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Indigenous hope for the climate

For peoples of Indigenous heritage, the preservation of Mother Earth is not merely a mantra, but a foundational principle in the way life is livedto respect and honor the bountiful lands and environment mankind has been bestowed to sustain life throughout the generations. 

It is through that lens Native communities have learned to revere the environment and live in ways that maintain that ethos every day. But changes in the climate due to industrialization and other man-made factors are threatening to cause irreversible damage that could put the survival of the planet in peril. For Native Americans, history has provided lessons they believe can help us solve many of the problems of our own creation. 

This month, the Indigenous Women’s Collective (IWC), in collaboration with the U’s Sustainability office, presented “Indigenous Hope for the Climate.” Moderated by IWC Fellow Jessica Begay, three remarkable Native panelists conversed about the vital work being undertaken within the Indigenous community regarding climate change. The discussion centered on Indigenous epistemologies and beliefs, offering hope to all participants amidst the ongoing climate crisis. 

“What the panelists highlighted during the talk is specifically the current ongoing changes to the climate,” said Begay, who is a graduate student at the University of Utah in the writing & rhetoric studies department as well as an Indigenous Women’s Collective fellow in the American Indian Resource Center. 

“Returning to the roots, if you go back in time, you’ll see that there have always been groups of peoples that have been concerned about the climate. They used storytelling and artwork to share messages with each other to encourage knowledge about the ever-changing climate.” 

She said the survival of our environment relies upon our ability to take the necessary steps to steps to address the issues that threaten to harm the planet in disastrous ways we may not be able to overcome. 

“As a whole, everybody as a human being, we are one. And even though you may be non-Native or have a different racial background or ancestral history, you can always acknowledge those who came before us,” she said. “We all should listen to what our ancestors have been telling us about conservation. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what your background is or how you identify, you should be actively trying to listen and learn from those who came before us.” 

Begay said she includes ancestorial lessons often in her academic studies because they offer perspective and wisdom that needs to be shared for the good of everyone. 

“I use it all the time in my work, whether it’s through my scholarship or through my writing and artwork,” she said. “I also know that there are so many like-minded people who do the same exact thing who are not Indigenous.”  

She said that passion to be part of the climate change solution is something she holds dear, and it helps give her hope for a brighter future ahead. 

“I absolutely do feel hopeful. After hearing our panelists, it gave me even more hope to encourage not only myself, but to encourage other people to continue moving forward, and continue to have that hope and to inspire people to learn to make simple changes,” Begay said. “By doing that, you’re already taking that next step forward. We must be proactive. The number one thing for us to have hope—you need to take action.”