Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, International/ZeroGravity Films/Vimeo
Women bearing a climate change treaty are among the Indigenous Peoples headed toward the United Nations climate talks in Paris, COP21, which start on November 30.

Indigenous Climate Experts Descend on Paris for COP21

Mary Annette Pember

Confusing police jurisdiction and actions? Limited or no resources? Dangerous living conditions? Restrictive and confusing bureaucratic policies and actions?

The current atmosphere in Paris for the upcoming COP21 United Nations Climate Summit sounds remarkably like life on most Indian reservations.

“There is not much about the scenario of government restrictions taking place in Paris that will be new to us,” said Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine), an organizer at the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If anything, this is our element as indigenous people.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), a grassroots consortium of indigenous leaders and communities working for environmental justice and the rights of Mother Earth, have helped organize a delegation of 35 indigenous people who will travel to Paris to make their concerns and issues regarding climate change and the environment known to world leaders and the public. Follow their progress at Indigenous Red Road to Paris & Beyond.

“This is a matter of life and death for us,” Goldtooth said. “We have no other choice. Indigenous people are on the front lines of the impacts of extractive industries and climate change.”

In the wake of the terror attacks on Paris that killed at least 130 people and injured more than 300, the French government has declared a state of emergency, calling into question many of the civic actions that are traditionally held in public spaces during the U.N. climate summits. The summit takes place November 30 through December 13. Organizers had expected more than 200,000 people to participate in the rally that traditionally kicks off the conference on the day before talks begin.

According to U.N. officials, however, the rally is canceled.

“The situation created by the odious attacks of 13 November and the investigations that have since been carried out do, however, require enhanced security measures,” the U.N. said in a statement. “As such, all events organized in enclosed, easily secured spaces will take place. However, in order to avoid any additional risk, the government has decided not to authorize the climate marches planned on public roads in Paris and other French cities on 29 November and 12 December.”

This just makes the Indigenous People involved more determined.

‘Traditionally, indigenous people, by necessity, have always been innovative and resourceful,” said Goldtooth. “This creative and inventive spirit will serve us well in Paris; we will ensure that our voices are heard with the greatest amount of love and passion possible.”

Among other work and activities, the IEN delegation will be bringing the first Indigenous Women’s Treaty, signed by indigenous women leaders from North and South America, to the Summit.

Signed on September 27, 2015 in New York City, the treaty invites all women of the world to join together in stopping fossil fuel extraction and other roots of climate change by participating in non-violent direct action. In the treaty, leaders from IEN, Idle No More and the Women’s Earth Climate Action Network International (WeCan) call on women and allies to gather together on each new moon, every solstice and equinox to pray for the sacred system of life and for guidance and wisdom.

Kandi Mossett, longtime organizer with IEN and co-creator of the Women’s Treaty, explained that the overarching theme is of valuing women as defenders of life. The treaty also sends a positive message of action and affirmation of commitment by offering a means to help people reconnect with the Earth.

“Much of our message has been about what we are against, such as fossil fuel extraction,” Mossett said. “The treaty is a shout out for what we are for.”

According to Mossett, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, the IEN women’s delegation will offer others the opportunity to sign the treaty on December 6 and will perform a water ceremony on December 11. Those who sign the treaty will be included in the ceremony. The ceremony and treaty signing will take place on a boat in one of the local canals; participants will bring water from their locations to be mingled together and cleansed.

“Women carry their young in water inside their bodies; women protect, defend and renew water and life,” said Mossett.

Indeed, many grassroots environmental organizations are describing the 21st century as “the women’s century.”

In the recent Women Speak for Climate Justice on the Road to COP21 video, Osprey Oreille Lake, co-founder and executive director of Women’s Earth and Action Network, noted that there are many studies pointing to the crucial role that women play in overall societal improvements.

The video was compiled during the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action on September 29, 2015 in New York, which was held in an area immediately adjacent to a UN General Assembly session.

“If we can mobilize women we have a much better chance of moving toward sustainability and living in harmony with mother earth,” she said.

She noted that indigenous women and women from developing nations, in particular, are very dependent on natural resources in order to survive and are the ones most directly experiencing the impacts of climate change. Women from wealthier nations also play a vital role in the equation of climate change and the global economy.

“Eighty percent of consumer purchases in wealthier countries like the U.S. and Canada are decided by women,” Lake said.

“We see women as being critical planners and leaders in this new energy economy,” said Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program.

“The powerful voices from the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action will be taken to COP21 where women of the world will stand for systemic change and bold climate change,” promised Lake.

The IEN delegation also includes members of the Lummi Youth Canoe Family of Washington, who had planned to bring a traditional 39-foot canoe to Paris and lead a group of indigenous people in a flotilla of traditional boats down the Seine River. But lack of funding and the fallout from the terrorist attacks have created some changes, according to organizer Justin Finkbonner. He reported that although the French authorities refused to issue a permit for the canoe to be used in the Seine River and have forbidden the opening rally, the Lummi delegation is going forward.

“Our young people will be in Paris to tell our story to global leaders and learn that the world is a very small place when it comes to the impact of fossil fuel use and extraction on our environment,” Finkbonner said.

The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal and railway at Cherry Point, Washington. Leaders say that the terminal would have a negative impact on the tribe’s treaty fishing rights, natural resources and the health of the entire state of Washington.

The Youth Canoe Family teaches traditional Lummi ways, language and healing to young people by immersing them in the experience of the “canoe pulling culture” that is considered a Lummi way of life.

“We will have our regalia ready, and we will be where we need to be,” Finkbonner said.

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