It's about more than just climate justice

We have a responsibility to understand how our privilege intersects with the oppression of others

Lilles at a march against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Credit: 
Supplied by Miela Lilles

On October 24, I joined Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) as they organized a bus of Kingston youth to participate in an organized action of civil disobedience in Ottawa. This protest was in opposition to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, running from Alberta to the west coast of British Columbia, urging Justin Trudeau to reject expansion.

As I watched all 99 students before me start to climb over the federally controlled fence on Parliament Hill — and thus into their arrest — I felt incredibly moved to witness such passion for activism. 

It was at the protest I realized that opposing pipeline politics is not only a matter of climate justice, it’s also a matter of opposing colonial violence, mistreatment and oppression.

The obligation of our youth within the climate justice movement can be found when looking at the actions taking place at Standing Rock and Coast Salish by understanding what exactly is being protested and the way issues intersect to create a bigger problem.

We need to reflect on the way our own positions in society have colluded with the way colonial violence is reproduced in the communities most affected by climate chaos. It involves an active, self-reflective approach in the way we participate, understand and communicate our efforts to show solidarity with current social movements. 

In Canada today, settler colonial mistreatment comes in a variety of forms. In light of recent events, this includes the disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples from their land. It’s displayed by political leaders that pursue ventures that don’t honour treaties. It’s reproduced by a system that maintains white supremacy by invalidating, repressing and ignoring the voices of ‘others.’ Even more so, it takes place when we surrender to the privilege of ignoring our obligation as the youth to participate in the ongoing resistance efforts. 

Witnessing the powerful protest in Ottawa I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own place and positionality within the climate justice movement and ignorance was no longer an option

As a Filipino-Canadian immigrant, my interest for climate justice stems from my own witness to the horrors of the growing number of typhoon disasters within the Philippines. What I’ve learned from these intensifying storms, which have only exacerbated the violence of poverty within Island nations, is that climate change affects the world in unfairly disproportionate ways. 

As a settler of colour in Canada, I began first by recognizing that I’m merely a learner — a contributor by default — in this ongoing struggle against colonial oppression that Indigenous populations face. Their voices have been reduced and pushed into the margins of public consciousness yet their leadership remains crucial to understanding why we need a climate justice movement in the first place. 

We must listen to what they have to say and listen to what they preach. Their teachings are ours to learn. 

I want to walk alongside the original inhabitants of this land because their stories of loss, devastation and resilience are ones that are similarly shared by my people in the Philippines Islands. How can I stand in solidarity with the resilient communities within the Philippines who are still recovering from typhoon Haiyan, the strongest and deadliest typhoon ever recorded, if I remain complicit and silent during the anti-colonial fight led by Indigenous people and environmental activists in Canada?

We have the obligation to understand how our identity and privilege directly intersect with those who are most affected by the exploitation of our planet. My experience with climate justice movement has allowed me the opportunity to do this.  We have the power as the millennial generation to help voice the social injustices produced by fossil fuel regimes. 

So, I urge you to join in, get involved and participate. You’re affected by this too. Stand up for those who don’t have the privilege to do so. Stand with the Indigenous resistance efforts that have gone unnoticed for far too long. 

The good news is that there are so many accessible opportunities on our campus. Queen’s groups such as QBACC and Queen’s Native Student Association are only some of the on-campus groups who have already taken action on these issues. Their combined efforts give us a complete understanding on the way these advocacies are intrinsically linked.

We need to reflect on our privilege and remember that the fight against climate change is one that shares connectivity with Indigenous sovereignty. This fight has always been present — invisible yet ongoing. Now’s the time to bring to the forefront those who are most affected by climate chaos and understand our own positionalities in the grand scheme of things. 

Miela Lilles is a fourth-year global development studies student.

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