Saturday, July 24, 2010

An indigenous call to action

An indigenous call to action
Originally printed at

Indigenous environmental philosophers from the four corners of the earth came together May 1 to sign the Redstone Statement, a declaration of the rights of the peoples and the earth that includes a list of “mechanisms for restoring balance,” including a call for indigenous self-determination and a definition of that indigenous philosophical perspective.

“Indigenous environmental philosophy respects a mutually supportive network of interconnected physical and spiritual entities that is sustainably maintained, and which connects the ancestral past with the distant future. The vision of our indigenous peoples is to reach spiritual and material well-being through conscious action. Mother Earth is a living, dynamic being with inherent value, and her principles must be actively embodied in order to remain in harmony and balance,” reads the second paragraph of the statement, put together by summit participants from all continents.

The group of 22 philosophers met in the Kiowa community of Redstone, Okla. to hold the first International Summit on Indigenous Environmental Philosophy April 26 – May 1. They came from Siberia, Kenya, Chile (Mapuche), Guatemala (Maya), New Zealand, Mexico (Toltec), Russia, Taiwan, India, Australia, Canada, Swaziland, Thailand and American Indian communities in the United States to share information and strategies to deal with current and future environmental threats. The summit also benefited from the guidance of a circle of elders and some American
Indian students.

The principal summit organizer was Professor Jonathan Hook, who teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas, and is an internationally known environmentalist and activist. Hook was the director of International Indigenous and American Indian Initiatives at UNT and the director of the Office of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6.

Hook said indigenous activists from across the world had already been meeting for several years, but that the idea for this summit grew out of gatherings he attended in Siberia and Malaysia in the last four years.

“The most frequent request I received was to sit down and visit with American Indians and talk about common experiences and issues. Those experiences led to taking American Indian students to Siberia, and to participate in a series of digital video conferences.”

Hook said the main themes of the conferences were environment and culture, especially the issue of how communities are dealing with global climate change. He also noted that the first group of students to travel to Siberia was a group from the Anadarko Kiowa community in Oklahoma, which would become the host site of the summit.

American Indian student activists and videographers helped in various ways at the summit, and they drafted a declaration of support for the project. David Sullivan, Kiowa, an educator and the Anadarko Summit project coordinator, said he and his students had been working with Hook on the video conferences and that “the development of the summit was a natural progression from those events.”

The role and importance of young people, of the next generation, was an important theme in the summit and the Redstone Statement.

“Today, we are at a tipping point at which humanity is in danger of being removed from the cycles of Mother Earth. We bring this urgent message in response to indigenous women, youth and children from around the world who have consistently asked us to leave them a more balanced planet,” the statement reads. “We come as individuals from cultures whose authority originates from our unique relationships with nature and the environment. Our ways of living, and very existence, are threatened by the resistance of nation states to include our institutions as part of the solutions that can save our planet. Consequently, we issue this call to the world.”

That call included eight “mechanisms” that the participants drafted for the purpose of restoring balance.

“1) Recognition of the interdependence of all things; 2) Indigenous self-determination; 3) Indigenous land, air, water, territory and natural resource management; 4) Protection and preservation of indigenous traditional knowledge, lifeways and languages, cultures, sacred sites, and folklores/oral traditions; 5) Indigenous authority over all actions impacting indigenous communities; 6) Respect for, and protection of, traditional agricultures and genetic resources; 7) Seed sovereignty and food security; 8) Rights of movement, rights of access, rights of participation and communication in the exchange of environmental knowledge and culture.”

The end of the statement mentioned how the philosophers were committed to implementing the mechanisms. Hook said all the participants were going to disseminate the statement in their home communities and countries, and that several were taking it directly to officials in the United Nations. He said he was going to Mexico for follow up meetings for Latin American plans, and that participant Brad Barnes, Samish, of Alaska had also attended the Peoples Climate Summit in Bolivia earlier and was already “energized by that experience.”

Translations of the statement in Spanish and Russian are on the
Web site.

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