“Reconciling the Past May Be the Only Way to a Sustainable Future”

BY Trisha Kehaulani Watson-Sproat

October 12, 2020

For Non-Profit Quarterly (NPQ)

“The solutions for the future demand that we look back into the past. It must be a long, hard look, and it will surely be uncomfortable for many people, especially those belonging to groups that have enjoyed privilege at the expense of others. That gaze into the mirror can be a hard one to reconcile. It doesn’t need to be.

“There’s perhaps a mistaken impression that Indigenous peoples call for this hard look at history because there is a desire to assign blame. This isn’t true. Indigenous advocacy for embracing the past is much more about healing than hurt. The perpetuation of traditional ecological knowledge has been shown to be an important element for healing Native communities and improving their well-being.”

Rai, also known as stone money, located in Yap. Sea level rise and coastal storm events threaten local communities, cultural resources, and traditional practices.  PHOTO: TRISHA KEHAULANI WATSON-SPROAT

This article from the fall 2020 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, there published as “Indigenizing Environmental & Climate Justice: Reconciling the Past May Be the Only Way to a Sustainable Future,” is part of a series of works on the subject of environmental justice and Indigenous communities in the United States, curated by Raymond Foxworth of the First Nations Development Institute. More articles will come this week, and join us this Thursday on October 15 for a webinar on the topic featuring three of the authors, hosted by Senior Editor Steve Dubb.

“The environmental struggles of Indigenous peoples across the world are unique. Whereas the impacts of large-scale industrial activities pose an increasing threat to the well-being of human populations and ecosystems around the world,1 these threats disproportionately endanger Native peoples, who already, for generations, have been robbed of health, prosperity, cultural access,2 access to natural resources for subsistence purposes, and other well-being indicators. And these impacts are often exacerbated in Indigenous communities by histories of intergenerational trauma,3 including the violent displacement of Native peoples from their ancestral homelands.

Generally, across the planet, there has been an increase in awareness regarding social justice issues, including issues of environmental4 and climate justice.5 These movements have surely reinforced each other—environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the health of the planet appear to have received a much-needed boost, driven in part by people directly seeing and experiencing the effects of climate change on their local communities.

“Most, if not all, environmental justice and climate justice frameworks tend to focus on more recent environmental harms and subsequent environmental degradation. But injustices perpetuated against Indigenous peoples and their lands have a much longer history and are still firmly rooted in worldviews connected to exploitation and domination of land and its resources.

“Social movements focusing on environmental and climate justice need to evolve to center histories of Indigenous injustices and the ongoing consequences for Indigenous peoples. Whereas mainstream discussions of environmental racism typically focus on contemporaneous acts of land use and resource exploitation, Indigenous environmental issues are deeply rooted in cyclical acts of displacement and alienation.

“This article provides a brief summary of this past and its linkages to communities of people, both in the United States overall and Hawai’i specifically, who have been routinely attacked, pilfered, and excluded from the prosperity and opportunities that should be available to all. Within this history, contemporary acts of environmental racism in Hawai’i are considered and serve as an important lesson when considering how climate issues should be addressed in the Pacific more broadly. Finally, intersectional environmentalism is examined as one potential area in which a more holistic approach to environmental justice and just futures can be considered.

“The environmental histories and traumas of Indigenous peoples remain largely absent from the environmental justice discussion, and this must be remedied if we are to develop pathways to a just, sustainable future.

How Historic Injustices Have Robbed Communities of Their Power

“Communities that have been violated by historic injustices are more likely to suffer environmental impact than those that have enjoyed historic privileges.6 The US Water Alliance explains: “Vulnerable communities face historic or contemporary barriers to economic and social opportunities and a healthy environment. The principal factors in community vulnerability are income, race or ethnicity, age, language ability, and geographic location. This may include low-income people, certain communities of color, immigrants, seniors, children, people with disabilities, people with limited English-speaking ability, rural communities, Tribal communities, people living in unincorporated areas, people living in public housing, and currently or formerly incarcerated people.”7 This is a good example of a definition and framework that appropriately covers the range of vulnerable communities.

“All of these groups would benefit from approaches centering upon the long history of settler violence—acts of latent and manifest aggression directed at peoples by settler-colonial forces—that first were perpetuated against Indigenous peoples. This engenders a discussion that recognizes what is largely spoken of as “vulnerability” but which really ought to be relabeled “threat”—not as a modern phenomenon but rather as a fundamental tenet of Western culture that extends back to the very origins of American society. Understanding that the ways in which inequality and the seizure of land and resources by certain groups at the expense of others are embedded within the foundation upon which the United States was built helps reframe the discussion about the origins of our environmental problems.8

“The past is often romanticized. From historians to scientists to climate change activists, too many start the timeline to today’s environmental crisis in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. This is understandable, given that this is when many groups, particularly people of color (including immigrants), enter the American narrative—but the story actually begins much earlier. It begins when westerners arrived on Indigenous lands and began to interact with Native peoples and their ancestral resources…”

We highlight this article by TRISHA KEHAULANI WATSON-SPROAT, but do not try to make ours.

The URL to the complete article can be found here…

https://nonprofitquarterly.org/reconciling-the-past-may-be-the-only-way-to-a-sustainable-future/?bbeml=tp-pck9Q6QNPEiuBt3JmyTokQ.jHe_iRgb0aUyqozPhDI_dqA.rRtd51200BUW_7JK-yklp9Q.lp9BLWMtiWUSeioEZqXI22Q

First Nations Development Institute

For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.firstnations.org.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.firstnations.org.

The link

https://nonprofitquarterly.org/reconciling-the-past-may-be-the-only-way-to-a-sustainable-future/?bbeml=tp-pck9Q6QNPEiuBt3JmyTokQ.jHe_iRgb0aUyqozPhDI_dqA.rRtd51200BUW_7JK-yklp9Q.lp9BLWMtiWUSeioEZqXI22Q

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