Cody Wilkie grew up disconnected from her culture and is working to reconnect to her Anishinaabe roots, but due to climate change, she’s afraid that she might never be able to see her ancestral homelands and her people’s sacred landmarks.

Wilkie grew up far from her homelands in Augusta, Georgia (Westo, S’atsoyaha and Muskogee territory) with her Indigenous father and Irish/German mother.

As a child, her father grew up in a mostly white town which led to the loss of his Indigenous identity due to the racism he dealt with. As he grew older, his identity became less and less important to him and eventually, he lost all sense of it. 

This loss would eventually affect his daughter, leaving Wilkie disconnected from her culture. Her mother, because of her background, didn’t know much about Wilkie’s Indigenous roots aside from the little that her husband had mentioned. Which led to Wilkie have a white, colonial viewpoint rather than an Indigenous one.

The environment wasn’t a concern when it came to her family’s life, but she was always outside playing and noticed the scorching hot, Georgia sun.

“I’ve gained a less settler, more Indigenous perspective.”

As Wilkie grew up, she started the long process of reconnecting to her Indigenous roots during her teenage years. This can be a difficult process, and Wilkie’s father didn’t have a lot to teach her due to his own disconnected identity. 

Through social media, Wilkie learned about Indigenous activism, Indigenous history and information about her own people. This helped her journey to reconnect to her culture.

“I’ve gained a less settler, more Indigenous perspective,” said Wilkie.

“I definitely think I’ve become more vocal and more conscientious in my life as I’ve reconnected, especially with social media because I would follow Indigenous activists who do talk about the Earth and change and everything that’s going on in the world.”

Indigenous activists online often speak about climate change. Climate change can hurt Indigenous people and reconnecting their identities with their Indigenous homeland. Indigenous people can be directly affected by climate change if their homelands are dealing with drought, floods, tornadoes and freezing rain.

“I don’t know my true homelands or my ancestral lands.”

Indigenous Alaskan people and Inuit people’s lifestyles, for example, will have to change drastically due to climate change. With the snow and ice melting around them, the animals they hunt are disappearing.

“As an Indigenous woman, climate change is tough because I don’t know my true homelands or my ancestral lands. The fact that those lands are being hurt and ruined […] I might never get to see them,” said Wilkie.

Wilkie’s homelands are in the Turtle Mountain Reserve in North Dakota. By 2100, summers in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are predicted to be 13 degrees hotter. More than 50,000 people are living in areas at elevated risk of inland flooding since heavy downpours have increased since 1950. The nearly 20,000 people living in North Dakota are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, according to States at Risk — a project aiming to show how Americans will be affected by climate change.

Colonization has been discussed by activists of colour as a factor of speeding up the process of climate change. The Industrial Revolution included huge factories emitting smoke and polluting the atmosphere, which would unknowingly create problems for future generations to come. By comparison, many Indigenous communities gave thanks to the earth as a way to show respect for the wildlife and plants they would use for food, clothes and medicine. 

North Dakota has already had to deal with climate-related issues when the North Dakota Access Pipeline was being installed and Indigenous people from around the world were protesting the protection of water and earth.

The pipeline would cross Standing Rock Sioux reservation’s traditional and ancestral lands and the construction of the pipeline jeopardized many sacred places. Sacred places for Indigenous people are often undermined by non-Indigenous people.

“Because so much land has already been taken and so many sacred sites have been taken, I think what remains needs to be taken care of and looked after because once they’re gone you’ll only have some parts of the land that were tied to your ancestors,” said Wilkie.

Much like the sacred sites, Indigenous voices have been ignored throughout history when it came to respecting the earth. Indigenous activists are often silenced, such as activists at Standing Rock. Climate change continues to rear its head while white voices are centered in environmental discussions and activists of colour are rarely acknowledged.

Wilkie hopes to move to her homelands in North Dakota after she graduates from University with a bachelor’s degree in film and media.

“Just living up there, being able to learn about the history of that land and how my ancestors took care of it and how they helped shape it and how they respected it. I feel like being there in person would put it a lot more in perspective because as of right now, I don’t have ancestral ties to this land I am living on,” said Wilkie.

Editor: Isaiah Lindo | ilindo@cjournal.ca

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