Democracy Now! is broadcasting live from COP27, the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of activists protested outside the plenary hall Thursday to demand climate justice. We speak to two Indigenous activists and land defenders at the summit, Eriel Tchekwie Deranger and Tom Goldtooth. “It is frontline communities, land defenders and Indigenous peoples that have experienced the loss of our territories at the hands of oil and gas and extractivism,” says Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Colonialism has to be addressed in these hallways, and there’s been lack of political will around that,” says Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and member of the Diné and Dakota nations.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Images and music played today to open the People’s Plenary here at COP27. Yes, this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Hundreds of people, including climate activists, Indigenous people, workers, human rights activists and environmental defenders, gathered today for the People’s Plenary at COP27 just before we began this broadcast. They signed on to a People’s Declaration for Climate Justice that includes demands for the decolonization of economies and societies, the repaying of climate debt, and the defense of 1.5 degrees Celsius by reducing emissions to zero by 2030. The statement ends with a call for the release of the imprisoned Egyptian technologist, writer and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah and all other prisoners of conscience. After the plenary ended, hundreds marched in protest outside the plenary hall.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! We’re outside the U.N. COP plenary. We’ve just come from a People’s Plenary, where hundreds of people gathered to call for justice and sign off on a statement. The foreign minister of Egypt just passed by. Part of the statement was calling for freedom for the political prisoner Alaa Abd El-Fattah and other political prisoners held in Egypt. Behind us, they’re linking climate justice and human rights. They are shouting, “What do we want? Shut it down!” They’re calling for climate justice for defense of land, air and sea.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we continue to cover the U.N. climate summit, we spend the hour with Indigenous activists and land defenders across the Americas. We begin with two guests. Tom Goldtooth is executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. He’s a member of the Diné and Dakota nations and lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. He also happens to be the father of a Hollywood star. That’s Dallas Goldtooth, if you watch Reservation Dogs. Also with us is Eriel Tchekwie Deranger. She is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action.
Tom and Eriel, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you both back. Eriel, let’s begin with you. I was sitting at the front of this People’s Plenary today. You were right there in the front. And this is as we come to the end of this two-week climate summit. You have been to so many in the past, for at least a decade. What are your biggest concerns right now?
ERIEL DERANGER: I think the reality is, is that the People’s Plenary has become a place for us to voice our concerns about the hypocrisy and the — the hypocrisy of what’s happening within the negotiations. The COPs have become a corporate playground as opposed to a place to come to agreements to address a global climate crisis. We are sidelining human rights, Indigenous rights and the environment to advance instead corporate false solutions.
And so we have to come forward and continue to stand in these spaces and demand more. As Indigenous peoples, we’ve been advocating for an alarm bell on climate change, for solutions that address the history of colonialism, violence on our lands and territories. And instead of those solutions driving the discourse of the negotiations, we’re seeing corporations putting forward false solutions that further entrench us into capitalism and colonialism.
AMY GOODMAN: “Loss and damage.” These are the words that if you go to any of the grassroots organizations that are here, the first three words out of their mouths. What exactly does it mean? And how seriously is this being taken by the countries that are involved with these negotiations?
ERIEL DERANGER: I think that’s a really good question. When it comes to loss and damage, for our communities, we have seen 500 years of colonialism in North America, in Turtle Island, and we have seen the loss and damages to our territories, to our cultures, to our lifeways. And this isn’t just something that’s in Turtle Island; this is across the planet. It is frontline communities, land defenders and Indigenous peoples that have experienced the loss of our lands and territories at the hands of oil and gas and extractivism.
And countries have made promises, all of these big fancy words and promises, to address these loss and damages. But how far back are they going? What do these commitments look like? And who is responsible for those loss and damages? And who is to receive them? Is it states that receive them from other states? How are we to ensure that there is direct resources to the communities that have experienced these loss and damages, as opposed to just new mechanisms for states to take and to further entrench our communities into more loss and damages in our homelands?
