DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
When scientists describe the North American Boreal Forest, they use the word "lung" to emphasize its vitality for our
I recently found myself there on a misty August afternoon in my new temporary home, Fairbanks, Alaska. Walking atop the Boreal's spongy skin, I felt like I'd just stepped into an Alice in Wonderland dream. Funky mushrooms leaned one way while strange Arctic grasses swayed another. Everywhere in between, florescent-hued berries popped from the tundra like polka dots.
It's no wonder this vast emerald expanse, totaling 1.5 billion acres, is the world's largest untouched forest on earth. It's beautiful and rare. It's also an example of how to get conservation right, and beginning with what may seem like an obvious concept:
In 2003, scientists, Indigenous stakeholders, and even resource companies came together to create the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework. Today, the mechanism is an Indigenous-led approach to protect 50 percent of the Boreal while ensuring sustainability of its remaining lands.
Few use the phrase "kin theory" to describe the interconnectedness happening in honor of this biome, but that's exactly what it is. And it's no surprise to me that such cross-cultural collaboration has emerged from Canada (the Boreal covers the country like a blanket). There, a slow-building conversation has centered around a similar idea to kin
theory, found in a slogan: "We are all Treaty People." It's intended to emphasize that all people, not just Indigenous Peoples, have treaty rights and responsibilities because of the kinship relations linked to the colonization of the land.
Think about your treaty rights and responsibilities. Unless you are living on unceded treaty territory, you are part of a treaty. Which is it? How have you gained or lost by that treaty? What can you do to honor this treaty?
In the context of the climate crisis, I've been thinking about these historic agreements a lot in relationship to my recent move to Alaska. While not a treaty, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is largely recognized as a modern-day treaty in the way that it legally extinguished aboriginal title from Alaska Natives to enhance statehood. It was rapid,
and the focus was on oil and other rich minerals sitting beneath Native lands. Indigenous Peoples were merely an afterthought in this conquest.
Kivalina, Alaska, one of some 30 coastal communities statewide eroding to rising sea levels
This year marks 50 years since ANCSA, an anniversary set against a backdrop where as many as thirty coastal communities, many of them Native
villages like Kivalina, are disappearing to rising waters - hardly a matter of coincidence.
While America's "last frontier," Alaska, is largely seen as today's frontline for climate change - for all the glacial ice melt, stressed-out polar bears, and homes collapsing into the sea - the problem and the solutions go much deeper. Consciously or unconsciously the focus centers on 20th-century settlement kicking into gear an interdependency that few
responding to the climate crisis, here, understand. I know, because I've been returning to these eroding pockets of Alaska for almost 15 years, and in that time, there's been little collaboration akin to those protecting the Boreal Forest. But there should be.
Kin theory, then, is really a matter of shared responsibility for how we got here. It's seeing ice storms in Texas and relating them to this summer's heat wave in the North Arctic; it's drawing correlations about wild fires in the Amazon and linking them to torrential storms in Viet Nam. The common throughline: human activity, a fairly basic
but important statement made clear by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, last month, followed by another from the UN University, this week.
"We live in an interconnected world," said one of the report's authors, UNU scientist Jack O'Connor. "Disasters are interconnected. We need interconnected solutions."
But achieving a more interconnected approach at the UN has been on an uneven path. Take, for instance, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC.
"We couldn't even get in the room when the states were negotiating the Paris Agreement in 2015," said Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council. She and a global caucus of Indigenous stakeholders watched as their Indigenous rights and knowledge systems were discussed and
voted-in, but without their participation.
Today, Paragraph 135 of the Paris Agreement which addressed these "rights of Indigenous peoples" represents the glue that today upholds the UNFCCC's Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and
Indigenous Peoples Platform. In other words, there is formal representation where before, there was none - and with it, vital membership within the UN body.
Carmen, today, sits on the 14-member working group - a Who's Who in the Indigenous struggle. During COP26, Glasgow, the group will hold their latest meeting to advance a two-year plan that does justice for Indigenous knowledge systems, Indigenous inclusion, and
progressive climate action.
I know who I'll be following for all my COP26 updates come November. Until then, I'm leaving it up to a roster of scholars, thinkers, activists, and Indigenous knowledge keepers to help fill in the gaps for what I was unable to capture here. Each have spun their own thoughts about kin theory in some way or another over the years, beginning
Today marks 20 years since the Twin Towers fell in New York. I moved to the city the following year to cover the first anniversary and ended up living in Brooklyn for the next 15 years. Today, when I hear the words "Never Forget," they take on a whole new meaning - a more intentional one that grips at the bones of this country - especially in this era
of reckoning we're all absorbing in America.
It's an incredible time to be a journalist and I am so grateful for your presence here - some of you as first time readers. Welcome! To celebrate, I'm giving away a special gift from the Arctic- so don't scroll so fast down below.
I remember like it was yesterday, that day in fifth grade when a group of scientists hosted a demonstration for my class about the burning of the ozone layer. They gathered us under a large inflated parachute to demonstrate
the collapse of the earth’s most precious shield, a lesson on the causal relationship to greenhouse gases. Back then, the words “climate change” and “global warming” were hardly debated.
Today, not only is there doubt about our warming planet in schools across America, but as my friend and fellow journalist, Katie Worth has revealed, there is an all out omission or distortion of the facts. In her debut book, Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America
(Columbia Global Reports), Worth investigates what students are learning about the climate crisis and who is framing this narrative. In some pockets of the country, schools are mandated by state law to teach about our human toll on the planet; in other regions, it's a conversation that may not be discussed at all.
Miseducation is revelatory and timely journalism for today’s evolving conversation about the climate crisis, a work of nonfiction that Publisher’s Weekly has already placed on its “Best Books” list.
It hits store shelves, Nov. 16. Pre-order your copy, today from the Indigenously Bookshelf, a socially conscious way to buy books and support local bookstores.
“It is inspiring to read your enriching perspective that goes beyond education.”
Pete, Santa Monica
Kind words, Pete. Always be learning...
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I'm delighted to be sharing with you the work of another friend of mine, Lona Adams of Kivalina, Alaska. She is one the few remaining Inupiat doll makers in the North Arctic, a craft she learned from her
Her whale hunter figurines come from the land and sea. The base and face are carved from whale bone. The dress is seal skin and qavik, a local mammal in the region. The harpoon is carved from driftwood.
To mark my new start in Alaska, I'm gifting one of these dolls to an Indigenously reader and hope you'll participate. It's easy. Just enter your email address and to increase your chances, share this giveaway
with friends - let them know they'd be signing up as new readers to join the contest. Good luck!