On Thursday March 3rd, less than a week before International Women’s Day, indigenous Lenca activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in Honduras. Cáceres was the co-founder of the National Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).
Cáceres and other Lenca activists have been protesting and campaigning against the Agua Zarca Dam, which was to be built using the Gualcarque River – a river of necessity and value for the Lenca people. The Lenca people were not consulted for this project, nor did they give their free and informed consent.
About a week before her murder, Cáceres was already receiving death threats. Cáceres and her family are not unfamiliar with threats of violence, nor are Honduran activists unfamiliar with the very real, brutal consequences for their activism. 101 activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014. Last year, Cáceres won the Goldmann Environmental Prize for her campaigning against the Agua Zarca Dam, and even then had been receiving numerous rape and death threats.
Indigenous women around the world resist and combat climate change, environmental destruction, imperialism, and settler-colonialism — and they are killed for it. The danger is very real, but so are their courage, conviction and impact, and we should celebrate that.
This International Women’s Day, I want to reflect on the issues and effects of settler-colonialism, climate change, and environmental justice which affect all of us, but more so people of colour and Indigenous communities around the world due to the reality of often overlooked factors such as environmental racism. Indeed, these conversations must be had when Indigenous women are killed for standing against these issues. Indigenous and marginalized communities are more likely to be living in proximity to hazardous wastes and thus are disproportionally affected. For example, in Alberta, tar sands development impacts Indigenous communities the most as they live the closest to project locations along the Athabasca River. Similarly, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has affected Black Americans most significantly, as Flint’s population is mainly Black and lower class.
As a settler of colour living in Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish land, it is a responsibility of mine to reflect and act upon these issues. Indeed, the personal is political, and so this reflection should begin at an individual level and then move beyond.
Without addressing these issues, my feminism and anti-racism, my pro-womanness, cannot be complete given my positionality here on this land. Here, where The Indian Act is still enforced and impacts Indigenous communities. Here, where ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper can tell Canada that the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women simply “isn’t…high on our radar.” While I experience racism here as a woman of colour, it is a different form of racism with a different history compared to that of Indigenous peoples because this socio-political context affects us differently. That is why it is crucial to acknowledge our differences, take responsibility where necessary, and stand in solidarity with one another.
Happy International Women’s Day to all the Indigenous activists around the world, and the revolutionary women who teach and resist.