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Student confronts climate change, cultural appropriation

| Monday, March 27, 2017

Junior Megan Uekert examined the interconnectedness between climate change and human rights violations in the most recent installment of the Justice Friday series at Saint Mary’s. (Editor’s Note: Megan Uekert is a former News writer for The Observer.)

Uekert said she believes so firmly in the deterioration of the planet because she witnessed it firsthand.

“My passion for climate change began when I was about 10 years old,” Uekert said. “The town I lived in in Georgia was constantly getting bulldozed of trees. That really irked me and made me upset as a young child.”

Uekert said she became exposed to the oppression Native Americans endure — much of which is related to climate change — while at Saint Mary’s.

“My experience with Native American history and culture is a little different and more recent,” she said. “The sad part of my story is that I only learned about the other side to these stories — the truer side — last year.”

Her increased knowledge helped her view construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline as a form of modern-day colonialism, Uekert said. In November, Uekert said she traveled with a group of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, where she stayed for 35 hours in solidarity with Native Americans and other protesters.

“I’m sure the people who live there for months on end, or even years, have a much different story,” she said. “They’re just people, this is their land and they’ve lived there for hundreds of years.”

According to Uekert, more pipelines may be assembled in the future, since many people continue to deny the need for alternative energy forms.

“This global, insane, horrific battle that I will never fully understand was lost,” she said. “The oil company built the pipeline. It kind of gave the go-ahead for a few other companies to say, ‘The battle was lost. We’re going to start building more pipelines.’”

Uekert said she values the short time she spent at the Oceti Sakowin camp because she witnessed its residents’ connections with the planet.

“These people were so in tune with nature, and there’s such a symbiotic relationship between the Earth and these people,” she said. “I thought, ‘We need to start learning from them.’”

Navigating the fine line between learning from indigenous people and culturally appropriating can be an arduous task, Uekert said.

“We are seeing one story of what Native Americans are,” she said. “If anything, they want us to start seeing multiple stories.”

Uekert said preserving Native Americans’ rights and establishing a healthier planet are related efforts that everyone should take part in.

“More pipelines equals more oil use and fossil-fuel burning, which equals more greenhouse-gas emissions and also a warmer planet,” she said. “This means more flooding, droughts, scarce access to clean water, diseases, tsunamis and heatwaves.”

Such drastic changes would likely result in species dying and the food chain collapsing, according to Uekert, such as is the case with a nearly-extinct species of butterfly she studied.

“I actually did climate change research on a species indigenous to Indiana, the Karner Blue butterfly,” she said. “Over two years, we saw it going extinct.”

Uekert said people should educate themselves and voice their concerns about the effects pipelines have on Native Americans and the global community. No one should sit idly by while another culture is oppressed and the Earth is harmed, she said.

“I don’t know how this is even happening now,” she said. “This should be in the history books.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha