We need a Blak New Deal to fight the climate crisis

This week, tens of thousands of people all across this continent will hit the streets in force to demand action on climate change. For many of them, staving off the looming climate apocalypse and protecting their future is the first issue that’s gotten them fired up enough to walk out of work or school and stand up to their governments in the street.

But for us as Aboriginal people, climate change is merely the latest chapter in a long history of dispossession and destruction of our lands, waters and bodies. It’s not just our future; it’s our past and present – and it’s our people on the frontlines. It’s my great uncle describing with sadness in his eyes the water in Gawuban Nandaa (the Severn River) as the lowest he’d seen in his 85 plus years. It’s tens of thousands of dead fish washing up in Girrii Girrii Gali (the Macintyre), it’s the planned desecration of Gomeroi sacred sites for Shenhua coal, and it’s seeing what was once my grandparent’s farm and family home now the site of another mega coal mine. Songlines, sacred sites, stories and memories – all predestined for destruction by the insatiable land lust that is the colonial project.

Yet too often, when we’ve stood up to the powers that be, those who now demand action have been silent. With tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of paid organisers and campaigners at their disposal, the environment movement (with a few notable exceptions) have done very little to provide material support to the fight for Aboriginal sovereignty and land rights, and even less when they do not see it as strategic for their own campaigns. Yet Indigenous stewardship of land is perhaps the most critical weapon at our disposal in the fight against climate change. Even though Indigenous people have tenure over just 25 per cent of the world’s land, we protect 80 per cent of its biodiversity. Indigenous land management practices help both mitigate climate change and protect environments from its impacts. Indigenous people here and around the world have been on the frontline of resistance to fossil fuel projects, even when legal systems don’t give us the right to say no and the green NGOs offer little support.

Our mob have been linking land and economic justice for a long time, and it seems it’s catching on in the climate movement too. After years of predominantly single-issue campaigns, people are hungry for systemic change at the scale required to address the crisis that confronts us. The campaign for a Green New Deal – an economy wide shift to create clean, green jobs and end our dependence on fossil fuels, has proved attractive to many in the environment movement here. But rather than look to those who have adapted to climate change again and again over millennia on this continent, and have been fighting the root causes of this crisis for centuries, they continue to come to us with their solutions pre-determined. What gives colonisers the moral authority to mandate the solutions, when the colonisation they benefit from is a root cause of the issue?

Climate change presents a unique opportunity to remake society to be more just, more caring and less exploitative and greed-driven. It is in Indigenous knowledge systems that we will find the blueprint for building that society, and it is in the Indigenous struggle that we find the blueprint for dismantling the failing system imposed on us. What then might a Blak ‘New Deal’ look like?

Firstly, it means Aboriginal land in Aboriginal hands. Aboriginal people don’t have a real right to say no to developers anywhere on this continent. A uniform national land rights system that incorporates mass handbacks of land and an absolute veto, whether at the point of exploration or production, will stop the fossil fuel industry in its tracks. It will also let us turn this continent into a carbon sink and restore biodiversity that 230 years of colonisation has decimated.

It must also include Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs. Our sovereignty has never been ceded, and the regime of colonial control that terrorises our communities to this day must cease. Our communities must be fully resourced to make our own decisions and support our own people.

Finally, we need reparations, not reconciliation. Can you really give free consent to a mining project when your community is in abject poverty and you don’t have the right to say no? Reparations for the land stolen from us, for generations of slavery and for attempted genocide would level the playing field and give our communities economic freedom to determine our own futures. When I see my friends in the environment movement fighting just as hard for these things as they do for renewable energy jobs for coal miners, I’ll know we’re in with a chance of achieving climate justice.

Philip Marrii Winzer

Philip Marrii Winzer is a Ngarabul and Wirrayaraay Murri, a member of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance and National Campaign and Organising Manager for Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network.

More by Philip Marrii Winzer ›

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  1. I remember standing before the rock art in Kakadu a few years back. The art was dated back more than 20,000 years and at that time the Iliad and the Odyssey were still 13,000 years away. I stood before that rock and marvelled at the oldest living culture on the planet, 60,000 years of a people who lived cooperatively and respectfully with their environment and prospered. And in little less than 250 years white settlement has brought it to the brink of extinction.

    Bruce Pascoe’s book “Black Emu” has much to teach us and we have much to learn. For white settlement it seems much of our Black history is not so much secret as it was intentionally hidden. I don’t understand how people can claim to love their Country and yet show so little respect for the very land that makes it up.

    I will be sharing the link to Mr Winzer’s article on social media. It needs to be read and seriously thought about.

    1. I agree.Colinisation decimated this land. We can forgive our for fathers for Their ignorance. In 2020 we can be ashamed educated people can t see the valuwe in reparing the damage done. Pristine land water air and enviroment creates health emotional stability and harmmony.

  2. Its not just this land desecrated by white fellers. Asking somebody what’s the attraction of impending holiday to Mauritius, don’t know. Checking, it’s where the Dodo gets so much acclaim for paying attention, or not, to extinction.

    About land, evidently one small part retains a whole 2% of forest cover after clearing by Brits.

    Obsession with exports is main fuel of greed and cause of threat to environment.

  3. Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I really do want to advocate as you say. Is the first step wresting control of power from business interests? Because I cannot see hope for the New Green Deal or the New Blak Deal without it.

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