A Global Environments Network gathering in Northeastern North America
For four days in late June 2015, 40 Indigenous environmental leaders from Canada and the United States met on traditional Mohawk/Kanienkeha'ka territory at the Montreal Botanical Garden and in the community of Kahnawà:ke. Professionals, practitioners, elders and youth shared research, strategies and tactics, and stories of resistance, joy, tragedy, hope and transformation. We explored potential collaboration for environmentally sound solutions for critical issues facing Indigenous communities in the 21st century. A series of themes emerged from workshop sessions and conversations:
The link between Indigenous language learning, understanding and living one’s culture, and applying that to learning cultural uses of plants in-situ.
Dr. Henry Lickers (Turtle Clan Seneca) opened the workshop with a keynote address on Leadership and Biodiversity Conservation. Founding member of an environmental department that preceded the U.S. EPA and Canadian Department of Environment, he spoke on the ongoing challenges of advocacy, protection, and remediation as well as the urgency of regenerating our ability to know, nurture and marvel at the everyday nature that surrounds us – and be healed by it. Reflecting on the theme of the workshop, and the still-limited incorporation of Indigenous environmental knowledge in broader environmental work, he concluded, “The day we all declare ourselves part of biodiversity will be the day that we will have succeeded.”
The urgent need to form networks and stewardship alliances across Native nations and communities, to acquire and share information, strategies and tactics, and offer the advocacy benefits of alliance and collaborative organization.
Stemming from respect for the enormous experience and commitment present, a spirited desire for collaborative action filled the workshop. One idea that sparked plans for joint work was that of tribal parks. Eli Enns (Tla-o-qui-aht) shared the success of this context- and culturally-driven conservation model from the Pacific Northwest as a negotiating tool and path to increase autonomy and recognition of sovereignty in management of Indigenous traditional territories. He considers tribal parks as a type of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), and works with the ICCA Consortium and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to advance recognition and establishment of such community-controlled conservation efforts worldwide.
The importance of the arts to learn, reflect upon, live, and share stories, values and cultural heritage. These processes bring people together in strength and beauty.
“The arts and creative expression are vital to the work we do in our communities,” says Monaeka Flores, Chamorro artist and activist from Guam. “Through traditional and non-traditional art forms… we revitalize, rejuvenate, and strengthen languages, customs, and sovereignty movements; restore cultural practices and life ways; give voice to lost narratives and counter narratives; educate younger generations and provide connections with elders; speak to injustices to repair our connections and relationships; and renew the spirit and provide medicine for our peoples and environments in need of rehabilitation.”
Community Exchanges like this one form part of the emerging Global Environments Network. This North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchange (NACELE) is a bi-annual, invite only workshop, co-organized by GDF staff and board members, and GESA alumni and resource people. Each convenes participants from a particular region, with additional representatives from across North America and the Pacific. The next NACELE has been proposed for Northwestern Mexico in Fall 2016.
Support from this GlobalGiving project helped us cover participants’ attendance costs, as did a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Convening Grant, support from The Christensen Fund, Quebec Center for Biodiversity Studies, the law firm of Fredericks Peebles and Morgan, The Cultural Conservancy, and McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
(Full) photo captions:
(above) Dr. Henry Lickers speaks about his work as Dr Nancy Turner, GDF board president, Verna Miller (Nlaka'pamux; future president of the International Society of Ethnobiology), and others look on.
(below) Monaeka Flores (Chamorro) of the Guam Humanities Council leads the creation of a collaborative art piece representing participants’ journeys and stories.
(bottom) 2015 NACELE participants gathered on the banks of the Saint Lawrence in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk/Kanienkeha'ka territory. The Nation is working to restore its traditional shoreline, which was drastically altered by the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
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