As the world reels from the ripple effects of Covid-19, frontline indigenous women’s groups in Canada are connecting the dots between centuries of colonialism, destruction of their homelands and global forces of capitalism that continue to ravage their lands, waterways and movement to achieve self-determination.
“I think within the conversation of just recovery from Covid-19 and indigenous land defence and climate justice, it’s important to note that our resistance is operating within pandemic historically and when we examine the models of recovery, Covid is not unprecedented. We have been recovering from the devastating impacts of pandemic, as well as actively resisting the ongoing framework of colonialism historically,” said Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Tla’Amin First Nation, a renowned youth climate activist. She was joined by other indigenous women advocates on a webinar co-hosted by the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) and Indigenous Climate Action, the only indigeous-led climate justice group in Canada.
Ellen Gabriel of Kanien’keha:ka Nation concurred, emphasizing that many indigenous communities were matrilineal in pre-colonial Canada and in the Iroquois laws the environment, too, had rights. “A just transition for us means addressing issues of racism and gender discrmination, to have women lead this movement to achieve human rights for all, without the fear of reprisals from racists who surround us,” she shared.
Indigenous Climate Action is the only Indigenous-led climate justice organization in Canada. They work with an all-Indigenous steering committee to inspire action for future climate solutions by hosting gatherings, amplifying voices, creating tools and resources, and respecting Indigenous sovereignty. PHOTO CREDIT: Jade Begay
So what are indigenous women recovering to in the face of converging crises? “Resistance is recovery. And that’s what indigenous communities on the frontline of extractivism are demonstrating. We are a barrier between the industry and the land,” says Blaney. Over the past few years, indigenous peoples of Canada have felt a sense of betrayal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whose narrative upon winning the election in 2015 to respect the sanctity of indigenous land rights didn’t quite mirror his actions as a leader.
“And so these aren’t new systems we are transitioning to,” clarified Blaney. “We are deeply rooted in our relationship with our territories and that’s what we return to. We are remembering. That’s within our DNA, and we carry it in our bodies.” Blaney believes that the systems of incessant exploitation of indigenous lands that are hinged on capitalism are collapsing. “We have this opportunity now globally to look at indigenous frameworks, and we need to look at the leadership of frontline indigenous women around the world and not allow capitalism and colonialism to dig its heels in and send massive subsidies to corporations that are responsible for destroying our lands,” she said.
These indigenous frameworks are also building a momentum to decolonize philanthropy. FIMI, the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, is also home to the first global indigenous women-led fund that also acts as a bridge for women-led advocacy at the local, regional and national levels. As Covid-19 disproportionately affects indigenous communities, from Brazil to Navajo Nation, FIMI is coordinating global conversations with indigenous women to listen to the ground realities they face and strategize ways to offer solidarity and support to their members. “We [the indigenous peoples] are nearly 370 million people in 70 countries across six continents. We represent 5,000 languages and cultures,” said Teresa María Teresa Zapeta Mendoza, Executive Director of FIMI. This cultural diversity is critical to note as indigenous communities face language and other structural barriers to access information, technology and culturally competent healthcare during a global pandemic.
In a webinar hosted by IFIP, FIMI members in Borneo and Kenya illuminated the technological barriers that indigenous women faced and how the pandemic was affecting their livelihoods, food security and education access for children. Their members observed that violence against women was spiking, as was child marriage. Indigenous children are also struggling to cope with school as access to the internet and other technology remains difficult.
“It is critical for philanthropy to support indigenous-led groups and movements globally that are mobilizing to care for their communities in the face of this pandemic and other structural inequities that continue to threaten their communities,” said Lourdes Inga, Executive Director of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples. “Funders must consider long-term, discretionary support that is built upon trust, recognizing that indigenous peoples are the first responders to these crises in their communities and have been advocating for systemic shifts that recognize their self-determination and historical wrongs.”
Melina Laboucan-Massimo is Lubicon Cree. She is the founder of Sacred Earth Solar and the Programs Director at Indigenous Climate Action. Melina also works on the issue of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and uplifts the values and practices of Healing Justice within her movement-building work. PHOTO CREDIT: Jade Begay
And yet in the face of these intersecting oppressions and crises, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, emphasizes that indigenous knowledge systems are key for the survival of humanity. As a Lubicon Cree from Northern Alberta, she has engaged in the long-term resistance to stop the extraction of tar sands in her community. Laboucon-Massimo is also the campaign director of Indigneous Climate Action, who believes that ‘just recovery’ principles must center the wellbeing of communities, build resiliency, uphold indigenous rights and deepen solidarity. “We need to work in partnership with indigenous peoples,” she said. “We need to ensure that frontline indigenous land defenders are uplifted and protected as they do this critical work to protect the last remaining intact ecosystems that help to abate climate change,” she said.