Climate Justice on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
August 9, 2022
Indigenous ways of knowing, also known as traditional knowledges, are essential to Indigenous ways of living. These traditional knowledges include how to relate to the world, practice their spirituality, and practice their responsibilities to the beings around them. These traditional knowledges are passed on from one generation to the next. This intergenerational sharing is one of the ways Indigenous communities continue to be the best caretakers of their environments.
Today, Indigenous communities continue to safeguard some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet (refer to this Native News Online article for more information on why Indigenous Peoples are vital for keeping Earth’s ecosystems healthy), including Australia, Brazil, and Canada (Schuster et al., 2019). At EARTHDAY.ORG, these communities are recognized as essential to the vitality of our living Earth.
On August 9th, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples celebrates Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal/Indian/First Nations, tribes, and communities who are constantly advocating for their inherent rights. This day’s purpose is to raise awareness of the needs and efforts of these Peoples around the world (United Nations).
In Fall 2022, the Supreme Court will hear a federal court challenge to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The case represents historical and ongoing threats to US Indigenous Peoples’ inherent sovereignty and community well-being.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is often called the ‘gold standard’ in child welfare. A child may be removed from their home following the death of a family member, abuse, or other scenarios suggesting a child’s well-being is at risk. This federal law protects Native children when removed from their homes by ensuring they remain in environments conducive to their own cultures.
This law was enacted in response to the federal government’s undue removal of Native children from their homes (bia.gov). The law outlines that—should a Native child be removed from their home and welfare jurisdiction falls to the state courts—first attempts for placement be with extended family members, then members of the child’s tribe, then other Native families. According to the Native American Rights Fund, these placements have been shown to serve the child’s needs best and “encourage stability in Native families and communities in light of ongoing attempts to destabilize Native communities.”
The ICWA case jeopardizes the futures of Native children and communities in uncountable ways, including the opportunity for Native children to receive formal and informal teachings from their families and elders. While Native cultures are vibrant and robust, the repeal or weakening of ICWA would be detrimental to the assurance of Native families’ futures.
Given Native histories of children being taken away from their communities by federal systems (read more about the impact of residential and boarding schools here, including the Tulalip Indian School), it is devastating to think it could happen again through legal pathways. By ensuring children stay with their families and communities, ICWA can help protect Native cultures and traditional knowledges.
As climate change continues to devastate and threaten communities in the U.S. and across the globe, we must care about Native Peoples’ rights, including the right to raise their children within their own culture. We should care, not just because Indigenous People hold valuable knowledge about our earth, and just not out of fear for biodiversity loss and climate change. We should care because we otherwise diminish Native futures if not actively supporting them.
Today, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we can reflect on how we all relate to these issues. We hold a responsibility to the People whose lands were stolen, whose cultures and families Western colonization heaved destruction on, and whose legacies and futures should be ensured by all. As individuals, we should learn about the communities of Indigenous Peoples who have lived where we do now, their histories and treaties, and their reclamation efforts.
These messages do not reflect the opinions or political alignments of EARTHDAY.ORG. EARTHDAY.ORG is committed to supporting and amplifying Indigenous Peoples’ issues on their platforms.