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Today marks the last day of Capitol Hill Ocean Week. Don’t miss today’s talks on justice and equity as well as the CHOW Closing Plenary. Yesterday, experts got busy discussing international policy, inclusivity, and uplifting communities. Global ocean policy will play a significant role in halting catastrophic temperature rise, but we must ensure that frontline communities have a seat at such a massive table. Indigenous and youth climate leaders are eager to offer up solutions that will bring the power of international policy-making to the people.
Why This Matters: Panelist Queen Quet, Chieftess and Head-of-State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, says it best.
“Like an ocean wave, no two are alike, but when they come in…they always take something back out with them, and so this is the same way that policies can be. They come in, and they may flood over the traditions and the culture and the communities and the sacred spaces, and take out what is there that’s vital to our continued existence and definitely the continued existence of our cultural heritage. So, that is why it is critical…for us as indigenous people that are coastal people to be there at the table.”
Like an Ocean Wave: Panelists discussed the barriers that stand between Indigenous and coastal communities and international policy-making. Indigenous groups worldwide have frequently been the victims of environmental injustices. As a result, they often don’t have a seat at the table of their federal governments, let alone an international body.
Sophia Kianni, the Founder of Climate Cardinals and U.S. Representative for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, says that language is a common barrier. “The UN only provides their information in the six UN languages, and that accounts for less than half of the world speaking population,” she said. “The ten countries that are worse affected by climate change, nine of them are a majority non-English speaking, and yet the primary dialogue we use to talk about issues like climate change and ocean conservation, it is always English, like it is right now.” Access, she said, is key to empowering communities to lobby their governments and advocate for themselves.
Even when Indigenous communities are invited to or have the resources to go to international summits and meetings, they still may not get adequate representation. “Although you might be in the space, is the space filling with your values? Is it filling with your worries? Is it filling with the design for your community and your culture to continue? And are the resources coming back towards you within that space, or are they being redirected?” asked Queen Quet, pointing out that among even the best international policies are issues with resource distribution.
Much like Tuesday’s panel, the experts emphasized that ensuring frontline communities are always on the receiving end of financial resources will be essential to implementing any inclusive climate policy. “It might be slow, and it might take a long time, but we didn’t get here overnight, so it’s going to take us time,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the Chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah. “Our traditional cultural practices are what kept our planet and our mother earth and our oceans the way they were sustaining all of us for — since time and memorial, and it takes that indigenous, that ancient knowledge of being stewards of our mother earth to bring it back to where it needs to be.
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