How Standing Rock inspired this young Indigenous activist

Oglala Lakota activist Leala Pourier. (Illustration by Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)

In Unearthed, Gen Z climate change activists discuss some of the most pressing issues facing our planet and reveal what you can do to help make a real difference. In honor of Earth Day 2022, Yahoo Life is reaching out to Indigenous Youth Activists fight for climate justice.

For Oglala Lakota activist Leala Pourier, the idea of ​​climate justice goes beyond protecting the Earth and its resources. It also means drawing attention to a crisis that many don’t know about, let alone related to environmentalism: the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women living near oil pipeline camps.

“I’m really passionate about this because it shows that climate change isn’t just crazy weather events – it’s affecting our communities in very different, very unique and very painful ways,” said Pourier, a student from 21 years old from the University of Denver. a native of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Colorado, tells Yahoo Life of a devastating issue that has been targeted at Native women by oil company workers settled in remote temporary housing areas.

“They’ve kind of been labeled as ‘man camps,’ because they’re usually all men, set up in an isolated area where these drill sites are…often on reservations or areas near large indigenous populations. There’s not a lot going on,” says the Indigenous Youth Committee member and co-director of communications at Earth Guardians, which trains and empowers young people to be effective climate justice leaders. to which she refers is the one that has been followed and discussed by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and which lends itself to the removal of these camps.

“That’s when we start to see a spike in violent crime – robberies, drunken assaults, things like that. And that’s also when we start to see a peak of missing and murdered aboriginal women is in these areas problem during oil boom [in the early 2000s] in North Dakota,” Pourier says.

Pourier, who followed her activist father in advocating for Indigenous rights in general, says she focused on climate justice after being inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many tribes that joined them in 2016. to attempt to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through sacred lands (a process that has officially been halted, pending further environmental analysis, after a hard-won four-year battle).

“It was kind of the first time I really saw Indigenous-led issues in mainstream media in my life. So it was really empowering to see that, for example, it was something that everyone world was watching. And it made me look more and more into environmental racism,” she says, referring to the form of systemic racism that puts people of color at disproportionate risk of being harmed by pollutants and toxic waste.

The way it all made sense, combined with what her father had taught her since she was little – “that we are not the owners of the land, but we are the stewards of the land” – made of environmental activism a “natural worthy” of her.

Hundreds of protesters hold signs outside the United States Capitol, some of which say: We exist.  We resist.  We rise.

Protesters march during a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, the media coverage of which had a huge effect on young activist Leala Pourier. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“I think the connection between Indigenous peoples and environmental activism is very, very intertwined,” she says. “The more I educated myself, the more I realized: you can’t have Indigenous justice without climate justice and you can’t have climate justice without Indigenous justice.”

It’s because of some very basic, nature-bound ways of seeing the world, Pourier explains. “We have always seen the land in a way that it is one of ours: it is not the one we are supposed to draw from, and that is a basic lesson of many, many indigenous cultures… We have this belief that you have to look seven generations back and seven generations forward and just, like, make sure you keep the earth and the world a safe and viable place for generations to come.”

But with much of Western culture not subscribing to this belief system, saving this planet could prove difficult, if not impossible, many Indigenous activists fear. Fortunately, Pourier is hopeful when it comes to seeing this change take root in society.

“Honestly, I think it’s already starting to happen,” she says.

This is because, according to Pourier, the “only” communities clearly affected by climate change until very recently were indigenous, coastal or poor. Now, she says, “richer and more developed” regions and countries are clearly unsettled.

“We see these devastating fires here. We see these floods,” she said. “And I think people are starting to realize that climate change is a problem for everyone – not just something, you know, you turn on the news and hear about it. It’s something we have to all of us together. And I think people are starting to understand that.”

She also thinks that the obviousness of the situation is what motivates some climate deniers. “I think that’s one of the reasons why other people really break down and try to say it’s not a problem – trying to maintain the status quo,” says the activist. “Because the second we, as a whole, recognize how detrimental climate change is to our survival” we will really have to change our ways, which will also be the time “when a lot of systems change”, especially “capitalists, kind of money-driven systems,” she says. “And I think that scares a lot of people.”

But for Pourier, who majors in both creative writing and strategic communications at school, her activism will continue to take center stage for the sake of climate justice — something she thinks it’s worth. worth fighting for, because it’s “at the intersection of so many of the issues that affect everyone in the world.”

She explains: “It’s not just about extreme weather events. It’s not just like our ozone and pollution and things like that. It’s so many other things…including missing and murdered aboriginal women.

This is why climate justice, for her, is the future. “It’s the future of my little niece and my little nephew, and it’s a hope for all these other generations,” she says. “And I hope that, you know, for my generation, all of our hard work will pay off and our voices will be heard.”

Find all Yahoo Life Earth Day profiles here.

Video made by Olivia Schneider:

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