Honoring Indigenous Activist Jacob Johns

Jacob Johns, an Indigenous activist, was shot last week. Gun violence is yet another threat to the climate movement.

Honoring Indigenous Activist Jacob Johns
Photograph by Carlos Jaramillo / Instagram

LISTENING: "hope my little bit of hope don't fade away"
FEELING: disheartened by current events
SEEING: a poem I keep at my desk that reminds me why I do this work

Last week, Indigenous activist Jacob Johns was shot by a man who disrupted a peaceful ceremony in New Mexico. Jacob was there with children, women, and other leaders to protest the return of a statue honoring a brutal conquistador: Juan de Oñate.

I've written in the past about how symbolic monuments like these perpetuate harm against communities of color and about the terror of white privilege (which, yes, exists among Latines like Jacob's shooter) — but this newsletter isn't about all that. I'm here to talk about Jacob.

I've never spoken to Jacob. I only learned of his name and work last week when I read that he had been shot in the torso. I saw the powerful words others shared about him, and I felt heartbroken for his loved ones. I felt angry, too.

I may not know Jacob or his work too well, but I do know gun violence. And I know that guns and the war they wage are threats that climate organizers must pay more attention to.

How is climate justice possible in a world where nowhere feels safe for our youth and Black and Brown comrades? What good is a zero-emissions future if kids are still scared of going to school or Indigenous leaders can't hold prayer in peace?

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and I'm sick of reading about white supremacists and their stupid fucking guns.

Jacob's family has requested that the media stop naming the shooter. Instead, let's talk about Jacob. Who is he? Jacob is Hopi and Akimel O'odham. He's a father to Lily. He's a musician and artist. He painted murals. He interrupted President Joe Biden at last year's climate conference in Egypt with a war cry against fossil fuels.

I wish him a speedy recovery so that he can get back to doing what he so clearly loves: defending the land. He is set to go to Dubai in November to attend COP28 as part of the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers Delegation.

I may not know Jacob, but I know a warrior when I see one. And I hope to tell his story in his own words once he's better. Gun violence is an ugly thing, though. Getting "better" isn't as simple as tending a wound.

My family has been victims of gun violence. When I was in middle school, my brother survived a shooting. His left arm still carries the scars of that trauma. So does his heart — and mine and the rest of our family's. Just a few years ago, an extended family member was shot outside the home where my nephew and niece were living. I'm grateful every day that they're somewhere safer now.

I'm still angry and hurt by these events, even years later. That's what gun violence does. It creates long-lasting trauma.

Violence manifests in sinister ways. It's not just the mass shooter targeting a school. It's not only the white supremacist with hate in his heart for sovereign Indigenous peoples. It's not only the rival gang in the hood. It's all of these things — and more.

Violence is also fossil fuel pollution. Violence is also the celebration of brutalizers and conquistadors. Violence is the police state. Violence is the ongoing alienation of marginalized peoples in the climate movement.

After the attack on Jacob, I expected to see more from those who call themselves allies. I expected more statements from national environmental organizations.

Jacob will carry this trauma with him forever, his family emphasized in the statement they released Tuesday. So will the others there that day. They have clear demands. Among the most urgent is financial support for Jacob's family.

Donate if you can to the GoFundMe. One is for his medical bills. The other is for immediate expenses his family faces while he recovers. 🌀

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

I'm glad to not find any news about extreme weather-related deaths this week. Let me know if I've missed something.

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