Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’


Mount Polley Mine: ‘Indigenous Law’ Will Now Be Enforced

This article has been reposted from Triple Pundit, originally published February 23, 2015

By Jan Lee

The negative effects of extractive industry operations on indigenous communities have been obvious for quite some time.

Studies show that the rights of Native communities are often at risk in such settings, especially when hydraulic fracturing and other crude oil-related developments are being operated on or near their lands.

What is often less reported however, are the dangers that Native peoples face from overlooked mechanical or structural failures where materials or waste compounds are stored in remote areas.

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Mount Polley: Canada’s Worst Mining Spill

That danger was illumined in brutal clarity last August when a tailings pond in British Columbia, Canada failed, spewing 2.5 billion gallons of waste into nearby waterways. The Mount Polley Mine, located in B.C.’s vibrant Cariboo region sits amidst the province’s Fraser River watershed, an essential resource not only to the Vancouver Mainland, but to the Neskonlith Indian Band and nearby towns of the Cariboo. First Nations communities along the Fraser River and its tributaries depend on the rivers and lakes for food, water and livelihood. In many cases, access and the right to manage those resources are protected by treaty or another type of agreement with the government. In this case, sovereign rights of the Secwepemc First Nation (Shuswap First Nation in English), which includes the Neskonlith band, are protected through a reconciliation agreement with the Province of British Columbia.

The spill, reported to be the largest industrial accident of its kind in Canadian history, flowed into nearby waterways, polluting Polley Lake and creating a four-month-long drinking ban for local communities. Cleanup was estimated to cost $200 million.

This January, the results of the first of three investigations into the spill was released. The fact that the spill was caused by a failure of the pond’s earthen containment wall was visually evident from aerial photos. But the assessment of what caused the breach sent a chilling wake-up call to Native communities situated around North American ore mining sites.

“[The] dominant contribution to the failure resides in the design,” said the three-expert panel charged with determining the reason for the breach. “The design did not take into
account the complexity of the sub-glacial and pre-glacial geological environment” below the dam, which breached when stresses underneath it changed. For unknown reasons, the structural design for the containment pond had been changed at the last minute to an option that appears to have been “flawed.” The loading conditions of the pond didn’t take into consideration geological factors that would be essential to the long-term integrity of the containment walls. When the wall collapsed, the breach was sudden and unstoppable, creating a swath of heavy metals, mud and debris that penetrated nearby water systems.

Even before the cause of the breach was known, Native communities in other parts of the province began to speak out against mining operations on their lands.

“The spill’s ramifications rippled to Imperial’s Red Chris mine in northern BC, where elders from the Tahltan Central Council (with whom the company previously had a positive working relationship) established a blockade to voice their concerns about the potential of a similar incident in their territories,” stated First Peoples Worldwide in their Corporate Monitor post last September. In order to continue operations, the company was forced to sign an agreement that would allow third-party inspection of the operation under the band’s auspices.

Similar concerns were voiced in other parts of western Canada as well. In July, just days before the dam broke, Toronto-based Seabridge Gold obtained environmental certificate for its $42 billion KSM mining operation at the northwest corner of B.C. Weeks later, with news of the breach still in international spotlight, KSM bowed to pressure to allow third-party oversight for the life of the operation. Geologic studies suggest that the area possesses the same sub-glacial mining risks as the Mount Polley mine.

New Mining Policies for First Nations’ Lands

The provincial government has since delayed the release of the final report until 2017. The announcement, along with revelations of the avoidable cause of the breach, only heightened the frustration of Native communities in B.C.

Realizing that it would be essentially powerless to prevent any similar disasters without a conclusive report that could spur the industry and province into remedial action, the Secwepemc took what some might feel was a bold step: It invoked its rights as a sovereign First Nation of Canada and evicted Imperial Metals from its land. It also announced that it now had mining policies of its own, and would enforce from hereafter.

”One thing I want to make perfectly clear is this policy isn’t a wish-list,” said Jacinda Mack when the policies were announced. Mack serves as the the council coordinator for the Secwepemc Nation. “This is Indigenous law.”

The 55-page document spells out in specific terms the responsibilities of the mining company and the rights of the First Nation to oversee and enforce those guidelines. It invokes the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights to define the Native peoples’ right to “determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.” It also defines its right to close the mine and evict mining companies as it sees fit.

The policies were developed by a third party, the Fair Mining Collaborative, and is now available to all First Nation communities facing the question of mining on their lands.

“Indigenous rights can be defined as “flowing from Indigenous peoples’ historic and sacred relationship with their territories,” says Fair Mining Collaborative.  “These rights are derived from Indigenous laws, cultural practices, customs, and forms of governance.”

Chief Bev Sellars of the Soda Creek Band, which was affected by the tailings pond breach, explained the reason for the policies in more concrete terms. “Since mining arrived in BC First Nations have been ignored and imposed upon,” she stated in an interview with Canadian publication The Tyee. “With this mining policy we can no longer be ignored or imposed upon, and the province and industry can no longer claim they do not know how to work with us …”

Tailing Ponds Risks: A Worldwide Issue

According to studies released by the Center for Science in Public Participation and Earthworks, the conditions that affect the Mount Polley and KSM mining sites aren’t limited to British Columbia.

“There are 839 tailings dams in the United States and approximately 3,500 around the world, according the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations, respectively,” the organizations announced in a press release in February. There is currently no international oversight of such mines.

There also aren’t uniform laws protecting Aboriginal rights when it comes to mining operations. First Peoples Worldwide’s 2014 study of extractive industry operations around the world last fall illumined numerous gaps in international policies when it came to indigenous communities and their rights to water, food and other resources when it comes to mining operations.

