Op-Ed | Honoring Indigenous climate leadership during Native American Heritage Month

In November, our country celebrates Native American Heritage Month. Of course, it’s important to honor Indigenous heritage year-round; but this month presents a special opportunity to uplift Indigenous cultures, futures, and contributions.

As with the rest of North America – also known as Turtle Island to some tribes – Piedmont itself sits on Indigenous peoples’ ancestral homes. More specifically, Piedmont occupies the traditional homelands of Ohlone peoples, including the Muwékma Ohlone Tribe and Confederated Villages of Lisjan. Before the arrival of European settlers, these tribes stewarded this land for thousands of years, and they are still here today.

As the original stewards of the land, Indigenous people carry a rich repository of knowledge about living in harmony with nature. Indigenous people have been leaders in work to reintroduce buffalo in Montana, restore salmon populations in the Columbia River, protect sacred land at Standing Rock, and more. Here in California, prescribed burning is a long-standing Indigenous practice that diminishes wildfire risk. State government suppressed this practice in the past, but today prescribed burns are once again a key element of the State’s approach to forest management and wildfire risk reduction.

It comes as no surprise, then, that many Indigenous activists dare to lead the climate movement. At just 21 years old, Re-Earth Initiative co-founder Xiya Bastida earned a spot on TIME Magazine’s TIME100 Next list for her climate justice activism. Other prominent activists include Tara Houska, Quannah Chasinghorse, Winona LaDuke, Siqiñiq Maupin, and Dallas Goldtooth. Here in the East Bay, Corrina Gould of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust works with Native and non-native communities to revitalize lost cultural knowledge and caretaking practices on rematriated land across the East Bay.

Indigenous people in the United States possess the highest poverty rate among all minority groups (25.4%), and the highest mortality rates for many preventable illnesses, resulting in a life expectancy that is 5.5 years lower than the national statistic. This means that Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by climate change and natural hazards.

In his proclamation on National Native American Heritage Month 2023, President Biden called on all Americans to celebrate November 24th as “Native American Heritage Day.” I encourage all Piedmonters to spend some time on Friday reading or listening to Indigenous voices by visiting the official websites for the Muwékma Ohlone Tribe and Confederated Villages of Lisjan or checking out one of the following podcasts: Indigenous Earth Community Podcast, Good Fire, and Indigenous Climate Action Pod.

Alyssa Romea is an AmeriCorps Fellow with the City of Piedmont’s Sustainability Division

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