A protest with a banner reading "Respect indigenous peoples rights: End co2lonialism.

Defend The Defenders. When you first hear this sentence, what do you think? For me, I imagine some sort of superhero series where they come together to defend their city or town from villains. A world where the people come together to protect their defenders, the defenders of their land and homes. I imagine you thought of something like this too.

Well, that’s not too far from the truth. Defend The Defenders is an international campaign started by Fridays For Future Digital, Polluters Out and Extinction Rebellion to shine light on the many indigenous and environmental land defenders. These defenders stand up and fight against the corporations and governments, the villains that are threatening to take away their home, their livelihoods and their rights.

But these defenders are in danger for defending their rights and their land. Some have been killed, many are threatened with unspeakable actions and others have had to flee their homes for protection. Yet they continue to fight for that justice.

This is not a far-off problem; it happens all the time, even in Europe. The Sámi people, for example, inhabit the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia, and have for thousands of years. These countries colonized them and took away their rights to self-determination. Traditionally, they supported themselves through fishing, livestock farming, and hunting, all in harmony with the earth. With the onset of colonization, many Sámi have moved to urban areas and away from their traditional lands, but those still on their lands are uniquely vulnerable to the climate crisis. In Jokkmokk, Sweden, the temperature is already on average 2.0 degrees above pre-industrial levels, heating up the ecosystem the Sámi and their animals rely on. Yet governments decide to marginalize them further by allowing companies to dump their waste and build energy projects on their land, without their consent. In November 2019, for example, the Norwegian government gave mining company Nussir ASA the green light to dump 2 million tonnes of waste from their copper mine into the Repparfjord in Kvalsund, Norway, one of few wild salmon-rivers in Europe. This will severely harm the salmon stocks, the marine life and ecosystems in the area, destroying local reindeer grazing areas integral to the Sámi communities in the area. This is just one of the many projects that threaten the Sámi’s way of life.

The Inuit, which inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska, are uniquely threatened by Greenland’s insanely fast loss of ice. During the summer of 2019 alone, 600 billion tons of ice were lost, enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2 millimeters in 2 months and expose 12 million more people to coastal flooding around the planet, as well as preventing the Inuit from accessing their homes and traditional hunting grounds. The climate crisis is all too real for them. Even now, the overfishing in the Arctic Ocean has resulted in a massive reduction in the numbers of the Greenland cod which the Inuit rely on for food.

In Russia, only 40 of the 180 indigenous groups are legally recognized. And without the concept of free, prior and informed consent, indigenous people’s lands are being exploited. In Siberia, indigenous people even have to rent what used to be their land before it was colonized from the Russian government while they sell the land out to logging companies. These logging companies burn waste, which all too often has horrible effects like the 2019 Siberian Taiga wildfires, which destroyed 33-90% of the forest the indigenous people rely on.

Since indigenous people and environmental defenders protect and cultivate the land we are on, and have done so for thousands of years, we must recognise this is not just their fight, it is ours. Climate change and environmental destruction is here, all over the world, and the most marginalized people, especially indigenous people, are most affected by it. Like climate change with no borders, there are environmental defenders in all corners of the world. Some unknown, some known, but all fighting for their rightful land and beautiful earth. Therefore, we must Defend the Defenders.

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Image credit: Joe Brusky – Creative Commons