From Claremont to Glasgow, GiGi Buddie PO ’23 amplifies Indigenous voices in the climate crisis

A pair of women talk in front of a video camera.
Gigi Buddie PO’23 engaged in the global climate change discussion at COP26 this week in Scotland. (Courtesy: GiGi Buddie)

Last week, GiGi Buddie PO ’23 traveled more than 5,000 miles to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, where she engaged in international dialogue about the voice of Indigenous communities and the future of the climate crisis.

Buddie, a theater major with a passion for environmentalism, said she’s always loved the intersection of art and climate justice. That passion encouraged her to take an internship with the Arctic Cycle, a non-profit that uses theater to foster dialogue about the climate crisis, during her recent gap year.

Her work with the Arctic Cycle soon crossed paths with the Human Impacts Institute, another nonprofit that seeks to merge art and climate activism. 

As a representative for the Human Impacts Institute, Buddie was invited to engage in a global discussion around climate change during COP26’s procession of events. She used the opportunity to bring international awareness to climate leaders whose stories have been underrepresented.

“Not only are Indigenous voices often left out of the conversations … but a lot of times Global South individuals are as well,” Buddie said. “A lot of the negative impacts that are happening on our climate [is] because of [the] Global North, and it’s usually happening to Global South communities.”

Buddie worked with the Human Impacts Institute to interview 10 selected climate leaders and showcase their work in an exhibition presented at the climate conference. The organization also commissioned 10 Indigenous and Afro-descendant artists to create portraits of the interviewees for the exhibition.

The participants ranged from all over the world: Tahiti, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil. But Buddie, who is of Tongva and Mescalero heritage herself, remembers being struck by the similarity in each of their journeys.

“No matter if we were interviewing someone from Tahiti or India, they have very similar stories about how climate change was affecting their communities and how governments were handling that and how their voices weren’t really brought to the table,” she said. “They felt like they couldn’t share their stories even though Indigenous communities are the first and hardest impacted by climate change.”

Even with months of preparation, Buddie was caught off guard by the magnitude and energy of the conference upon arriving. 

“Whatever you’re thinking about the UN, triple the emotions and feelings and intensity of it,” she said.

The massive convention room was split into different zones. One of them, the Blue Zone, housed negotiations between various world leaders. Buddie remembers seeing figures like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio milling about. The intensity of this conference was especially high, Buddie said, as the new IPCC report dictates that world leaders must act with much more urgency than was previously understood to avoid catastrophic increases in global temperature.

While Buddie mostly organized and spotlighted the exhibition, she also got an opportunity to speak on her own story during an event with the Bolivia delegation.

Buddie also told TSL she was struck by the number of young people at the conference. While their passion was inspiring, the circumstances that brought them to the conference were disheartening, she said.

“This is the world that we’ve created,” she said. “Where children don’t get a childhood, because they have to fight to exist on this dying planet.”

Buddie also accompanied the Human Impacts Institute to a local college to engage in dialogue with local students aged 15-23 years old. She noted that often at UN climate conferences, local communities feel disconnected from the convention, and this year was no exception.

While speaking with these students, Buddie was struck by how, halfway across the world, youth seemed to be having similar conversations as those students hold in Claremont. Youth globally are faced with the same future in the climate crisis, Buddie added, especially those from marginalized backgrounds such as Indigenous communities.

“For a lot of communities there’s not a day, a minute, a moment that goes by that they don’t have to be thinking about [the climate crisis],” she said. “Because it’s not the future. It’s just not. It’s now. It was yesterday. It was five years ago. It was the first climate summit.”

Buddie acknowledged that the experience of the conference was draining, and she has a lot to process from her week in Glasgow. But she was struck by the positive emotions that she was left with since returning home.

“As heartbreaking and scary and intense as everything was … I think I walk away from that with more hope,” she said. “I don’t know if I have a lot of hope for a world leader making competent decisions, right? But I have a lot of hope for youth, and the work that they’re doing, and how loud they’re yelling. And it’s not gonna stop, I don’t think it’s ever gonna stop. They’re fighting for their survival … they’re fighting for their kids that aren’t born yet. They’re fighting for their voices.”

Returning to Claremont, Buddie hopes to bring back the messages she feels so strongly about.

She compelled students to learn more about the struggles and amplify the voices of marginalized communities. As an Indigenous student, she wants her peers to understand the impact the climate crisis takes on Indigenous communities.

“If you destroy the land, you destroy their culture. The two are so interconnected,” she said.

Most Claremont students can live without thinking about the climate crisis on a daily basis, she said, and that’s a privilege she hopes the 5C community begins to recognize. 

“[5C students] are privileged enough to have a voice. You’re privileged enough to be heard. Use it,” she said. “And if you feel like you don’t have a voice, if you feel like your community is underrepresented, let’s work together.”

Although Buddie returned on Sunday, COP26 continues in Glasgow for the rest of this week.

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