“Our Indigenous Rights Risk Report identified 73 mining projects on or near Indigenous Peoples lands globally, of which 17 are on or near Native American lands in the U.S.,” said a spokeperson for First Peoples.

It is worth noting that while last fall’s assessment of U.S. mining operations near or on Native American lands suggested that their residents experience less risk from mining operations than in Canada, Native American rights are not necessarily as far-reaching as in Canada. The path to nation sovereignty and community oversight of mining operations is often slower in the U.S., where some Native American populations are still battling the courts regarding environmental justice and climate justice issues.

Mount Polley: Climate Change?

There are numerous takeaway lessons that can be extracted from the Mount Polley catastrophe. While it is geographically more than a thousand miles from Alberta’s Tar Sands, Mount Polley mirrors the very type of environmental disaster that ecologists feared would occur if the Embridge Pipeline were constructed across the watershed. The provincial government turned down the controversial oil pipeline two years earlier because it said it feared among other things, that the pipeline would put this breadbasket of resources at risk. It cited insufficient protections to ensure a spill of far-reaching potential wouldn’t occur. The initial report on the Mount Polley disaster suggests that far-reaching environmental spills can still occur in industries that have prevailed for years and settings that are actively managed, just as they can miles of pipeline that cross desolate terrain.

One question that the report did not address is why there was a shifting of the sub-glacial formation. It is to be assumed that such change can occur over years as a part of the natural ecology of the area, but was this unexpected shift due to melting of glacial formations, and could it be related to climate change? Is this why it occurred at the peak of the Cariboo’s warm weather, and is it a risk we’ll see again with the Northwest’s increasingly warmer and drier summer landscapes? The next two reports aren’t meant to address geologic factors, but with the lessons of the Mount Polley Mine disaster now at hand, and concerns about climate change that is increasing the prevalence of warmer temps, perhaps these are questions worth asking.

To learn more about Triple Pundit, visit their website.




Indigenous Peoples Excluded from UN Climate Change Conference

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Among many criticisms of the twentieth UN Climate Change Conference, which convened in Peru in December 2014, is the omission of Indigenous Peoples’ rights from the outcome document, despite the fact that 1) Indigenous Peoples are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and 2) Indigenous traditional knowledge offers valuable solutions to climate change that may be lost if it continues to be ignored by policymakers. An Indigenous Peoples’ caucus presented a series of proposals to the negotiators, including recognition and respect for land rights, the creation of a climate fund for Indigenous Peoples, and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for climate related projects. None of these proposals were accepted.

As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, the private sector will undoubtedly be expected to play a greater role in mitigation. It would be more effective—and probably cheaper—for companies to accomplish this by supporting Indigenous Peoples’ rights and lifestyles, rather than perpetuating the sequence of failed commitments and botched programs from governments.

Sources: Indian Country Today, HuffingtonPost

Christiana Figueres (L), executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the opening meeting of the plenary session. [photo credit: Xinhua News Agency/REX]

Christiana Figueres (L), executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the opening meeting of the plenary session. [photo credit: Xinhua News Agency/REX]

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Philanthropy as Reciprocity

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

By Ingrid Sub Cuc and Mark Camp

Indigenous reciprocity is much more complex than a two-way exchange of favors…while the word reciprocity is not used often in our daily lives, it is deeply embedded in most Indigenous cultures. Where reciprocity remains strong in many respects, we must acknowledge that in other respects the serious erosion of our worldview has consequently caused damage to our systems of reciprocity. But we continue to have strong philosophical continuity.

Roberta L. Jamieson, Canadian lawyer, First Nations activist, and keynote speaker at the opening of the IFIP World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

Reciprocity, the practice of exchanging with others for mutual benefit, is the basis for relationships in many Indigenous communities and was the buzzword characterizing the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy. The summit took place September 24–26 in New York City, dovetailing with the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the UN Climate Summit, and the People’s Climate March. It brought together funders, NGOs, and Indigenous leaders to foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous philanthropy by allowing them to create relationships without the constraint of the funder-recipient dynamic, working as equal partners.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, spoke at the World Summit on the important role that Indigenous philanthropy has in the future of climate change. Her remarks highlighted the importance of the climate march, particularly for Indigenous Peoples: “Indigenous Peoples did not contribute to climate change, but we are asked to solve the crisis. Controlling climate change requires the respect and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. I like to believe that our funders have the same passion and commitment as Indigenous people to leave a better future for our next generation,” she said.

Currently, less than one percent of philanthropic giving benefits Indigenous Peoples. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is a nonprofit organization that aims to transform philanthropy globally through encouraging and facilitating partnerships with Indigenous Peoples to further vision, imagination, and responsibility to tackle the challenges of our times. Its members include foundations and individual donors who are focused on funding opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.

Conference speakers provided a closer look at philanthropy and reciprocity as it operates in Indigenous communities. One panel considered the role of youth in continuing the work of philanthropic leaders in their communities and the necessity of educating them for the future. Neydi Juracan Morales (Kaqchiquel Maya), a youth leader from the Comite Campesina del Altiplano, shared that “young Indigenous women in many communities experience discrimination four times: one for being a woman, two for being Indigenous, three for being young, and four for being a leader.” Morales spoke of the struggle to bridge the generational gap between her elders and her peers, more so to prove to her family that being a woman should not limit her work in advancing the political and social movements in her community. “Women are a vital resource to Indigenous communities because we know what our families need. Women play a huge role in maintaining the household; it only makes sense that we have a vote in decisions,” she said.

