On Equity: An interview with Melina Laboucan-Massimo

November 16, 2021

Chloe Sjuberg
Communications Coordinator, SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's On Equity interviews are those of the interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University, SFU Public Square or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

The On Equity interview series is part of our 2021 Community Summit Series: Towards Equity. In these interviews, you’ll get to know people working towards equity, justice and systemic change from a variety of fields and perspectives, and learn how you can support them. We hope they will inform and inspire your own conversations and actions towards equity.

This edition of On Equity has a particular focus on climate justice, as our interviewee is Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who will be speaking at Hope in Resistance: Stories of Climate Justice, the keynote event of Towards Equity. Melina is Lubicon Cree from northern Alberta, the founder of Sacred Earth Solar, and the co-founder and healing justice director of Indigenous Climate Action.

To hear more from Melina and other climate justice advocates, register to attend Hope in Resistance: Stories of Climate Justice on Thursday, November 25 at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time, livestreamed from The Cultch's Historic Theatre.

How do we make systemic change?

Systemic change needs to be transformational throughout all segments of society. For systemic change to happen, there needs to be a complete paradigm shift from the prioritization of convenience, overconsumption and profit to recreating balanced relationships with Mother Earth and one another. It seems often when people in North-Western society think of changing things, they think there are no alternatives. However, we have seen Indigenous peoples across the planet live in right relationship with Mother Earth for thousands of years. We know the problems that face us, and we therefore know the solutions. I think it will take real listening, humility and action to change our collective futures.

 

What does climate justice look like to you?

Climate justice looks like no “sacrifice communities,” and prioritizing communities who have borne the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis and environmental degradation globally. This means that we can’t adopt “not in my backyard” attitudes that save one community but put another directly in harm’s way. My community, Little Buffalo, is a community that has been detrimentally impacted by logging, oil, gas, fracking and tar sands extraction. The majority of people live away from the impact zones, yet profit from the destruction and live in convenience. This allows the people destroying the land to be willfully ignorant of the cost of that convenience. It is unacceptable that Indigenous peoples have to breathe unclean air and drink unclean water so that the rest of society can live without the impacts yet reap all the benefits. This is not equity.

I remember being able to drink clean water straight from streams when I was a child, and people can no longer do that where I am from. Climate justice looks like listening to people who have gone through these experiences firsthand, and standing in solidarity with us when we need political support, funding or bodies on the frontlines. Climate justice looks like shifting from an extractive way of relating to the land and people to balanced reciprocal relationships where we ensure that we are giving as much as we are taking.

Climate justice is building the collective yes to our collective no! This means we re-envision what climate action looks like for ourselves. This is what we are building at Sacred Earth Solar

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the guiding question for Towards Equity: What must we understand—and do—to recover equitably from the pandemic and reimagine our systems to confront the intersecting crises of inequality, systemic racism and climate change?

“When everything speeds up—slow down.” This is advice that I have learned from Elders in my community. We are in a time where things are speeding up with a nonstop 24/7 digital lifestyle at the expense of health and wellness to people and the planet. To reimagine equitable systems, we need to take a breath first, and remember what is truly important—our relationships with ourselves and each other, including the land, air, water, plants, animals and other beings. We need to remember that we, in fact, are in sacred relationships with the world around us. This is why many Indigenous peoples in ceremony say “All My Relations” to acknowledge the sacredness of all life. 

We can reimagine by remembering what is real—by learning from our past, and applying what we have learned, rather than just talking about it. That means actually going out to the land, and recreating the sacred relationships we have with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth. It is essential that we listen to our Elders who still carry this knowledge. As well, we must listen to the people who have been thinking through the problems they have faced firsthand. It is important that we stand in solidarity with people who are being criminalized and even murdered for standing against corporations and states to protect their homelands for the survival of life on Earth. This will often be uncomfortable, because when you challenge the status quo in any system, there will be a backlash. But if you have been comfortable in the status quo for your lifetime or for generations, it is time to get uncomfortable and stand with those who your comfort has been at the expense of. 

 

What gives you hope? What inspires you?

Many people and communities are already leading the way in this work. Looking at the level of consciousness and awareness about social justice issues compared to even a decade ago gives me hope. It seems like there is a greater willingness to learn now, because people can no longer deny our glaring truths. It isn’t that Indigenous peoples have been raising our voices more—in fact, this resistance has been passed down through generations. We have inherited the fight for justice and equity. 

I had the privilege of traveling from coast to coast while filming "Power to the People," a TV docuseries about Indigenous communities who are leading the way in the fight for climate justice by implementing solutions of food security, eco-housing and renewable energy in their homelands. These leaders and communities gave me hope to continue this work, as many times in the past I have felt alone in doing this work. 

I see now that more people are opening their eyes. Even five or 10 years ago, when I was ringing the alarm bells about the tar sands and climate change, there wasn’t this kind of general openness to learning. Young people are continuing the work of our Elders and are continuing to build networks to support each other. We find strength in our cultures together and continue to speak truth to power. It inspires me to see the solidarity between BIPOC people, too, and how we are linking our struggles together and creating a web of support for us all.

 

What individuals or organizations fighting for climate justice should we be paying attention to and how can we support them?

Decolonization and climate justice are inextricably linked. The work of educating and allowing space for people to digest the real truths of the genocidal histories of the lands where they live, and their family histories on that land or how they may have played a part in that history, can be very difficult to process. This burden of educating others should not be on BIPOC people, who have to live through the traumas of colonization. Many times, people don’t know, because the public education system has been severely lacking in telling the real history or our truths. Decolonize Together is a new organization that holds space for people and allows them to reflect on questions they need to ask themselves to be able to move forward with relationships built on a foundation of truth.

Healing justice is climate justice. The need for healing time for frontline organizers and collectively within communities is critical work that needs to be prioritized in climate justice work. One critical measure we need to do differently in the movement is showing up for people who have been actively on the front lines for decades to allow for them to take time away, rest and heal from complex trauma and PTSD. It is critical we build decolonial trauma-informed tools to help regain balance from the constant pressure of working ourselves to the point of collapse. Healing justice needs to be built into our organizations and movement spaces. It is going to take dedicated transformational work to explore what this can mean in practice. Healing is justice and allows us to create long-term sustainable movements together, where one person can have the space to breathe and know that the work is still being carried out. This is the work I have started to build at Indigenous Climate Action to ensure that we break the cycles of burnout and do not re-create systems of harm within our movement(s).

 

Who would you like to hear from in an upcoming interview? What other questions would you like us to ask interviewees? Let us know. Send your ideas to Chloe Sjuberg, Communications Coordinator, at chloe_s@sfu.ca.

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