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Goldtooth, you were right there at the People’s Plenary, and you’ve been there for decades at these U.N. climate summits. Some of the young activists were born after the COPs began. What do you think of what has been accomplished at this point? And what do you want to see happen?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, one of the very important terminologies that we organized around for this COP is the latest IPCC sixth report that mentions colonialism as a major factor to be considered as we address the climate crisis. And that’s very important as we look at colonialism, but also the colonialism that represents the financial institutions, colonialism that has affected the inability of world leaders, after the 27th year of coming back, to really seriously address keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That’s the elephant in the room. That has been the issue.
You know, so, with a lot of other progress that we have had and been part of as Indigenous peoples, the big issue still is making a commitment to have a global initiative to meet that Paris Agreement of a threshold 1.5 Celsius. And the world is not on track. The United States is way off. Countries, industrialized countries, are way off. So, that’s what I see is the big issue. And colonialism has to be addressed in these hallways, and there’s been lack of political will around that.
AMY GOODMAN: “Colonialism” often seen on people’s bumper stickers: “CO2lonialism.” Colonialism. Tom, the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, the former presidential candidate and senator, a few weeks ago, at The New York Times, said that loss and damage means liability and compensation, which is why they can’t deal with it. But there’s been a lot of pushback, and he’s changed what he has said somewhat. You’re from the United States but also sovereign nations in the United States, the Diné, the Navajo and the Dakota people. What does that mean to you for reservations, for nations, Indigenous nations in the United States?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: A couple days ago, I was fortunate to be at a meeting to where John Kerry sat on my left, and we kind of knocked elbows together —
AMY GOODMAN: He sat on your lap?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: On my left.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, on your left!
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Yeah, L-E-F-T. Well, I don’t think if it would have been appropriate for him to sit on my lap. But he was on my left.
And we were able to exchange a couple notes together. And he took of concern the issues that I brought up about the continued issue around domestic issues of getting appropriations to address climate issues. It’s not just a adaptation, however, issue. It’s mitigation. How do we prevent our situation as American Indian and Alaska Native tribes to be able to positively look to our future? It concerns food sovereignty. It concerns, in fact, access to our lands that have been lost through the 371 treaties that have been violated by the United States. How do we get those lands back? And how do we protect our ecosystems, our biodiversity? Not through market mechanisms, which is a major mitigation plan of the United States, such as 30 by 30 conservation biodiversity offsets, our carbon market offsets, that do not cut emissions at source, by the way, and they’re just a mechanism to allow the polluters off the hook, so that they can go carbon-neutral but not cut their emissions at source.
So this is a major issue with us that I addressed to John as far as one of the climate reparation issues that we need to address as Native First Nation peoples, as American Indian tribes in the U.S. And he said he would get back to me and we would have meetings on it. He did say that they are looking at mechanisms to prevent — to create safeguards to prevent those things I mentioned, but we’re versed on that, too, around how safeguards are not really an adequate mechanism to address keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been critical of the Inflation Reduction Act. Many felt at least it got some money toward renewable technologies. What’s your concern?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, definitely, in America, we need jobs. We need to look at different methods of diversity in economic development. And Indigenous peoples and tribes, we’re there. We’re willing to meet and to work out things. We have an Indigenous Just Transition initiative that looks at that.
But the problem with this act is that it put millions of dollars into false solutions. For an example, in Department of Agriculture, there’s legislation, that’s already been couched, that allows climate-smart agriculture that puts the soil into our carbon market system of carbon sequestration. Again, this is part of a market system that does not cut emissions at source, and it also beefs up research and mechanisms to bring geoengineering now as a solution for mitigating climate.
And a lot of that, those technologies, have been a violation of the spiritual teachings that we have as Indigenous peoples. On carbon markets, bringing air into a market system to where it’s a property right issue, where they have to define whose property right is carbon before they can trade it as a commodity, that’s a violation of the sacred. So, how do we reconcile, as Indigenous people, living in a system, let alone our own self participating in a false system like that, to where the repercussions are very serious to us? For one thing, it does not address the climate issue.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Eriel Deranger, in Canada, Justin Trudeau did not come here. President Biden did. What is happening in Canada around pipeline politics, around overall energy, when it comes to the First Nations?
