Through the unique lens of “Indigenized environmental justice,” Indigenous researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker explores the fraught history of treaty violations, struggles for food and water security, and protection of sacred sites, while highlighting the important leadership of Indigenous women in this centuries-long struggle. As Long As Grass Grows gives readers an accessible history of Indigenous resistance to government and corporate incursions on their lands and offers new approaches to environmental justice activism and policy.
Throughout 2016, the Standing Rock protest put a national spotlight on Indigenous activists, but it also underscored how little Americans know about the longtime historical tensions between Native peoples and the mainstream environmental movement. Ultimately, she argues, modern environmentalists must look to the history of Indigenous resistance for wisdom and inspiration in our common fight for a just and sustainable future.
Full title: As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock
Read: March 2018
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.
“If what the preeminent Indian law scholar Felix Cohen said was true, that Indians are the United States’ miner’s canary that signals the poison gas of the political atmosphere, to extend the metaphor, then in the larger world dominated by the fossil fuel industry all humans have become the miner’s canary… From an American Indian perspective, we’re all on the reservation now.”
-Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows
When you sit down with As Long as Grass Grows, be prepared for some serious introspection.
Reading this book was difficult because as I read, my own naivety and ignorance – willful or otherwise – hit me again and again. I knew that white settlers had systematically and violently oppressed the Native American population, but I never really understood the exact extent this cultural squashing reached. After reading that Native Americans were enslaved by white settlers and being subsequently shocked by that fact, I then wondered why it never occurred to me that such a thing happened. It never dawned on me that the disappearance of the bison was more than just human – or more accurately, settler – carelessness pushing the bounds of nature’s resilience – that instead it was the result of an intentional extirpation of this majestic animal and valued food source by the American government in an effort to further subjugate Indigenous peoples. Nor did I ever really stop to think about how colonialism disrupted the diets of Native peoples and the deleterious effects it wrought upon their cultures and health.
The environmental injustices suffered by Native Americans have yet to be relegated to antiquity: They’re an ongoing problem – a problem that, as Gilio-Whitaker argues, is the progeny of the American government’s horrific history with Native peoples.
Gilio-Whitaker dispels the notion of a peaceful history between environmental groups and Indigenous peoples. Once environmental groups were powerful forces driving Indigenous displacement; later they would co-opt the Native American for their own purposes. These transgressions are part of an ugly past, and those of us in the environmental movement need to acknowledge them and take steps to mend what’s been broken.
Clearly, there is much room for progress. But that doesn’t mean there’s been none to speak of. Gilio-Whitaker cites the Keystone XL and Standing Rock protests as examples of coalition-building, despite their flaws. The keys to bettering relations with Native peoples and achieving environmental justice with them are that those of us who are “settlers” become more cognizant of our privilege and the harrowing story of how that privilege was established and enshrined into law, confronting the resultant biases and prejudices we hold, and recognizing the agency and sovereignty of Native American peoples.
Cover image is from BarnesandNoble.com.