By Issy Waite
Since the arrival of colonial settlers to the United States in the 16th century, Indigenous communities have suffered from the attempts to erase Indigenous culture and the people who practice it. Modern studies have linked this treatment to the effects that climate change is having on these communities, suggesting that they have a parallel impact. Vinyeta, Powys Whyte and Lynn (2016) examine the role of gender in defining how Indigenous communities experience the effects of climate change, a crucial area to consider as proper understanding of the role of the gender is needed to develop climate change resilience.
A key element of Indigenous culture and traditions is the importance and dependence upon local plants and animals. This makes Indigenous communities incredibly vulnerable to the effects that climate change has on the local ecosystems. Not only are plants and animals crucial as sources of food, but they provide the foundation for the health, culture, economy, and way of life that has been practiced by these communities. The rapidly worsening climate crisis has seen many members of Indigenous communities play an active role in climate change initiatives, from influencing government policy to being active within non-governmental organisations.
The authors first examine the traditional gender roles that are seen in indigenous communities. Gender is a social construct, one that is fluid and our understanding of it is constantly adapting. However, it is important to consider the traditional gender roles that have influenced people’s life experiences. Women traditionally have taken on roles associated with water in some Indigenous practices, seen as sacred due to its importance in giving birth and ceremonies. This has led many Indigenous women to activism concerning the protection of water. Men have historically taken on responsibilities like hunting and fishing. The contribution of the genders is what has allowed for the survival of these communities. The effects caused by climate change make Indigenous communities increasingly vulnerable. Furthermore, the combination of climate change and already present inequalities presents new challenges to oppressed persons, including challenges to their ability to adapt to the changes. To fully understand the role of gender in Indigenous communities, we must learn about those who do not fit into white, Euro-American ‘norms’ of gender. The authors write about the importance of two-spirit persons. The term ‘two-spirit’ was coined as a ‘term for Native sexualities and gender diversity’ (Morgensen 2011). Indigenous women, and those who identify as LGBTTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer) have unique experiences of colonialization and the effects of climate change as their race and gender/sexuality intersect. When assessing how to develop climate resilience (ie how to adapt to the new challenges), it is crucial to consider the unique challenges presented by the combination of these factors.
Parallels and links between the effects of climate change and the effects of colonization can be seen in the effects on natural resources and the forcing of physical relocation. The industrial practices of settlers has led to toxic industries and waste, contributing to the rising level of greenhouse gas production. The rendering of much of Indigenous land inhabitable whilst worsening the climate crisis mirrors the effects of the initial colonization, where indigenous communities had resources and land stolen.
The authors give the use of boarding schools for Indigenous children to show how colonizers made efforts to eradicate Indigenous culture. Boarding schools were used as a tool to disrupt the passing of indigenous culture and traditions to the younger generations. They were indoctrinated with European cultural values and were often subjected to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Studies have shown that this forceful removal of cultural has led to the devaluation of Indigenous women, as traditional gender roles were taught where women are seen to be inferior. The abuse and the introduction of alcohol led to high levels of substance abuse and an increase in violence, in particular gendered violence (harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender). The forced displacement caused by weather events as a result of climate change has a similar effect so far as it alters the way that traditions are passed down as communities are often split up. This is also an issue that must take gender into consideration, as Indigenous women and children who are moved to less familiar social networks are more at risk of being trafficked
By assessing the impacts of climate change when paired with the colonization of Indigenous communities, with particular regards to gender, the authors are able to highlight what can be done to protect indigenous communities. Most importantly, Indigenous communities can use their intimate knowledge and awareness of local ecosystems to develop ‘meaningful mitigation and adaptation strategies’. Indigenous persons play an active role in working with the government and legal processes to protect the environment, and as an extension, culture.
Access the Original Article for FREE: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2770089
Vinyeta, K., Whyte, K., & Lynn, K. (2016). Climate change through an intersectional lens: gendered vulnerability and resilience in indigenous communities in the United States.
Morgensen, S.L. 2011. Spaces between us: queer settler colonialism and
indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 336 p
UNHCR Gender Based Violence: https://www.unhcr.org/gender-based-violence.html#:~:text=%C2%A9%20UNHCR%20Gender-Based%20violence%20refers%20to%20harmful%20acts,rights%20and%20a%20life-threatening%20health%20and%20protection%20issue.
Image: Amanda Mason https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/10-ways-to-be-ally-indigenous-peoples/
Issy Waite is a Content Writer & Researcher for the JISJ. Issy is currently studying her second year in BA International Relations and Legal Studies at the University of Sussex.