Recognition of Indigenous Rights & Sovereignty is Fundamental to Climate Justice

Indigenous Peoples Day is coming up on October 9th, and today I celebrate as my home city passes a resolution to recognize the holiday and stop recognizing “Columbus Day.” 

Last year, I had the pleasure of preaching on Indigenous Peoples Day to the Westside UU Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, about the connection between Indigenous Rights and Climate Justice, as part of the UUYACJ 100 Worship Services campaign. You can watch that sermon, here: 

My sermon repeatedly references a video where an Indigenous climate justice movement leader, Casey Camp Horinek, is reading the opening words of “The Sacred Tree: Reflections on Native American Spirituality” written by Phil Lane, Jr., Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown, and elders (originally published in 1984):

 I come back to this video again and again—because it sends a hopeful message without sugar coating—because Ta’Kiya Blaney is a huge inspiration to me—because it was created by filmmakers that I came to know personally when they were filming environmental justice leaders and friends of mine in Texas—and most importantly, because it feels prophetic and true.

So much has happened since October 9th, 2016. We are waking up. The #NoDAPL Indigenous-led movement was a momentous, historic sign to this effect. More change will come, and Unitarian Universalists are called by our values to be an embodied part of it.

There’s an amazing correlation between biodiversity decline and Imperialist/settler colonization and control. I’m no time traveling mad scientist, but I suspect that the global climate crisis and the global crisis of biodiversity collapse would not even exist right now if the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples had been respected over these past few centuries. Eighty percent of remaining biodiversity on the planet resides in Indigenous territories, and yet Indigenous people are getting displaced by conservation effortsand carbon offset markets—and are not fairly represented and respected at the United Nations, despite the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

That Indigenous Nations, which collectively represent the territories with 80% of remaining biodiversity, are not given a voice as more than “special interest groups” at International climate and conservation summits—that their ecological wisdom and stewardship, sovereignty, and treaty rights are still not being respected—is outrageous, it’s racist, and it’s got to change. Recognizing Indigenous Rights and sovereignty is fundamental to creating climate justice.


Key groups and resource pages related to Indigenous Rights and Climate Justice:

Resources and information on UU action and positions:

Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp is the program director at the UU Ministry for Earth and has been with UUMFE since 2014, initially serving as the network coordinator for the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice. Aly lives in Austin, Texas, and in their free time is an arts-activist and community organizer supporting a local food forest on public parkland and Gulf South climate justice movements.