How climate justice took one activist from a Wyoming reservation to an international summit

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Big Wind Carpenter, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, says he witnessed environmental racism firsthand before he even knew it had a name.

Carpenter, who identifies as Two-Spirit and uses they/them pronouns, grew up in Wyoming, where fossil fuel extraction is a major part of the economy. Much of its industrial activity “strategically” bypasses areas inhabited by non-Indigenous people, they said.

“The north side of the Wind River has golf courses and mansions, but the south side is where I grew up…with trailer homes and trailers and a factory that was used for a long time to turn uranium into yellowcake.” Carpenter told The Hill in a recent interview.

They said growing up on the Wind River Reservation instilled the values ​​and deeply demonstrated the need for climate action.

“Reciprocity and natural law are already important to us,” said Carpenter, the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s tribal partnership coordinator. “Growing up in that environment really taught me to appreciate the environment.”

Over the years, they became involved in frontline efforts in that community, most notably the 2017 campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline. After the project was completed, and as indigenous anti-pipeline activists gained international attention, Carpenter joined the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and youth organizations that send delegations to the COP and other climate summits. I decided to work with Sustain Us on policy activities.

Carpenter has served as part of indigenous delegations at multiple COP summits, including as recently as last year, and has been prominent in bringing indigenous peoples, many of whom are on the front lines of climate change, to the negotiating table. He said that there had been significant improvement. .

“I think there’s a process that’s going on now that we’ve seen over the last few years to really be able to leverage the collective voice of Indigenous peoples,” Carpenter said. “In my first year, Indigenous organizations were essentially still developing in the sense that our events were taking place in so-called green zones and not where negotiations were taking place. In 2019, the transition from green zones to blue zones, where negotiations are underway, is progressing.

At COP28, Mr. Carpenter was part of the “Knowledge Keepers” delegation, made up of indigenous delegates from seven of Earth’s biospheres. Members of the delegation discussed how their respective techniques and traditions can be brought into play to support conservation.

Carpenter is also working with the state of Wyoming on a co-management agreement with the Bureau of Land Management for the Red Desert sagebrush prairie in southern Wyoming.

At COP28, he said, delegates were able to “share the local stories and how they relate to international thinking” that they were discussing.

Carpenter said he sees significant successes and room for improvement in how indigenous perspectives are incorporated into the climate movement back home in the United States.

They said the leadership of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet member, “represented a major victory for Indigenous peoples.” This is more than just a milestone for her, Carpenter said, since her approval, her guidelines for co-management of land represent a major step forward for Indigenous communities.

Another big step forward, they said, is a policy that allows tribes to not only provide feedback but also receive federal funding to implement their ideas on public lands protection. “Consultation is not consent, and what has happened historically is that [federal] “The agency is looking for a way to rubber-stamp it,” they said. “I think it’s really good that we’re moving away from tokenized relationships with Indigenous peoples and toward something more meaningful.”

On the international stage, Carpenter said he has high expectations for the COP30 summit, scheduled to be held in Brazil in 2025.. Brazil has the largest indigenous population of any single country (approximately 1.7 million people from 305 tribes) and is also home to some of the largest carbon sinks in the Amazon rainforest.

“We’re going to see Indigenous voices really uplifted, and… we’re going to see a lot of those ideas implemented. I’m really looking forward to that.” ” they said.

But Carpenter also pointed out that both the past two meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and this year’s COP29 in Azerbaijan, are hosted by major oil producing countries, pointing out that the COP summit expressed concern about the future. accused of human rights abuse, or both.

“Holding the COP in areas that do not support free speech or protest could not allow society to act as civil society has been able to do in many other areas,” they said. “Many of the things we take for granted here in the United States are not guaranteed by our government, and that hinders the progress of civil society.”

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