Idle No More SF Bay organizer Isabella Zizi, Photo by Peg Hunter
December 19, 2018

Indigenous Leaders Support a #GreenNewDeal

Kelsey Hill

“My journey here started at Standing Rock with everyday people,” Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told demonstrators at a rally outside congressional offices in Washington DC on Nov. 13. “Standing with the Lakota Sioux, standing with allies, standing with Indigenous tribes—because we don’t have a choice…we have to get to 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years. There is no other option, the IPCC let us know that.”

House Democratic leaders have decided to resurrect the Climate Change Select Committee, which was eliminated in 2011 by the Republican majority. We need to ensure that this committee takes up the Green New Deal as a top priority in 2019.

In the above passage, Ocasio-Cortez was referencing a landmark report recently released by the Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailing the need to stop man-made global climate change before it passes a critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next decade. We’ve been given official notice that the time for climate action is now. That’s why we’re asking you to email your elected representatives today. Tell them to insist that the new Climate Change Select Committee take up the Green New Deal, and also ask them to recommend that the needs and leadership of Indigenous communities be prioritized. There’s no time to wait.

Last month, Ocasio-Cortez rallied youth activists during a sit-in at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s DC office. The activists, many with the Sunrise Movement, were pushing Pelosi to add a Green New Deal to the 2019 agenda for the House of Representatives. The Green New Deal is the only policy recommendation in US history to respond to the climate crisis with the urgency required. The drafted federal stimulus proposal, calling for 100 percent renewable energy in ten years, aims to revamp the United States’ power grid, invest in renewable technology and efficiency standards, and provide training for jobs in a climate-minded economy. The aggressive plan has already mustered support from Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, and over 300 other elected officials. Now we need House leaders to make it part of the agenda in 2019.

“It's so encouraging to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say that the impetus for her historic run for Congress was what happened at Standing Rock: the Grand Awakening, the spiritual awakening of all of our people who find themselves in our hemisphere, who find a home in the Green New Deal movement, we've always had a home for you….Now, we find ourselves in this struggle together. Every aspect of the Green New Deal must be implemented now. We have to take this initiative...hit the streets with it, hit every dusty road with it, and go right into the halls of Congress.”

– Lakota People’s Law Project lead counsel Chase Iron Eyes

When confronted with large-scale economic crisis during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, providing desperately-needed jobs and preserving the American financial system for future generations. It took about eight years. Now, we’re faced with a climate crisis—the largest catastrophe our collective human family will ever have to address—and we have just over a decade to act.

We applaud Ocasio-Cortez’s vision and the brave policymakers and activists behind this movement, and in support, the Lakota People’s Law Project calls for a strengthened focus on Indigenous communities as part of a Green New Deal. Please email your representatives today to ensure:

1) That the new Climate Change Select Committee in the House of Representatives makes developing a Green New Deal a top priority; 

2) That the language of any Green New Deal chooses Native American communities for federal investment in green jobs and infrastructure, and shows respect for Indigenous knowledge and relationship to the Earth;

3) That Democratic leaders in the House appoint Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native women elected to Congress this past November, to the Climate Change Select Committee. 

True environmental and historical justice necessitates that new climate policy not only ensure heavy investment in green jobs and infrastructure for Indigenous communities, but that it directly involve leadership and input from Native people. An Indigenized Green New Deal is our best legislative shot at creating an equitable and just transition to a climate-conscious future that both acknowledges and amends the errors of our country’s past. By ensuring that Indigenous values, voices, and lands are adequately represented, we can ensure a liveable climate for the next seven generations and beyond.

Of course, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change here in the US. California burns year-round. Coastal communities are unprepared for increasingly extreme storm seasons. Agricultural crops in the midwest are suffering from high temperatures and variations in rainfall.

From forest defenders in the Amazon, to Indigenous wildfire management on the US west coast, the world is waking up to the pivotal role of partnering with Indigenous people to seek natural solutions to global warming. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues stated more than a decade ago that Native communities are the “human face” of climate change, and therefore they must be at the center of climate talks and action. In organizing for a Green New Deal in the US, we must prioritize the original protectors of this continent—their wisdom, their lands, and their voices.

