Indigenous, POC voices are imperative in the fight against climate change


On May 1 of this year, a panel sponsored by the New School in New York City called “Coming Together: Gender and Privilege in the Youth Climate Movement,” took place on Zoom. It was organized by Ludovica Martella, a researcher and reporter on sustainable practices and climate justice, and was focused on gender, race, and class privilege within the environmental movement.

The panelists featured the likes of Nine Berglund and Kellie Berns, who represented the ancestral Arapaho & Northern Cheyenne tribes as part of Earth Guardians, a youth-led indigenous activist group based in Colorado and Wyoming that are prominent in the fight against pipeline construction and food insecurity. Also present was Taylor Morton on behalf of We Act for Environmental Justice, a Harlem based nonprofit dedicated to supporting Northern Manhattan public housing residents disproportionately affected by environmental health issues and injustices related to air pollution and living quality.

Two students joined: Christian Tandazo, a graduate student at The News School, and Zoe Cina-Sklar, an 18-year-old student activist with the Sunrise Movement.

In his opening statement, Tandazo professed that “patriarchy is one of the real causes of the climate crisis, and how it connects to colonialism and white supremacy.” Without this dimension to the conversation, he said, “we won’t be able to create the change we want to see.” The importance of talking about colonialism and racism in the context of climate change is because these issues are so intimately intertwined in proliferating modern day struggles, he says. “We need to do the labor to dismantle a system that doesn’t care about certain folks.”

Likewise, Cina-Sklar expressed the sentiment that “we’re living in a society built on slavery and colonialism, and in order to address this issue we need to grapple with the systemic injustices our country was built on that we’re seeing so clearly at this moment in the coronavirus.”

Sabrina Chapa also spoke. “It’s important to have this conversation on gender and privilege because it allows us to heal as we go,” she said. “That’s super important whenever we’re focusing so much on deconstructing systems so we don’t further our divisive wounds.” From the land of Aztlan in the South Texas region, Chapa works with the Autonomous Brown Berets as a community organizer and activist working toward Chicano and indigenous liberation through self-determination and achieving native land rights, as well as indigenous land rematriation—a word that holds extraordinary weight in recognizing the female roots of indigenous culture, and perhaps most substantively conveys the ends of a truly inclusive climate justice movement.

In his 2012 memoir "The Unlikely Peace of Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People As Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive," Pueblo author Martín Prechtel writes of the definition of rematriation: “This term describes an instance where land, air, water, animals, plants, ideas and ways of doing things and living are purposefully returned to their original natural context–their mother, the great Female Holy Wild. Like the repatriation of prisoners after years o