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Defining a Just Transition

Thomas Joseph (Hupa/Karuk/Paiute) is an Indigenous organizer from Hoopa Valley, California. Joseph runs a small NGO, California Kitchen, with his mother, Patty Joseph, based out of Standing Rock, and does contract work with environmental organizations throughout the country. California Kitchen sprang out of the homelands of the Hupa Peoples of the Hoopa Valley along the Trinity River in response to the call of respecting and protecting Indigenous relationships with water. Daisee Francour (Oneida), Cultural Survival’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications, recently spoke to Joseph about the Just Transition and what it means as it relates to this new green economy that we are entering as a collective.

Daisee Francour: Based on your work as an Indigenous organizer, what does a Just Transition mean?

Thomas Joseph:
Since the Kyoto Agreement and now the Paris Climate Agreement and the continual failure of governmental nation states to meet their targeted goals or to use calculated mechanisms in carbon markets such as “nature-based solutions” and carbon offsets, we are facing a transition either by force of hand by our Mother Earth or by the willingness of civil society to demand a real transition of our energies on how we do day-to-day business, a real transition [from] capitalism. A Just Transition is making sure that this transition is just for the people that are currently experiencing the effects of climate change, for the people that have been constantly at the bottom of society that are most directly affected by capitalism, climate change, white supremacy, and patriarchy. A Just Transition also needs to be engaging those ills of society. Because our environment is so sick, our societies are sick. A Just Transition includes housing for all, a livable wage, the right of women to have a say over their bodies, and healthcare for all. A part of a Just Transition is leaving behind not only the ills of us desecrating the sacredness of our Mother Earth, but also how we desecrate the sacredness of each other.


Thomas Joseph (top far right) with youth water protectors. Photo courtesy of California Kitchen.

DF: What do you think is required to make a Just Transition?
We need to be able to have a say, have autonomy over our bodies, our communities, and our places. It starts small, within yourself. Then it grows to a national level of making sure that we have autonomy over our leadership and that they’re not influenced by corporate elites, the fossil fuel industry, or old laws such as our old mining laws, and that we are making sure that our representatives are listening to the needs of the people and not the needs of companies. This will be a requirement in order for us to fulfill a Just Transition.

DF: What are some of your concerns about our rights, livelihoods, and lands as Indigenous Peoples as we prepare for this transition?

We are seeing the systems that have caused climate change, such as colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy, continuing to lead the resolve for climate solutions. If you look at carbon markets that are targeting Indigenous communities to be used as carbon sinks and [the requirement] that these carbon market offsets be 100-year binding agreements, it’s treaty signing all over again. Our lands are now being colonized by corporations like the fossil fuel industry. When you think of putting a price on carbon and selling carbon, then there becomes an ownership. If you are selling the sequestration process of your forest to a fossil fuel industry, who owns that? If it’s sold and somebody bought it, then they have a say over those lands. I also see our Traditional Ecological Knowledge being commodified, especially with terms like ‘nature-based solutions,’ where people think that this is the route to go. But it’s just a further step into commodifying our Mother Earth and her elements such as carbon. There is a grave concern that we’re using these old practices all over again. At the end of the day, as Indigenous Peoples continue to stay rooted in their values and understand the relationship with their place, with Mother Earth, this is our time to come forward. This is our time to reestablish that balance of our Mother Earth, not just for our own communities, but for all citizens of the globe. These new tactics of carbon offsetting and net neutrality are just practices that we have been battling since settler contact. We know how to address those concerns and attacks; this is nothing new. We are amazing Peoples that have seen our darkest days. As the world continues to feel the heat of climate change, our people will see their true resiliency and strength come forward.

DF: What are some examples of people, communities, or movements that are working this way or have always worked this way?

There are many. I do contract to work with a lot of climate justice alliance groups in California, in the United States, even in Canada. At COP26, we had a large Indigenous delegation to make sure that our voices were being heard in those spaces. Every group that I have been involved in and every space that I am in is feminine. Our people that identify as women are the real leaders in this moment that are making grave changes and monumental movements for our climate and Mother Earth. They understand that process greater than any of us, to be able to care for life, to carry life, and the importance of having that balance. Our transgender community—what greater community understands the difficult process of a transition and a just transition than our transgender community? They are leading the way and will continue to lead the way. It’s extremely powerful to see the work that’s being done.

imgHoopa Valley. Photo courtesy of California Kitchen.

DF: You touched upon the importance of uplifting Indigenous women, queer, trans, and two-spirit relatives as leaders in this movement. What do you think the role of men is in the Just Transition?

We all play a role in this Just Transition. The space is large enough that we can all engage and that we can all do our part, particularly men. I think it is their role to find out within themselves what a Just Transition means for them. How are they going to transition into this hopefully matriarchal-led world, a return to matriarchy for themselves? What do they need to give up? What do they need to understand? What do they need to learn? How have they benefited from this patriarchically-led society and how has it destroyed their true self and who they are? Those things are extremely vital.

Top photo: Thomas Joseph at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Daisee Francour.

DF: What are some changes that we can make as individuals to prepare for a Just Transition?

Some change is looking at what has caused climate change. We know greenhouse gas has caused our globe to warm. Greenhouse gasses are primarily the cause of the fossil fuel industry. We know the science of that, we know that that’s from the burning of fossil fuels. The raping of the land, the forced assimilation of other ways of thinking and other ways of being, and colonialism has caused climate change, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. These are fundamental foundations of what has caused climate change. We need to look at it individually. How do we benefit from that? How can we change in our day-to-day practice? How can we decolonize? How can we rematriate? How can we step away from capitalism personally and collectively? These are some changes that we can do as individuals. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We need to step away from colonial actions such as carbon markets and ‘nature-based solutions.’ We need to step away from capitalism. Those are the main methods of what we can do to help walk through a Just Transition.



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