Stephanie BadSoldier Snow, Meskwaki and Ho-Chunk
Shaina Oliver, Navajo Nation (Dine’)
Moms Clean Air Force
Indigenous communities are among those impacted most immediately and most severely by the climate crisis. Recently, we cheered as President Joe Biden issued a roster of climate-related executive orders, establishing directives for environmental justice and putting a pause on all oil and gas leasing on public lands.
Biden has also nominated an impressive list of climate changemakers to serve as federal agency leads, and they await confirmation from the Senate. But this is only the beginning of the work that President Biden and Congress must immediately embark on in order to protect our air, water, and environment.
In 2020, Indigenous communities shattered records, making our voices heard as voter turnout among Indigenous communities surged, helping to sway the outcome of the election in critical states like Arizona and Wisconsin. All the while, we faced tremendous obstacles, such as ballot access issues and the ongoing Covid-19 public health crisis, but still managed to cast our ballots for a more perfect, more inclusive union.
We also sent a record-breaking six Indigenous leaders to Congress. Now, one of these leaders, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, has shattered another barrier. Her nomination to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior is historic and, if confirmed, she would become the first Indigenous person to serve in a president’s cabinet.
As Indigenous mothers, we know this says to our nation that it is time to listen to our communities when it comes to our environment and climate change – one of the greatest challenges our community, our nation, and the world faces. It makes us all the more hopeful that President Biden is prioritizing picks like Rep. Haaland as well as Michael Regan for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These picks say to Indigenous communities and all Americans that his administration is serious about bringing on people who will indeed emphasize environmental justice in policymaking.
As the Biden administration hits the ground running with these nominations and important executive orders, we need to focus on how federal agencies can fulfill their missions for the future and undo much of the damage that has been inflicted upon them over the past four years.
Indigenous peoples and other communities of color across the United States are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. One need only look at the past few years to see the devastation that it has had on our communities. In Iowa, large portions of Meskwaki land were devastated by a deadly derecho in 2020, with hurricane-force winds destroying tens of millions of acres. The Navajo Nation in Arizona has faced record-breaking heat waves, leading to intense drought and desolate croplands. And in Alaska, Indigenous peoples are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis as rising temperatures and increasing coastal and river erosion have already forced communities to relocate to safer terrain.
While we are already seeing the benefits of an administration that will protect our air, public lands, water, and health, we also need our leaders in Congress to join us in taking climate action. Michael Regan, President Biden’s pick to head the EPA, had his confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and his confirmation is the first step Congress must take towards climate and environmental justice.
With nearly 7 out of 10 voters overwhelmingly supportive of policies to address the climate crisis, including 84% of Indigenous voters, this comes an opportune time. Climate action starts with reversing the senseless rollbacks from the last four years, which just polluted our air and water, but repairing the damage is only just the beginning.
We need bold solutions to address the climate crisis, and Congress must work with the Biden administration to phase out sources of pollution that disproportionately harm Indigenous communities and other color communities of color, as well as support our nation’s transition to cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar.
Much work needs to be done to ensure our children’s generation can breathe clean air, access safe drinking water, and enjoy our lands. Thankfully, we are looking forward to having an administration that will listen to our communities, make good on its climate change commitments, and defend our health and environment. And now, it’s Congress’s turn to follow suit and confirm climate.
Stephanie BadSoldier Snow and Shaina Oliver are members of Moms Clean Air Force. Snow is Meskwaki and Ho-Chunk and lives in Iowa with her two children. Oliver resides in Colorado with her family and is a tribal member of the Navajo Nation (Dine’) from Shiprock, New Mexico.