Abstract: 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. 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. I examine this situation from the perspective of an indigenous (Lumbee) scholar, bridging academic, indigenous, and regulatory spaces to amplify American Indian perspectives in ways that enrich public discourse on social justice, human rights, and the environment.
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