Bringing heart and spirit into the climate movement

June 9, 2014

This guest blog originally appeared on Climate Access.

We often talk about the need to broaden the movement and encourage more voices beyond the traditional environmental base to speak about our need to act on climate.  Climate disruption is an issue that will affect everyone, and the more communities with different backgrounds are engaging on the issue, the stronger and more successful efforts will be to move away from fossil fuels and prepare for climate impacts.

One of the most recent examples of unlikely allies coming together was in April at the ‘Reject and Protect’ rally in Washington, DC led by the Cowboy Indian Alliance, that urged President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. Bringing together an alliance of ranchers, Native Americans and environmentalists is no easy feat and doesn’t happen overnight. Climate Access spoke with several members of the alliance at our most recent roundtable webinar to learn about their experiences and how they can be applied to other bridge-building efforts between communities. Here is what we learned:

  1. Movement building is like good cooking – it takes time. Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Idle No More movement in Canada said that movement building is about creating relationships, and like good cooking – it takes time to do it well. Groups have to come together with an honest intention to develop strong bonds, rather than just show up to media events. As well as reaching out to new allies, it’s important that common ground is developed within communities as well. As much as the ranchers and Native Americans had to overcome barriers to work together, leaders from the Cowboy Indian Alliance had to focus on building support within their own communities as well.
  2. Start with arts and culture. Dallas Goldtooth, who is a comedian, powwow emcee and artist in the Dakotas said that he always tries to reach people through arts, culture and storytelling before moving to the political issues in order to find common ground. This is particularly important when different groups have historically disagreed or had conflicts.
  3. The importance of storytelling. For Julia Trigg Crawford, a rancher from northeast Texas whose land was taken for the Keystone XL pipeline through eminent domain, you can’t start a conversation about the pipeline with facts about jobs and numbers. You need to make connections to the human spirit and go on a journey with people through sharing and storytelling.
  4. A moral call to action. Goldtooth, Thomas-Muller and Crawford all agree a moral call to action is essential. You need to draw a line in the sand and ask people to decide where they stand. The coalition was able to find common ground through connection to land stewardship, water stewardship and the ability to shape your own destiny.
  5. Addressing the impacts of colonization. This process requires deep change that is not only difficult but takes time. Thomas-Muller shared a story about the Ponca tribe who were originally displaced from their land in Nebraska five generations ago, and are now working in solidarity with local landowners on their traditional land in Nebraska to replant their original heirloom variety of corn. Crawford spoke of the epiphany she had during the rally when she considered her own anger at a foreign company’s control over her own land within the historical context of lands seized from Native Americans. She was moved to tears by this recognition of common ground and shared with a member of the Alliance, “I now get it. I get how poorly you were treated.”
  6. Showing up in solidarity. Despite having taken her battle all the way to the Texas supreme court and losing, Crawford still sees the importance of showing up and being part of the Keystone XL fight, even if there is no personal gain, because her support can help make a difference. Similarly, the support between the Canadian and American indigenous groups recognizes that while each individual fight may not directly impact them, it’s important for the strength of the movement to have that solidarity.
  7. The importance of celebration and healing. Thomas-Muller and Goldtooth pointed out that it’s not effective to only be against everything, that you need to celebrate the successes and create opportunities to heal, learn more and grow together. Upcoming opportunities to grow the movement through solidarity, storytelling, culture, arts and finding common ground include the Tar Sands Healing Walks in northern Alberta on June 27-29 this year, and the upcoming day of peace and prayer with Native American groups in the U.S. on June 21st this year.

Ultimately, it comes down to people being able to look past their political differences or social constructions to engage on a human level and build greater cross-cultural understanding.

–Cara Pike, Director, Resource Media Board, and Amy Huva

Above image: Mark Hefflinger, Bold Nebraska