It will be a momentous accomplishment for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to complete a legally binding agreement in Paris next year that limits carbon emissions and stems global climate change. A global policy of cooperation by national governments is a necessity if we are to prevent global temperatures from rising above the internationally accepted mark of 2 degrees Celsius, but coordinated global policy is a bare-minimum necessity. It alone will not prevent global climate change. If global climate change is to be prevented, climate and environmental activists will need to meet the UN’s efforts with powerful and organized movements for change at the local level.

In India and the United States, Indigenous activists and communities have long been at the forefront of struggles for climate and social justice, and they continue to lead the climate justice movement by example. In this post, we would like two highlight two efforts by indigenous communities in India and the United States to fight climate change and bring about a more sustainable future.

Adivasi Women and Food Security in Wayanad District, Kerala, India

Wayanad, a district in India’s Southernmost State of Kerala is home to a large community of Adivasi (indigenous) tribes, and many live without access to agricultural land. They survive by collecting wood, nuts, tubers, and other produce from nearby forests and by working on coffee and tea plantations when work is available, but neither the forests nor plantation work provide a secure livelihood for Adivasi communities. As a result, they frequently go hungry, with inadequate food to provide minimum levels of nourishment to their families.

RASTA, the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Development, works with Adivasi women in Wayanad to fight food insecurity. They have organized organic farming and animal husbandry programs, a seed bank for storing and exchanging traditional varieties of cereal grass and vegetable seeds, a composting program, and a network of village-level women’s groups that help women to share information and make collective decisions. These women’s groups and the programs they support have created an infrastructure for indigenous communities’ livelihoods that has reduced food insecurity and built a powerful base of empowered women.

The women too have been innovators in implementing the System of Rice Intensification, a system of ecological farming principle and practices that has been proven to increase yields and promote ecological vibrancy and sustainability.

American Indian Activists, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the Enbridge Pipeline in the United States

The Oglala Lakota Nation is an American Indian community, and many of its members live in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Each year on February 27th, Oglala Lakota and American Indian activists commemorate Liberation Day. They walk from the North, South, East, and West in order to converge on Wounded Knee, the sight of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Lakota by the US military and also the symbolic birthplace of the American Indian movement. In 1973, 200 Lakota members took control of the town of Wounded Knee and held it for 71 days, successfully catapulting the US government’s treatment of First Nation’s people onto the US national spotlight.

Recently,  Oglala Lakota activists have highlighted their efforts to block the Keystone XL Pipeline from crossing the Sovereign Sioux Nation territory. The pipeline is planned to run from Western Canada and through South Dakota on its way to Texas, crossing Sioux territory in two places. it will carry oil from Canada’s newly opened Tar Sands to refineries in Texas. Their allies, the Anishinaabeg, are also fighting a similar pipeline further to the east inside the State of Minnesota. The Enbridge pipeline will cut across Anishinaabeg lands in order to carry oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to Lake Superior.

To the Sioux, the pipeline crossing their territory is another example of the United States’ disrespect for Indigenous Sovereignty and Rights, that threatens both Mother Earth and the viability of Sioux lands. They have conducted direct action trainings and are prepared to put their bodies and lives on the line to prevent the pipeline from crossing their territories. Treaties signed by Native Americans with both Canada and the US are now being fought over again, as both countries violate indigenous sovereignty agreed to in the treaties.

The Oglala Lakota have created a huge obstacle to the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, and their success will not only protect their lands and sovereignty but will bring about a carbon-reduced future for all of us.

For more information about the Oglala Lakota’s fight, click here.