In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Justice and Indigeneity

  • Introduction: Indigenous Environmental Justice
  • Indigenous Peoples, Justice, and the Global Environmental Crisis
  • A Crisis of Indigenous, Human, and Environmental Rights
  • Water Justice
  • Indigenous Climate Justice
  • Food Security/Food Sovereignty and IEJ
  • Settler-Colonialism and IEJ
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems and IEJ
  • Indigenous Legal Orders and IEJ
  • Gender and IEJ

Anthropology Environmental Justice and Indigeneity
Deborah McGregor, Nicole Latulippe, Mahisha Sritharan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0269

Introduction: Indigenous Environmental Justice

Indigenous environmental justice (IEJ) is distinct from the broader EJ field, which has been found to exhibit certain limitations when applied to Indigenous contexts. Indigenous scholars have observed, for example, that EJ scholarship generally does not consider Indigenous sovereignty, laws, and governance. Attempts to ensure the relevance and applicability of EJ to Indigenous contexts and realities have resulted in what can be thought of as an “Indigenizing” of the EJ scholarship. Recent scholarship thus recognizes that Indigenous peoples occupy a unique position in terms of historical, political, and legal context, and that this requires specific recognition of their goals and aspirations, such as those outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN General Assembly [UNGA] 2007). Achieving IEJ will require more than simply incorporating Indigenous perspectives into existing EJ theoretical and methodological frameworks, as valuable as these are for diagnosing injustice. IEJ offers a theoretical and analytical framework that goes beyond “Indigenizing” and “decolonizing” existing EJ scholarship and extends to frameworks informed by Indigenous intellectual traditions, knowledge systems, and laws. Indigenous nations and societies are diverse and no single IEJ framework will serve all contexts and situations. There are, however, commonalities among suggested frameworks as evidenced through various international environmental declarations prepared by Indigenous peoples over the past three decades that convey key concepts relating to IEJ. First, Indigenous knowledge systems should be utilized as a theoretical framework for analysis. In this frame, justice applies to all “relatives” in Creation, not just people. EJ is not just about rights to a safe environment, but it includes the duties and responsibilities of people to all beings and, conversely, their responsibilities to people. IEJ is regarded as a question of balance and harmony, of reciprocity and respect, among all beings in Creation; not just between humans, but among all “relatives,” as LaDuke 1999 and Kanngieser and Todd 2020 show. Second, Indigenous legal traditions should form the basis for achieving justice. Scholars have noted how Western legal systems continue to fail Indigenous peoples and the environment. In this sense, grounding conceptions of justice and injustice in Indigenous intellectual and legal traditions opens up possibilities for achieving justice. Finally, IEJ must acknowledge the historical and ongoing role colonialism has played in perpetuating injustices.

  • Kanngieser, Anja, and Zoe Todd. 2020. From environmental case study to environmental kin study. History & Theory 59.3: 385–393.

    DOI: 10.1111/hith.12166

    Instead of “case study,” the authors propose “kin study,” a grounded, material, and respectful approach to working with people and the land. By reading with Indigenous scholars from North America and the Pacific, kin studies reorient scholarly work in the field of environmental history from abstraction toward an embedded, relational, and more capacious politics and praxis.

  • LaDuke, Winona. 1999. All our relations: Native struggles for land and life. Cambridge, MA: South End.

    Nine case studies offer a glimpse of how Indigenous communities across North America reveal the deep struggles relating to lands and resources, with roots in a colonial history. Her work emphasizes how different communities approach environmental degradation and seek justice based on traditional values and lifeways.

  • UN General Assembly (UNGA). 2007. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Geneva, Switzerland: Office of the Commission for Human Rights.

    The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an international instrument adopted by the United Nations in 2007 that outlines the obligations and responsibilities of signatory nation-states to ensure the rights of Indigenous peoples are recognized and implemented. Indigenous peoples have asserted that UNDRIP offers an important strategy for realizing justice in a few key areas relating to lands and resources.