ERIEL DERANGER: You know, from my perspective, what it appears is that the Canadian government is creating a lot of flowery languages, a lot of promises that feel empty and devoid of actual critical mechanisms for implementation and on holding them accountable to their promises. Instead, what we’re seeing from the actual government when it comes to action on climate is they’re continuing to try to push dirty pipelines like the Trans Mountain pipeline, which is a tar sands pipeline that delivers tar sands from my territory in Treaty 8 to the coast and off to international markets. We’re seeing the continued expansion of the Alberta tar sands with plans not to even begin to slow down until after 2030.
This isn’t a just transition. This is not a strategy that addresses climate, and it’s not a strategy that addresses Indigenous rights. And Canada is hedging all of its bets on things like false solutions, carbon markets, Indigenous protected and conservation areas to offset their emissions, that does nothing, as Tom says, to cut emissions at source. Instead, what it does is it allows these corporations to continue business as usual. For me, that means that my territory continues to be ravaged by the Alberta tar sands. Our waterways, our animals, our species are continuing to decline in quality and health. Our peoples are not even able to hunt our bison anymore. There’s no protection for our species, because business is more important.
The question that I’ve heard pop up here in the hallways is: Who are we even trying to save the planet for anymore? It doesn’t seem like it’s for our people and our species and our relatives, but it’s for corporations, so they can continue to have a bottom line of billions of dollars to appease their shareholders.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to someone who so deeply cared about all of these issues, like both of you, someone you both know very well, the longtime water protector Joye Braun, who died Sunday at her home in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, at the age of 53, citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Nation, organizer for Tom’s Indigenous Environmental Network, at the Sacred Stone resistance camp since the first day of the protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is Joye Braun on Democracy Now! last year.
JOYE BRAUN: We need to unite together to let this administration know that we are serious, and, you know, we’re tired. We go to all the hearings. We do the petitions. We make the phone calls. And it’s not working. They’re still allowing pipelines to go through illegally. Dakota Access pipeline is still an illegal pipeline. And, of course, they did not do a full EIS on Line 3, and they’re ignoring treaty rights on Line 5 and Mountain Valley pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Joye Braun last year. Tom Goldtooth, she worked with you at the Indigenous Environmental Network. Talk about — we were interviewing her when she was in Washington. What were you doing there?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, you know, we have a campaign to lift up the issues around fossil fuels. We have a campaign lifting up that we have solutions like our Indigenous principles of just transition. So this was the issue we needed to lift up, the whole contradiction of the U.S. continuing business as usual with fossil fuels.
And so, she was there as our pipeline organizer. And part of her role is to network and bring together all the different frontlines dealing with pipelines. And she definitely — she was our warrior woman. But she had such love and compassion for the people and for Mother Earth.
And we’re still devastated, you know, in this loss. We were here, and when we heard about it — I got woken up in the middle of the night, our time, and it was her daughter, Morgan Brings Plenty, who found her. And she’s working with us in the media area, too. So, you know, it was a setback, definitely. But, you know, in many ways, she was one of those type of women that said, “You’ve got to go on. You’ve got to fight the fight. Be strong.” And this is hard work, especially as Indigenous peoples fighting for a long history of colonialism, fighting for our land and our rights, our food system. She was always that person, and close to her family. You know, a lot of people don’t know her beloved puppy dog passed away just a matter of days after when she passed away.
But she gives hope to us. We had a big gathering here, and a lot of people here globally came to honor her memory. And we had prayer and song from all cultures. And it’s part of the movement building that we’re experiencing here at this COP that continues on from Glasgow, civil society coming together.
AMY GOODMAN: Eriel, I give you the final words on Joye Braun.
ERIEL DERANGER: Yeah. I think I just want to say, and honor her memory, that she came up to our territory as a part of one of Indigenous Climate Action’s land camps, where we were bringing together land defenders and pipeline defenders coming to our territories. And she really brought so much spirit, and she really lived up to her name, as Joye, and really brought us together to really galvanize us from her experiences in Standing Rock. And she brings that spirit here now, even though she can’t be with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, she lives in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. And Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, he lives usually in Bemidji, Minnesota. But they are both here at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.