Mujeres Indígenas y Estudiantes:
Food Sovereignty, Climate Change, and Indigenous Sustainability
Today’s ecological climate is riddled with the residue of European colonialism.
The last 500 plus years have seen a shift in ecology; much of these changes are an extension of (settler) colonial technologies and the rapid, increasing mechanisms of capitalist exploitation of land and life. There is death at work propagated by much of the global north, those ruling powers that have dictated the access to natural resources ― in other words, the access to the four sacred elements of life itself.
From the air we breath (contaminated by pollution); from the water struggles of Standing Rock to Mexicali (water is life); from the ancestral lands we stand on (dispossessed from Indigenous peoples); and to the gas and oil extracted by fracking and other extractivist methods; our current world and its environment is shifting in destructive patterns. Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color communities feel the short end of these environmental issues, from the urban setting to the rural outskirts.
What is also at the center of these struggles is our access to food. Capitalism has privatized water, seeds, and other “natural resources” that sustain communities through nourishment. Food, in particular, has been a site of struggle as many Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color have little access to what is considered as “organic and healthy” foods. The Rez and El Barrio are places where one might see “food deserts” ― or what Black community scholars call food prisons. These food prisons are geopolitical locations where Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color are barred access to food that is otherwise highly accessible to white communities. These are cumulative issues that demand an imperative to be addressed in all student and community spaces if we are to speak of our self-determination as people.
Native students who organize through the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front (ELCF) at UCLA are working toward addressing these issues on the college campus and the Los Angeles community. The ECLF is a political, inter-tribal organization that seeks a reunification of Eagle and Condor nations through student and community work. On Tongva land, the settler colonial urban city of Los Angeles is a hub of Black (many descendants of slaves or part of the recent African diaspora) and Indigenous communities (many urban Natives from across the US and Indigenous peoples/migrants from Latinized America). These UCLA Native students have organized initiatives and projects that aim to build student awareness and hope to share skills that address these pressing issues with these communities.
Food sovereignty is a concept utilized by ECLF student organizers that means having complete control and autonomy over one’s food system or food economy. Food sovereignty is complete self-determination of a communities access to food that contributes to the principle of Indigenous sustainability. The food sovereignty initiative by ECLF aims to educate and inform students and the community about the skills and knowledge necessary to organize around Indigenous sustainability. Stemming from this project is the engagement of climate change. Climate change is an issue across Abya Yala and the world over; its effects are slowly increasing and working toward a better future is imperative for our survival.
The Comité de Mujeres Indígenas is the central committee that operates as the voice and face of ECLF, especially when considering the major decisions and directions of the organization. As voceras, they are also the lead organizers for ECLF’s food sovereignty and climate change work. Recently, on November 8th, the voceras organized “A Conversation on Climate Change” to address the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the state of climate change and the rising sea level. One vocera also shared their research on climate change as part of a community seminar on November 23rd. Apart from this work, the voceras have also started working toward obtaining land at UCLA for an Indigenous student and community garden. These projects are part of a larger vision for liberation, starting with the sharing of knowledge and learning vital skills as preparation for our future. I interviewed the Comité with the intentions to shed light on their work.
Ary is a first-generation Wixarika-Náayarite student from Nayarit, México. She is an Environmental Science studies major and is a third-year student. Ary started with the work she does because she is an Indigenous womxn. “I feel that it is my obligation to the land, water, air, and health of my community knowing that climate change and environmental hazards disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and POC communities. I focus my research and projects around Native plants and environments to protect our Earth and our Indigeneity for our next seven generations.” Ary's hope is to help heal her people and the land by guiding the reconnection of Indigenous communities to traditional practices such as gardening. Her future vision entails a world where people can value water, earth, air, and fire rather than as commodities for global consumption. As climate change affects the globe, Ary feels it necessary for Indigenous people to defend the sacred and for those who align themselves this way politically to follow the lead of Indigenous organizing in the fight for survivance.
Climate change for Ary is a natural phenomenon that has been happening for time immemorial. The unnatural unbalance is due to human intervention. She marks the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas as the starting point of the unnaturalness of capitalist exploitation of the land and Indigenous life. Food sovereignty is a response to the changes that Black and Indigenous people face. "Food sovereignty is a form of healing and in these times where climate change is already beginning to disproportionately affect indigenous, black, and POC lives, it is also a form of survival. It allows us to depend on our communities and the land without having to depend completely on settler-colonial structures and corporations." These are important issues to Ary because people are disconnected from the land. Her strategy to begin processes of healing is to re-learn Indigenous practices and to dismantle current colonial structures, such as borders and capitalism. As Indigenous people, we must become sovereign and connect to the land; we must learn how to feed the next seven generations.
Michelle is a first-generation P’urhépecha student from Coahuila and Michoacán, México. She is a Geography & Environmental Studies and Chicana/o studies major and is a second-year student. Michelle got into organizing because she believes that she was born into it, being in line with her family and ancestors. Her attitude towards her community is one that maintains that her people have always been “sustainable”: “In my household, alongside many other low-income people, we have always been resourceful with what we had, often in ways that are ‘sustainable/green’ ways of living. I was always taught to use plastic bags from el mercado for the trash, to save all types of bottles for the reciclaje, to put fruit and vegetable rinds and eggshells in the garden, to shower in 7 minutes or the hot water would run out, walking all over the city because there wasn’t a car….”
