UU Service Committee co-sponsors gathering on climate change’s impact on Indigenous peoples.
From left: Eltera Hermios, Mark Stege, and Fenton Lutunatabua, Convening participants from the Pacific, receive messages of solidarity from UUs around the United States (© 2018 Rob Stapleton).
More than sixty indigenous and First Peoples leaders and activists from around the world, including the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Louisiana, Washington State, and Alaska, gathered October 1–4, 2018, in Girdwood, Alaska, to share strategies for addressing the effects of climate-forced displacement.
The First Peoples’ Convening on Climate-Forced Displacement was co-sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and the Climate Justice Resilience Fund. A First Peoples’ and Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration was released in early December to coincide with the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP24, held December 2–14 in Katowice, Poland.
The UUSC, which advances human rights through grassroots collaborations, is putting significant focus on the effects of climate change on indigenous and other historically marginalized peoples, said UUSC President and CEO Mary Katherine Morn.
“One of the demands in the declaration is to ensure that there is a place . . . for indigenous people [in global discussions],” said Morn.
“This really is an issue of climate justice,” Morn said, “and each of us can be a part of responding to the needs of the people most affected in the world.” Morn emphasized that financial support of the UUSC by UUs made the convening possible. “I hope people identify this as the work of our faith, when so much is at stake.”
“Our theory of change is making this kind of thing possible,” Morn said, by following the lead of and providing funding for the indigenous participants, who set the agenda.
“We learned a lot from each other and learned about the common issues of climate change impacts,” said Richard Tuluk, an indigenous Alaskan and the mayor of Chevak native village on Alaska’s southwest coast. Alaskan tribes—sixteen of them were represented at the convening—are experiencing problems, including increased flooding, altered spawning patterns for fish, erosion of land, and the appearance of “animals that have never been here before, which is mind-boggling,” Tuluk told UU World.
“I learned so much from others who attended about this issue of climate-forced migration, and the different stages they are in along the migration continuum,” Mark Stege, chief research advisor for the Marshall Islands Conservation Society, told UU World. “For instance, I realized that the Kotlik community in Alaska is similar to my own Maloelap community in the Marshall Islands, in that neither has been forced to migrate yet, but we are very much aware of the changing environmental conditions and its effect on our traditional lifestyles and cultures.”
Tuluk said: “We’re at the forefront of climate change right now. It’s happening to us now—and for the rest of the world, it’s coming to you.”
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.