Indigenous Rights, Environmental Justice, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Indigenous Rights, Environmental Justice, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Federal agencies in the United States use environmental justice analyses to help identify and address disproportionate, adverse impacts of environmental permitting and decision-making on vulnerable communities. Among those most affected by such actions are indigenous peoples, whose living ties to specific places can extend from time immemorial to the present. In spite of policies designed to promote justice and engagement, indigenous communities and their place-based knowledge systems are often omitted from environmental reviews and excluded from environmental decision-making. Here in North Carolina, which has the largest indigenous population east of the Mississippi River, multiple American Indian tribes have histories and cultures that are inseparable from specific blackwater streams, swamp forests, and coastal plain landscapes. However, these tribal communities lack cultural and environmental protections afforded to federally-recognized American Indian tribes. In recent years, efforts to permit and construct fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have exposed the vulnerability of these tribes to environmental and cultural degradation – both directly via construction and operation of major infrastructure, and indirectly via climate and land use change. Prof. Ryan Emanuel of North Carolina State University examined this situation from the perspective of an indigenous (Lumbee) scholar, bridging academic, indigenous, and regulatory spaces to amplify American Indian perspectives in ways that enriched public discourse on social justice, human rights, and the environment at the event.

Ryan Emanuel is an Associate Professor and University Faculty Scholar in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. He leads the Ecohydrology and Watershed Science laboratory at NC State, which focuses on hydrological and ecological processes in natural and human-altered environments. Together with students and colleagues, he has published articles and scholarly essays in disciplines ranging from hydrology, climate, and ecology to environmental history and public policy. An enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe, Emanuel works to broaden participation of American Indians and other underrepresented groups in the sciences, receiving a national award from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society for these activities. Emanuel also partners with tribal governments and indigenous organizations to address issues related to environmental quality, climate change, and public policies affecting indigenous peoples, receiving NC State’s sustainability award for these efforts. Emanuel holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in Geology from Duke.