Michelle as an Indigenous womxn organizer is concerned with the future of Mother Earth. "We must learn to live autonomously, separate from the nation-state, and that is what I aim to do with this work. It is critical that we equip brown and black people with the tools that they need to survive--the tools that have been taken from us through colonialism." For Michelle, we have to learn how to work the land and organize ourselves and our communities for what is to come under global capital. The state will not save us, as it is directly tied to settler colonialism. We must dismantle the settler mentality in order to live autonomously. As Indigenous people, there is an imperative to live sustainable lives. We as Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color have to come together to struggle against the powers that be. As Michelle believes, we have the ability to create transformative change and it will be accomplished through our learning together and knowledge sharing. Our communities have been doing the work and it is our responsibility to continue it.
Miranda is a first-generation Chichimeca from Coahuila, Guanajuato, and Sinaloa, México. She is an Arizona State University graduate with a degree in Environmental Science studies. Miranda entered the conversation of climate change and food sovereignty due to her family's experiences in Sinaloa, México. She began to study as a way to learn why her community faced such hardships and in this path would find out how westernized research was. The Global South is left out of the picture and in the Global North, many marginalized communities are not considered by thinking about climate change. Miranda's work hopes to make accessible climate knowledge, bridging the tools she's learned in the university to her community.
"I see climate change two ways. One, is that the earth naturally goes through cycles of warming and cooling, as studies have shown through carbon dating. The second way is that although the earth does go through these cycles, with the explosion of capitalism, human impact has dramatically altered the natural processes. The earth has the ability to cleanse itself and filter out the pollution, but due to the rapid rate at which we’re polluting the earth, it can’t catch up to clean up after the mess. Thus, we see the different effects of climate change: ice cap melt and sea level rise, sea warming, ocean acidification, global warming, heavy storms, drought, etc." With the changes of Mother Earth, Miranda thinks it is necessary to think about and organize around food sovereignty struggles: "we don’t have 20 years to mitigate climate change, we have to act now." Some steps to take, according to Miranda, is to re-learn traditional ways of living. A reconnection to land is vital for our communities and other methods that do not harm Mother Earth are imperative for survival.
Maritza is a first-generation Nahua-Quechua Xicana from Guerrero, México and Trujillo, Perú. They are a Chicana/o studies major and American Indian studies minor and is a third-year transfer student. Maritza got into climate change work because of new members of ECLF who were interested in organizing around those issues. They have been involved in food sovereignty work through their undergraduate research on Xicanx medicine and healing practices. It was in these ways that Maritza wanted to bridge the work between food systems and climate change: something that led them to think about Indigenous sustainability under capitalism. Maritza believes that our Indigenous traditions and ceremonies are a way for us to resist capitalism, that our Native science can disrupt settler colonial practices of exploitation and death.
Maritza believes the work of ECLF is important because our communities, Indigenous, Brown, and Black, are the most affected. They make connections between communities and are hard pressed on white supremacists organizing themselves for climate change ― although they do it out of “fear of Mother Earth.” While white supremacist groups are mobile, our communities are not: we have limited access to resources and the state will expect us to suffer. Maritza proposes a framework of Food Autonomy for our communities and how we must resist the pressures of globalized capitalism. Students and community members should start by connecting to community gardens or developing spaces in their own places to grow their own food. Maritza suggests we connect back to the land and that our people, Indigenous people, have always known how to be sustainable. “The fifth sun is said to fail,” remarks Maritza, “we, the fifth creation, will fail if we don’t do anything.” We must prepare, as Maritza asks of us, for the sixth sun ― a concept stemming from her Nahua-Mexica cosmovision of a new world coming.
ECLF is defying the hegemonic apparatuses that suppress Indigenous voices on university campuses. Our responsibility as students is to take the matters we have the capacity to control and force the university to do better. Direct-action, teach-ins, conferences, and community work; all this is vital for organizing a future that is sustainable and free from oppression. Our terrain of struggle is addressing oppression and working toward our liberation from it. As ECLF is attempting these conversations, we all must think about how we may integrate these issues into our own respective struggles.
Capitalism and the nation-state of the US must be dismantled and abolished for an Indigenous and Black future. Native voices and organizing is an important contribution to the sustainability of Indigenous communities across Abya Yala. Perhaps we can all, as a people, learn from each others’ liberation struggles and integrate them into our own. Mujeres Indígenas, as is seen in ECLF, are leading the way as both students and community members.
This article was permitted and proofread by the Comité de Mujeres Indígenas (Indigenous Womxn’s Committee) of the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front of the lands of the Tongva and Tataviaam people.
It was also written in collaboration with Ary, Michelle, Miranda, and Maritza.
Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and other kinds of writing. We hold it valuable to our hearts the written word in the spirit of the huehuetlahtolli, and we aspire to be intellectually on point as well as accessible to our gente from the barrio to the academy.