General Overview of the Edited Volumes and Monographs

Indigenous environmental justice (IEJ) is an emerging field of study that has evolved over the past few decades. Initially seen as an “add-on” to the EJ movement more broadly, Indigenous scholars began to conceptualize EJ in relation to Indigenous peoples as something distinct ontologically and epistemologically. An edited volume, Weaver 1997 offers a contrasting narrative to the mainstream EJ discourse by emphasizing that discussion of EJ from Indigenous perspectives requires an analysis of sovereignty and the legal frameworks that govern environmental matters in Indigenous communities. These themes were further emphasized in a series of works—LaDuke 2016 and LaDuke 2020. LaDuke’s works emphasize the resilience of Indigenous peoples in the face of overwhelming environmental colonialism and destruction as they forge ahead with culturally based resistance strategies. Grijalva 2008 analyzes how federal environmental, administrative, and Indian law exacerbates environmental injustice in Tribal lands. An edited volume, Bellfy 2014 outlines the destruction that has occurred over the centuries to the Great Lakes environment and the subsequent struggles of the Indigenous peoples to maintain their lifeways. Bellfy’s contributors offer insights based on traditional knowledge and responsibility to the land. From an international perspective, Lennox and Short 2016 demonstrates how Indigenous peoples continue to face struggles for basic human rights in their ongoing efforts to secure a just and sustainable future. An edited volume, Jarratt-Snider and Nielson 2020 further seeks to distinguish IEJ from the broader field of EJ, emphasizing Native American tribes are governments. Gombay and Palomina-Schalscha 2018, an edited volume, offers international perspectives of IEJ with contributions from Chile, Australia, Finland, Cambodia, Mexico, and Japan. This volume emphasizes the colonial and post/neo colonial expansion has affected Indigenous relations with lands and livelihood, while Indigenous peoples continue to affirm their desire for self-determination.

  • Bellfy, Phil, ed. 2014. Honour the Earth: Great Lakes Indigenous response to environmental crises. East Lansing, MI: Ziibi.

    This volume offers five themed parts in a collection of sixteen essays by primarily Indigenous scholars with contributions from environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs) chronicles the environmental history of the Great lakes, including the devastating impacts of colonialism and resulting impacts in food and water insecurity and declining biodiversity and ecosystems. Contributors convey the importance of recognition of treaties, sovereignty, traditional knowledge, language of the relatives/teachers (nonhuman), and ceremonies to heal and move toward a sustainable future.

  • Gombay, Nicole, and Marcela Palomina-Schalscha, eds. 2018. Indigenous places and colonial spaces: The politics of intertwined relations. London: Routledge.

    An international collection of twelve chapters dealing with how colonialism continues to factor into environmental injustices in vastly differently contexts from around the world. The volume emphasizes the importance of lived experiences of Indigenous peoples and recognition of Indigenous relational ontologies as paramount in understanding relations with and the rights of the nonhuman world. Contributors reflect on Indigenous peoples struggles for recognition, aptly expressed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • Grijalva, James. 2008. Closing the circle: Environmental justice in Indian country. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

    This book offers an example of how EJ theories of distributive and administrative justice create injustice on tribal lands. This work reveals the lack of environmental regulation on tribal lands and thus threatens the survival of Indigenous peoples.

  • Jarratt-Snider, Karen, and Marianne O. Nielson, eds. 2020. Indigenous environmental justice. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

    Utilizing case examples, the contributors cover legal, human rights, and environmental rights as well sovereignty issues to distinguish IEJ from the broader field of EJ. Similar to material found in other volumes, the harms of environmental injustices are described along with emphasizing the role of self-determination in moving toward solving such injustices.

  • LaDuke, Winona. 2016. The Winona LaDuke chronicles: Stories from the front lines in the battle for environmental justice. Halifax, NS: Fernwood.

    This work chronicles LaDuke’s illustrious career as an activist. She emphasizes that environmental assaults on Indigenous lands and bodies are due, in part, to humanity’s lack of connection and respect for the Earth as well as to colonialism. LaDuke’s work collectively contributes to a gendered understanding of environmental violence and colonialism.

  • LaDuke, Winona. 2020. To be a water protector: The rise of the Windigoo slayers. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    LaDuke’s latest work reflects upon some of the greatest challenges facing humanity and the planet and solutions that Indigenous peoples have to offer. This book is focused on her activist work as a “water protector” at Standing Rock and Enbridge Line 3, a tar sands pipeline in Minnesota. She levels criticism at the cannibalistic, or Windigoo, capitalist economy that consumes beyond its needs, and she comments on the rising widespread resistance to such economies.

  • Lennox, Corrine, and Damien Short, eds. 2016. Handbook of Indigenous peoples’ rights. London: Routledge.

    This collection of contributions from international scholars, with twenty-eight chapters, includes case studies that focus on the role of human, environmental, and Indigenous rights. This body of work establishes the central role of recognizing Indigenous rights, treaties, and land claims in realizing the survival of Indigenous peoples

  • Weaver, Jace, ed. 1997. Defending Mother Earth: Native American perspectives on environmental justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

    Contributors to the volume emphasize that environmental struggles faced by Indigenous peoples (primarily tribes in the United States) are due to a lack of recognition of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. This book offers an Indigenous ontology of the Earth as a living entity and not as a source of much conflict and destruction. Indigenous ontologies of the Earth based on traditional knowledge provide a pathway forward for humanity to reestablish just relations with the Earth itself.

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