Environmentalists, not just the Yuppies!

Nannauck and her team of spiritual activists protesting the shell drilling the arctic
Nannauck and her team of spiritual activists protesting the shell drilling the arctic

Tlinukts’heen Nannauck yóo xát duwasáakw ~
My name is Sweetwater Nannauck
Gishbuwada áyá xát ~ I am from the Killer Whale clan
(of the Tsimshian Nation)
Kiksadi yádix xat sitee ~ My father is from the Kiks.adi clan (of the Tlingit Nation)
Seet’kweidi dachxán áyá xát ~
I am the grandchild of the Glacier People clan

“When I see white people yelling -we need to save the environment, stop climate change aaagh, …of-course they are lost, I see fear as the motivation and if we fear we are contributing to the issue itself…and it is not based on a connection.”

This is a story about connection, and how my own story is somehow linked with this connection that the natives share with their land. As an environment activist with no institutional education about environmental change I often find home at work in the ideals set up by the natives who lived in my country- Bangladesh and experimented with the lifestyle and came up with befitting philosophy, story and everyday practices, gestures and cultural and spiritual practices celebrating the seasons, the earth, the rivers and the mountains. Transcendence was to be found in the depth of the forest with a heart open to accept and tuning in to the earth. It was not manicured plants to fit our ways of life by a lifestyle to fit the laws of nature.

But what about Seattle? It’s the hub of progressiveness in America, here a lot of people compost, recycle, and practice a lifestyle. I remember going to camping in pack forest in the summer and there was sign that said  “fire ban was in effect”. Camping, such an American thing, sitting around a fire and telling ghost stories, that’s what keep seeing in televisions that portray American life. But Seattleites would sacrifice even that for the environment. So I asked myself what is it that keeps them going, what is it that keeps them inspired.

Tom Lang, a Seattlite from Fremont, when asked why does he recycle and makes sure he does not harm the environment, he said, “well thats the right thing to do” His inspiration is that he has to be responsible for the future generations. He said he grew up in a progressive society, environmentalism for him was just fitting into the society.

James Rasmussen who has seventeen generation of family growing up in Seattle and around the USA, a member of the Duwamish tribe, he is also the director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, on an interview over phone said that the connection he feels to the river he works to protect (Duwamish river) a personal connection. He says the herons the eagles are his brothers and sisters. His concept of home and feeling the belonging and who he is starts with nature. So even though he may be fighting a losing battle for climate against the overall pressure on the environment by various “development projects” he cannot help but keep up his work. And he has been an activist for over twenty years. And he boasted that the Duwamish river is not intentionally polluted anymore.

When James was confronted with the question of Sweatlodges he immediately protested fiercely saying that he and his family and tradition are put into stereotypes and that the Duwamish longhouses did not have Sweatlodges.  ” My family has seventeen generation before me living in this land, this is home… this is family to me…so don’t steryotype my family and tradition being an alien to the culture.”

Nannauck Clearwater a native american elder, traditional healer and also an activist in Idle No More movement, is often termed a spiritual activist-she put a quote on air for emphasizing the term, said “of course the new activists are lost, they are not aware of the historical trauma they went through, part of my work is healing them from those historical and cultural trauma…when many natives were relocated, killed and had their language taken away from them it is really hard for them to talk for themselves. They need to be healed first before they go on to heal the earth.”

She said “you cannot feed the fear, If you are just recycling or kayaking to stop oil rigs because you are afraid and angry, you are just feeding the negative energy”

As a traditional healer and storyteller she emphasized that it was about time people need to talked about “spiritual activism”. Climate change is a big issue and it is connected to everything, inequality, social justice, hunger, greed spirituality has tried to develop a lifestyle fitting to live with the environment for thousands of years, we cannot just do one and not the other.

Kevin Schot is a native Celtic speaking activist, working he is involved in Medicinal Ways and is a co-founder of Green Circle Alliance has researched the way of life of the natives of Europe and studied the ill effects of climate change in the glaciers and permafrost of Sweden for more than ten years, and now works everyday on permaculture garden and his zero emission hobbit house called an “Earthship”,  “he says, we got to get away from  religion, we got to connect the old relations, we need to be responsible and heal the world, for all our relations everywhere.”

Naima Zakariya the author of “Climate Startup” on an interview over Facebook that though she is originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh she now lives in Norway with her husband in a small eco village raising chicken and growing organic food. When she was asked how she felt connected to the work she does she took her time and replied “Its all just about the inner fight we do, not about the place, if we can own a place, and keep our ego from interfering our work, we can find our place in the world, and we remember that we are all in this together. And ego makes us feel seperated, realizing that we are not alone and all of humanity regardless of colour creed and nd the animals are connected to each other is a spiritual realization, and that is how I connect to my work and my writing”

This story was produced in the 2015 SUSI program.