Climate justice means something different to everyone, but when it conjures up images of shrinking glaciers, floating islands of waste, or oil leaking into the ground from a pipeline across the country, the associations that are made are actually examples of climate injustices, depending on the climate. justice campaign organizer for NDN Collective, Kailea Frederick.
“We often consider climate injustices before talking about climate justice,” Frederick says. “It’s because we see a lot of injustice in terms of what created climate change and continues to exacerbate it, [along with those] in the front-line communities that are most affected, which happen to be our people,” says Frederick.
The notion of climate justice conforms to the belief that global warming and climate change are as much social, economic and political issues as environmental or scientific dilemmas. For organizers like Frederick and his colleague, Jade BegayClimate Justice Campaign Director for NDN Collective, Climate Justice is more than just an acknowledgment that climate change is man-made and rooted in socio-economic issues, it represents a better future where the economy thrives while that ethical considerations are made for the environment and all people – rich and poor, white or BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color).
“Climate justice is part of the social movement or activism lexicon, which is not always the most accessible to ordinary people,” Begay explains. “The unfortunate thing is that climate justice is focused on meeting the needs of ordinary people. In practice, climate justice is really about health and safety, having clean jobs and wages worthy for everyone.
Founded in 2018 by Nick Tilsen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led non-profit organization focused on empowering Indigenous peoples through organizing, activism, philanthropy and narrative change. Based in Rapid City, South Dakota, the formation of the collective was inspired by the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and many other indigenous groups, and their struggle to stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)which started in 2016.
“Thousands of Indigenous people came together and self-organized a relatively low-impact city that was partially solar-powered and Indigenous-governed,” says Begay. “People first came together to fight the pipeline [DAPL]but it wasn’t just about the pipeline, it was about systemic racism.
When forming NDN Collective, Tilsen was also heavily influenced by his work with the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporationwhich seeks to preserve the culture of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota through community and economic development.
“Tilsen was already leading this incredible model in his own community and saw the need at Standing Rock for the growth and expansion of [the work being done by] Thunder Valley,” says Begay. “That’s when the idea for NDN Collective was born.”
Before committing to creating the collective, Tilsen and others decided to seek advice from their ancestors in the spirit world. The message they received at their ceremony was a question: “How long are you going to let other people decide the future of your children?” Aren’t you warriors? The question prompted Tilsen and his colleagues to continue forming the collective.
Begay and Frederick were drawn to the organization by their similar backgrounds. Begay, a descendant of the Diné people and a citizen of New Mexico’s Tesuque Pueblo, had worked with indigenous organizations in the past. She started consulting for NDN Collective in 2018 and was soon hired as Creative Director. Now, as Campaign Director for Climate Justice, she focuses on information campaigns and the impact of government policy, while also being a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
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“In my relatively short career and life, I had never seen something so ambitious and exciting in terms of transferring resources directly to Indigenous peoples,” Begay says of the work. made by NDN Collective.
Frederick, who joined NDN Collective’s climate justice team in 2021, identifies as Black American and is of Tahltan and Kaska descent. In addition to her work with NDN Collective, she is the editor of potting soil and is a member of the City of Petaluma Climate Action Commission in California.
“I met Jade a few years ago, so when I heard that NDN Collective was creating a climate justice team, I was excited,” Frederick says. “It was a good choice to have the opportunity to work in a team that focused on advocating and building the capacity of indigenous communities in a world in the midst of climate change.
In March 2022, NDN Collective’s Climate Justice Team released the report, “Faulty Infrastructure and Dakota Access Pipeline Impactswhich provides an analysis of safety issues associated with the pipeline and recounts the lack of due diligence that occurred throughout the planning and construction process. Begay and Frederick worked with contractors and engineers to write the report, which includes a demand that the Biden administration permanently drain and close the pipeline.
“The report is the first to present a comprehensive and factual timeline of the DAPL process, and by exposing the entire process, it became clear that there was a conspiracy between the Army Corps of Engineers. [that granted permission for the construction of the pipeline] and the owners of DAPL,” says Frederick.
Even with the release of the report and a full environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers underway, oil continues to be transportedthrough the pipeline. Despite the US government’s refusal to shut down the pipeline, the work of the NDN Collective climate justice team, which authored the report, has created precedent and structure for those who want to fight the development of projects similar to DAPL. .
“We are now stuck in regulatory space,” says Begay. “But we can share the knowledge we’ve gained through this process with our partners and community members so that if we have to fight another pipeline, we’ll be much better at shutting it down.”
Going forward, NDN Collective’s climate justice team is focused on influencing policy-making at the state and federal levels and building climate-resilient communities through traditional ecological knowledge such as the safe execution prescribed burns and build low impact adobe architecture.
“We are giving indigenous peoples the knowledge, skills and tools that will help us better prepare for the changes we will soon begin to experience in our ecosystem,” Begay says.
This article was produced by Local economy of peacea project of the Independent Media Institute.