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IEN - Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

This report summary shares the findings of the Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon report. It explains the framework of the report, its methodology, findings and wider significance for climate justice.

The Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon report (1) was co-published in August 2021 by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and research and advocacy organisation Oil Change International. The role of the report is to highlight and document the successes of ‘Tribal Nations, Indigenous water protectors, land defenders, pipeline fighters’ and other grassroots formations. It demonstrates how Indigenous Peoples use a range of tactics, including non-violent direct action, lobbying, political and media work, to fight against fossil fuel extraction projects.

This report contextualises its findings according to the Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities framework. The responsibilities are grounded in enduring Indigenous Sovereignty, where regardless of the presence of settler governments and businesses, Indigenous peoples retain important relationships to the land. Fossil fuel extraction and construction contributes to the destruction of Indigenous land, waterways, culture, language, economy and relationships to the land. Although both settlers and Indigenous peoples alike have responsibilities to protect land, Indigenous peoples exercise these responsibilities in their struggles against fossil fuel extraction projects.

Outside of their responsibilities, Indigenous rights to resist fossil fuel projects are granted through the internationally recognised right to self-determination. This is protected via the ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ (FPIC) process. When recognised, this process allows Indigenous peoples to either grant or withhold permission for projects affecting them and their lands. It involves the right to be consulted, to participate and to protect their lands and resources. Although the United Nations declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (2) enshrines FPIC, both Canada and the US fail to adhere to this process properly. Although Indigeous Nations are often consulted, their consent for projects is rarely given.

The methodology of this report involved calculations by Oil Change International and other external sources of the amount of greenhouse gases that each project would create. This included 26 case studies of Indigenous resistance against fossil fuel projects. Examples include the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline opposed by the Dene, Cree, Métis, Oecti Sakowin and Ponca communities, as well as the Alton Gas Pipeline and Storage Facility, resisted by the Sipekne’katik First Nation and Mi’kmaq water protectors.

The total amount of carbon dioxide emissions wrapped up into these struggles (ongoing fights, projects won and projects lost) amounts to 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2, or 28% of the 2019 combined Canadian and US emissions. The victories against infrastructure projects equal 779 million metric tonnes of CO2. Current struggles amount to 808 million metric tonnes of CO2, or 12% of US and Canadian emissions. If the current struggles (e.g. Costal Gaslink Pipeline) all succeed, then Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon will have stopped greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to 24% of total US and Canadian annual emissions.

The significance of this report is twofold. Firstly, it shows to Indigenous land defenders themselves the huge impact of their collective efforts. As the report says, “This report is generated in the spirited belief that our movements do not occur in isolation, nor are they alone in execution”(1). Secondly, this report aims to show settlers that Indigenous peoples are leading the fight against climate change, and to embolden settlers to stand alongside Indigenous struggles. According to the findings in this report, Indigenous communities have undertaken some of the most significant climate change mitigation efforts in North America. They did this by defending their land. Returning land back to Indigenous Nations is therefore integral to climate justice. By supporting land back movements and putting pressure on governments to do the same, land can be returned to the people who can protect it best. This report thus shows how decolonisation is integral to climate justice.

Find the full report here


1. Goldtooth D, Saldamando A, Gracey K. Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon [Internet]. Washington: Indigenous Environmental Network; 2021 [cited 2022 Jun 24]. Available from:

2. UN General Assembly. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indige [Internet]. United Nations; 2007 [cited 2022 Jun 24]. Report No.: A/RES/61/295. Available from:

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