Also discussed at the event were the rights of Indigenous people with disabilities and their role in Indigenous philanthropy. Diana Samarasan, founding executive director of the Disability Rights Advocacy Advocacy Fund, spoke of the underrepresentation of Indigenous people with disabilities in both political and social realms. She highlighted a different angle of reciprocity—one between movements—in discussing the necessity of acknowledging these members of our communities for the progress and equal representation of Indigenous communities. “We have been funding cross-movement work between the Indigenous Peoples movement and the disability rights movement. Indigenous people with disabilities have been invisible in both movements,” she explained. “The disability community globally [as well as the Indigenous movement] has the slogan, ‘Nothing about us without us.’ And that’s how we, as a funder, have tried to build what we do around that concept… the the structure that we use for funding is to incorporate the voices of persons with disabilities at all levels of what we’re doing.”

Conference participants were encouraged to ask questions and actively participate in the discussions in order to gain broader perspectives. One such question asked how Indigenous funders are incorporating the concept of reciprocity within their respective organizations. Mirna Cunningham, a Miskita leader and activist on the Reimagining Resources, Reciprocity, and Relationship in Grantmaking panel said, “Our concept of reciprocity is a concept of sharing…so our vision at FIMI [Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas] is that we provide the funds and the various groups provide their traditional knowledge. That’s how it works, we share and we exchange.” The panel discussed the funders’ responsibility to view Indigenous philanthropy as mutually beneficial. As Cunningham expressed, the idea is that each side provides their resources to bring about sustainable and culturally sensitive change.

“In traditional Indigenous communities you are aware of what your neighbor has; that is, we know if he has one or two camels. That is how we know what they need in hard times. But the modern economy makes us put our money in the bank where we don’t see it. How then do we know what we have and don’t have? We can’t share that way,” said Dr. Hussein Isack from the Kivulini Heritage Trust.

Participants repeatedly underscored the idea that protecting the environment protects resources for all, including future generations—and that this is the highest form of reciprocity. “Remember that water is our first food, and that food is water. We must conserve our land and our water at the same time,” said Melissa Nelson of The Cultural Conservancy during the Food Sovereignty, Indigenous People, and the Future of Agriculture: a Global Strategy panel. Sustainable land use was also a recurring theme. “Now that we control over 40,000 hectares (150 square miles), the challenge is how to manage it without destroying it. We can’t just continue with the colonial way,” said Abdon Nababan of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago.

Change must happen at several levels for reciprocity to blossom; changing the culture of funding is essential and needs to respect the way Indigenous communities operate. Tauli-Corpuz explained, “Some donors want to see big impact in very little time, but it doesn’t work that way. It took 25 years to draft and pass the UN declaration, so it takes that long.” Sandra Macias del Villar of the Global Fund for Children offered a donor’s perspective, saying that funders too often restrict what the community wants to do. She argued that communities need flexible funding, money that can be spent on anything from transportation to meetings to Internet access. “Too many funders fund short term for just a year or two. That is just not enough time to accomplish anything,” she said.

Reflecting on the event as a whole, Atama Katama, conference panelist and nonprofit leader, commented, “I feel that the summit is very important to not just Indigenous people, but for funders themselves to know more about the new level of working with Indigenous Peoples, especially after the outcome document of the world conference. In the same way, we Indigenous Peoples who are empowered by the process of the world conference now have in mind, can think about, can strengthen the passion to work with philanthropists who are here today.”

Maori Grantmakers Recognized

The recipient of the 2014 IFIP Award for Indigenous Grantmaking went to the JR McKenzie Trust. Founded in 1940, it is one of the oldest organizations in New Zealand that supports the well being and development of the Maori people. This is the first time an award was given to a foundation that has appointed Maori tribal and community leaders on its Board to share in the decision making. Executive Director Evelyn Arce said, “JR McKenzie Trust is a model for the future of Indigenous philanthropy which places community leaders at the center of the decision making process.”

To learn more about International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, visit:

Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about.


Grantee Highlight: Waa’gey

“Traditional Skills to Confront Tomorrow’s Challenges.”
-Waa’gey Mission Statement

By Katie Cheney

Micronesia has been in the climate change spotlight often over the past several years, and for good reason – sea level around Micronesia is rising by 10 millimeters per year, more than 3 times the global average. Coastal erosion is widespread, and climate change is the country’s biggest challenge according to President Mori. Reports of marginal islands disappearing over the next century due to the rising sea level rarely give a history, voice, or context to the island people that are the most threatened.

The Federated States of Micronesia [Photo Credit: Nations Online]

The Federated States of Micronesia [Photo Credit: Nations Online]

Zoom-in on Yap, the western-most state of Micronesia. Yap is a group of islands about 8,410 miles away from the California coast, home to 11,000 people. 65% of the population lives on Yap Proper, four large islands connected by roads, waterway and bridges, centered around the capital city of Colonia. The rest of the population lives on the Outer Islands, 78 islands scattered up to 600 miles east of Yap Proper, of which 18 are inhabited. 3 of these Outer Islands are close enough to be reached via airplane, and the rest are serviced by a cargo ship that runs about every 6 weeks from Yap Proper. There are four Indigenous language groups in Yap State: Yapese, Ulithian, Woleaian and Satawalese.

Yap Proper. The Outer Islands are small and scattered at a great distance from Yap. [Photo Credit: Google Earth]

Yap Proper. The Outer Islands are small and scattered at a great distance from Yap. [Photo Credit: Google Earth]

As sea levels rise and globalization continues, more and more Outer Island Indigenous peoples are permanently moving to Yap Proper for better medical care, education, and an ever more present cash economy. Not only do the Outer Island communities face the challenges of climate change, the rise of a cash economy and urbanization in Yap has put a lot of stress on traditional practices – for example, fishermen preferring gas-motor boats instead of their traditional, more energy-sustainable canoes. As more people move to the main island, they face a new culture, different lifestyles, more imported foods, and the risk that their cultural traditions will be lost forever.

