Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Struggling to be Heard

Published: June 1, 2011, Author: JayTaber

Twenty years ago in Washington state, in response to a citizen uprising against environmental destruction subsidized by state coffers, the legislature enacted Growth Management. A landmark law requiring protection of natural resources from real estate and industrial development, as well as protection of state coffers typically wasted on industrial scale projects without consideration of alternatives, Growth Management also required meaningful public participation. Those requirements spelled out how local governments were to make information accessible, including documents, notices, hearings, and advisory bodies to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard and considered.

Some — myself included — considered this a revolutionary act. Others — including real estate and extractive industries — considered it an attempt to head off a revolution. Both were right.

Watching the current climate change battles at the UN, I thought of the Growth Management battles of the 1990s. As citizens of Washington state, we had to fight to be heard, despite the lofty language in the law we helped establish. We had to educate others and organize groups to participate as informed and determined activists. We had to challenge local governments in appeals before state boards and courts. We had to create our own publications in order to voice our views that were deliberately distorted by mainstream media. We even had to bring in federal law enforcement when industrial lobbies hired field agents to organize vigilantes to threaten those of us who participated in good faith.

Four years down the road, since the fanfare surrounding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Fourth World nations are struggling to be heard, intentionally excluded by the UN and its most powerful member states from meaningful participation in climate change talks. Organized indigenous nations and diplomatic bodies, attempting to fulfill their responsibilities by holding the UN accountable to the obligations it pays lip service to, are often attacked by police and media for protesting their ongoing exclusion from official talks.

The indigenous peoples of the world are indeed in the middle of a revolution, a revolution against globalization and other neocolonial tools used to demoralize and defeat them and their holistic aspirations. As the ultimate battle for environmental sanity, indigenous demands for participation in climate change talks will determine whether we recreate a sustainable society of humankind, or blindly continue down the road to ruin. In this war of ideas, solidarity and sovereignty are inextricable.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

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