Indigenous knowledges against the colonization and destruction of Mother Earth

Source: Pambazuka News

The “green economy” is nothing more than capitalism of Nature. It is a more extreme attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments of mainly the industrialized countries towards developing mechanisms for cashing in on Creation. This is achieved by privatizing, commodifying and selling off all forms of life.

All humans have two things in common and that is, we walk on two legs and on each hand we have five fingers that we use in common. We are taught from infancy to use these hands and fingers as gifts of the Creator. The Indigenous cosmovision teaches me, for each finger to work together in solidarity, and with the totality of the fingers and hands, we are to help each other, in respect of each other.

As two-legged creatures, we acknowledge the gift of the mind that has the ability to reason and figure things out for ourselves. This mind is a gift of the Creator that allows us to develop ways to live in common with each other and to live in a sustainable way on this planet, which I call – Mother Earth. We, the two-legged species – the humans – are not here alone. We share this Mother Earth with many life forms, animate and inanimate. From the waters of the great oceans, to the native trees, to the smallest rock, and from the smallest organism to the biggest animals – we are related to one another. This relationship to the sacredness of our Mother Earth and all her children, defines our spiritual, cultural, social, economic, and even, political relationship we have with each other and with all life.

What I have said to this point is considered the traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples. This knowledge comes from my Dine’ Navajo Peoples from the Southwest of my maternal grandmothers and from my Hunka family of the Dakota Sacred Lake Peoples of Minnesota, where I live. This traditional knowledge has allowed our Indigenous Peoples to develop certain life ways, values, and philosophies that have allowed us to live in balance and in a sustainable way for thousands of years.

I work with many Indigenous Peoples throughout the world, ranging from issues of environmental and climate justice affecting the rights of Indigenous Nations. Since 1998 our organization, the Indigenous Environmental Network, has participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bringing our local and national articulation of a changing climate and applying Indigenous knowledge towards real global solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Indigenous Peoples are confronting many challenges: challenges such as extreme changes in the environment, a changing climate, extreme weather events, extreme energy development, and the links to the continued push of economic globalization and a continuation of western forms of development, despite the signs of financial collapse and depletion of natural resources around the world.

Fossil fuel development within Indigenous territories, land, water and seas is increasing. It is business as usual with oil, coal, natural gas and hydraulic fracturing of shale gas/oil expansions on and near Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories, despite climate science linking human activity, such as the combustion of fossil fuels causing more greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) we must leave 80 percent, or more than two thirds, of oil, coal and gas reserves in the ground.[1] Countries across the world are preparing to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris scheduled for December 2015. Countries have agreed to outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are supposed to determine whether the world is committed towards achieving an ambitious 2015 agreement and create a path towards a much needed fossil free future. However, on a global level, the current INDCs fall short of what is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. What I observed are false solutions.

Both, the UNFCCC, with major industrialized countries of the Global North, and the fossil fuel industry, want to legitimize their common agenda of perpetuating capitalism based on fossil fuels with the use of market-based mechanisms which include carbon trading, offsets and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), instead of implementing real solutions to the climate crisis.

Indigenous peoples participating in the UNFCCC climate negotiations and other UN meetings, such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, are in the frontlines of a power structure that minimizes the importance of Indigenous cosmologies, philosophies and worldviews. These power structures reside within the UN process, with inequalities found in industrialized countries, and in the more developed of the developing countries, with financing from the World Bank, other financial institutions and the private sector investments.

These entities operate from an economic system that objectifies, commodifies, privatizes and puts a monetary value on land, water, air, forests, plants and practically all life. This is contrary to Indigenous thought. The subordination of the Web of Life to the chains of the markets and growth of the corporate-led system erodes the primary means of existence on this planet, which is rooted in the diversity of life itself. Whenever we talk about these Indigenous ways, we are talking in front of a power structure that ridicules and minimizes the importance of Indigenous cosmologies, philosophies and world views. Within these colonial and economic systems, Indigenous Peoples are forced into the world market with nothing to negotiate with except the natural resources we depend on for survival.

From the eyes of many Indigenous Peoples globally, we have witnessed historical practices by the industrial world to commodify land, food, labor, forests, water, genes and ideas, such as privatization of our traditional knowledge. Carbon trading, offsets and other market-based systems follows in the footsteps of this history and turns the sacredness of our Mother Earth’s carbon-cycling capacity into property to be bought or sold in a global market. Through this process of creating a new commodity – carbon –, Mother Earth’s ability and capacity to support a climate that is conducive to all life and human survival is now passing into the same corporate hands that are destroying the climate.

Carbon trading will not contribute to achieving protection of the Earth’s climate. It is a false solution with many risks, including the dangers of entrenching and magnifying social inequalities and human rights abuses. From the Indigenous mindset, it is a violation of the sacred – plain and simple.