Indigenous cultural traditions and local knowledge of the Outer Islands, such as canoe building, weaving, navigation skills, or stone money, were traditionally passed down from elders to youth in the Outer Island communities. As migration to Yap has persisted, Outer Island youth have become more and more disconnected from their cultural traditions. Waa’gey has found a way to reverse this disconnection, by organizing community elders to pass specialized local knowledge to young people.

Waa’gey, founded in 2010, is a community-based organization that uses traditional skills to confront the social, economic, and environmental challenges faced by the people of Micronesia’s most remote outer islands. In pursuit of preserving native technologies and arts of the Outer Island cultures, Waa’gey works with foreign development agencies, international non-profits, and local clubs, schools, and organizations.

With a grant from First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund in 2013, Waa’gey engaged community elders in training 40 Outer Island youth on Yapese traditional knowledge, including canoe building, fish trap-making, rope-making, and weaving traditional lava lava mats and sails.

Micronesian dugout canoe, made in the Waa’gey traditional canoe project on Lamotrek Atoll. Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). [Photo Credit: Waa'gey]

Micronesian dugout canoe, made in the Waa’gey traditional canoe project on Lamotrek Atoll. Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). [Photo Credit: Waa’gey]

Throughout the program, Waa’gey emphasized the traditional way. The master carver first showed youth how to identify the best-suited log for canoe carving, then how to take measurements using coconut fronds. Carvers learned how to use traditional adze tools for carving the canoes, simultaneously learning respect for the environment and its resources. Canoe-building, like weaving and fish trap-building, is a traditional skill that has been passed down through family, clan, and community, suited to the specific environment of the Outer Islands. These traditional skills are thus considered to belong to the community as a whole, encompassing the basic fundamental values that have kept the community intact over generations.

The grant from First Peoples Worldwide was used to pay the master weavers, fish-trap instructors, and canoe carver, and to purchase project materials like twine ropes, oil paint, silicon, and polyester thread for weaving. While carvers taught youth traditional forms of paint that their ancestors used, modern oil paint has been found to extend the life of canoes. Similarly, carvers traditionally used breadfruit sap as a sealant, but have switched to silicon as it is more effective.

By the end of the project, Indigenous youth began to place a value on their cultural heritage and started educating others about it. A few Yapese youth from the Waa’gey project formed a carving club in the community, which now has 20 members from the local high school. Girls who learned weaving from community elders started generating a small income by selling their products through Waa’gey.

Waa’gey’s work is spreading in other ways too. Waa’gey’s training on traditional fish traps has caused a “comeback” of  traditional fishing methods throughout the Outer Island communities. Traditional fish traps, which are conservatory by nature, are permitted for use in marine protected areas, unlike commercial fishing mechanisms. Waa’gey recently received a grant from the UNDP’s GEF Small Grants Programme for a project that promotes weaving shopping bags and the use of canoes in sustainable fishing methods, and the US Embassy of Micronesia has extended a small grant for cultural preservation. Waa’gey is also working with the Department of Education in Micronesia to have traditional knowledge keepers work with two elementary schools.

Waa’gey in the languages of those living on the Outer Islands means “future”, but on Yap Proper, Waa’gey translates to “chaos”.

“The steady changes taking place in Yap…will impact our culture and traditions, which are the bedrock on which our social and community foundations are built. I see our culture as our way into the future. If we lose it, we can expect a chaotic future at best.”

– Larry Raigetal, Founder, Waa’gey

" Pairing expert mentors with eager young people, Waa'gey helps to protect and revive important cultural skills that would otherwise be lost." Weavers and carvers. [Photo Credit: Waa'gey]

” Pairing expert mentors with eager young people, Waa’gey helps to protect and revive important cultural skills that would otherwise be lost.” Weavers and carvers. [Photo Credit: Waa’gey]



  • Kara Murphy, “Stones and Paddles”, Adventures in Micronesia, Showboats International, 105-109.
  • Waa’gey Keepers of the Earth Fund Application and Due Diligence
  • Waa’gey Keepers of the Earth Fund Grantee Report, November 25, 2014


Cumulative Impacts are Global

Rising sea levels are threatening the disappearance of Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and other small island nations where Indigenous Peoples “currently have their own, sovereign states.” Residents of these nations are being told to “prepare to flee at some point” and questions surrounding the potential influx of “climate refugees” are being debated in Fiji, New Zealand, and other neighboring countries.page3image15784 page3image15944 page3image16104

The UN Global Compact recently hosted a webinar on how companies can address cumulative impacts, which are defined as impacts “on an individual or a community that are the result of the combined actions of several actors.” Cumulative impacts are an emerging concept, typically referred to in the local or regional sense. Yet cumulative impacts in the global sense also warrant attention from companies, with climate change being the most significant. Because of their economic and cultural relationships with lands and natural resources, Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately affected by rising sea levels, shifting weather patterns, and other symptoms of climate change.

Sources: Intercontinental Cry


“What Others Call Adapting, We Call Living” – The Coastal Gullah/Geechee People Face Climate Change

By Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard, reposted from Cultural Survival

The Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans captured in Angola and other parts of the Western Seaboard of Africa who now stretch from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, do not have a word for “adaptation” or “resiliency” in their Creole language. And yet, as Queen Quet, the elected head-of-state for the Gullah/Geechee, explains, the Gullah/Geechee are an incredibly resilient people: they maintained their culture through slavery and today continue traditional farming practices on family compounds.

“What we understand, or overstand as I like to say—that’s what others call adapting,” Queen Quet said. “We call it living.”

