Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg and Indigenous youth leader Tokata Iron Eyes have joined forces in the name of climate justice.
On Sunday evening, the pair spoke at a gathering at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Hours later on Monday morning, Iron Eyes and Thunberg led a climate rally and march in downtown Rapid City, demanding that political leadership take swift action and that everyday people join the cause.
“This crisis does not care about the imaginary political boundaries that we put up among each other,” said Iron Eyes at the Rapid City rally. “This crisis does not care whether you’re rich or poor, you’re black, you’re white or Indigenous.”
Hundreds of people gathered and marched with the two youth, from Rapid City’s Memorial Park to the Mayor’s office. Thunberg, at just 16 years old, and Iron Eyes, also 16 years old, have walked similar paths in different hemispheres of the globe, both fighting for climate justice, protection of the land, air and water.
“Indigenous people have been leading this fight for centuries,” said Thunberg to the crowd. “They have taken care of the planet and they have lived in balance with nature, and we need to make sure that their voices are being heard. They have knowledge that is valuable right now.”
Thunberg led climate strikes in her home country of Sweden that soon gained international following, and Iron Eyes has been traveling the globe since the historic resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016 in Standing Rock, calling for the protection of the land and water, and an end to fossil fuel development. Iron Eyes, who is Lakota, grew up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
“All of us have a responsibility to do something,” said Iron Eyes. “Choices that we make every single day are what built this crisis, and we need to make sure that we are making the right choices now.”
Tokata and Greta will be speaking in Standing Rock, North Dakota on Tuesday, October 8. The Lakota People’s Law Project, Last Real Indians and the NDN Collective co-organized and sponsored the series of events in the Dakotas.
Livestream of the March and Rally
“As Lakota people, we have always fought for our communities, carrying forward ceremonies and teachings that can regenerate the earth,” said NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen. “As we work for climate justice we must find solutions to end the world’s largest, dirtiest, and most destructive oil extraction projects, which stem from the Alberta Tar Sands.”
While on the bullhorn, Thunberg also took the opportunity to address the Keystone XL pipeline, an Alberta Tar Sands project which is slated to cut across Indigenous lands, from Alberta, to Montana and South Dakota, to the Gulf of Mexico to oil refineries.
“The Keystone XL pipeline is not morally defendable– it will fuel the climate crisis” said Thunberg. “We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We cannot continue to build new pipelines. That is insane.”
In preparation for construction of the highly contested Keystone XL pipeline, the South Dakota state legislature passed the “Riot Boosting” act in the final days of the 2019 legislative session. This act threatens organizers and activists with criminal charges for participating in or supporting protests loosely defined as “riots,” and came after Governor Kristi Noem met with TransCanada, a Canadian energy corporation responsible for the Keystone XL pipeline. The act has since been challenged in a lawsuit, and has been deemed unconstitutional in an order of a preliminary injunction.
“This Keystone XL pipeline will threaten the land, the drinking water and communities, and that is not acceptable,” said Thunberg. “We are all affected and we are all in the same boat, but some are more affected than others. We need to make sure that the voices of those who are at the frontlines are being heard.”
Thunberg and Iron Eyes together have underscored the need to lift up Indigenous voices in the climate fight. This, alone, makes their shared message one that elevates the global climate conversation, filling huge gaps in climate politics.
“We are not just fighting to lower carbon emissions,” said Iron Eyes. “We are fighting for the people all across the world who have been saying this for generations; Indigenous activists throughout the world are being assassinated for saying what we are saying right now. Those are the people that we are speaking for. Those are the people we need to fight for.”
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Sarah Sunshine Manning, NDN Collective Director of Communications, is a citizen of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Idaho and Nevada, and Chippewa-Cree of Rocky Boy, Montana. Manning directs NDN Collective’s communications strategy and impact. She also serves as producer of the NDN Podcast While Indigenous and as editor of the NDN blog. Manning has Bachelor’s degrees in American Indian Studies, Social Science-History, and licensure in Secondary Education. She has a Master’s degree in journalism and mass communication.