Indigneous Leadership and Progress in the New York City Climate Strike

BY JULIA WESTBROOK

Indigenous groups have been fighting for our earth for hundreds of years, and now they are joined by an entire generation of global fighters who are panicking about their future. 

The Climate Strike on September 20, 2019 was one led by the generation who will inevitably suffer the most in the coming decades. During the strike, many groups attempted to frame the climate crisis in the context of their more niche agenda: the socialists, the communists, and the vegans all had their “Environmentalist” caps on. The indigenous peoples groups present stood out from the crowd as the original environmentalists with fierce words for those in power. 

Through a translator, 19-year-old activist Artemisa Xakriabá shook the crowd with her cries of defiance and demand for safety for her people, “I am from the Xakriabá people in Brazil. I am here today representing the more than 25 million indigenous and traditional communities from the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities.”

She added, “We, the indigenous peoples, are the children of nature, so we fight for our Mother Earth...We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory.”

Xakriabá shouted to New York City and the whole world watching, “The Amazon is on fire!” and reminded the audience of more than 250,000 that many of the companies responsible for our planet’s destruction and ultimately our impending extinction are located in the skyscrapers and buildings “around us,” in the Financial District.

While Greta Thunberg was a major draw for youth activists to join in the #FridaysForFuture movement, the September 20, 2019 Climate Strike featured inspiring organizers of varying backgrounds, including Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, director of Earth Guardians, who delivered powerful spoken word at the rally along with their speech.  

Isabella Fallahi, Indiana State Level Organizer for the Youth Climate Strike, proudly declared her Latina bisexual identity while warning leaders, “We are sick of the bullshit and lip service from politicians who are too afraid to say to your face that my wallet is more important than your life and your community.” 

Fallahi told the crowd about her personal struggle with asthma and air quality in her home state of Indiana, which ranks 49th in air quality in the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency data from 2017.

Most millennials have been fed the climate change narrative that they should get an education so we can learn the best practices and tools for combating climate change. Thunberg has a new narrative; she asks the crowd, “What is the point of educating ourselves if the people in power don’t listen to the educated and to facts?” 

Ironically, Thunberg’s long-anticipated speech was interrupted twice due to members of the crowd needing medical attention from heat exhaustion that afternoon.

The Climate Strike’s official New York City demands are clear: no fossil fuels, just transition, and to hold polluters accountable. They are direct in identifying the culprit of carbon emissions, “We demand accountability from fossil fuel executives, the Global North countries and institutions most responsible for causing the climate crisis.”

The Climate Strike Coalition Demands call on those in power to specifically respect indigenous land and sovereignty, “Honor the treaties protecting Indigenous lands, waters, and sovereignty by the immediate halt of all construction, leasing, and permitting for resource extraction, processing and infrastructure projects affecting or on Indigenous lands.”

These demands align with what Xakriabá said in her speech, “the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights.”

Want to learn more about how you can participate in the Youth Climate Movement? 

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Lead Image Credit and All Photos by Julia Westbrook