Indigenous Knowledge & Relationships to the Earth

The US Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued quietly by the Trump Administration last month, notes that Indigenous people will be disproportionately affected by climate change—that global temperature increase represents a special threat to impoverished communities, traditional knowledge, and cultural identity.

Successful adaptation to climate change, according to the report, “relies on use of Indigenous knowledge, resilient and robust social systems and protocols, a commitment to principles of self-determination, and proactive efforts on the part of federal, state, and local governments to alleviate institutional barriers.”

“I feel like Indian tribes can have such an amazing role in moving the Green New Deal forward. We have to have meaningful discussions with tribes so they know how moving into that era benefits them and their people. I believe that they would like to be a part of it—we just need to make sure that they're part of the conversation from the beginning.”

– Deb Haaland in an interview with Lakota People’s Law Project

Energy solutions are essential, but they alone are not enough. We must restore a focus of living in harmony with our natural systems, not dominating them. The undertaking of a task as monumental as combating climate disaster obliges us to listen to Indigenous knowledge systems that have lived sustainably in this land for thousands of years.

A Focus on Native Land and Economic Concerns

“The next economy has to be something that reaffirms our relationship to the Earth and gives us a shot,” said Winona LaDuke, a prominent Native economist and activist, on a recent installment of Democracy Now!.

A just Green New Deal must expedite buildout of sustainable infrastructure on tribal land, in keeping with Indigenous self-determination. All over the continent, Native people are fighting pipelines, oil drilling, and fracking on their lands. A Green New Deal can end the assault on Native lands by extractive industries, and use job guarantees to give people in Indian Country green jobs in a revitalized economy.

People in Indian Country are already focusing on solutions, though. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Solve program highlighted six Lakota tribal members working on issues of energy, food, and economic sovereignty in their homelands. Among them is Lakota People’s Law Project organizer Phyllis Young, who is currently leading the charge to green Standing Rock with wind, solar, and geothermal energy. So far, we’ve completed energy efficiency and solar assessments on half the tribal buildings at Standing Rock. A Green New Deal could amplify this momentum, and expedite the path to 100 percent clean energy and the creation of green jobs in a place that sorely needs them.

Chase Iron Eyes, the 2016 Democratic congressional candidate from North Dakota, describes this historic moment: “It's so encouraging to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say that the impetus for her historic run for Congress was what happened at Standing Rock: the Grand Awakening, the spiritual awakening of all of our people who find themselves in our hemisphere, who find a home in the Green New Deal movement, we've always had a home for you….Now, we find ourselves in this struggle together. Every aspect of the Green New Deal must be implemented now. We have to take this initiative...hit the streets with it, hit every dusty road with it, and go right into the halls of Congress.”

A Native Voice on the Select Committee

Native American women are being represented in Congress for the first time in US history, with the election of Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KS) in November. A crucial step in enacting a just Green New Deal with a strong Indigenous focus is the appointment of a Native American congressperson to the Select Committee tasked with developing a Green New Deal.

“I feel like Indian tribes can have such an amazing role in moving the Green New Deal forward,” said Haaland in an interview with Lakota People’s Law Project. “We have to have meaningful discussions with tribes so they know how moving into that era benefits them and their people. I believe that they would like to be a part of it—we just need to make sure that they're part of the conversation from the beginning.”

Haaland has joined Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, and over 30 members of the House (so far) in supporting the Green New Deal. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Haaland made the journey to Standing Rock in 2016 to protect Indigenous water rights, and she has spoken out on issues of environmental justice throughout her career. As a Pueblo Laguna woman, Haaland is uniquely positioned to lead the charge for a Green New Deal.

Whatever way you slice it, climate change is no longer something to debate. It is something we must act on if we want to have a liveable climate beyond the next decade. According to a recent Yale study, over 80 percent of registered voters back a Green New Deal when it is presented as a nonpartisan issue, and nearly 60 percent of conservative Republicans show support.

We need a strong Green New Deal, with a powerful Indigenous focus. We can’t just invite Native communities to the table; we must pass them the mic. Studies show we have no time to waste to get equitable change. Join us in mobilizing elected officials to back a robust Green New Deal with a strong Indigenous focus.