In September 2019, staff from the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment joined participants and chaperones from the August 2019 Native Earth summer program and other Haudenosaunee community members in New York City to participate in the Climate Action Summit activities. Responding to a directive from the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, this year’s Native Earth curriculum focused on climate change issues, integrating perspectives from traditional ecological knowledge and academic environmental science. At the conclusion of Native Earth, student participants drafted statements about specific impacts from climate change to indigenous communities.
One month later, three of the student participants were able to continue their engagement with issues of climate change through their participation in the Climate Action Week in New York City. The young people joined with other Haudenosaunee community members in a delegation that traveled to New York City to take part in these historic events and ensure that indigenous perspectives were represented.
On Friday, September 20, the delegation joined more than 200,000 other people in the streets of Lower Manhattan to demand immediate action on climate change. We marched alongside a delegation of indigenous peoples from the Amazon Basin who had traveled thousands of miles to draw attention to the impact of climate change fueled wildfires on their forest homes. At the march’s conclusion in Battery Park, we heard from a series of speakers, including the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The next morning, we trekked uptown to the United Nations so that the Native Earth students could take part in the Youth Climate Action Summit. Later that day, our entire delegation attended the UN Indigenous Peoples Climate Leadership forum, where we were formally introduced to the convening by Hindou Ibrahim, Co-Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. We heard from a number of powerful speakers from around the world about ongoing impacts from climate change to their communities. Our delegation was especially moved by the testimony of Bernadette Demientieff, of the Gwich’in people in Alaska, who spoke about how the changing climate is altering her community’s relationship with the caribou herds they depend on for food – and whom they consider to be their relative.
In the words of delegation member Peter Thais (Akwesasne Mohawk), “I had a chance to enter the United Nations as a participant in the 2019 Climate Summit. It was an amazing experience. I listened to the experiences of Indigenous people around the globe and how climate change is already affecting them. Their experiences clearly showed that climate change is already happening, not something that could/maybe/might happen.”
On Sunday, five of the delegation members – including the three youth participants – spoke on a panel entitled “Indigenuity: Indigenous Solutions to the Climate Crisis.” This panel was convened by The Nature Conservancy as part of the Nature4Climate’s multi-day conference on “Nature Based Solutions.” Each panelist spoke forcefully on the impacts of climate change to their families and communities, emphasizing the repercussions for medicines, ceremonies, and traditional foods.
At the end of the weekend, our delegation dispersed to our home communities, motivated to bring back and share what we had learned. And the involvement of Haudenosaunee youth in climate change education and organizing continues! In early November, a delegation from the Onondaga Nation Youth Program, including several participants from Native Earth 2019, will attend the Central New York Youth Climate Summit in Homer, NY.