Spanish moss hangs on the trees on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.Spanish moss hangs on the trees on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.

We spent the day with Queen Quet on Saint Helena Island, where the only contiguous population of Gullah/Geechee people live. The area is called ‘low country’ since it is technically below sea level. When the moon is full and the tide is high, the water often comes up level with the road.

Sea level rise and drought are the major climate change problems that will affect the Gullah/Geechee people, Queen Quet told us. Recorded sea levels at a tidal station in Charleston show over a foot of sea level rise in the last century, and the rate of sea level rise is expected to accelerate as global temperature continues to rise and large ice sheets such as those over Greenland melt. Climate Central projects another 13 inches of sea level rise in South Carolina by 2050. (View their interactive map here.) As for drought, the EPA cites data from the United States Global Change Research Program that annual average temperatures in the Southeast U.S. are projected to increase by between 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080, and rainfall is expected to come in heavier bursts, with longer dry periods between storms.


Sea level rise on Saint Helena Island is disturbing coastal ecosystems like this 'maritime forest.'

Sea level rise on Saint Helena Island is disturbing coastal ecosystems like this maritime forest.

Queen Quet created a buzz when she attended the National Adaptation Forum last April in Denver, Colorado and presented on “Community Equity in Adaptation and Disaster Preparedness” with a similar combination of song, seriousness, and sass as in her speech above. The Queen’s charisma and drive has opened doors for her to represent the Gullah/Geechee at the United Nations Minority Forum, the International Human Rights Association for American Minorities (IHRAAM), and theInternational Human Rights Commission. She travels about a third of

Queen Quet stood in the root structure of a tree to show the severity of tidal erosion. "We watch the ground move every day," she said.Queen Quet stood in the root structure of a tree to show the severity of tidal erosion. “We watch the ground move every day,” she said.

Back at home, Queen Quet is also busy. On our tour of Saint Helena, she described the “domino effect” of climate impacts for the Gullah/Geechee, whose lives and livelihoods are connected to their land and waterways: “If there’s drought, then we’re going to have more shellfish bed closures, and we don’t have the oysters growing as well as they would have. If the oysters aren’t there, we don’t have the buffer for the spartina grass. If we don’t have the spartina grass in the buffer, we don’t have the maritime forest. And if we don’t have the maritime forest, then we have no roots to hold sand in place, and then we don’t have the Sea Islands.”

The first Gullah/Geechee people brought to the Carolinas were blacksmiths from Angola whose metal-working skills were in high demand. Their tools allowed the land to be cleared and turned into plantations that grew Carolina Gold rice, Sea Island cotton, and indigo—the enslaved Africans themselves were called ‘black gold.’ After the Civil War, the then-government confiscated the land and the Gullah/Geechee had to buy back the properties they were once enslaved on.

Queen Quet lives on a family compound where her relatives have been farming for generations.

Queen Quet lives on a family compound where her relatives have been farming for generations.

Today, the Gullah/Geechee are working to protect Saint Helena from the coastal development that has overrun nearby islands like Hilton Head. In 1999, Beaufort County passed an ordinance that created a Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) District. The ordinance preserves historical and archaeological sites and disallows gated communities, resorts, and golf courses on Saint Helena.

Coastal development is a bit of a foreign concept to the Gullah/Geechee. Queen Quet explained that her African ancestors built their villages inland; going to the water was an important part of their culture.

“Water for us is not about recreation. It’s about spirituality. We don’t see it as a place to play; we regard it as a sacred ground,” Queen Quet said. “So you don’t see us building a house right on the water, unless that’s the last piece of land a family has.”

As a Cultural Protection Overlay District, developers cannot build gated communities, resorts, or golf courses on Saint Helena. The Gullah/Geechee live in what today's planners call "open space," Queen Quet said.

The Gullah/Geechee might seem like a ‘traditional’ culture. Queen Quet still lives on a 10-acre family compound where generations of her relatives have farmed cabbage, watermelon, tomatoes, and cantaloupe on a shared plot. In terms of development, though, the Gullah/Geechee may actually offer a glimpse into the future—a future in which seaside hotels are no longer feasible, and people go to the water again, rather than erecting buildings inches from it.

Through the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program, oyster beds are being restored on the coast.

Queen Quet is acutely aware of what is lost as coastal land is built up: “Others call it development. I call it deconstructionment,” she said. “You just can’t have a Starbucks on the marsh.”

The Queen is involved in a different kind of development: rebuilding the oyster beds on Saint Helena through the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) project. The Ace Basin Living Shoreline project seeks to reestablish the oyster beds that provide storm protection to Saint Helena, as well as fisheries. Through the project, oyster shells collected in biodegradable bags are placed along the shoreline to provide new habitat. Once a front line of oysters is established, the spartina grass can fill in behind it, recreating the maritime forest that once thrived.

Some people look at highly developed areas in coastal South Carolina and assume it is too late for communities to tune themselves to the limitations of natural systems—including a harsher future climate. Queen Quet said that in some places, ‘reclamation’ will mean taking buildings down. She sees an inherent impermanence in seemingly permanent structures. There is a proverb in the Gullah language that says: Da wata bring we. Da wata gwine tek we bak. So Queen Quet doesn’t agree with the ‘it’s too far gone’ attitude when it comes to coastal development.

“We have time right now to try to balance things as much as we can,” she said.



3 Reasons You Need to Support Indigenous Peoples, Even If You Are Not Indigenous



by Britnae Purdy

Look, we get it – everybody has an issue that they care strongly about. For us, that issue is the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world. For you, it may be something different. You may even be of the mindset that if you are not Indigenous, then you have no reason to be concerned with Indigenous issues. But we strongly believe that the values and beliefs of Indigenous Peoples can be effectively applied to a wide range of modern-day concerns. Here are the top three reasons to support Indigenous Peoples even if you are not Indigenous.

