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You Can't Eat Money: What Wealth Can Do to Fight Climate Change

Climate change is the defining crisis facing humanity.

It also is a distinctly Indigenous crisis, because while we comprise just 5 percent of the world population, Indigenous people’s traditional territories cover 22 percent of the earth’s land surface and contain 80% of the planet’s biodiversity,.

This makes it, perhaps, the largest of the financial market’s “unknowns” — those unquantifiable elements that cannot be invested through, put up for profit, extracted, or spun as an alluring prize.

In order to save the world, the entire financial industry must examine its true place in the system.

“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” — Indigenous documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin

Her warning serves a clear message that, on its face, is diametrically opposed to the goals of virtually any investment fund or firm on the planet.

I’d go a step further. Money will not save us, nor will it make us feel more fulfilled and whole as a people of this earth. The richer a person becomes in monetary wealth, the further away they tend to move from their neighbors and the community at large.

So what’s the impact of this drive to become ever-wealthier?

For Native Americans, in particular, it results in many significant issues: Poverty and unemployment, human trafficking, violence against Indigenous women and children, poor funding of Indigenous education, lack of infrastructure (including poor quality housing), lack of access to clean water, food deserts, inadequate or completely absent health care, inability to exercise voting rights, government-led erasure of Sovereign Tribes, Indigenous languages being threatened with extinction, limited financial institutions in Native communities, and rampant exploitation of natural resources.

To combat these concerns, Indigenous communities need, among other things, infrastructure funding and bolstered support for medical services, asset management, political representation, advocacy, and visibility.

Beyond this, Indigenous communities need agency over their lands and the support to teach others to coexist with Nature, rather than paving it into submission. Fighting these battles will take a lot of resources and would likely overtax local government, the State, and certainly be beyond the average upper middle-class individual.

As for what Indigenous communities need and how to help them, it isn’t a simple matter of giving each reservation money, whether that’s $8 million or $80 million. Each region has several Federally recognized reservations, as well as unrecognized Indigenous communities that need extremely specific attention.

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Instead, each of the 10 regions of the US should have an Indigenous Regional Director who works with the heads of every community therein to create a position within that community that engages the populace and creates plans of action/jobs that (with chief, council, or elder approval only) can be funded by investment groups as overseen by an Indigenous Engagement Officer.

It would then be up to each Indigenous Regional Director (IRD) to file quarterly reports with the funds’ Antiracism Equity and Justice Group. This way the Indigenous Engagement Officer would not be required to take their attention away from identifying other Indigenous regions in other countries around the world.

Eventually, the highest-performing IRD would replace the retiring/deceased IEO and nominate a successor from their regional communities to replace their IRD position. It is foundational that the Indigenous Regional Director lives in their regional Indigenous Community. Again, it is foundational that the Indigenous Regional Director lives in their regional Indigenous Community.

Other tasks for the IEO would include social media engagement to find other Indigenous Regional Directors in other communities, including the Indigenous diasporas. Additionally, each Indigenous Engagement Officer and IRD would be required to follow epidemic red-level travel requirements up to and including lockdown, while maintaining true carbon negative travel standards (such as Greta Thunberg’s boat).

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

About the Author: Mari Kurisato is the pen name of a Nahkawē {Ojibwe} Native whose Native-name is too long to print. She’s a disabled LGBTQIPA mother, artist, & writer. Her stories appeared in APEX MAGAZINE, ABSOLUTE POWER: TALES OF QUEER VILLAINY, LOVE BEYOND BODY, SPACE AND TIME, and with M-Brane Press, including one published in the THINGS WE ARE NOT anthology. You can find her work on her website or on Goodreads. You can find her on Twitter at @Wordglass.

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