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Indigenous Groups Boycott People’s Climate March

Samantha Jonscher reports on the controversy surrounding today’s People’s Climate March.

An image from the people's climate march Facebook.

Ahead of today’s People’s March Against Climate Change in Sydney, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, SOSBlakAustralia and associates announced that they will be boycotting the event. The event is part of a massive international network of similar events on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit.

In a statement released on Facebook last night, the groups expressed concern that their inclusion in the march was a tokenistic gesture, and that there had not been sincere attempts to build a relationship between the organisers of the climate march the Aboriginal community in Sydney.

This speaks to the complicated, wider relationship between environmental groups and the Aboriginal movement, including concerns from Aboriginal communities about a lack of solidarity and consultation from environmental groups. The statement expressed this concern, “environmental organisations often [do not take] into account traditional law, culture, sites, our obvious and historical relationship with mother earth and sustainable living with the environment, hunting practices etc”.

Likewise, the statement expressed concerns over the inclusion of the Nuclear For Climate group in the upcoming Rally. The group, as the name suggests, pushes for nuclear energy as a solution to climate change- a process that threatens the health of traditional lands and, as the statement points out, is connected to the forced closure of Aboriginal communities.

According to the statement, the relationship started optimistically in meetings between the People’s Climate March organisation and representatives from a number of Aboriginal communities and elders, where concerns were raised about the previous disconnect between Aboriginal communities and climate change activism. This consultation process lead to agreement on a number of terms, however, the eyes of community members this process “was tokenistic and just to gain credibility by having some Aboriginal faces involved” and served to silence the Aboriginal community and elders.

Apparently, in these talks it was agreed that Aboriginal community members and Elders would lead the march, that Aunt Jenny Munro would be given time to speak and that the march would commence Aboriginal dancers and a traditional smoking ceremony. However, the post reads, as the march drew closer, these terms were pressed. Aunt Jenny Munro’s speaking time was cut short, the Aboriginal community block would be separated from the rest of the march by a 100 piece Samba band (by no stretch of the imagination this would make it difficult for the rest of the march to hear them) and march organisers likewise attempted, according to the statement, to put other groups at the front of the march in lieu of the Aboriginal community.

All in all, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, SOSBlakAustralia and associates felt that these actions “proved how unrepresented and tokenistically used Aboriginal peoples are within the climate movement”.

The organisers of the People’s Climate March responded on Facebook, in a post which reads in part that “There was absolutely no intention to hurt or offend anyone and we strive to stand with Indigenous people in the fight to protect their land and communities. Since yesterday afternoon, we have been reaching out to leaders at Embassy and SOS in hope of being able to work together in future. And will continue to do so” and that they “unequivocally oppose nuclear power as a ‘solution’ to climate change, and acknowledge that nuclear power in Australia is dependent on the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land.”

Nonetheless, in light of developments, The Australian Student Environment Network’s (ASEN) NSW and ACT, the network of on campus environment collectives, has withdrawn support for the march in response, according to spokesperson Breana Macpherson-Rice.

The march will go ahead today at 1pm.