The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice (EJ) as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Sounds good, right? Except that this definition leaves out as much or more than it includes when it comes to Indigenous peoples. We’re talking about things like access to lands that were illegally taken from them, the role of treaty rights, the rights (or lack thereof) of non-federally recognized tribes, the protection of and access to sacred sites, repatriation of ancestors and burial artifacts, and access to important cultural resources like medicinal and food plants. All of these and more are issues of environmental justice, even if the legal frameworks of governments don’t recognize them as such.
Local and state governments formulating tribal environmental justice policies and community groups working on cooperative land protection arrangements are imagining new and innovative ways to partner with Indigenous peoples outside the constraints of federal Indian law. This opens opportunities for managing lands through traditional ecosystem management techniques (i.e. TEK, traditional environmental knowledge), which research increasingly shows was how Native peoples were able to live sustainably on the continent for more than 10,000 years. When Indigenous peoples are allowed leadership roles in land management a better future is assured for all people in the human and nonhuman world.
By looking at the big picture through the lens of TEK, and with a precise understanding of history and current EJ theories and frameworks, DGW Consulting is equipped to help EJ communities make better decisions for all involved. Knowledge is power!