Although environmental crises — especially that of climate change — have pressed humanity for decades, concerns regarding their destructive effects have increased dramatically in recent years. Yet, despite this growing sense of urgency, many minorities who experience the worst of these effects — like increased flooding and droughts— are excluded from the conversation.
On Nov. 14, 2022, during an event sponsored by the Environmental Studies Department, the Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Oak Institute for Human Rights, and the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, Indigenous author Dina Gilio-Whitaker addressed this exclusion in her campus talk “Decolonizing and Indigenizing Environmental Justice.”
Gilio-Whitaker highlighted the significant points of her book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock, which discusses the environ- mental justice movement as it pertains to Native Americans.
Gilio-Whitaker began her talk by explain- ing how environmental justice is different for Indigenous people than for those from other communities, as Indigenous environmental injustice has its origins dating back to settler colonialism. She cited the history of invasion, genocide, and land theft that overtook Indigenous people and explained why the current environmental movement must be held accountable for this history.
For example, despite having many conservation sites built on stolen Indigenous land, native peoples have been — and still are — largely erased from the environmental movement. Yet, Indigenous communities have vast, crucial knowledge and experience acting as land stewards because of their deep cultural connection and history with the natural environment.
Gilio-Whitaker proposed a solution to this lack of Indigenous voices: the decolonization of environmental justice. This means reclaiming native land by bringing Indigenous people, knowledge, and governance back to it in various ways, like recognizing Indigenous people and land and transferring land titles back to Indigenous communities.
Gilio-Whitaker’s profound discussion features an important yet often overlooked side of the environmental movement: Indigenous environmental injustice. Her presentation and literary work are especially significant and relevant, as Indigenous people continue to disproportionately suffer the detrimental effects of environmental issues. When advocates like Gilio-Whitaker spread this extensive knowledge, their listeners gain a deeper understanding and care for these issues. As a result,
pressure increases for change and, hopefully, justice is within reach.
~ Sara Holden `26
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