Women's History Month Blog Series: Putting Indigenous Women at the Forefront of Climate Justice
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
By: Madeline León
When it comes down to climate justice and leaders, the media has put a huge emphasis on white girls and women. It’s not uncommon for the media to idolize leaders like Greta Thunberg, who got her start skipping school to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament. However, protecting the Earth and fighting for her–isn’t a new concept for Indigenous activists. Indigenous people, specifically Indigenous women, have been doing climate justice work for years.
To these communities, climate disruption started the moment that European foreigners reached their lands. Research has proven that climate disruption is directly linked to colonization and imperialism as climate disruption started at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Indigenous communities and other communities of color are also the most harmed by the effects of climate disruption.
Below is a short list of Indigenous women who have greatly contributed to the climate justice movement. However, it is important to note that contributions to climate justice from the Indigenous and First Nation people do not come from individuals alone, but from communities working to defend themselves against destruction of their homes.
Winona LaDuke is an Ojibwe economist, environmentalist and activist who has been fighting climate disruption for decades. She has also done work to recover lands for the Anishanabe. She has founded several environmental organizations, including Indigenous Women’s Network, White Earth Land Recovery Project, and Honor the Earth, which was instrumental in the Dakota Access pipeline protests. She ran for vice president as a Green Party member with Ralph Nader in 2016 and 2020.
2. Kamala Thapa
Kamala Thapa is a Maga woman and Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Manager at the Nepal-based Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development. She is also the Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women’s Federation, which is an umbrella organization for Indigenous women organizations and nationalities in Nepal. In an article for the United Nations, Thapa explained how maintaining biodiversity is linked to cultural and spiritual values for Indigenous Nepalese women. “Indigenous peoples are the traditional custodians of the land, and our way of life is premised on protecting biodiversity for future generations,” Thapa wrote.
Quannah Chasinghorse is a model and land protector for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She was born in the Navajo Nation, though her mother is Hän Gwich’in of Eagle Village, Alaska and her father is Sicangu-Oglala Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation. At the young age of 17, she was a member of the International Gwich’in Youth Council, where she traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby against oil leasing and to support H.R. 1146, Arctic Culture and Coastal Plain Protection Act. Chasinghorse is also a model and has been featured in Calvin Klein and Vogue, and has walked at New York Fashion Week. She was listed on Vogue’s “21 under 21” list.
4. Tara Houska
Tara Houska Zhaabowekwe is of the Couchiching First Nation, and she is a land defender, tribal attorney and climate justice activist. She is also the former advisor on Native American affairs to Bernie Sanders. She spent half a year living in Standing Rock and fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. She is also founder of Giniw Collective and Not Your Mascots. For a few years she worked as campaign director with Honor the Earth, and has written essays and articles for All We Can Save, Vogue, the New York Times, and CNN. She is also a contributing writer for the Indian Country Media Network.
Sumak Helena Sirén Gualinga is a youth climate activist from the Kichwa Sarayaku community in Pastaza, Ecuador. She comes from a family and community of land defenders in the Amazon and she has witnessed members of her community being violently killed in conflict in facing government and oil companies. Because of this she started spreading the message of her experiences to Ecuadorian schools and spoke at COP25 to call out the Brazilian government for favoring oil companies over the Indigenous communities' lives. Gualinga has also protested in New York at the 2019 Climate Action Summit. During her speech she said, “Our country's government is still granting our territories to the corporations responsible for climate change. This is criminal.”
While this is just a short list of Indigenous women fighting climate disruption and working to pass policies to save their ancestral homes, it is apparent that much of the climate work being done is owed to Indigenous women and Indigenous communities. As the communities who know most about the land we live on and best practices for preserving ecosystems, it is quite clear we as a society must do what we can to support the voices and actions of Indigenous people in the fight to protect our earth.