Indigenous Women Leading the Charge: Protecting the Environment for a Sustainable Future


© Courtesy of Ontario Native Women’s Association

Indigenous knowledge has always played a role in addressing climate change, but now, scientists are listening—and backing up what Indigenous peoples have been saying for generations. As the world grapples with the ongoing climate crisis, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous knowledge of environmental protection is crucial to our survival. And no one knows this better than Indigenous women, who have long been the water carriers, community leaders, and knowledge keepers in their communities.

The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) understands the vital role that Indigenous women play in protecting the environment, and they’re calling for their voices to be heard at all decision-making tables related to the environment and creating a space for them to enact change that impacts their communities and lives.

Women at the Forefront

Cora McGuire-Cyrette, CEO at ONWA, explained that Indigenous women have been actively protecting and conserving an impressive array of globally relevant species, habitats, and ecosystems, providing the foundation for clean water and air, healthy food, and livelihoods for people beyond their territories. For women, it’s a personal matter. In some northern communities, it’s not safe for women to breastfeed their children due to water pollution. As community leaders, environmental stewards, and mothers, women have a personal connection to leaving behind a better legacy for future generations.

But it’s not just up to Indigenous women to lead the charge. We all have a duty to take action and safeguard Mother Earth. And the good news is that even small steps can have a significant impact. Whether organizing community clean-up events, writing letters to elected representatives, or being mindful of our plastic consumption, every effort counts. Small actions can culminate in significant change. By collaborating to co-develop solutions that align Indigenous knowledge and scientific best practices, we can ensure that future generations have access to clean water and a healthy environment.

ONWA, Indigenous Women, UNGA, environmental protections, sustainable change, women leaders
© Courtesy of ONWA
Taking Action

Unfortunately, we’re not moving quickly enough. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ 2022 annual Sustainable Development Goals Report warns that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is “in grave danger.” McGuire-Cyrette shared that meeting drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene targets by 2030 requires a fourfold increase in the pace of progress—and we’re not on track.

That’s why ONWA is taking action through the development of their Mother Earth Strategy. ONWA recognizes that Indigenous women have played a vital role in protecting the environment for thousands of years, and through the Mother Earth Strategy, they will continue to do so. This toolkit reflects Indigenous women’s responsibilities, traditional ecological knowledge, and practices with measurable impacts. They’re committed to fulfilling their obligation to maintain harmony and balance for generations to come and urging us all to join them.

The Mother Earth Strategy amplifies Indigenous women’s voices and bridges the gap between Indigenous knowledge and scientific best practices to ensure a sustainable future. It’s a comprehensive toolkit that offers environmental defenders, including yourself, the tools to make a difference and leave behind a better world than the one we live in.

Indigenous identity is connected to the environment. Water is not just a source of life—it holds unique symbolism and is integral to Indigenous culture. If the environment is not well, we are not well.

It’s time for all of us to take action to protect the planet and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

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The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) is a not for profit organization to empower and support all Indigenous women and their families in the province of Ontario through research, advocacy, policy development and programs that focus on local, regional and provincial activities.


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