Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 7, 2010

Navajo Youth Reflects on World Climate Conference

Michelle Cook, Navajo, in Bolivia: 'How blessed we are to have a cause so worthy to fight for."

Michelle Cook, Navajo Fulbright scholar, arrived in Bolivia for the World Climate Conference from Maori territory in New Zealand. Cook, a graduate of the University of Arizona in Indigenous and Women's studies, has served as a border rights activist in Arizona and in support of the Zapatistas. Earlier, she served as a cultural youth ambassador to Iran. In Bolivia, she joined grassroots Native Americans from North America and Indigenous Peoples from around the earth. Her reflections from the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, called by Bolivian President Evo Morales, offer a rallying call for Indigenous youths. --Censored News

Thoughts on Climate Change, Mother Earth, and Cochabamba: The Weight on our Shoulders
By Michelle Cook
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba Bolivia could not have come at a more desperate time. For Navajo people the impacts of climate change become more acute in every passing season through record winds, record snowfall, and drought. According to the Second International Planetary Dune Workshop of 2010 “Navajo Nation has experienced drought conditions that surpass the severity of all droughts in the 20th century.” Shifts in weather can also be observed in desertification of Navajo territory, in dust storms and the movement of sand dunes.
Navajo people are earth peoples whose bodies and traditional ways of life tie directly to mother earth and the natural environment through medicine, song, performance, and ancestry. Therefore any climatic changes, within the environment and weather impacts not only the Navajo people’s culture, and ceremonial cycles, but also our holistic health, and our future survival as an indigenous nation. Other nations and peoples are also feeling the impacts of climate change. Bolivian peoples for example rely on glaciers as their main source of water. The melting of glacier ice, which is directly tied to climate change and the warming of the atmosphere, threatens their access to water, impacting their very ability to exist and survive.
The conference in Cochabamba provided a space where the harsh realities of climate change could be discussed; a place to hear the testimonies of peoples impacted by climate change and a place to envision change, mobilization, and action.
It was beautiful to see the youth working on behalf of their people and the earth. Carrying what seems like the weight of the world, with gratitude and smiles. For me, the silver lining on the dark clouds of climate change is the youth and their determination to fight for our collective survival and wellbeing. It was also noteworthy to see the stand taken by the North American delegation against harmful and ineffective remedies to climate change such as the carbon credit market, bio-fuels such as ethanol and oil palm plantations, nuclear power, hydro-electric dams, and specifically the REDD platform (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
I left Cochabamba wondering what role tribal nations and peoples in the global North in “developed nations” play in mitigating and preventing climate change. Particularly, for developing tribal nations of the north and elsewhere who have become dependent on a fossil fuel economy? Navajo Nation government and economy is tied up in natural resource extraction and has been since its inception. How will indigenous nations and peoples be accountable for carbon emissions within a potential climate justice tribunal? Will indigenous nations of the north be equally tried and accountable for their carbon debt and harmful ecological acts or omissions like other states and non-state actors? Ultimately, indigenous peoples like all peoples have the right to development, however, it has yet to be determined or concluded to what extent this power can or should be exercised in the context of indigenous peoples right to develop their natural resources?
I walk away with knowledge and affirmed intuition that it is a time of great change and great responsibility for all people. I walk away realizing how great the responsibility is for youth and how blessed we are to have a cause worthy to fight for.
"The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for".
--Hopi Prophecy

1 comment:

RyanPleune said...

I am inspired by your writing and perspective. I am not a member of the Navajo Nation but a passionate ally. As you figure out the valuable questions about "what role tribal natins and peoples in the global North in "Devloped Nations" play in mitigating and preventin climate change?" I'd like to be in dialogue with you about that.

Please contact me ryanpleune at hotmail dot com or 801 633-3474 - I'm from Salt Lake City.

Thanks for your great work.