“Every day is Indigenous peoples’ day when you are living on stolen land”.
I came across this quote in an Instagram post this morning from the Indigenous Environmental Network. My feed was filled with charities to support, petitions to sign, and articles to read, all advocating for Indigenous rights, but this particular post struck a chord in me. It highlights something that is too easy for white people to forget: the fight for Indigenous peoples’ rights isn’t something we should be doing one day a year.
Here, I’ve touched on five ways you can support Indigenous communities today. There are a lot of resources and non-profits throughout this post, and I highly encourage looking into a few of them and choosing an organization or cause that you want to support regularly. Because this isn't just about supporting Indigenous communities today, but every day.
Research the land you’re living on
This website allows you to look up the Indigenous land you’re living on. Do some research about the history of the local indigenous peoples, and consider donating to local charities that support indigenous people. If you don’t have a local or regional indigenous non-profit, consider donating to an organization like Cultural Survival, NDN Collective, Amazon Frontlines, and the Nature Rights Council. These non-profit organizations also provide excellent educational resources.
Protect Indigenous land rights
Now that you know who’s land you’re living on, help protect the rights of Indigenous people to live on, protect, and oversee their land. The displacement and disempowerment of indigenous peoples is still a relevant issue around the globe. In fact, illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and in Cambodia’s protected Prey Lang Forest has been on the rise since the pandemic began, driving indigenous peoples out of their ancestral lands and destroying cultural sites.
“Indigenous peoples in the US and beyond continue to be among the poorest of the poor and continue to fight for their inherent rights to control their lands and natural resources.” — Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Development Institute’s vice president
Several of the organizations listed above, including Cultural Survival and Amazon Frontlines, work to stop the destruction of indigenous lands and the displacement of indigenous peoples. You can also support politicians who pledge to advance the rights of indigenous groups and protect indigenous lands.
Donate to Indigenous COVID relief funds
Native communities have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Systemic discrimination and a lack of proper funding have limited tribes’ access to health care and essential supplies. Because of this, Indigenous communities have extraordinarily high infection rates and death rates compared to other communities. Even with the CARES act, distribution issues can severely limit how much federal funding allocated to indigenous tribes actually ends up in the hands of indigenous tribes. The Emergency Response Fund for native communities is “designed to distribute funds efficiently and swiftly to Native nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that need it most”. You can donate here or review this list of food and supply donation partners that work with the Emergency Response Fund.
Include Indigenous people in the climate change discussion
Before Americans commandeered the west, native tribes intentionally burned dry, overgrown vegetation during the cooler seasons. This practice kept the land healthy enough that the large, out-of-control fires we see today couldn’t develop. Until recently, burning traditions were dismissed as an unscientific ritual by the majority of Americans. Now, policymakers are finally recognizing that indigenous communities have a deeper understanding of ecological principles.
Despite the fact that indigenous people have a much better track record than the rest of the western world when it comes to environmental protection, we have largely ignored the indigenous community in the climate change discussion. Currently, federal law mandates “meaningful consultation” when the government wants to initiate projects on or near trust lands. As we saw at Standing Rock, consultation can be ignored. The Green New Deal requires consent from tribes for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their land, which is an important step in the right direction.
“We need to imagine new frameworks for law and policy that articulate with specificity what Native people envision as a more just system, one that accurately represents our interests. This can best be accomplished by reinforcing the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments — recognizing our nationhood and political relationship with the U.S.” — Dina Gilio-Whitaker
And indigenizing the climate change discussion doesn’t stop at finally giving Indigenous people rights. We must also acknowledge and honor the fact they know so much more than us when it comes to protecting this land. The Karuk tribe in northern California recently completed a Climate Adaptation Plan that depends on Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and the Coast Miwok are working with the National Park Service at Point Reyes to help protect cultural sites that are being damaged by erosion and flooding.
Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The government must also recognize and take responsibility for the historic oppression of native communities. Not only is this their land we’re destroying, but indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Due to rapid sea ice melting, 87% of Native Alaskan villages are experiencing erosion and many are being forced to move. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin are actively fighting to protect their ancestral lands from oil development projects and deforestation. Survival International provides educational resources explaining how “conservation efforts” are often used as a weapon against indigenous tribes by systemically driving tribes off their lands and taking away their resources.
“We all breathe this one air, we all drink the same water. We all live on this one planet. We need to protect the Earth. If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy the forest. Then you will feel the fear that we feel.” — stated by Raoni Metuktire, Indigenous activist and chief of the Kayapó community in Brazil
So what can we do today? Listen to Indigenous people’s stories and knowledge. Amplify their voices. Put them at the forefront of the climate change discussion because they’re at the forefront of climate change. Check out the Indigenous Environmental Network and Survival International for more resources.
Stay Informed About Indigenous Rights Issues
Here, I have barely scratched the surface of all the current obstacles to Indigenous rights and all the ways we can help Indigenous communities. The most important thing we can do is educate ourselves, listen to Indigenous peoples’ stories, and vote for government officials who support Indigenous communities.
Here is a list of issues to research if you’re interested in learning more about Indigenous rights and advocacy: factory schools, the education gap, culture erasure, Indigenous women's rights, deforestation, Queen Mothers of Ghana, Brazilian Indigenous genocide.
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs has a vast collection of articles and publications that cover everything from climate change to self-government to cultural practices of Indigenous groups. Reclaiming Native Truth is an organization that works to dispel myths and stereotypes around Native Americans in the U.S., and their knowledge center is a great place to learn about Native American identity and culture.