Indigenous Rights And Sustainability

Posted on Jan 27, 2015 in GWOBlog

In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein explains how Indigenous land rights are being used as a last stand in a number of battles to protect water and land from destructive extraction industries as well as the pipelines, train lines, shipping routes and terminals used to transport coal, gas and oil. These rights, conferred by treaty or by the fact that the land itself was never ceded, mean that governments like those in the US and Canada must take Native rights and law into consideration when permitting extraction or transportation of hazardous materials. The fact that our governments routinely ignore that responsibility aside, those Indigenous rights mean that even after these environmental threats have been approved by the legislature or bureaucracy, there is still a path through the court system to try to block them.

In chapter 11, she points out the problem with non-Natives looking to Native rights to save us in these difficult battles:

These circumstances raise troubling moral questions for the rising Blockadia movement, which is increasingly relying on Indigenous people to be the legal barrier to new, high-carbon projects. It’s fine and well to laud treaty and title rights as the “last line of defense” against fossil fuel extraction. But if non-Native people are going to ask some of the poorest, most systematically disenfranchised people on the planet to be humanity’s climate saviors, then, to put it crassly, what are we going to do for them?

To anyone who is looking for a path though our growing climate disaster, the social and economic toll of ongoing colonialism, and the uncertain future ahead of us, it seems rather obvious to look to indigenous communities who have maintained some form of continued existence in opposition to the powers which tried to erase them from the map and which now threaten the whole planet. For some non-Natives, the lure is a mythos of indigenous relationship to the Land (with a capital L) which is somehow more pure and will save us all. Such stereotypes can be detrimental when the reality hits that we are all just people trying to survive. When the world tells us that the only way we can pay our bills and get ahead is by getting a job with Shell or TransCanada, most of us will take the pay check even if we hate the destruction that goes along with that check. Even if our ancestors lived on this land for thousands of years. Furthermore, when non-Natives take the mythos and turn it into fake culture, we end up with something that is neither traditional nor respectful. That has happened again and again throughout the history of colonialism. That is the backdrop on which we now paint our need to turn to Native neighbors to ask them to stand against coal mining and fracking and Keystone XL.

I have a dream of another route to cooperation and sustainability. I have a fantasy of sorts, a half-baked idea that needs a few partners.

Geeks Without Bounds is all about supporting humanitarian open source projects. We have worked on projects around disaster response, medical information, medical devices, agriculture, clean water, household appliances and education. Every single one of these projects has been developed either to work in low-resource areas or with an explicit eye to sustainability through diverse, renewable energy sources. Along the path of supporting those projects, we have also served as mentors to novice software and hardware developers, providing them with valuable work experience and a stepping stone towards professional careers. Most of those projects have had their start at hackathons, which if you think about it are really community action events — places where people can get together to create new answers to the challenges that face their community.

My dream is that we can work with First Nations communities right here where we live in the Pacific Northwest and in California, that we can listen and learn about the challenges our neighbors face, and that we can offer the tools to meet some of those challenges with appropriate technology. I want to offer training for novice software and hardware developers and mentorship for open source technology projects that come out of local Indigenous communities.

I don’t want to be anybody’s savior and I don’t want anybody to save me from myself. What I do hope is that we can stand back-to-back and support each other in the storm.