1. Sustainable food practices

A study out of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment at McGill University sums it up: “Food relates to social needs and local economy. Indigenous peoples have their own unique perspectives on the relationships between environment and culture, and food, well-being and health in many dimensions. This knowledge is precious to them. It also has many lessons for industrialized nations and populations. There is a clear imperative to protect unique food resources and their diversity. There are 300-500 million indigenous peoples in more than 70 countries around the world, representing over 5,000 languages and cultures on every continent, and each cultural food system may contain up to 250 species of traditional food alone (among additional bioresources for medicines and life ways). This knowledge base is a treasure worthy of global attention and protection.” Yes – your trendy new tea or super-fruit of the month was most likely discovered by Indigenous Peoples long before they hit your grocery store shelf. Indigenous food systems tend to be healthy, locally-based, and sustainable, meaning they are better for the economy, the environment, and for you. Indigenous agriculture is designed to work with the environment, creating crops that are more resistant to drought and blight and that provide the proper nutrients and health needs for a particular community. Unfortunately, Indigenous food practices are often overlooked and disregarded in favor of big economy-based food production – food that is grown with pesticides, packaged, and shipped to far-away markets. This food is less healthy, more experience, and harmful to the environment. As a result, Indigenous communities that are forced to try to compete on the market are subject to poverty and malnutrition. To learn more about threats to Indigenous food and water security, watch First Peoples’ production “Now We Are Hungry” and check out our new Native Abundance initiative.

2. Climate Change

Because Indigenous Peoples’ livelihoods depend on a close relationship with their environment, they are among the first to be affected by climate change. Rising temperatures have a variety of negative effects – warmer waters drive fish deeper into lakes and rivers, making fishing more difficult, pests flourish as they are not killed off by cold weather, and growing and blooming cycles are thrown off, often making for sickly harvests and shorter harvesting seasons. Though felt acutely now in Indigenous communities, these food-related issues will no doubt be felt by the entire population soon if things do not change drastically (our breakfast foods are already in danger!), along with other climate-change induced ills such as heavy flooding, drought, and severe storms. Whereas most urban societies are still in the state of pretending climate change isn’t actually going to affect us, while occasionally recycling some soda bottles to feel better about ourselves, Indigenous Peoples are responding to climate change with real, direct efforts. For example, the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA) is using a “methodology of community-led self-reflection, evaluation, and future-visioning based on local world views and traditional knowledge to develop a community-based climate change adaptation plan.” SnowChange, a Finland-based initiative with projects in New Zealand, Canada, Russia, and Australia, takes a similar approach, mitigating the effects of climate change through specific regulations on hunting, fishing, and agriculture that emphasize a subsistence-based approach. As founder Tero Mustonen says, “It is time to say goodbye to some things we’ll never see again,” referring to traditional practices that are dying out due to the changing environment. “But it is also time to build new knowledge. And this knowledge can only emerge through keeping strong connections with the traditional territory. We must be there on the land as it is changing, so that we can change with it.” Such a direct, realistic, and holistic approach is the only way to ensure that the world’s populations can handle the imminent effects of climate change. For further reading, check out National Geographic’s “Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples” blog as well as First Peoples’ video “Indigenous Peoples’ Stories of Climate Change.”

3. Conservation

Indigenous Peoples are the original conservationists. Living in close harmony with nature since time immemorial, they’ve developed an intimate system of knowledge regarding their land and local animals, and are keenly in tune with the intricate relationship between human, animal, and plant that allows an ecosystem to flourish. Think about it – if Indigenous Peoples did not lead sustainable, respectful lives  within their environment, they would have no source for food, water, or shelter. Many modern conservationists have overlooked this relationship. Though meaning well and intending to protect earth’s amazing landscapes and wildlife, the insistence on creating human-free conservation reserves and parks has meant that upwards of 20 million Indigenous have become so-called “conservation refugees.” Their forced eviction not only disrupts the balance of life in the new parks, but also drains urban areas that must now accommodate entire villages who have lost their traditional sources of food and shelter. Additionally, many Indigenous communities that are allowed to stay on or near their traditional land face severe hunting, fishing, and agricultural restrictions once the land is deemed a reserve or park. This not only results in starvation and poverty for the people, but allows certain animal species to grow unchecked, unbalancing the ecosystem. Indigenous Peoples need to be supported and given the capacity and autonomy needed to make decisions for their own land; studies have show that doing so will result in healthy, well-maintained, and balanced forests, plains, and marine areas. The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre has produced a comprehensive and informative toolkit for supporting conservation by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

So next time you read about Indigenous People fighting for their land, food and way of life, don’t turn a blind eye – realize they are not just fighting for their communities, but for everyone.



Maple Syrup Threatened by Climate Change

By Britnae Purdy

Ojibwa woman gathers maple syrup

Enjoy your morning pancakes with maple syrup? Thank the Native Americans. Legend holds that Woksis, an Iroquois chief, had a habit of slashing his knife into a tree each night after a day of hunting. One warm morning he pulled his knife from the tree and was surprised to find sap dripping out. His wife, not wanting to make a trip to the stream, collected the watery sap in a pail to cook dinner with later that night. The meat came out sweet and delicious, and Woksis began collecting maple sap every night for his meals.

Regardless of how sap was actually discovered, it is a fact that the Native Americans of New England and Canada had been collecting maple sap and processing it into syrup long before colonization. After collecting the sap in hollowed-out logs, they would insert white-hot field stones to bring the sap to a boil. They would either cool the sap at this point to make syrup, or continue to process it until the sap crystallized into maple sugar, which would not spoil and could be easily used to flavor dishes or as a quick source of energy.

