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Mohawk Youth Activist Jessica Yee on Why She is Attending U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 17

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Johannesburg, South Africa — Democracy Now! speaks with Mohawk youth activist Jessica Yee about what brings her to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.

In this interview, Yee describes how South Africa based the legal framework for apartheid on U.S. and Canadian laws dealing with indigenous peoples. She is attending the climate conference as a member of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. Yee is the founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

She spoke to Amy Goodman at the Johannesburg airport.

Democracy Now! will be broadcasting live from the climate conference Dec. 5 through Dec. 9. Stream live 8am EST.

To see all of Democracy Now!_’s reports on global climate change, including live reports from previous U.N. Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen and Cancún, visit our news archivechange

JESSICA YEE: So, my name is Jessica Yee. I am a Mohawk from the Akwesasne Mohawk territory, and I am the executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the co-chair for the North America region for the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here in South Africa?

JESSICA YEE: We are here for two reasons. So, one is representing a indigenous youth and reproductive justice contingent for COP 17. The other is we’re having a satellite forum for indigenous youth, sexual health, HIV and colonialism.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why climate change is a central issue for you.

JESSICA YEE: Climate change, for us, is a central issue because it has to do with what’s going on in our lands and our territories. And the way that we think about climate change is very broad. So we don’t something of it just as something that only impacts land or something that only impacts the air. When things impact our land and our air, they simultaneously impact our people and what’s going on in our communities. And for us, we understand that if we’re going to be talking about environmental issues of any sort, that woman in fact is the first environment. And we are talking about the fact that what climate change is doing is not allowing our women to have healthy pregnancies. It is creating situations where there’s more violence in our communities, because of industry, for example, being in our territories or any kind of—anything that’s really happening that’s worsening climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at your laptop, and it says things like—it’s got stickers: "Proud to be Mohawk" and "STOP CO2LONIALISM." In other words, "stop colonialism." Talk about these stickers.

JESSICA YEE: Well, these—this sticker here is from our friends and partners at the Indigenous Environmental Network. And they have this really great sticker, which says that support—they want to support a moratorium on new fossil fuel development in indigenous territories, and the CO2 being that—the carbon that is affecting—in these fossil fuels, is really the root of colonialism. It’s one of the clearest forms of colonialism that’s happening. And when we’re talking about—even as all my stickers say, what we’re bringing to the conference this week is that we are not just representing youth issues or women’s issues or even reproductive justice the way that it’s stereotypically known. We’re talking about issues of genocide. We’re talking about issues of survival of our peoples. And I know that we’re going to have some uncomfortable conversations even with organizers in our own communities this week, who just want to see this as a land-only issue or as an air-only issue and not understand that women being the first environment or the simultaneous, intersecting effects are really critical.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is Akwesasne?

JESSICA YEE: Akwesasne is a Mohawk community that’s located in upstate New York. It also borders Canada, so it’s Ontario and Quebec. That’s because we were there before the borders were there. And what’s really interesting about us being in South Africa this week was the fact that in the attempt or effort to create apartheid in South Africa, they actually used the Indian Act, which is legislation currently in act in Canada, as a framework to instigate apartheid. So they needed something that created a hierarchy and created policies really of genocide.

And even though, for example, apartheid has been struck down as bad law in South Africa, the effects of it are very clear. Even just being in the airport, you can tell that, you can see that. And I think it’s very emotional for us to be here this week, knowing that something that was used to legislate genocide and colonialism against us as indigenous peoples in North America, for example, is used here and continues to be operational, as whether it’s in law or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

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