly 3.5 million square miles of land around the world. They can support their 5 priorities: land rights, free prior and informed consent before any intervention in their territories, direct access to climate finance, protecting people from violence and law enforcement, and acknowledging traditional knowledge in the fight to defend the planet.

Walk in indigenous shoes: Writer and Indigenous rights advocate Julian Brave NoiseCat challenges us to rethink the conceptualization of humanity and the natural environment as separate, which is one of the central theoretical premises of Western political philosophy. NoiseCat argues that the separation of these two things – people and the world we live in – makes it possible to exploit and extract nature. If we step back and try to put this system of epistemology in an indigenous context, nature looks very different. “A connection to a place and respect for a place and where you are in the environment, in the natural world,” says NoiseCat, “creates a need to defend, protect and preserve those places.”

Accept the inevitability of customization: Indigenous peoples have grappled with climate change and environmental changes for thousands of years; Adaptability and resourcefulness are hallmarks of every indigenous culture. Instead, we can interpret natural processes as cyclical, reflecting respect for the earth and, most importantly, considering all our actions in the context of future generations.

Consider nature-based investing: IPCC scientists also argue that alongside technical applications to reduce emissions, we should harness the carbon sequestration powers of the planet itself. Nature-based solutions — efforts like reforestation and ecosystem restoration — pay off with a triple dividend as they sequester carbon, boost biodiversity and contribute to human well-being. It is estimated that nature-based solutions have the potential to lift 1 billion people out of poverty, create 80 million jobs, add $2.3 trillion in additional growth to the global economy and mitigate 3, $7 trillion to prevent. Now it’s up to investors to recognize this potential and direct the funds to where they are needed.

Criticism of indigenous representations in media and culture: Indigenous representation is so important, be it in the media, in politics, in sports or in education. Watch a movie with your friends and have a discussion afterwards. There is a plethora of films to choose from, e.g Dance with wolves (1990), Songs my brothers taught me (2015), Indian horse (2017), or Gather (2020). As you watch, you will find that you appreciate the voices and stories of the indigenous people. Continue to support healthy Aboriginal iconography, if for no other reason than that Indigenous children deserve positive opportunities to be seen in mainstream media texts.

Read indigenous literature: Other than the book by Dunbar-Ortiz you could pick up A Brief Account of the Destruction of India, by Bartolome de las Casas, 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus, by Charles C Mann, Bury my heart at the wounded knee by Dee Brown, or (my favorite) black moose speaks, Co-authored by John Gneisenau Neihardt.


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