This year for Earth Day (April 22), Yahoo Life is looking at the climate crisis through Indigenous eyes by speaking to Native Gen Z activists — in the unique position of living at the intersection of racial inequality, social injustice and climate crises, and, being young, having the fire in their bellies to do everything in their power to have a viable future on this planet.
"[Native people] have always viewed the Earth in a way that she's one of us," explains Leala Pourier of Earth Guardians, one of the youth leaders who spoke with Yahoo Life, along with Ruth Miller of Native Movement, Trenton DeVore of Pueblo Action Alliance and Autumn Peltier, Chief Water Commissioner for the Aniishnabek Nation.
JADE BEGAY: Indigenous peoples are the original climate scientists.
RUTH MILLER: It is just what we've been doing for 30,000 years.
LEALA POURIER: You can't have Indigenous justice without climate justice. And you can't have climate justice without Indigenous justice.
AUTUMN PELTIER: I'm a young activist. And I feel that when a message like this comes from a young person, it's so much more powerful. I say this when you know something is wrong, because a child or young person should not have to speak up about world issues or political issues.
- What did you want to say to him?
AUTUMN PELTIER: I just said to him, I'm very unhappy with the choices you made and broken promises to my people. Then he said, I understand that. All I said was, the pipelines. And then he said, I will protect the water.
It's really important to, like, encourage, and mentor, and empower the young people to use their voices. It has to be done.
JADE BEGAY: Indigenous peoples across the world have a deep connection with their ecosystems that really just comes from honoring the hundreds and thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge systems and being the original stewards of lands across the world.
Most Indigenous peoples are still place based or subsistence communities and peoples. We are in various places across the world very much living off the land and living with the land. We are in stronger contact with how the environment is working and shifting.
Things are bad, really bad with the state of the climate. We've been getting these warnings for years, and years, and years, and they're not getting any better.
LEALA POURIER: Because of agriculture issues that climate change is causing, we're getting these food deserts and things like that. Reservations often will have to drive up to, like, an hour to go get groceries. In some areas, it can also be really expensive to get certain types of groceries, like fresh produce.
A lot of these reservations are on pieces of land that the country didn't want. So, it's really hard to farm there. It's really hard to grow your own produce. With climate change comes oil drilling. That's kind of what caused that. And then with that, you get missing and murdered Indigenous women.
RUTH MILLER: We need to be validating Indigenous science and Indigenous ways of knowing that principles and values that can be integrated into modern industry. We have to think about all of the different value systems, and educational systems, and governance systems that must complement one another. The biggest work of anyone who cares about the climate, anyone who had a heart string pulled on Earth Day, is to engage and educate yourself.