In an earlier essay in this series, Donna Katzin stressed that the goal of disinvestment of resources from harmful activities must go together with reinvestment of resources in activities that have beneficial results for the future. This is crystal clear in the urgent need for transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The cost of letting promises and belated minimal policy shifts substitute for significant action will be high.
In mid-October Indigenous climate justice advocates led a broad coalition in week-long demonstrations in Washington, DC to urge President Biden to take executive actions within his power to stop ongoing new fossil-fuel production projects. Although thousands participated, 655 were arrested, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs occupied by Indigenous protesters for the first time since 1972, the event was hardly covered in national news outlets.
That’s why Indigenous activists are not only protesting, petitioning, and fighting in the courts. They are also taking direct action to stop fossil fuel projects and building a new global vision based on caregiving rather than limitless extraction of resources for short-term profit for a few (see below).
– William Minter
Create Jobs: Heal Our Planet
Excerpted from The Red Deal: Heal Our Planet (PDF available for download)
There is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation. This isn’t an exaggeration; it’s simply the truth. Indigenous people understand the choice that confronts us: decolonization or extinction. We have unapologetically renewed our bonds with the earth by implementing our intellectual traditions in our movements for decolonization. There is no turning back; these bonds are sacred and will never be broken. This is why Indigenous water protectors and land defenders throughout the world are criminalized and assassinated on a daily basis. We have chosen life, therefore we’ve been marked for death.
Despite this grim reality, Indigenous people continue to caretake the land even under threat of daily attack. Like mothers, nurses, and educators, Indigenous water protectors and land defenders perform one of the most important types of labor we depend upon as a species for social and biological reproduction: caretaking. Humanity would not exist without caretakers. But caretaking is labor. It takes work to plant crops. It takes work to hunt. It takes work to raise children. It takes work to clean homes. It takes work to break down a buffalo. It takes work to learn the properties of medicines.
Healing the planet is ultimately about creating infrastructures of caretaking that will replace infrastructures of capitalism. Capitalism is contrary to life. Caretaking promotes life. As we note throughout the Red Deal, caretaking is at the center of contemporary Indigenous movements for decolonization and liberation. We therefore look to these movements for guidance on building infrastructures of caretaking that have the potential to produce caretaking economies and caretaking jobs now and in the future.
We also look to the infrastructure of caretaking that is currently emerging where capitalist nation-states have failed to save lives from COVID-19. Under the current system of global capitalism, caretaking is undervalued and often unrecognized as a form of labor. Caretakers like mothers and water protectors make up a huge percentage of workers who produce the social and material means by which we live, yet they’re not paid. In a world shaped by pandemic, caretakers have become the most important sector of workers, saving people’s lives and keeping whole families and communities afloat.
Mutual aid networks populated by caretakers are proliferating, providing relief to the most vulnerable and paving the way for robust caretaking economies to potentially replace the crumbling system of global capitalism. Current mutual aid efforts are neither state sanctioned nor state-funded; they are entirely people-led and the result of working class solidarity between nurses, service providers, students, domestic workers, migrant farmers, and families. Mutual aid networks affirm life by caretaking humanity rather than denying life by abandoning and exploiting humanity. However, the monumental challenge that confronts us is how to turn caretaking labor into life-affirming mass movements that can topple global capitalism once the emergency conditions of the pandemic lift. Only when we are able to mount a real threat to the hegemony of global capitalism through such movements will we be able to heal the planet.
Like the development of mass movements, restoring our relationship with the land is not optional if we wish to avoid extinction. But this isn’t some mystical vision where we go out and hug trees. This is a serious agenda for decolonization that requires comprehensive land return programs and funding for mass Indigenous-led land restoration projects. Healthy reciprocity with the environment also depends upon Indigenous peoples having unrestricted access to land, unencumbered by colonial borders and free of harassment from agents of the state. We understand that the land is our means of production as Indigenous people; this is why decolonization and land return are not metaphors. Land is also the means of production for settler economies, which require property as a basic building block (often called primitive accumulation by Marxists) for the accumulation of capital and power. We cannot successfully wage class war until Indigenous land repatriation is taken seriously as a precursor to seizing the means of production more broadly. And US imperialism–the greatest threat to the future of the planet–will never end if land remains in the hands of First World settler capitalists. The collective future of us all depends upon the ability of Indigenous caretakers to work with the land, restore its health, and re-establish balance with our relations.
