Being an Indigenous ally is no easy job, but neither has it been easy navigating the COP space as an Indigenous person this past week, having microphones cut off during the march, being lectured by non-Indigenous people or tokenised for our Indigenous songs and regalia. Indigenous people are key leaders in the climate space, and it is imperative that our allies can effectively support Indigenous participation and leadership, so that we can move quickly towards the milestones that we so desperately need to reach.
Climate change is often contextualised within degrees of warming, scientific formulas, or articles, but if we re-lens climate change we can look back to its source. Colonisation has been the catalyst for redefining human relationships to land and water under the premise of ownership. This has allowed for centuries of land, water and human exploitation, namely within Indigenous territories and to the detriment of Indigenous peoples. Shifting these relationships is one of the most underrated climate solutions here at COP25. Doing this requires almost a complete reassessment of one's deeply held beliefs about worth and status; about rights and responsibilities, about reciprocity.
As an Indigenous woman from the far north of New Zealand, it helps me to be grounded in the concept of ‘whakapapa’, a term which derives from the Indigenous language of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Whakapapa means to understand who we are in relation to our ancestors, our grandchildren; our primal ancestors who are the personifications of our environments. Whakapapa reminds us that we are part of a web of life, that all things are interconnected, that our responsibilities extend out from us to the ecosystems within which we exist, and that they in turn have a responsibility towards us.
Being a good ally starts here, with whakapapa. Understanding who you are in relation to your ancestors, your grandchildren and your natural environment. In doing so you understand how your presence may have enabled or disabled the thriving of local ecosystems - which includes Indigenous peoples. Being a good ally means:
Understanding that ecosystems have existed before the arrival of colonisation: This means that Indigenous peoples have evolved in co-dependence with the environment and have special expertise within particular local boundaries. This also means understanding colonisation, how your presence has and continues to disrupt how this ecosystem normally functions.
Understanding that in an ecosystem power and energy are constantly moving and can never be held in one place: This means decentralising power from places where it would normally sit, in particular, supporting Indigenous sovereignty and decision making. This looks like destabilizing western monopolies on knowledge and recognising that Indigenous peoples have their own knowledge systems that are equally valuable and legitimate.
Understanding that you are one part of a wider system that interacts not only laterally, but across all dimensions, with all life: This means decolonising our ideas of superiority and ownership over land, water, and Indigenous peoples. Each knows how to thrive and interact when barriers are removed. This also means taking responsibility for how people show up within a space, not being harmful by imposing or dominating over Indigenous peoples, and not asking Indigenous peoples to take on the labour of educating.
Being an ally means understanding that interdependence is a necessary part of thriving: This means being in community and good relationship with all things, under the premise that we are all obligated and responsible for one another. In particular this means sharing the burden that has fallen on Indigenous People to stand alone for Indigenous rights and the rights of the earth.
The climate solutions that we want to see amongst our homes and communities have to start here and now, in how we treat each other. As you move through the week, we ask that you carry these offerings with you, to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples.