Ho mitakuyepi, hello my relatives! On a rainy day in Glasgow, Scotland I hugged my cohort mates and said see you when we meet again as we parted ways. Our week-two team has begun our journeys home after a long week of discussion, protest, and advocacy for protection of Unci Maka – Grandmother Earth. We were a small number of Indigenous people who traveled to Glasgow to make an unexpected critical connection to sky protectors, land defenders, and water protectors from across the world. And oh yes, to participate in COP26, a global convening of world leaders working to find an answer to the disastrous effects of climate change as we tread toward that 1.5° celsius tipping point.
We collectively brought thousands of years of ancestral knowledge, ceremony, song, tradition, as well as a certainty that our Indigenous way of life is going to save the world. 80 plus percent of the world’s biodiversity is protected by Indigenous peoples of the world and that is not an accident. Our teachings tell us that connection with every living being is dependent on the survival of our people. However, being subjugated to lands that were once undervalued and left untouched since time immemorial, it is now known that we were relegated to some of the most pristine lands in the world.
The experience of COP was one like I’ve never imagined. The songs, drums, and languages of other nations surrounded us as many of us left our home countries with the sole purpose of reversing the effects of climate change. COP was the convening of world parties that negotiated the buildout of a business model that commodifies carbon in order to monetize carbon capture so that the world’s filthiest polluters can continue to increase profit margins. From an outside perspective, there was the false illusion that COP was a global kumbaya moment, where nations worked together to come up with a captain planet plan to save our Earth. My sense told me otherwise. Yes, there was an undertone of urgency to bring solutions as we continue to climb toward the risk of reaching the tipping point of no return.
Unfortunately, the negotiations happened behind closed doors (yes, understandably to minimize the risk of covid outbreak), but often anything that happens without us is not always for us. We must engage in a dialogue as humans in order to bring the voices of the experts to the table, those same voices that are often left out of decision making processes. Who often bear the burden of the externalized cost of production through institutional racism, environmental racism, devaluation of human life, and capitalistic conquest.
The most enriching part of my journey was the cohort of fellow compatriots who all have a history of working to save Grandmother Earth. Had I not been with these fellow protectors, the polarization of badged or unbadged, world leader or protector, and privileged or underprivileged would have debased my entire experience. We came together bravely and called out the inequities that were overwhelmingly magnified as frontline communities protested outside the gates of the conference while fossil fuel representatives had the largest delegation in attendance at COP. Though our voices trembled at times, we never faltered and the prayers of our people carried us.
Our worldviews as Indigenous people are collective and inter-generational, based on oral traditions and the responsibility of being a good relative to all that lives. This knowledge is timeless; its value cannot be encompassed or reflected in books. It is passed on to the future stewards of the Earth. Our knowledge should be respected and have equal standing with other researchers and scientists. Indigenous voices should always be included in the discourse of climate negotiations. We honor our ancestors both of humanity and the natural world. Our initial instruction to protect earth, air, water, and life is more than a model of sustainability, it would never cross the sacred and commodify that which we have no right to control.
Vine Deloria Jr said that “western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent.” It is only when the heads of men connect to their hearts that our rights will be recognized and respected to protect our territories and pass along our traditions to future generations.
I am thankful for the ability to be a part of this global conversation. I am thankful for our elders who were at the forefront of the conference encouraging us to stand and continue to fight and include prayer, ceremony, and tradition. The courage of my relatives and the instruction from our elders called my spirit back to a place I had not been in a long time. It called me to the place where I know that I must always stand, in defense of Unci Maka.
Mitakuye oyasin, we are all related.
Nicole Montclair Donaghy is Executive Director of North Dakota Native Vote. She is a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation this November. In October 2018, Nicole joined North Dakota Native Vote to boost on voter education and voter engagement in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the voter identification law that disproportionately affects tribal people in North Dakota. Learn more about Nicole and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.