Decolonization or Extinction

The roadmaps for decolonization have been written. Through movements centered in Indigenous solidarity we can shift our understandings of sovereign from individuality to relational strength in sharing.
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dozens of people march together down a city street lined with tall buildings and a clock tower is visible in the distance. The person at the front wears a ribbon skirt and carries a drum, holding their fist in the air. They are also leading a dog on a leash. Several others carry drums and hold their fists in the air.
A march in solidarity with Indigenous Water Protectors in Toronto, Canada

Algeria. Greece. Canada. United States. Jerusalem. This summer the skies turned red as forest fires raged. The world is literally on fire. Now, barely two months later, the barren lands of so-called British Columbia couldn’t contain the rains, leading to major floods that took out towns and villages, completely cutting Vancouver off from the rest of Canada.  

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their latest report – the world is getting hotter. Without immediate and drastic change in our carbon emissions, drought, forest fires, and flooding will become our norm. 

In November, delegates met in Glasgow for COP26, the climate change conference that the media hyped up as a “turning point” for tackling global emissions and keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. The outcome? It was essentially a failure. But the problem wasn’t in the negotiations, pledges or thresholds themselves, the problem is much bigger than that. The discourse is focused on offsetting the current ‘loss and damage’ by switching out technologies (e.g. oil and gas for electric-powered transportation) and paying out what cannot be undone. This ‘sustainability’ is greenwash. Our future depends on the decolonization of our imperialist capitalist societies that are the cause of our destruction.

The roadmaps for decolonization have already been written: the 2010 People’s Agreement of Cochabamba and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the 2011 Mother Earth Accord, the 2017 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 2018 Indigenous Principles of Just Transition, and most recently, The Red Deal

Written by the Red Nation, a collective of Indigenous organizers dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism, The Red Deal is a manifesto to save the earth. It has been written both in response to the United States congressional resolution the Green New Deal (GND)1 and the current crisis of capital, environment and Indigenous rights that currently plague Turtle Island. 

Climate change is one of many symptoms of a world unbalanced, and in order to reconnect as human and other-than-human beings, decolonization must be at the very centre; environmentalism alone cannot save us from human and environmental exploitation. We need movements centered in Indigenous solidarity that dismantle the systems of capitalism and imperialism and move us towards caretaking and the simple philosophy of being a good relative (The Red Deal, 146).

Using the Covid 19 pandemic as an example, The Red Deal shows how the ruling elites of capitalism perpetually benefit from crises, ensuring that the myth of scarcity is imposed on the masses while they line their pockets with abundance. Capitalism needs a housing crisis, mass evictions, unemployment, refugees, and climate change disasters in order to benefit from an expendable population. And while the elites hoard their wealth, the people continue to struggle. The Red Nation writes, “A select few are hoarding the life rafts while also shooting holes in a sinking ship”(19). No more is this clearer than Jeff Bezos’ recent flight into space. While the world burns from climate change, Bezos paid for his multi-million dollar space adventure with wealth hoarded from paying the workers at Amazon poverty wages.  

Decolonization is not just about ending violence within the borders of Turtle Island. For the writers of The Red Deal, decolonization also demands an end to imperialism. Last year, the United States fled Afghanistan as the Taliban re-took the country after 20 years of western imperialist occupation. Imperial wars are an extension of settler colonialism, The Red Nation write, “The Indian Wars never ended; The United States simply fabricated new Indians—new terrorists, insurgents, and enemies—to justify endless expansion”(63). This expansion has resulted in US military bases around the world. The decolonial rallying cry of ‘Land back’ is not only about returning land to Indigenous people on Turtle Island, but also returning land to the people where the US, and we would argue Canada, has implanted military bases. It is ‘Land back’ in Iraq, Cuba, Colombia, Mali, and wherever western imperialists have continued to consume land that is not theirs. 

As we work towards climate justice, the rules of the game need to fundamentally change. We cannot simply replace fossil fuel extraction with renewable energy extraction, replicating the injustices and inequalities between the Global North and Global South (115). 

The ruling elite have corrupted our understanding of value.  Our economies have put price tags on water, trees, and air. The Red Deal quotes Nehiyaw scholar Emily Riddle who argues, “European political traditions would have us believe that being sovereign means asserting exclusive control over a territory, whereas Indigenous political traditions teach us that it is through our relationship with others that we are sovereign, that sharing is not a sign of weakness but of ultimate strength and diplomacy” (129).  

Indigenous Land Defenders and Water Protectors are on the front lines, not only to protect the sacred waters of the Wedzin Kwa in Wet’suwet’en Territory or the sacred manoomin (wild rice) of the Anishinaabe Territory, but to ensure our world a future. 

The choice is before us as The Red Nation says, “decolonization or extinction.”


1 GND was an attempt to get US policy makers to develop legislation that would save the US from climate change. Sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Merkey, the GND has been described as ‘ecosocialism’, attempting to combine environmental justice with anti-capitalist initiatives. Yet for the writers of The Red Deal, GND did little to center decolonization to bring about change.

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