With threats like radioactive contamination, wildfires, chemical pollution, and biodiversity loss, we will also need to seek new and alternative technologies, something Native people embrace because we have always been technological innovators, scientists and engineers. But as we know, capitalists have a monopoly on technology, with the majority of the most advanced technology being used for war efforts. Scientists are denied funding for projects that are not considered profitable or that directly disrupt the flow of capital to the already-wealthy. What if technology was created for the benefit of all life on Earth? In order to answer this question, we must turn to Indigenous knowledge. The following pages prove that our traditions of science, technology, and diplomacy are key to ensuring a future for all living beings on this planet. . . .
Area 1: Clean Sustainable Energy Why is this important?
The world is transitioning from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energies, but not fast enough. Resource extraction is still ravaging Indigenous, Black, migrant, and other-than-human communities. The Amazon forest fire of 2019 resulted in the burning of over 2,000,000 acres and the assassination of Guajajara Indigenous leader and land defender, Paulo Paulino, all in the name of mining and logging. In early 2020 Canada invaded sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory to remove Unist’ot’en land defenders who had successfully stopped construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline for close to a decade. And the Navajo Nation is still one of largest resource colonies in the United States, supplying energy through coal and natural gas conversion to some of the largest cities in the American West while many of its own citizens live without basic infrastructure like clean water and electricity.
For Indigenous and poor communities throughout Turtle Island, the fracking revolution of the past decade has been particularly violent. Fracking is a type of drilling that injects chemicals and water into the ground to break up underlying shale rock, releasing the oil and natural gas contained within it. Fracking produces more natural gas than crude oil for the US economy; two-thirds of natural gas in the United States comes from fracking, while approximately fifty percent of the nation’s crude oil is procured through the same method. Corporations like TC Energy–formerly TransCanada, the corporation that built the Dakota Access Pipeline–claim that natural gas is one of the world’s cleanest and safest energy sources. Natural gas is often called ‘clean’ because it emits 50 percent less carbon than coal when you burn it.
Governments like the state of New Mexico have partnered with fracking corporations to create shiny PR campaigns about the benefits of natural gas as a bridge fuel that will help the planet transition from dirty fuel sources like coal into zero-net carbon renewables like solar. Native people know the truth about this so called ‘clean’ energy source. While the natural gas boom has created billions in profits for extractive corporations, governments, and investors, the fracking required to extract natural gas from below the earth’s surface has devastated Indigenous communities in eastern Navajo. Infrastructure like the Coastal GasLink Pipeline that carries natural gas from fracking fields to ports for sale violate Wet’suwet’en sovereignty. And the explosion of temporary fracking labor in the Bakken Oil Shale region has increased rape and human trafficking by oil workers of Indigenous women and girls from nations like the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.
Meanwhile, extractive corporations are investing billions in renewable energy technologies to ensure they have a new source of profit once ‘dirty’ energy is phased out in favor of ‘clean’ sources. Renewable energy corporations and start-ups proliferate, creating a new class of millionaires and billionaires who invest in green technology to make a buck and proclaim they are saving the planet. The United States backs right-wing coups in Indigenous nations like Bolivia to access green energy sources like lithium. Whether extractive capitalism or green capitalism, profit is all the ruling class cares about. Not the future of humanity. Not Indigenous sovereignty. Not the health of the earth.
