This week's conversation with our guest, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, takes us on the, often unseen, alternative route towards environmental change driven by Indigenous people. Before politicians and pop culture, Indigenous culture laid the groundwork. Xiuhtezcatl gives a glimpse into the perspectives of his culture that’s been advocating for harmony with the earth and fighting for social and ecological awareness for centuries. He chats with Xander to tell us What We Don't Know about Indigenous environmental activism.
X is not only an activist and community leader but also an established hip-hop artist who was formerly the youth director of his mother’s founding organization, Earth Guardians. He is currently the co-founder of NOW as well. X explains how the influence of our colonization standards is adversely affecting the planet and people. He attributes his background and upbringing as a son of an indigenous father from Mexico combined with western perspectives for giving him his grounded approach.
Even at an early age, X's involvement in activism was a fusion of concepts; as an environmentalist, he uses his art to express issues and believes in combining, as he says, "human relation with the earth and with our land." While X fully understands climate change's science is crucial to know, he believes the disconnect our society has with nature is the root problem. "We can really look at the relationship and see that that is the catalyst (that) 'Heads', created; the climate crisis." He continues, "The climate crisis being a symptom of our disharmony with our relations with ourselves, with others and with the land."
Grasping our past is essential to healing the earth as well. X explains how colonialism set the infrastructure we still operate in today to exploit people through labor while compromising human necessities like clean water, land, and safe cultural communities. "These infrastructures that we created since the founding of the United States of America.” X says, "The infrastructure doesn't exist to actually protect people; it exists to protect capital." Xiuhtezcatl points to the energy grid failures and pandemic relief as examples of this. "The United States as a whole has not come to terms with the mass genocide that took place in order for our current system to exist or, in a lot of ways, to the enslavement of African peoples."
X explains that in joining with his "black kin," the Indigenous communities embrace BLM and see it as an opportunity for "collective liberation" and he found that black leaders also echo this sentiment. He cites the removal of racists mascots from major sports leagues as a great example of everyone benefiting. Uniting causes not only fast tracks change but promotes focus towards alternative futures. Beyond police arrests, it asks, 'What is a world beyond the current violence?' and 'What is climate justice?" He wants to change not only to be about turning corporations "green" but uplifting communities.
His new initiatives with NOW focuses on bringing together young people, offering a safe space to become leaders and to teach, as he explains, "What building power looks like for indigenous youth."
Xiuhtezcatl seeks to keep up the momentum of the previous years' protests and bring more intersectional approaches with assisting on the frontline. He plans to continue this legacy from his culture citing a stat stating that states that 4-5% of the global population is Indigenous, and they protect 80% of the world's biodiversity. "Indigenous people have been carrying the weight of keeping the earth in balance for generations.", He says. "We've been through (an) apocalypse; we've experienced viruses, (an) extermination of our peoples to larger degrees and violence and enslavement." X says, "That history we have pushed through so much, and now we have no choice but to continue imagining something that is more beautiful than what we have."