Masterclass: Indigenous Environmental Justice

The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life is pleased to announce a master class for students in the Columbia University community on the topic of Indigenous Environmental Justice: Transforming Sustainability, Empowering Climate Action. The master class will be run by Kyle Powys Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability and George Willis Pack at the University of Michigan.

January 11, 2022

Deadline for applications: January 18, 2022

The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life is pleased to announce a master class for students in the Columbia University community on the topic of Indigenous Environmental Justice: Transforming Sustainability, Empowering Climate Action. The master class will be run by Kyle Powys Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability and George Willis Pack at the University of Michigan.

This master class will take place over four sessions, each of 75 minutes. The first three sessions will take place on Zoom; there is a possibility that the final session will take place in person on the Columbia campus (Covid-19 policies permitting).

  • February 9th, 5:00-6:15 pm

  • February 23rd, 5:00-6:15 pm

  • March 9th, 5:00-6:15 pm

  • April 6th, 5:00-6:15 pm

* Additional in-person event on 6th or 7th April to be confirmed for participants *


There is an allegedly tense relationship between achieving environmental justice and mitigating climate change. Some people are adamant that there can be no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without addressing environmental justice first. Other people are convinced that actions toward establishing environmental justice impede the swift measures needed to lower carbon footprints right away. Lost in such a tension are the knowledge systems and experiences of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples’ philosophies, sciences, and voices present original grounds on which to unsettle the most commonly rooted assumptions about environmental justice and climate change. Using critical Indigenous methods, the master class seeks trace diverse Indigenous roots for imagining and practicing sustainability and climate change mitigation through an environmental justice lens. The master class will engage traditional and recent materials for investigating environmental justice through memory, kinship, non-linear time, epistemology, and constructive criticism of core concepts of crisis and hope. Participants in the master class will discuss together how sustainability and climate change mitigation would be understood and practiced differently in a world where Indigenous knowledge systems and experiences were more prominently engaged.


Please fill out this form with the following information:

  • Name

  • School affiliation

  • Major/program

  • Year of study

  • 1-2 paragraphs outlining your academic interests, and how this master class would contribute to them.


Questions may be directed to Marianna Pecoraro at [email protected]


Deadline for applications: Tuesday, January 18, 2022


Kyle Whyte is George Willis Pack Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. His research addresses environmental justice, focusing on moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples, the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and science organizations, and problems of Indigenous justice in public and academic discussions of food sovereignty, environmental justice, and the anthropocene. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Kyle currently serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the Management Committee of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and the Board of Directors of the Pesticide Action Network North America. He has served as an author for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, including on the National Climate Assessment, and for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II. He is a former member of the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science in the U.S. Department of Interior and of two environmental justice work groups convened by past state governors of Michigan.  

Kyle is involved with a number organizations that advance Indigenous research and education methodologies, including the Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, the Sustainable Development Institute of the College of Menominee Nation, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence. He is a certificate holder of the Training Programme to Enhance the Conflict Prevention and Peacemaking Capacities of Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives, from the United Nations Institute of Training and Research.


Sustainability as Memory - February 9th, 2022
The leading programs in sustainability education rarely, if ever, offer courses on how memory is a profound basis of thinking about the meaning and direction of sustainability. The session introduces some of the different ways of re-orienting and re-grounding philosophies and practices of sustainability in memory. That dominant discourses on sustainability fail to reflect critically on the founding role of memory is source of the further entrenchment of environmental and climate injustice against Indigenous peoples today – even through some of the prominent solutions to adapting to and mitigating anthropogenic climate change. 

Kinship Tellings of Time - February 23rd, 2022
Climate change is often discussed in terms of linear units of time. There are concerns about how narrating climate change linearly can eclipse issues of justice in the energy transition away from fossil fuel dependence, some of the major issues involving Indigenous climate justice. There are of course different ways of telling time. In relation to climate change and biodiversity, Indigenous scholars and writers are narrating through kinship, not linearity. The session cover some of the recent interventions by Indigenous scholars and writers on philosophies of kinship and how they relate to time. One implication is that issues of justice are inseparable from the experience of climate change.

Crisis Epistemology and Climate Justice - March 9th, 2022
People who perpetrate colonialism often defend their actions as necessary responses to real or perceived crises. Epistemologies of crisis involve knowing the world in such a way that a certain present is experienced as new. The session will discuss newness in terms of the presumptions of unprecedentedness and urgency that underwrite the epistemologies of crisis that are dominant in global climate change discourse. As an alternative to epistemologies of crisis, the session will develop conceptions of epistemologies of coordination. Different from crisis, coordination refers to ways of knowing the world that emphasize the importance of moral bonds—or kinship relationships—for generating the (responsible) capacity to respond to constant change. Epistemologies of coordination are conducive to responding to expected and drastic changes without validating harm or violence.

Environmental Justice Against Hope - April 6th, 2022
The themes of memory, kinship, and coordination are among the critical philosophies and practices Indigenous peoples bring to environmental justice. As philosophies and practices that are reflective on and reflexive of their rootedness in memory, they form significant sources of motivation, energy, and drive to take action now to address climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet they are philosophies and practices that do not rely on hope, which can be perceived as cutting against the grain of a common belief that hope is a prerequisite for any meaningful environmental advocacy. The session concludes the master class by covering the critique of hope. The session will work to move away from hopeful concepts and beliefs and toward Indigenous philosophies and concepts of ancestral accountability, kinship time, and collective continuance.