The sun shone and warmed over the Dertouzos Amphitheater at the Stata Center on the final Earth Day as a panel of Indigenous leaders from across the country spoke about their experiences with climate activism and shared their philosophies of the natural world – a worldview that sees humanity as one with the rest of the Earth.

“I learned the philosophies of the natural world from those who were raised by pre-colonial individuals,” said Jay Julius W’tot Lhem of the Lummi Tribe of the Pacific Northwest and founder and president of Se’Si’Le. , an organization dedicated to the reintroduction of Indigenous spiritual law. in the general climate conversation. Since his great-grandmother was born in 1888, he’s grown “a cuddle away from pre-contact,” as he put it.

Philosophies of the natural world

Philosophies of the natural world are at the center of Indigenous activism taking place across the country, and they were one of the highlights of the Indigenous Earth Day panel – part of a two-day symposium titled Living Climate Futures. The events were organized by the Anthropology and History Sections and the Science, Technology, and Society Program of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), in collaboration with the MIT Office of Sustainability and the Indigenous MIT Project.

“The Living Climate Futures initiative was born out of the recognition that the people who live most closely with climate and environmental struggles and injustices are uniquely equipped to lead the way to alternative ways of living around the world,” says Briana Meier, ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology and event organizer. “While much climate action relies on technology-driven policies, we recognize that solutions to climate change are often embedded and produced in response to existing social systems of injustice and inequality.”

Experts on the ground from across the country spoke in a series of panels and discussions over the two days, sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to think differently about how to tackle the environmental crisis.

Gather Experts

The hope, according to faculty organizers, was that an event centered on such voices could bond activists and open the eyes of many to the human element of climate solutions.

Over the years, many of these solutions have overlooked the needs of the communities they are meant to help. Rivers in the Pacific Northwest, for example, have been dammed to generate hydroelectric power – touted as a green alternative to fossil fuels. But those same places have long been sacred places for Indigenous swimming rituals, said Ryan Emanuel (Lumbee), an associate professor of hydrology at Duke University and a panelist at the Indigenous Earth Day event. Mitigating environmental damage does not compensate for the loss of the sacred bond, he stressed.

To dig into these nuances, the organizers invited an intergenerational group of panelists to share successes with attendees.

Transforming urban spaces

In one panel, for example, urban farmers from Mansfield, Ohio, and Chelsea, Massachusetts, discussed the benefits of growing vegetables in cities.

Turning urban spaces into farms not only provides healthy food, but a visible symbol of hope, a way for people to connect and grow food that reflects their cultures and homes, an opportunity for economic development and even a safe space for teenagers. “, said Susy Jones, senior sustainability project manager at MIT’s Office of Sustainability and event organizer. “We also heard about the challenges – like the cost of real estate in Massachusetts.”

Another panel highlighted the determined efforts of a group of students from George Washington High School in southeast Chicago to derail a plan to build a scrap metal recycling plant across from their school. “We’re in school eight hours a day,” said Gregory Miller, a junior at the school. “We refuse to live next to a metal junkyard.”

The proposed plant was intended to replace something similar that had been closed in a predominantly white neighborhood due to its many environmental violations. Southeast Chicago is more culturally diverse and has long suffered from industrial pollution and economic hardship, but students fought to pollute their homes more — and won.

“It was tough, the campaign,” Destiny Vasquez said. “But it was beautiful because the community came together. There is a unity in our struggle.

Recover a common heritage

Unity was also at the forefront of discussion for the Indigenous Earth Day panel in the Stata Amphitheater. This part of the Living Climate Futures event began with a Navajo-language greeting from Alvin Harvey, PhD candidate in Aeronautics and Astronautics (Aero/Astro) and representative of the MIT American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the MIT Native American Student Association. The greeting identified everyone who came to the event as parents.

“Look at the parents next to you, especially those trees,” he said, pointing to the budding branches around the amphitheater. “They offer you shelter, love…few other beings are willing to do that.”

According to Julius, such reverence for nature is part of the native way of life, common to all tribal backgrounds – and something all of humanity once had in common. “Somewhere along the line, we all had Indigenous philosophies,” he said. “We all need an invitation to come back to this to understand that we are all part of the whole.”

Understanding the unity of all living things on earth helps people from indigenous nations feel the plight of the earth when it comes under attack, the speakers said. Donna Chavis, senior climate activist with Friends of the Earth and an elder of the Lumbee tribe, spoke of the trauma of having forests near her home in the southeastern United States clear-cut to provide woodchips. wood to Europe.

“They are devastating the lungs of the earth in North Carolina at a faster rate than in the Amazon,” she said. “You can almost hear the pain of the forest.”

Little everyday pictures

“People are experiencing a climate crisis that is global in very different ways in different places,” says MIT Anthropology lead and event organizer Heather Paxson. “What came out of those two days was a real, palpable sense of the power of listening to individual experience. Not because it gives us the big picture, but because it gives us a little picture.

Trinity Colón, one of the leaders of the George Washington High School group, made participants realize that environmental justice is much more than an academic pursuit. “We’re not talking about climate change in the sense of statistics, infographics,” she said. “For us, it’s everyday life… [Future engineers and others training at MIT] should certainly take this into perspective, that these are real people who are really affected by these injustices.

This call to action has already been felt by many at MIT.

“I’ve heard graduate students recently, in engineering, say, ‘I like to think about these issues, but I don’t like where I’m being asked to use my intellectual capital, towards the creation of more business wealth. company,” said Kate Brown, an STS professor and event organizer. “As an institution, we could evolve into working not for, not to correct, but with communities.”

The world is what we have

Abdulazeez Mohammed Salim, MIT senior, aero/astro student, says he was inspired by those conversations to get involved in urban agriculture initiatives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he plans to move after the graduation.

“We have a responsibility as part of the world around us, not as outside observers, not as people removed and displaced from the world. And the world is not an experiment or a laboratory,” he says. “That’s what we have. It’s who we are. This is all we have been and all we will be. It stuck with me; it resonated very deeply.

Salim also enjoyed the reality check given by GreenRoots Chelsea’s Bianca Bowman, who stressed that success will not come quickly and that sustained advocacy is essential.

“Real and valuable change won’t happen overnight, won’t happen just by bringing together a critical mass of upset and worried people,” he said. “Because we are dealing with large, interconnected and messy systems that will try to fight back and survive no matter how we force them to adapt. And so, the long term is really the only way to go. This is how we have to think about these struggles.