When European settlers arrived, the Iroquois traded maple sugar with them and eventually taught them the sugaring process. The settlers added their own techniques to the process, and sap collection quickly became  standard practice for households across New England and Canada.

Unfortunately, this Native tradition, and maple syrup for your pancakes, may become extinct due to climate change. Atypically warm weather is disrupting the trees natural process for making sap. Maple trees produce the best sap on cool days preceded by freezing nights – the cold weather causes the sap in the tree to freeze, creating a low-pressure vacuum that draws more sap up from the roots. When temperatures rise the next day, the sap melts and oozes through the tree, making for easy collection.

When temperatures stay abnormally warm, as they have been lately, this process does not occur. Additionally, the warm weather causes the trees to begin to bud. The hormones that trigger budding also decrease the sap’s sugar content and spoil its taste. This means that it takes much larger quantities of sap to boil down to a gallon of syrup. Furthermore, warmer weather caused by climate change allows pests to prosper, killing young maple trees before they are able to reach maturity – trees must be 40-50 years old to produce the best quality of sap. Acid rain has also become a constant stressor on the trees.

Tappers who invest in expensive, modern vacuum systems are still collecting a decent amount of sap from their trees, but hobbyists, artisanal tappers, and communities who adhere to the traditional practices are suffering. The tapping season, which typically spans a month, is shortening to one or two weeks, and tappers are being forced to begin the process earlier and earlier in the year.

The trees are also fed up with climate change. In a phenomenon known as tree migration, maple trees are moving further north and up mountain slopes– a study by UVM ecologist Brian Beckage found that tree species in Vermont have shifted 90 meters since 1964, seeking colder climates. Maine, Wisconsin, Vermont, and New York, which combined produce 80 percent of the United States’ maple syrup, will lose production to Canada. Quebec currently taps one-third of their trees and produces 5.35 million barrels a year, 70 percent of the global supply.

Climate change experts predict that the maple sugaring industry could be wiped out by 2100, destroying a $65 million business and taking with it centuries of agricultural practices rooted in traditional indigenous knowledge.

Are you Indigenous or interested in Indigenous issues? Join us for Proud To Be Indigenous Week in May. Learn more at:

(Photo: Ojibwa woman gathers maple sap circa late 1800s to make maple syrup and sugar. From Minnesota Landscape Arboretum,


Movements of Survival: A Conversation with Rebecca Adamson & Bill McKibben about Idle No More &

by Dan Morrison

Idle No More
A few years ago, I wrote a piece titled, The Art of Slacktivism about how young people were Tweeting and Facebooking away from their dorm rooms and sofas to support causes they believed in. Millions donated $10 to relief efforts in Haiti from their cell phones and then went on with the rest of their lives feeling as if they changed the world. Slacktivism seemed a perfect philanthropic transaction for the ADHD-riddled 21st century – fast, convenient and cheap.

Then all of a sudden people filled the streets Tunisia and a dictator fell. Wael Ghonim, a Google employee in Egypt, started a Facebook page that rallied Egyptians to oppose the now fallen Hosni Mubarak regime. The Arab Spring spread and dictators tumbled in Libya and Yemen, and uprisings and protests continue throughout the region.

The United States wasn’t immune. On September 17, 2011, people emerged from behind their laptops and mobile phones and marched on Wall Street to protest corporate greed in the wake of the economic meltdown. Occupy Wall Street soon became Occupy Chicago, Boston, Portland and spread across the world.

These people were not “slacktivists” but activists, revolutionaries and heros. Social media was finally living up to expectations – inspiring people online to take offline action.

But two of the biggest movements may be yet to come.

The first is Idle No More, a movement that caught many by surprise. What began with four indigenous women protesting Bill C 45 for violating Canada’s Indian Act became a movement of Indigenous People circle dancing in the streets across Canada, blockading rail lines, and hunger striking to speak with the Prime Minister and Governor General. By using the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore, the movement spread across North America and the world. It came to represent Indigenous Peoples fight for self-determination, cultural respect and a healthy environment for all. It is as powerful as it was spontaneous.‘s climate movement is different. It was a planned, concerted effort by environmentalist Bill McKibben and his students. They have worked hard over the last few years to build up a following of people concerned about climate change and asking them to act. 350 has mobilized its followers to petition the US Congress to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, “Connect the Dots” by sharing photos of the impact of climate change on social media, “Do The Math” and pressure universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and most recently to take to the streets in Washington, DC and pressure President Obama to act in climate change. is no less grassroots, but it has a center from which it coordinates its efforts.

With Idle No More and dominating the headlines (at least of Huffington Post), I had the chance to interview Rebecca Adamson, an indigenous leader and founder of First Peoples Worldwide, and Bill McKibben, environmentalists and co-founder of, to find out what makes a movement and what the future holds for Idle No More and the Climate Change movements.

 Rebecca: All we hear about today is that a new exciting movement has started, only to find out that it is a repackaging of something old. What is a movement in your mind and what makes Idle No More and the Climate Change movement any different?

Movements originate from a genuine community concern. Authentic members of society, not our leaders, stand up and take it upon themselves to come together and address an issue. The origins tend to be spontaneous. They don’t come out of academies, businesses, or institutions, which manage the status quo. Movements come out of us, the People, who want to affect change. In that sense, Idle No More is right on. Over the years, the environmental movement has become stale and institutionalized, but is breathing new life into it so it can become relevant again and regain itself as a Peoples movement.

 Bill, you wrote The End of Nature in 1989. What role have indigenous people played in the environmental movement and what role are they playing in 350 today?

