5 Indigenous youth activists to start following

Young leaders shine where climate justice and Indigenous rights intersect

Marchers at an Invasion Day demonstration in Melbourne, Australia. Julian Meehan, Flickr
8 August 2019
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Xiuhtezcatl Martinez will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum New York on 28 September 2019. Learn how to join the event here.

A year on from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s first school strike, youth activists have taken center stage in the global movement for climate action. Among them, Indigenous youth have seized the opportunity to mobilize on an issue that disproportionately affects their communities: while Indigenous peoples make up less than 6 percent of the world’s population, they account for 15 percent of the world’s poorest – and most vulnerable to climate change.

As was discussed at the Global Landscapes Forum Bonn 2019 (GLF Bonn) earlier this year, Indigenous peoples also play an indispensable role in addressing the climate crisis through both their traditional knowledge and their land holdings. Indigenous lands cover around a quarter of the Earth’s terrestrial surface but are home to around 80 percent of its biodiversity and host around half of the world’s protected areas.

To recognize the contribution of Indigenous peoples to both cultural and biological diversity, the U.N. celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August. In this pivotal year for the global climate movement, here are five Indigenous youth leaders spearheading the intertwined struggles for climate justice and Indigenous rights.

INDIA LOGAN-RILEY, NEW ZEALAND

“Climate change is an outcome of colonization, which has removed Indigenous communities’ ability to defend the land and the water.”

An activist and conservationist, India Logan-Riley is dedicated to making Indigenous rights central to the global movement for climate justice. She is a member of Te Ara Whatu, a group of young Māori and Pasifika activists in New Zealand, and was part of the first ever Indigenous youth delegation to attend a U.N. climate conference at the COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, in 2017. Follow her on Twitter.

EMMANUELA SHINTA, INDONESIA

“We can choose if we want to be victims. But no, we want to be heroes. We want to be the ones who stand for our people.”

Emmanuela Shinta is a Dayak activist, filmmaker and writer from Indonesian Borneo. Through her Ranu Welum Foundation, she hopes to empower young Dayaks to document the island’s destruction and stand up for their rights. Emmanuela is now spreading her message through a series of global storytelling tours, making appearances at both GLF Kyoto and GLF Bonn 2019. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

ROSARIO L. PEREZ, GUAM

“Landscapes and humans are not interrelated; they are proponents of each other.”

Rosario Perez is an Indigenous Chamorro activist from Guam, an island in the Western Pacific and an unincorporated territory of the United States. She advocates for the protection of the island’s physical landscape and for its political self-determination and decolonization. Speaking at GLF Bonn earlier this year, she warned of the increasing encroachment of the U.S. military on Chamorro land and water resources.

BERTHA ZÚÑIGA CÁCERES, HONDURAS

“I was born into a people of great dignity and of great strength. And my mother, Berta Cáceres, instilled upon us from a very young age that the struggle is rooted in dignity and that we must continue forward defending the rights of our people.”

From the Indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, environmental activist Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres is the general coordinator for the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), working to defend the land rights of Indigenous communities from mining, dam construction and logging. She is a daughter of Berta Cáceres, a prominent Indigenous leader assassinated in 2016, and is continuing her mother’s legacy in fighting for social and environmental justice. Follow her on Twitter.

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ, U.S.

My generation’s losing sight of the magic I feel,
Plagued by insecurities, slit wrists, bottles of pills;
Forgot the beauty of life, tell yourselves you’d rather die
Than use every time you fell as a step towards the sky.
–Lyrics from Magic Ft. Tru

A 19-year-old Indigenous climate activist and hip-hop artist of Aztec descent, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a powerful voice of the global youth-led environmental movement. Despite his young age, he is an experienced campaigner – having begun at the age of 6 at the Rio+20 U.N. summit in Rio de Janeiro – and is currently part of a youth-led lawsuit against the U.S. federal government for failing to protect the Earth for future generations. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and visit his website.


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