Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day of honor and accountability as much as it is an opportunity to become active allies and support Indigenous communities. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have been caretakers of the planet, using ancestral wisdom and Native science to protect their lands and wildlife.
Nearly 50% of the world’s land mass (not including Antarctica) is occupied or managed by Indigenous peoples. Therefore, supporting Indigenous peoples means preserving their knowledge and the land and natural resources they depend on for their health, livelihood and cultural identity. It also means supporting local biodiversity, Indigenous resilience against climate change and the overall health of planet Earth.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here are some ways non-Native people can become active allies of Indigenous communities as well as the planet.
Recognize the Disparities
It’s important to understand the reality of the social and environmental issues facing the world today. Indigenous peoples and other minority groups are more likely to be affected by the impacts of climate change in terms of health, livelihood and cultural identity.
For example, warming sea temperatures have been linked to disease and higher mercury levels in shellfish, negatively impacting the food systems of Alaskan Natives and tribes on the West and Gulf coasts. In the Northern Great Plains, rising temperatures in streams are causing declines in salmon, trout and mussels. Ocean warming and acidification and harmful agal blooms affect important indigenous marine food systems, along with climate change-induced droughts that starve mainland crops. This ultimately can weaken food security, lead to poor nutrition, wipe out culturally important foods and bring economic hardship to these communities.
Climate change also threatens the mental and spiritual health of indigenous groups due to their close, cultural relationship with people, wildlife and the environment. The destruction brought on by climate change – in the form of erosion, water scarcity, sea level rise, and increased frequency of natural disaster – leads to the uprooting of many indigenous communities, as they relocate to more habitable regions. This displacement of indigenous peoples only mirrors the historical trauma their ancestors endured.
Marginalized indigenous communities are three times more likely to face extreme poverty and often lack access to healthcare and education, safe drinking water, credit, affordable housing and reliable community infrastructure. Thus, the negative impacts of climate change will be exponentially more severe for these underserved communities.
It’s critical to understand the disparities that indigenous and minority groups face because only when we have a clear picture of the world around us can we take the right action.
Be a Responsible Consumer
We must remember that our consumer choices have real consequences. Many of the products we buy are manufactured using virgin resources and labor outsourced from other countries. Disturbingly, some companies choose to outsource in regions where labor practices are under regulated, leading to worker exploitation, unfair wages and a disregard for local communities. Like climate change, social inequalities and worker rights injustices prominently affect minority groups.
Being a responsible consumer means understanding how our consumer choices impact the wellbeing of other people and the environment. It’s critical to do your research to ensure the products and services you buy are both ethical and sustainable. Whenever possible, choose products made in your country of residence so that all manufacturing-related impacts are not put on our global neighbors. And purchase from brands with credible certifications such as:
- B Corp certification
- Green Business Bureau certification
- Green Seal label
- Fairtrade International
- Forest Stewardship Council®
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Environmental Working Group (EWG) Verified™ certification
- Climate Neutral certification
- Leaping Bunny
- PETA certification
Support Indigenous Voices and Visibility
To break the cycle of discrimination and marginalization of Native groups, we need to support opportunities for Indigenous peoples to be seen and heard. This includes:
- Voting for Indigenous leaders at the federal, state and local levels
- Supporting the accurate teaching of Indigenous history and cultures within school curriculum
- Diversifying our education and entertainment to include more Native authors, actors, artists, creators, etc.
- Supporting Indigenous-led movements and campaigns such as land restoration efforts
And speaking of voices, we should be mindful of our own and make an effort to remove harmful stereotypes and Indigenous erasure language.
Donate to Indigenous Organizations
Donating to Indigenous organizations is a straightforward way to exercise your allyship and ensure Indigenous peoples receive the funds and resources they need to heal their communities.
Here are just a few of the many Indigenous nonprofits working to bring equality, justice and healing to indigenous communities:
- Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance (IMFA)
- Indigenous Roots
- National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC)
- Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE)
- Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE)
- Hopa Mountain
- Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples (RJIP)
- Sogorea Te’ Land Trust
Learn from Indigenous Books and Films
Besides listening to Indigenous leaders and teachers, we must take the time to educate ourselves. Here is a list of books and films that can enlighten you on the history, wisdom and current issues of Indigenous communities around the world.
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
- Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe
- Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science – Jessica Hernandez
- As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock – Dina Gilio-Whitaker
- We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy – Natalie Bazile
- The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography – Tepilit Ole Saitoti
- Endings – Abd Al-Rahman Munif
- Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice
- Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza – Gloria Anzaldúa
- Poet Warrior – Joy Harjo
- Consider purchasing from Indigenous-owned bookstores
- Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy (2021) 2h 5min
- The Lake Winnipeg Project 4-part documentary series (2021)
- Wild Indian (2021) 1h 30min
- Evan’s Drum (2021) 14 min
- The Fourfold (2020) 8 min
- This Is the Way We Rise (2020) 12 min
- Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore (2020) 1h 22min
- The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019) 1h 45min
- Freedom Road 5-part documentary series (2019)
- The Cherokee Word for Water (2013) 1h 32min
- Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) 1h 34min