The Road Back to Sustainable Living

Hundreds of American Indian and Alaska Native leaders gathered last month for the Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop.

Meeting ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, they hoped to exchange insights, discuss strategies, and add their voices to the increasingly heated debate over global warming.

The four-day workshop was organized around the theme “Indigenous Perspectives and Solutions,” exploring both sides of our environmental crisis:  how climate change is affecting native communities, and how native communities are addressing climate change.

Major funding came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Nancy Maynard, director of NASA’s Tribal College and University Project, welcomed participants by emphasizing the shared vision of space scientists and indigenous peoples who “see the earth as a unified, living system.”

Other sponsors included some of the leading organizations in Indian country:  the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the National Congress of American Indians, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Honor the Earth.

The workshop was hosted by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community at their Mystic Lake Casino Hotel near Minneapolis.

*                *                *

The program was packed with informative presentations on the many environmental challenges confronting native peoples and native homelands.  Plenary addresses featured some of the leading climate scientists and indigenous environmentalists in North America.

Concurrent sessions on the first day addressed various topical issues:  water resources, habitat restoration, community development, local economies, solar and wind energy, alternative fuels, and science education.  On the second and third days, regional break-out sessions allowed participants to discuss climate change impacts and adaptations with their native neighbors.

Tribal college students from around the country were on hand to present their environmental research projects, many of which are supported by federal funding.  The White House sent three representatives from the Council on Environmental Quality for an open-mic “listening session” that ran several hours overtime.

I’m happy to report that Mvskoke country was well represented at this important event.

The Climate Change Workshop was co-chaired by Dan Wildcat, a Yuchi citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University.  Mia Torres, a Mvskoke student at Haskell, opened the proceedings on the first morning by singing the familiar hymn “Heleluyan Yvhikvres.”

Vicky Karhu, co-director of the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative, presented their work in an afternoon session on indigenous agriculture.  Ben Yahola, MFSI’s other co-director, blessed one of the midday meals with a rousing invocation delivered in the Mvskoke language.

Ben also shared information about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Green Government Initiative, which was enacted by the National Council on July 25 and authorized by Chief Ellis on August 5.

This new law is a vital first step on the road back to sustainable living in Mvskoke country.  It’s encouraging to know that our elected leaders are ready to reclaim their role as one of America’s original green governments.

*                *                *

The workshop concluded with a discussion of the future of climate change in Indian country.

These concerns have been summarized in the Mystic Lake Declaration, which acknowledges that “all sovereigns must work together to adapt and take action on real solutions that will ensure our collective existence” on a warmer planet.  “Unless our homelands are in a state of good health our peoples will not be truly healthy.  This inseparable relationship must be respected for the sake of our future generations.”

In keeping with indigenous traditions, the emerging green economy must value life-enhancing activity, where “wealth is based not on monetary riches but rather on healthy relationships, relationships with each other and with all of the other natural elements and beings of creation.”

The Mystic Lake Declaration will be delivered to the Copenhagen summit in December:  “We invite humanity to join with us to improve our collective human behavior so that we may develop a more sustainable world.”  You can read the full text of this landmark document, and add your name to those who have endorsed it, by following the links at

Let’s hope that world leaders will take action before it is too late.

Muscogee Nation News, December 2009


Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop

The Mystic Lake Declaration

United Nations Climate Change Conference

One thought on “The Road Back to Sustainable Living

  1. This is good news, James. Last night we were watching the American Experience doc on the history of the CCC. One of the interviewees was a beautiful native elder from one of the Southwestern nations, I’m not sure which one. He talked about how the land had been “raped” by generations of farmers prior to 1930 and then narrated his own induction into the CCC in 1932. He told how the good and plentiful food, the work in the sunshine, and the reclamation and restoration of permanent pasture and forests went along with a restoration of the young men in the Corps. “Heal the man, heal the land,” he called it. It reminded me of how broken and psychically wounded Americans are as they continue to despoil and wound the land and the planet–and conversely, how enormously healing it is for us as well as the planet for us to change our ways.

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