As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, we must remember the fact that the US was built on stolen land and Indigenous genocide. These truths live on today. There is no shortage of examples of Native lands being exploited for capitalist profit or violence – often state sanctioned – against Indigenous women. On a holiday usually celebrated to whitewash over a dark history of colonization it is important to honor and support the ways Native and Indigenous communities and leaders have been and continue to fight for justice on all fronts – from defending land rights to protecting our water to ending the exploitation and poisoning of communities from the fossil fuel industry.
This month marks Native American Heritage Month and we wanted to lift up the bold and visionary leadership of Native people fighting for human rights, climate justice and the protection of Mother Earth. Check out a few of these leaders below!
1) Thomas Tonatiuh Lopez Jr. was born and raised in heart of Denver, Colorado. Thomas is a descendant of the Otomi, Diné, Apache and Lakota people. He is a Grandson of Chief Leonard Emmanuel Crowdog Sr. and the Son of Water Woman Sharon Dominguez & Sundance Chief Thomas Lopez Sr. He spent months working with the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) on the ground at Standing Rock to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thomas continues his work with the IIYC, as the Director of Development, to inspire young Indigenous and LGBTQ+ leaders to create authentic, sustainable change. Thomas was recently honored as one of the Advocate’s Champion of Pride for 2019.
2) Cherri Foytlin is an afro-indigenous (Din’e) organizer, writer, speaker, and mother of six who lives in southwest Louisiana. She is the author of “Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion,” and regularly contributes to BridgetheGulfProject.org, and other written platforms. In the Spring of 2011, she walked to Washington D.C. from New Orleans (1,243 miles) to educate and call for action to regarding the BP Deep Water Drilling Disaster. More recently, as a founder of the L’eau Est La Vie (Water is Life) Camp she has helped to lead an inspiring direct action campaign to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. She is also the executive director of Louisiana Rise, an organization dedicated to a just transition for local Louisiana communities, an advisory member for Another Gulf is Possible, the National Poor People’s Campaign, and a National team member for Extinction Rebellion US.
3) Robert Múkaro Borrero has a distinguished and diverse background in policy & program development and human rights advocacy, including a specialization on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. He retains over 20 years of experience engaging the United Nations system in thematic areas such as Sustainable Development; Climate Change; the Information Society; and the Organization of American States; among others. Professionally, he has served on the staff of the International Indian Treaty Council and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as an independent contracting consultant for UNESCO, PBS, and other notable institutions. A published writer, an accomplished artist, and musician, Borrero is a member of the Taíno Tribal Nation, an Indigenous Peoples whose traditional homelands extend through the Greater Antilles to the Southern tip of Florida in the U.S. In 2012, he was traditionally sanctioned a kasike (chief) of the Guainía Taíno tribal community. He has an educational background in communications and cultural studies. In 2013, Borrero was awarded an honorary Doctorate Degree, Philosophy in Humanities, from Kayiwa International University, Kampala, Uganda.
These Indigenous climate leaders are just a few of many. There are so many Indigenous climate activists, leaders, artists, and scientists who have helped build our movement to be what it is today. Without them, we would not be able to keep fighting.