• Environmental Priorities Coalition
  • Racial & Environmental Justice

WCA Staff put together this glossary of Racial and Social Justice terms that we use in our day-to-day work. This glossary accompanies our Racial Equity Action Plan to provide clarity to similar and commonly used terms. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but a grounding place to start.


Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups to elevate their voices above their own in the struggle for justice.

Cultural Burning

Cultural burning refers to the indigenous practices of using controlled fires to modify and maintain landscapes such as forests and grasslands for a variety of ecological and social purposes, including but not limited to the creation of wildlife corridors; promoting fire-adapted plant species for medicinal, culinary, and material applications; and improving soil. Cultural burning can also result in decreased risk of wildfire severity, and many of the forests of what is now the western US are adapted to frequent, intentional burning. However, the federal and many state governments have prohibited cultural burning as part of their wildfire suppression policies. Recent and ongoing efforts are making progress in removing barriers to the inherent rights of Tribal nations to practice cultural burning.

Environmental Justice

Environmental justice is the fair and equitable involvement of – and outcomes for – all people in environmental policies, practices, attitudes, and actions. Due in large part to the environmental movement being historically white-led, there have been unequal benefits of environmental protection with most benefits felt by white communities. This has led to a present-day landscape of environmental injustice where communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities bear the most burden of pollution and environmental degradation. Communities of color and tribal nations often lead environmental justice work, while historically white-led organizations have an important role to play.

Environmental Racism

Refers to any environmental policy, practice, or directive that differently affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color. Environmental racism is one form of environmental injustice and is reinforced by government, legal, economic, political, and military institutions. For example, government funding for cleanup of toxic waste sites is frequently directed toward wealthier, white communities while these sites are disproportionately located in communities of color and low-income communities.

Equity vs. Equality

Equity: Working to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.

Equality: Ensuring that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. Once everyone enjoys a similar level of health and well-being, we can focus on preserving fairness by giving everyone the same things: this is equality. As the Pan-American Health Organization puts it, “equity is the means, equality is the outcome.”

Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

References: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf

Frontline Communities

Frontline communities experience the most severe impacts of climate change and other environmental harms caused by extraction and pollution. In Washington, race is the primary factor which determines how a person’s health is impacted by climate change and pollution.

Frontline communities include those who experience the impacts of climate change first, such as wildfires, sea-level rise, floods, and heat waves. This also applies to communities on the frontlines of the extractive polluting economy and the workers on the frontlines of those industries.

Reference: https://frontandcentered.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Front-and-Centered-Community-Conversations-Report-2021.pdf

Government-to-Government Consultation

As part of its treaty and trust responsibilities, the US government must consult with sovereign Tribal governments regarding any policy or action that may affect Native nations. Consultation must be a dialogue and provide an opportunity for joint decision-making on a nation-to-nation level.

References: https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/framing-paper-consultation-with-tribes.pdfhttps://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2000/11/09/00-29003/consultation-and-coordination-with-indian-tribal-governments


Aspects of identity, including race, class, gender, and others intersect and shape the oppression and privilege that individuals experience in their daily lives. The concept of intersectionality was developed by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s. Intersectionality provides a basis for understanding and examining how various aspects of one’s identity work with one another in interpersonal and structural contexts Intersectionality brings to light dynamics of discrimination that can be obscured if discrimination is only considered in siloes and can provide a richer understanding of one’s positionality within structures of power.

References: https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Key-Equity-Terms-and-Concepts-vol1.pdf

Income Inequality

The inequitable distribution of social, political, and economic power and the subsequent creation of inequitable systems and living conditions.

Native Nation

Native nations are independent nations within a nation. The term “nation” shows respect for sovereignty. There are currently 574 federally-recognized Native nations that share geography with the United States. Each has unique systems of government, histories, cultures, languages, and ways of life.

Reference: www.nativegov.org


A level at which someone lacks income, resilience, and access to resources and services.

Racial Justice

The work to uproot historically racist systems and replace them with fair, just, and equitable policies and practices.

Racial Equity

Providing everyone what they need to be successful by taking race and the impacts of racism into account. This is distinct from racial equality, which is treating everyone the same.


Discrimination or prejudice pointed at an individual or group of individuals from a position of systemic power, based on the assumption that their race is inferior, or the belief that all individuals of a race maintain a specific characteristic or carry out specific actions.


The union arising from common responsibilities and interests. Standing in solidarity means embracing the common responsibility and leveraging our privilege to reform the inherent racism worldwide.

Treaty Tribes of Washington State

Refers to the Tribes who signed treaties with the US Government with Usual and Accustomed Areas within Washington State. The federal government has neglected to recognize all Tribes who signed treaties.

References: https://nwtreatytribes.org/about-us/ and https://www.critfc.org/ and http://nwifc.org/w/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/10/understanding-treaty-rights-final.pdf

Tribal Sovereignty

Tribal Sovereignty refers to the inherent right and authority to self-govern. It is important to understand that tribal sovereignty is not delegated from the US government. Treaties, executive orders, and laws have confirmed fundamental contracts between tribes and the United States despite repeated and ongoing attempts to undermine that sovereignty. Not all tribes’ sovereignty has yet been recognized by the US government.

Reference: https://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/tribal-governance

Tribal Treaty Rights

Refer to sovereign rights reserved under treaties signed by Tribes with the US Government. Tribal Treaty Rights existed prior to the treaties and pre-date state law. In Washington, these rights include but are not limited to the right to fish, hunt, and gather at all usual and accustomed places.

References: Understanding Tribal Treaty Rights in W. WA  and NCAI

White Privilege

The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits, and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally, white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

White Supremacy

White Supremacy shapes everything about life in the United States of America and is the system within which we operate as an organization. It structurally, culturally, and morally positions white people (Europeans and European descendants) as the epitome of human achievement, centering them as normal, worthy, safe, intelligent, and good, and all others as deviant. The system determines who has access to resources, power, and safety. White supremacy successfully endures through ongoing investment in racist and colonialist systems, institutions, and laws, and through the ignorance, inaction, silence, and complicity of white people and their reluctance to break with white solidarity.


The culture upholding white supremacy, characterized by white comfort, white superiority, and the invisibility of white privilege to white people.