It is thus crucial that we imagine and organize for new sustainable energy alternatives led by Indigenous people. Indigenous people have lived sustainably since time immemorial, and can continue to live in reciprocity with all those we share the earth with. But sustainable does not mean primitive. We must reclaim Indigenous intellectual traditions of the Western Hemisphere, which have some of the most advanced technology in human history. We have millennia-old mathematical and scientific theories that allow us to track the movement of the solar system, map out stars and galaxies, and create functional plumbing and aqueduct systems. We had these technologies long before Europeans discovered such things. Science and technology have never been at odds with Indigenous lifeways; it is only because of capitalism’s monopoly on technology that science is used to destroy the planet. Today the most advanced technology in the world is used to create military weapons that kill millions rather than harnessed to save life. Because of their total control by private corporations, the health sciences are incapable of saving human lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine if technology was developed by the humble people of the earth for the humble people of the earth? Capitalism can never be compatible with clean, sustainable energy. Capitalism kills the earth. For the earth to live, capitalism must die.
What needs our urgent attention?
Green energy jobs are often touted as the rationale for promoting renewable energy projects. However, if we look at renewable energy projects like Kayenta Solar Project, Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, and the Tsilhqot’in Solar Farm, the majority of employment for tribal members is temporary and only comes from construction and planning. The maintenance is done by outside contractors. From vision to completion, solar jobs are not a sustainable source of jobs for local communities unless maintenance, monitoring, and remediation are taken into account. Saying that renewable energy will “create more jobs” simply isn’t enough. We must have a clear understanding of the spectrum of labor that goes into green energy and demand that local communities–not private contractors- -work these jobs.
The materials that are used in solar panel systems are extremely important to consider. Lithium-ion batteries, according to the US Department of Energy, are and will be the main storage of renewable energies. Lithium-ion batteries are made from two main minerals, cobalt and lithium. The Democratic Republic of Congo holds 60% of the world’s cobalt, while Bolivia holds 70% of the world’s lithium. Both countries face heavy exploitation from the world’s economic powers like the US, China, Canada, France, and India. While these countries are supplying the Global North with green energy for the future, they remain some of the poorest nations in the world. We must not replicate the injustices and inequalities between the Global North and Global South that exist under our current structure of global capitalism by simply replacing fossil fuel extraction with renewable energy extraction. Even with the transition to green energy, the capitalist (and colonial) relation remains intact. This is called imperialism, whereby the wealth and power of Global North nations depends entirely upon the poverty and exploitation of Global South nations. We must fight against a system that deems the world’s poor and Indigenous expendable for the sake of progress and profit.
What can you do about it?
We demand that all corporate polluters be held accountable and pay for full remediation of the land and reparations to the people who have felt the impacts of extraction for generations. This can look like boycotts and divestment campaigns, or urging tribal leaders to break contracts with corporate polluters. Educate tribal communities on the histories of resource extraction. Regardless of how clean and green the technology is, the process by which corporations extract value from Indigenous life for the benefit of settler colonialism remains the same. Organize to stop all forms of energy extraction from Native communities and lands, whether it is coal mining, fracking, or solar farms. Now more than ever we need people to understand that we have to actively create the world we want to live in. Man-made disasters like climate change and the unnecessary spread of COVID-19 are not manifestations of “the earth healing itself.” Such deadly events are a direct result of the actions of those who pillage the earth: the ruling class. These capitalists view the earth as a resource to be exploited instead of a relative to be protected.
Wherever you are, create campaigns that pinpoint the central role of capitalism in creating this suffering, and the need to dismantle capitalism for the sake of our common future.
The Red Nation Authors Interviewed
Selected Resources on Indigenous People and the Environment
The Red Nation, The Red Deal; Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth, 2021.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion, 2021.
Quito J. Swan, Pauulu’s Diaspora: Black Internationalism and Environmental Justice, 2020.
Selected Resources on Caretaking in the Global Economy
“The Care Economy,” International Labour Organization
“Why women’s time and work must be part of future policy choices,” Hewlett Foundation
“Women took on three times as much child care as men during the pandemic,” Fortune
And for science-fiction fans
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, 2020.
Review of Ministry for the Future, Los Angeles Review of Books, 2020.
Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson, Jacobin, 2020.