Naomi Klein’s pick: The Native Daughter

Murrawah Johnson

Job:Activist, Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network
Reps:Brisbane, Australia

Green cred: When Adani Group announced plans to dig Australia’s largest coal mine ever, the open-pit Carmichael Mine, the mining consortium perhaps underestimated the tenacity of its greatest adversary: the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council and People. They are the traditional owners of the land who trace their heritage here back 60,000 years.

“We have a strong history of activism and protecting our way of life and families,” says family council member Murrawah Johnson, who’s also involved with the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network. “Adani said, ‘We want to dig a large open-pit coal mine on top of your river, the river that also feeds five other nations down south.’ So it was time to stand up and fight.”

Says Naomi Klein: “She is one of the most dynamic and vibrant climate activists I’ve ever met.”

With the help of Seed and others, Johnson and her uncle Adrian Burragubba decided to hit Adani in the wallet. They embarked on an 18-day world tour to meet with the international banks funding the mine to personally convince them to back out.

The plan worked. Fifteen of the world’s top 20 fossil fuel investors pulled support for the mine, including Standard Chartered of London, who had planned to invest $680 million.

While Adani hasn’t pulled the plug yet, the mine now faces a raft of legal challenges in addition to the pulled funding. “It’s a dead horse that won’t die, essentially,” says Johnson.

Hear it from the expert: Says author and activist Naomi Klein: “She is one of the most dynamic and vibrant climate activists I’ve ever met. Murrawah is a powerful spokesperson and organizer who is on the front line of holding back the largest proposed coal mine in the world.”

What’s next in 2016: Johnson says polluters and carbon shills will have to watch out for joint campaigns from indigenous youth on mainland Australia and Pacific Islanders. “Their homes are being inundated by seawater every other night, climate change is so real for them,” she says.

Runs in the family: Her grandparents, Edith and Bowman Johnson, were also justice crusaders. When Australian government officials tried to forcibly separate Bowman from his wife and three children in exchange for work under the Aboriginal Protection Act, he refused.

“They said, ‘Then you can starve,’” she says. “They walked to the next town, lived on the edge of the dump, slept in potato sacks. My uncle was born on the edge of the dump. But he was the first child not born under the Act.” They eventually made it to Brisbane, where they opened a hostel service to provide housing and job opportunities for the community.

This land is my land: Johnson’s traditional land is about 18 hours’ drive from Brisbane, but she visits often — sometimes driving all night to reach the land, dance, and drive back in time for work or school. One spot means more to her than any other.

“It’s in the middle of the bush and it looks like there’s nothing, but there’s these huge wet boulders that pop up with a waterhole in the bottom,” she says. “It’s a birthing place. I was standing there with my sisters and I was thinking, My people have been here standing in this water for thousands of years. I have a connection to everyone who’s drank from this stream, stood in this water, and everyone else in the future will, too.” The spot is just a few miles away from the proposed mine site.