2. Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis

Land Back and Indigenous Sovereignty

Let’s go back to our introductory video one last time.



“Many of the proposed solutions, such as green technology and green consumerism, might be good first steps, but they won’t actually bring about the transformational change we need. These ideas are embedded in existing capitalist and colonial systems and ways of thinking. Indigenous critiques demonstrate how such solutions don’t address returning stolen lands. As Kul Wicasa theorist Nick Estes asks:

‘Why is it easier for some to imagine the end of fossil fuels, but not settler colonialism? To imagine green economies and carbon-free, wind turbine, solar power and electric bullet train utopias, but not the return of Indigenous lands? It’s not an either/or scenario. Both are possible—and necessary.’”

Quotation from Nick Estes from: “A Red Deal,” by Nick Estes in Jacobin, August 2019

These ideas are central to “Land Back: A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper”. The conclusion of the report, titled the Continuation of Life, references the UN’s Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The Land Back report finds that biodiversity is declining in all parts of the world; however, it is declining much less rapidly in those lands still managed by Indigenous communities. The Land Back report points to what many in Indigenous communities have been saying for generations: traditional land stewardship and caretaking practices are essential to slow ecological collapse.

Let’s explore the Land Bank movement further, particularly here in Canada. The Yellowhead Institute describes the project of Land Back as about reclaiming Indigenous jurisdiction over land.


Dr. Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor, writer and a member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, breaks things down further with The Breach, “Canada, it’s time for Land Back”.

What happens when Indigenous Nations and communities defend their land? In the video below from the Yellowhead Institute, various Indigenous leaders discuss how the federal government uses injunctions to criminalize Indigenous land defense. For more information, including an explanation of injunctions and how they are used both by and against Indigenous people, read Kate Gunn’s article Injunctions as a Tool of Colonialism and watch the video below.

Land defense movements exist around the world and are connected to lineages of resistance since the beginning of colonial occupation and global land grabbing regimes. Today, at the frontlines of extraction, Indigenous and local communities stand up against corporate, government and military forces who are trying to move them off their lands so that they can seize what they call natural resources in order to generate profits.

These movements are fighting back against extractive projects such as industrial agriculture, mining, underwater dredging and pipelines. Land defenders are fighting to protect their land and our planet. And they are met with increasing violence, criminalization and oppression as the climate crisis deepens. These stories serve as a source of inspiration and demonstrate the continued power and strength of Indigenous land defense and movements for land back globally. They also highlight the need for action, rigor and care to support land back movements and land defenders around the world.

Check out the Land Rights Now Campaign to end the criminalisation of land rights defenders (1 minute).

The video below from Life Mosaic explains what land grabs are, why they are happening and what their impacts are (14 minutes).


Case Study: The Last Warning Campaign, Indigenous Land Defenders in Brazil

The Last Warning campaign is a specific example of the centrality of Indigenous rights, land defense (or land back) movements and the intersections with the global climate emergency. The “last warning” refers to the destruction of large parts of the Amazon rainforest if the Brazilian government is successful in opening up protected areas and Indigenous lands to mining, logging, and farming. It quite literally is a last warning to the world that if the Brazilian government is successful, genocide will be enacted on Indigenous peoples in Brazil and their role as stewards of the Amazon forest will be jeopardized. The climate implications, not to mention the loss of human and more than human life, are beyond catastrophic. We and all life on this earth are entangled and interdependent, and the continued genocide of Indigenous peoples and the destruction of the Amazon forest has implications for us all.

The legal battle is ongoing, and while a landmark case was to be voted on in the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil last August 2021, the decision has been postponed to June 2022. Visit the website for ways that you can get involved and support the Last Warning Campaign.

Check Your Understanding

Recommended Reading




For a transcript of the lyrics for the above song, visit Genius’s page for Black Snakes.


For a transcript of the lyrics for the above song, visit Genius’s page for Warrior.


Reflection 8

After completing the section on Land Back and Indigenous Sovereignty consider:

  • What is the responsibility of those who are not on the frontlines of land defense (also referred to as low-intensity struggle) to the communities and individuals who are leading these movements (in situations of high-intensity struggle, i.e. their lives are on the line)?
  • What does Land Back and land defense look like or mean in urban settings? In places such as Tkaronto?

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis module.


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Global Justice and Change Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Toomey and Emma Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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