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Standing Up for Inherent Rights: The Role of Indigenous-Led Activism in Protecting Sacred Waters and Ways of Life

Emma S. Norman

2017 United States

Time and time again, Indigenous people throughout the world are faced with the need to reassert their way of life, and to “buck” political and social systems that continually marginalize their treaty rights. In this article, I explore the role of Indigenous activism at different scales— personal, tribal, and collective—to intervene in key moments to uphold treaty rights and protect Indigenous ways of life. In defending treaty rights, Indigenous peoples have become leaders in the social and environmental justice movement, particularly in relation to climate justice and fishing rights. The article recounts three ethnographies that illustrate how access to rights is wrapped up in geopolitics and the political economy. Highlighting these acts of resilience and leadership in the face of crisis is the central work of this article. The article concludes with a call to fundamentally rethink governance mechanisms and structures, to protect ecological and human health.