Law 509 - Indigenous Peoples, Sustainability, and Climate Change

Rebecca Tsosie

Rebecca Tsosie

Visiting Professor
B.A. UCLA, 1987
J.D. UCLA School of Law, 1990
Course Description:

This seminar explores the legal, moral, and political dimensions of climate change policy in relation to Indigenous peoples.  Within the United States, federally-recognized Indian tribes are considered to be sovereign governments and they exercise jurisdiction over their lands and resources.  Yet, the place of tribal governments within domestic climate policy is not always clear because the interests of tribal governments differ with respect to development of fossil fuels and with respect to the centrality of subsistence practices to the contemporary tribal community.  Some tribes, including many Alaska Native Nations, are facing rapid and catastrophic climate change that jeopardizes their traditional practices, which are dependent upon fishing and hunting.  Others, such as the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, are heavily invested in development of coal reserves, and the projected closure of coal-fired power plants in the region will cause severe impacts to their economies.

At the international level, Indigenous peoples worldwide are experiencing severe impacts from climate change, exacerbated by development projects that jeopardize the integrity of the forests and watersheds that have enabled them to survive over centuries.  Indigenous peoples share a common set of experiences in the wake of colonization and development, and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflects the shared consensus about the human rights that Indigenous peoples ought to enjoy, including their intergenerational and spiritual relationship to their traditional lands and coastal seas.

This seminar will provide a broad, interdisciplinary discussion of the rights and position of Indigenous peoples within domestic and international frameworks of climate policy, the challenges of sustainability, and the current and projected impacts of climate change.

Course Learning Outcomes:

1. Students will gain knowledge about climate change, and the ways in which laws governing land use, environmental protection, water, and energy must interact with climate policy.
2. Students will learn how the rights of Indigenous peoples are constructed within the United States domestic system and also under contemporary international human rights law. 
3. Students will explore interdisciplinary frameworks of analysis to evaluate the relevant environmental, cultural and political issues.
4. Students will engage in critical analysis of the weekly readings and will be required to identify the arguments on both sides of contested policy issues.
5. Students will develop a project related to the course content and write a research paper.
6. Students will also work collaboratively on class exercises related to governance issues involving shared resources.