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Racial justice-focused climate coalition hosts its first summit Earth Day weekend

Lawrence Makoona
Buffalo Rebellion, an intersectional climate justice coalition, will host its first summit over Earth Day weekend. It starts with community building Thursday night and includes an open-to-the-public Earth Day rally Friday in downtown Des Moines.

A coalition of underrepresented groups throughout Iowa is hosting its first climate justice summit that starts Thursday evening in Des Moines.

The coalition came into inception late last year when seven diverse organizations across the state met to think of a way to address climate injustices in Iowa communities.

They named themselves Buffalo Rebellion, which includes Great Plains Action Society, DSM Black Liberation Movement, Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement, SEIU Local 199 and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI).

Buffalo Rebellion will have its first major event over Earth Day weekend. Through grant funding, the summit will focus on training attendees on how to take climate action with a focus on racial injustice as well as economic injustice.

Organizers said about half of the 100 registered participants are 25 or younger. Indigenous, Black and brown community climate leaders were invited from all over the state at no cost.

Due to funding budgets, the summit training/community building sessions are offered to registered participants only. However, Buffalo Rebellion's Earth Day rally is open to the public in downtown Des Moines Friday.

We need to provide opportunities for those that, historically, have not been able to participate in the environmental/climate movements.
Sikowis Nobiss, Nehiyaw/Nahkawiyinîwiwm, George Gordon First Nation

Sikowis Nobiss founded and is the executive direction of Great Plains Action Society—one of the leading organizations. She said it’s important to utilize intersectionality to better Iowa’s climate, especially for Indigenous, Black and brown communities.

“A lot of us are working in our silos to approach this climate emergency but unfortunately working that way isn’t getting us the numbers and the impact we need," Nobiss explained. "Solidarity, intersectionality, whatever you want to call it, it's just that we need to provide opportunities for those that, historically, have not been able to participate in the environmental/climate movements, due to lack of privilege and resources."

Organizers explained how the environmental movement has been predominantly led by white, affluent populations. But that's incongruous, Nobiss said, because the populations most deeply affected and at the front lines of most climate issues, are the people who have historically been marginalized.

"We're reckoning with that very deeply in our organization and have been for many years. And it's a huge process to shift an entire nationwide organization to really understand and like, deeply understand climate justice, rather than environmental advocacy," Emma Colman, with Sierra Club Beyond Coal, said.

"Our goal is to really create a really connected space where folks can learn about this, the root of the problems that we face here are related to climate injustice, and how they can take action to make a better future for all of us," Iowa CCI organizer Jake Grobe added.

He emphasized how the coalition chose to invite grassroots leaders who have the most at stake, but also the most to gain from a thriving climate justice movement.

They're also hoping to put a spotlight on other communities who may not have been active in the climate justice field in the past. Nobiss said she is looking forward to seeing more migrant representatives taking part in climate action, so she's thankful that, along with the Indigenous-led conversations in the summit, there will also be participants from the migrant population.

Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, is helping organize the event, where at least one of training sessions will focus on sustainable agriculture models.

"There are a multitude of reasons why this is a conversation in which our immigrant community needs to be at," Murguia-Ortiz said. "That's a conversation that we need to be having right now, in terms of, you know, what that looks like, and what we can do to bring those folks into that process."

Buffalo Rebellion will take what is discussed at the summit and use that information to drive how the coalition will move forward.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines