Indigenous Sustainability & Environmental Justice
Indigenous peoples are among the major architects of environmental movements focusing on sustainability and environmental justice. But whereas many environmentalists focus on restoring or conserving historic ecosystems, Indigenous peoples inhabit landscapes largely altered by different formations of colonialism and racial capitalism. For Indigenous peoples, environmental justice, climate change resilience, food sovereignty, and ecological restoration take on different meanings than typically have been priorities in other environmental movements and sciences. This course seeks to understand, from Indigenous perspectives, how many Indigenous movements, Indigenous sciences and knowledge systems, and the projects of Indigenous organizations and governments seek to achieve sustainability and environmental justice, including the challenges they face and the lessons they have learned. The course covers topics within domains of Indigenous sciences and knowledge systems, Indigenous environmental activism and anti-colonial philosophies, Indigenous research approaches, Indigenous ecologies, Indigenous resilience, and Indigenous legal orders and strategies in law and policy.
The course seeks to introduce the diverse worlds of Indigenous sustainability and environmental justice traditions and activism to students. The course provides a chance for in depth study for students seeking to work directly in Indigenous sustainability and environmental justice and a more introductory pathway for students who feel they are newer to the topics of focus in the course. The course introduces students to both Indigenous concepts of sustainability and environmental justice but also engages students in reflections on the research methodologies and specific approaches to research that Indigenous peoples have articulated as morally and empirically important. The course also aspires to create a balanced approach to interpreting and weighing different viewpoints within controversies involving Indigenous peoples, whether environmental justice cases or cases of scholarly criticism of Indigenous models of sustainability.
Indigenous Peoples, Rights and Environmental Justice
The rights of Indigenous peoples are powerful policy and legal instruments for enacting agendas in conservation, food security and food sovereignty, environmental quality, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustainable development. At the same time, Indigenous peoples struggle against nations, institutions, and industries that willfully ignore or strategically exploit Indigenous rights. Rights are among the major policy and legal instruments Indigenous peoples use in pursuit of environmental justice. Students of environmentalism, sustainable development, and environmental justice ought to have practical knowledge of the history, current practices, and future innovations in the field of Indigenous rights. They must understand the contextual differences in rights law and policy in different places, and the institutions through which rights claims can be articulated and enforced. The course will be taught as a legal and policy primer, including in depth study of the history of Indigenous rights, key rights laws and policies in use in different parts of the world, including through the United Nations, and innovations in rights methodology by Indigenous peoples, such as the rights of non-human entities. The Indigenous rights-based content of the course will be discussed in relation to rights traditions of other groups, including people of color and people of the global majority. Students will leave the course having achieved a basic working awareness of the following:
- Detailed knowledge of the diversity of Indigenous rights and their application in law and policy
- Working understanding of theories of rights, including Indigenous philosophies of rights, and the relationship of Indigenous rights with topics of environmental justice
- Understanding of the history of Indigenous rights
- Grounding in how to use and apply Indigenous rights in environmental, sustainability, and environmental justice careers
Indigenous Peoples and Climate Justice
Indigenous peoples keep some of the oldest knowledge systems for understanding weather and climate. Based on these traditions, Indigenous peoples have mobilized to address climate change risks. Indigenous peoples have resisted exploitation by extractive industries whose actions are tied to the rise in global average temperature, such as fossil fuel industries. Indigenous peoples have testified that they are among the populations facing the most severe risks from climate change impacts. The Indigenous climate justice movement has influenced diverse areas, including science, activism, and policy. This course surveys the history of Indigenous knowledge about climate change, the drivers of the risks Indigenous peoples face from climate change, and Indigenous climate justice activism and resilience planning in North America and globally.
Indigenous peoples’ cultures, sciences and knowledge systems, political self-determination, and rights are a major sector of environmental justice work globally. Effective environmental justice professionals and advocates, including academics, are expected to have knowledge of how to work collaboratively and effect policy in Indigenous peoples’ contexts. Students will leave the course having achieved a basic working awareness of the following:
- Indigenous centered perspectives on environmental change science
- Indigenous intellectual and activist traditions as they pertain to environmental justice and climate justice
- Indigenous methods of intercultural exchange and dialogue
- Legal and policy foundations for the rights of Indigenous People