The University of New Mexico Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight held a rally on Friday, Sept. 24 in front of the UNM Bookstore urging UNM to divest from fossil fuels and take action to combat climate change. Presenters also specifically highlighted the need for intersectionality in the climate justice movement.
The protest took place nearly a year after UNM LEAF filed a complaint with the attorney general's office on Oct. 26, 2021 which sought to investigate the UNM Foundation for investing $32 million into fossil fuels. The investment violates the New Mexico Uniform Prudential Management of Institutional Funds Act as it isn’t an investment in line with UNM’s charitable missions, according to the UNM LEAF website.
“Pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels resulted in an estimated 23,835 deaths daily. People of color disproportionately suffer pollution and health detriments from fossil fuel extraction and combustion. Vulnerable populations bear the brunt of climate economic disruption as illustrated by the plight of climate migrants and refugees already forced by drought, flooding and complex,” reads a section of the complaint that was read aloud to the crowd during the rally.
Since the complaint has been filed, the negative effects of fossil fuel pollution and climate change continue to ravage the state, according to LEAF member Raven Alcott.
“In the last 12 months, we've seen wildfires burning — the two largest in the state's history — burning nearly a million acres of forests and sacred lands. We've seen the Rio Grande here in Albuquerque run dry for the first time in about 40 years,” Alcott said.
Savana Juanico, a first-year student majoring in political science and minoring in Native American studies, spoke about the hypocrisy of UNM acknowledging the Tiwa lands the University is located on, but not taking the action to support Native communities by divesting.
“Furthermore, by offering many camps of outside workers — mainly non-Indigenous men — to Indigenous areas contribute(s) to the crisis of violence against Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, nonbinary and LGBTQ individuals. Environmental injustice has its roots in our history that stem back to colonialism and with UNM recognizing its history, the time to move forward is now,” Juanico said.
Other speakers, including Reyes DeVore, community programming director for the Pueblo Action Alliance, echoed Juanico's statement.
“How can we go back to giving Indigenous peoples the right to continue to manage the land and steward the land, and do it in a way with those traditional methods … It does impact all of us, but it's really important to think about what your solidarity looks like,” DeVore said.
Other calls were made for UNM to join the Climate Pledge 2040 sustainability goals.
“Nearly 7,000 colleges and universities around the globe have already done this years ago. We've had meetings with the president, UNM Foundation, the Board of Regents and the champion of the 2040 sustainability goals, but they continue to dismiss us, confuse us with financial jargon and try to pacify us with Band-Aid solutions. When we will not back down, we will not be dismissed,” Kineo Memmer, LEAF director of communications and outreach, said.
Many representatives from various groups around campus were present in solidarity to join the call for UNM’s divestment from fossil fuels. Lexi Kenis from the United Graduate Workers of UNM spoke about the systemic power imbalances caused by climate change and the continued lack of action by those in power.
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“People in power are typically in demographics of privilege. It is those in marginalized groups who are the first to see the damage done by systemic climate neglect, sometimes subconsciously forgotten, and other times purposely to maintain historic power structures,” Kenis said.
The rally presented a general anger and frustration over UNM’s lack of action.
“UNM is one of the few universities that acknowledged Indigenous peoples, but like any other institution, they continuously exploit their own Native students,” Juanico said.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite