Hundreds of people rallied at the Capitol rotunda in St. Paul on Wednesday to demand that clean-energy plans in the state center Indigenous communities and work to right the wrongs of the past.
The rally was organized by more than 20 Indigenous, faith and environmental advocacy groups in response to the state’s new clean-energy law. Last week, Gov. Tim Walz signed a law mandating Minnesota’s electricity utilities become 100 percent carbon-free by 2040.
Now the question is how to implement a greener future. The groups at the rally said the 2040 goal lays a critical foundation for a more sustainable economy, but their focus was advocating for the transition to be centered on environmental justice for Indigenous communities, who are more vulnerable to climate change, like water-related and respiratory illnesses, mental health effects and food system impacts, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“There will be a transition,” said Ashley Fairbanks, a member of White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota and creative director of 100% Campaign. “But it is up to us to ensure that this transition is just, that it happens in a way that honors Indigenous rights and sovereignty, repairs harm and includes every single Minnesotan.”
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"The coalition of advocacy groups, including Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light and Honor the Earth, came together under the slogan “Rise and Repair.”
Fairbanks, a rally organizer, said rise and repair means “rise up for Indigenous rights and repairing past harms, or reparations for people who are descendants of chattel slavery, and honoring Indigenous treaty rights.”
Parts of Rise and Repair’s agenda covers reparations and sovereignty, environmental justice and economic development of tribal communities.
Julia Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, said a critical part of that agenda is ensuring moving toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity means uplifting Indigenous communities who have been harmed by climate change and giving them a say in the new energy revolution.
“That means building solar on every school in the state,” said Nerbonne. “It means making sure there's a Green Finance Authority that is able to loan money to people who would not be able to have the resources from a traditional bank. It means that we center Indigenous rights in all the decisions that we make.”
Young environmental activists like Sophia Benrud, cofounder of Minnesota Environmental Justice Table, listed recent examples of construction projects that have impacted Indigenous people like the Line 3 pipeline expansion, which some northern Minnesota Ojibwe bands argued would open up a new part of the state to possible oil spills into lakes, rivers and wild rice waters; the East Phillips public works facility and the demolition of Roof Depot, which organizer Nicole Perez of Little Earth said at the rally could put the community at risk for arsenic pollution; and the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, Minneapolis’s controversial trash-energy incinerator.
Benrud also called on attendees to fight back with a cumulative impacts bill, HF637. The legislation seeks to protect certain communities from added pollution by denying environmental permits based on data analysis of cumulative pollution.
“This is a bill that is going to say ‘Hey, we are an overburdened community, you cannot put your pollutant or your polluter here anymore,’” said Benrud.
Others encouraged rallyers to support creating a Tribal Energy Advisory Board in the state Public Utilities Commission and to keep an eye on current bills in the state Legislature introducing climate education in school curriculums.