The first thing to say is, is rooted in place in every country on earth but North Korea–and in most of those places indigenous people are at the forefront. That’s true from the Andes to the forests of India, and from northern Scandinavia to the boreal forests of Canada. Some of our closest allies in the fight against the tarsands–the people who really started the Keystone XL Pipeline fight–come from the Indigenous Environmental Network. The first person I ever heard about the tarsands in depth from was Melina Laboucan-Massimo and her great colleagues in the White Buffalo area.

Rebecca, you have been an activist for indigenous rights since the 1970s. Why is the Idle No More movement important?

Idle No More is important because it is a genuine movement. It is unique because for the first time in our history as indigenous peoples, members of non-indigenous society are joining us in mass. Peoples like Bill have joined us are waking the public up to the issue of not only climate change, but a peoples’ right to self-determination. Bill tied our movement into a global audience. Indigenous rights and climate change have always been reported on as two separate issues. Now, peoples are seeing them as parts of a larger global issue and movement.

But it is important to remember that Idle No More is not new movement. It is the latest manifestation of our Indigenous Peoples movement that we have been fighting for hundreds of years. It is human kind’s movement that fights for what every human being wants – the right to determine their own destiny and make a better world their children. 

Bill, when did you know that the 350 climate movement was taking off? Did you have a plan or did it just happen?

We had a plan, but we didn’t know it would work. We started with myself and seven undergraduates–since there are seven continents, each one took one and we went to work. And somehow a year later we pulled off a global day of action with 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called ‘the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.’ I think it’s because there was such unrealized demand for climate action

 Bill, you mentioned in a recent Huffington Post piece that indigenous people control the lands where much of the fossils fuels are in Canda and that, “The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet’s future.” What if they choose to exploit the fossil fuels to pay for the development they often need so badly?

Well, if they do, the carbon will have the same effect as if the Koch Brothers pour it into the atmosphere. The good news is these lands are also the prime sources of sun, wind, and geothermal power in the continent.

Rebecca, a critical tenet of First Peoples is to strengthen the voice of native people and ensure they have self-determination and decision making power. An indigenous community may decide developing fossil fuels on their land is their right and the best thing for their people. Bill has a clear point of view that we must keep the fossil fuels in the ground if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change. How do you deal with this dilemma?

All of us want the right to decide their own destiny and that of our children. However, decisions about access to clean water, food security, and the allocation of resources are being made by a small, elitist group. This should concern ALL of us. Who doesn’t want a say in what happens in their neighborhood? On indigenous lands, companies and governments are stripping away our assets, polluting our waters, and selling our land to the highest bidder. Which is why for us, Indigenous Peoples, the issue is the right to self-determination. Idle No More is first a movement to ensure Indigenous Peoples have the right to decide for themselves, which is why it is spreading so rapidly from Canada to around the world.

Indigenous Peoples are the miner’s canary in a development process gone haywire. Indigenous Peoples have a sense of enoughness and equitable distribution. But development takes all of our land, water, food and other life supporting assets away and sends them up market to make iPhones and Big Macs for the consumer society. If we are stripped of our life-sustaining assets, there is not much else we can do but profit from the oil beneath our feet so we can survive.

Personally I feel and intrinsic affinity for the land. It heals me. It sustains me and I am obligated to sustain it. The Indigenous paradigm for conservation is one of protection-production and production-protection. You take care of your place because it produces for you. And it produces for you because you take care of it. Not every indigenous person acts in this way, but I strongly believe that ensuring the right of self-governance for Indigenous Peoples will bring about new, sustainable ways to live in harmony with Mother Earth.

In order to do what Bill is saying, we have to come up with a radical new way on how to distribute benefits and wealth equitably. But the fix is not having indigenous peoples be over-romanticized tree-huggers. Bill and I both agree that the reality of climate change is that if we don’t fix it, we are all going to die. 

Bill, How does work with and support other movements like Idle No More? How do you ensure there is not competition?

We’re not really an organization, we’re more like a campaign. We try to just set up ways for everyone to play together. And we always pay attention to great leaders–like, say, Clayton Thomas-Muller who is one of my absolute favorite allies. Or Tom Goldtooth, or Reuben George, or Bill Erasmus, or Melina Loubacon-Massimo, or any of the other great indigenous leaders we get to work with. There’s no group of people I’ve learned more from.

To learn more about First Peoples Worldwide and, visit and


International Terra Madre Day: A Celebration of Local Food

December 10, 2012 marks the fourth annual International Terra Madre Day, a day to celebrate local food and honor the communities that produce them. The holiday was created by Slow Food International, a grassroots movement that connects communities with the food they eat through the promotion and preservation of local and sustainable food systems.

To celebrate Terra Madre Day, communities around the world are hosting events and activities to celebrate the uniqueness of their food systems.  In the Czech Republic, Moravian chefs are hosting a workshop to teach participants three different methods of cooking carp, a freshwater fish with strong cultural ties to the country. In Mali, local chefs are teaching children the near-forgotten recipe for sinasaar, a traditional crepe prepared for weddings, religious festivals, and other important occasions.  In Rwanda, community members organized a workshop in an elementary school to teach children traditional methods of churning butter and cheese. Several of these events will raise money for Slow Food’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, aimed at funding community gardens in cities and villages in 25 African countries.

First Peoples Worldwide has launched Native Abundance, an initiative that will fund food-related projects organized and orchestrated by Indigenous Peoples around the world.  Native Abundance will aim to help Indigenous Peoples improve food security, increase incomes, and protect the environment through strengthening Indigenous practices in communities around the globe.

A community garden in Uganda, part of Slow Food’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project (Source: Slow Food)

Stay tuned for more information about Native Abundance!