In 1992, at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, world governments converged to rethink economic development and find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of Mother Earth. This included “examining the relationship between human rights, population, social development, women and human settlements — and the need for environmentally sustainable development.” It was in 1992 that science reported findings of global warming and climate change. At Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Earth Summit sought the need for alternative sources of energy to replace the use of fossil fuels which, at that time, there were discussions linking the cause of global climate change to the combustion of fossil fuels. Twenty years later, back in Rio de Janeiro, at the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit, world leaders came back together to review progress towards saving the planet by achieving sustainable forms of development. However, what was observed by our global alliance of Indigenous Peoples and environmental and climate justice movements was the push for a “green economy” that was widely being promoted as the key to our planet’s survival and the new buzz word for sustainable development.

The “green economy” is nothing more than capitalism of Nature. It is a more extreme attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments of mainly the northern industrialized countries towards developing mechanisms for cashing in on Creation. This is achieved by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe and the water we drink – all elements that are sacred. This privatization includes genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Mother Earth possible and enjoyable.

This “green economy” regime places a monetary price on Nature and creates new derivative markets. In my analysis, this regime will only increase the destruction of Mother Earth. It has been said many times before, by many earth-conscious people, that we cannot put the future of Nature and humanity in the hands of financial speculative mechanisms. These mechanisms are exemplified through UN program initiatives funded by the World Bank such as REDD+ that uses the forests, conservation and agriculture as carbon offsets. There are also other market-based systems using conservation and biodiversity offsets and mechanisms for Payment for Environmental and ecological Services (PES).

In the US state of California, we have been organizing resistance to the implementation of California’s climate cap-and-trade legislation with carbon and methane offset provisions allowing California to use forests in Mesoamerica, the Amazon, Africa, and other sub-national “partner jurisdictions” as “sponges” for the carbon pollution of polluting industries such as Chevron and Shell. This US domestic REDD initiative does not reduce climate causing emissions and toxic pollution at source, but results in an extreme form of green washing. Urban communities such as Richmond, California, where people-of-color and low income families live, are surrounded by oil refineries. This only furthers environmental justice issues for people living close to these polluting refineries who have to endure more pollution in their communities, causing long-term health problems such as asthma, birth defects, cancer and depression. This domestic REDD initiative prolongs these impacts by making offsets available to these polluting companies, allowing them to avoid reducing their emissions at source.

REDD-type and carbon offset projects are already causing human rights violations, land grabs and environmental destruction. If REDD is implemented worldwide, it may open the floodgates to the biggest land grab of the last 500 years. Just as historically the Doctrine of Discovery was used to justify the first wave of colonialism by alleging that Indigenous Peoples did not have souls, and that our territories were “terra nullius,” (land of nobody), now carbon trading and carbon offset regimes, such as REDD, are inventing similarly dishonest premises to justify this new wave of colonialization and privatization of nature.

Indigenous worldviews perceive all of creation as alive and imbued with all of the intelligence of the Creator. Although every atom and particle is individual, we are all part of an integrated whole. This assumes a caring and loving creation where all parts of creation care for all of the other parts. No part is higher. No part has “dominion” over any other part. We were not put here to be “stewards” of anything. Rather we were all created to live in a harmonious, awake, loving and intelligent relationship with all other aspects of creation. This is what Mitakuye Owasin “All My Relations” of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota nations means. It is the power of the “Good Mind” in the cosmology of the Iroquois nations.

Mother Earth is the source of life which needs to be protected, not a resource to be exploited and commodified as a “natural capital.” The COP 21 Paris Accord is the nail in the neocolonial coffin of capitalists treating Mother Earth as natural capital and as a business in liquidation.

We feel the pain of disharmony when we witness the dishonor of the natural order of Creation and the continued economic colonization and degradation of Mother Earth and all life upon her. This inseparable relationship between humans and the Earth, inherent to Indigenous Peoples, must be learnt, must be embraced and respected by all people, for the sake of all of our future generations and all of humanity. I urge all of you, all humanity, to join with us in transforming the social structures, institutions and power relations that underpin conditions of oppression and exploitation.

We need action for humanity not to be a carbon colonialist who sells the air we breathe and privatizes the Earth and Sky. To restore the Earth’s balance, we need to shift from a philosophy of dominion over nature, to a relationship of understanding, respect of the Natural Laws and love for the beauty of the creative female energy of Mother Earth. Earth Jurisprudence recognizes the concept that we only have one Mother Earth. We must stand together, in solidarity, to protect her and the future generations.

* Tom Goldtooth works with Indigenous Environmental Network


[1] International Energy Agency. [url=
]World Energy Outlook 2012 – Executive Summary.[/url] November 2012.