One Land Defender on the Front Lines of Climate Justice

June 3, 2021
Megan Perram (she/her), PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

In one of the most compelling talks at this year’s Congress, Tara Houska, Tribal Attorney and Land Defender from Couchiching First Nation, discussed her incredible career fighting climate destruction at both the political and industrial levels. “Old Ways Know Best: Cultural Shift as a Solution to the Climate Crisis” was an open event hosted by the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC). 

Houska began her talk acknowledging her physical space, sitting outside in front of a body of water. She’s currently living in a pipeline resistance camp with a group of young activists. The passion and sense of justice that these young people embody inspire Houska to keep on with her fight. The climate activist described how she recently had a meeting with Joe Biden’s Senior Climate Advisor: “that didn't happen because of petitions, that didn't happen because of letters, that happened because hundreds of young people have chained themselves to freezing cold pipes.” 

Houska believes that it’s powerful to work with the next generation: “They’re a little bit more healed too.” This group of young activists embraces diversity in how they identify, and for Houska, “all the different gradients that we see in nature are present in their physicality.” 

Houska’s impressive career has been guided by a drive to push back against fossil fuel infrastructure. She started out in Washington, DC as a lobbyist for tribal nations and even worked for a time consulting Bernie Sanders. Houska notes that “our native people, or 5% of the population globally, hold 80% of its biodiversity. That's not by accident or happenstance.” She goes on to explain that Indigenous populations, dependent on their own journey with colonization, “carry deep connections to the earth, and to understanding our fragile place in the web of life.” For Houska, climate justice is about embracing diverse ways of being in the world. 

Although Indigenous communities are the experts at the forefront of climate justice, Houska wonders: “where are our voices in the spaces of international climate tables that are trying to figure out how to solve this problem?” She continues: “We are usually brought in as entertainment, we are brought in to inspire people and to share some words that make people feel compelled.” Then Houska’s community is dismissed, and those in power, “folks who speak the same language of statistical hard data,” make impactful decisions that affect us all.  

Houska finds herself painstakingly reminding corporate executives that they too are reliant on the balance of the Earth. She noted: “I've spent an incredible amount of my adult life sitting across the table from fossil fuel financiers who are looking at me like I don't understand the way of the world and I'm looking at them trying to remind them that they drink water.” Houska knows that “water is life. There's no way around that simple truth.” 

In closing, Houska reminded us that in our fight for climate justice, the Earth will win: “I mean we're not going to destroy the Earth, the Earth will destroy us long before that happens.”