This Urban Land Online series (see series introduction by SpruceLab here) introduces real estate and built environment professionals to Indigenous-led organizations working on issues of environmental and climate justice in the built environment as they pertain to Indigenous communities. In addition to profiling the work of these organizations, the series covers why these intersections are critical to understand within the wider conversation on climate change and social equity. This iteration is a follow-up to a similar series of profiles created in 2020 on environmental justice, which were collected and published as ULI’s Environmental Justice and Real Estate report. 

Indigenous Climate Action’s work includes a focus on an Indigenous-led Just Transition, which in part means bringing the environmental and economic benefits of renewables to Indigenous communities. (Shutterstock)

Location: Turtle Island, north of the medicine line, in so-called Canada

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Eriel Deranger, executive director and co-founder, ICA

Type of Organization: Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) is an Indigenous-led organization guided by a diverse group of Indigenous knowledge keepers, water protectors, and land defenders from communities and regions across the country. We believe that Indigenous Peoples’ rights and knowledge systems are critical to developing solutions to the climate crisis and achieving climate justice.

Mission: We inspire action through the development of tools and opportunities created with, by, and for our communities, with the goal of uplifting Indigenous voices, sovereignty, and stewardship of the lands and waters for future generations.

Interview with: Eriel Deranger, executive director and co-founder

UL: What is your organization’s area of focus, and how does it relate to the built environment and land use?

Eriel Deranger: Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) is focused on empowering Indigenous communities and peoples to step into roles as climate leaders utilizing Indigenous knowledge, life ways, and rights as foundational to climate solutions. Since colonization, Indigenous peoples have experienced, often violent, attempts to remove us from our ancestral lands and life ways and forcing us to adopt cultures that are contributing to global climate change. For our people climate change began at first contact. That is when the imbalance of our relationships with the lands and ecosystems, our relatives, began. Today, as the world struggles with identifying solutions to the ongoing climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are advancing and advocating for the resurgence of our languages, lifeways, and our fundamental rights to our lands and territories.

How do you define environmental and climate justice in your work through an indigenous lens?

Environmental and climate justice in our work emphasizes the value of upholding what it means to be Indigenous, while actively recognizing diversity within Indigenous communities, cultures, and practices. This also means honoring the diversity in what climate justice looks like on a nation-to-nation basis. We also acknowledge that as Indigenous peoples, our bodies and traditions are intrinsically linked to the land, waters, and sky, and aim to include that in our work by merging the diverse knowledges of Indigenous peoples with Western science, for a model often referred to as “two-eyed seeing,” to help guide our work. Further, our work strongly supports Indigenous sovereignty as we uplift, connect with, support, and encourage nations to work towards their own version of climate justice.

What do you hope to see from the real estate sector, especially given current increased awareness of racial and environmental justice? How can the real estate community support work like yours?

Because our communities are at the forefront of climate change, which puts us at a higher risk of natural disaster, through the Just Transition movement, Indigenous people need to be at the forefront of decision making. The movement would encompass our land management, water usage, air quality, new initiatives, renewable energy projects, careers, educational systems, and traditional practices like ceremonies and celebrations.

ICA is currently working on further developing a Just Transition guide to help communities achieve a sustainable livelihood. We understand this is a newer field for most, but the transition must include renewable energies and more that integrate with cultural and traditional values. We hope all sectors, including real estate, can help honor the need for a Just Transition that is led by Indigenous people in Indigenous communities. (Learn more about real estate’s role in a Just Transition from ULI’s recent report, Net Zero for All: A Just Transition for Real Estate.)

Tell us more about ICA’s work to develop indigenous-led climate policy. What does it mean to decolonize policy? Are there any implications for land use and buildings? If so, can you share an example?

Indigenous stories, oral history, songs, and language are embedded in the understanding of how we live in balance with the natural world. Yet this generational knowledge is ignored and structurally excluded from the decision-making process.

“Decolonizing,” to us, means transforming the power imbalance where settlers and their governments have control over Indigenous lands and peoples. It means restoring and reinvigorating Indigenous cultures, languages, self-determination, sovereignty, and relationships with lands. It means settlers relinquishing control over Indigenous lands and people.

This work envisions a world where Indigenous-led climate solutions are the standard and where colonial structures are doing the work to figure out where their resources and knowledge can offer support to existing Indigenous systems, not the other way around. This will require a deconstruction and undoing of current systems to create space for our own independent processes and plans built around a more holistic, interconnected, balanced approach based on reciprocity and respect with the natural world.