‘It’s time we heard the the voices of indigenous people around the world.’

My friend, Melissa, who is Native American (Apache), with Brian Ettling
I met her while traveling across country in May 2013.

‘It is time that we heard the voice of all the indigenous communities around the world and protected this planet for future generations.’ – movie actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepting his Best Actor award at the 2016 Golden Globes on January 10, 2016.

Leo’s comment struck a chord with me. For years, I have though it is so important to listen to the voices of native peoples as we think about climate change and how to live on planet Earth.

Conversations with the Earth Exhibit

This realization first happened to me when I visited Washington DC in October 2011. I had just attended an Earth-to-Sky climate change Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. That meeting had been sponsored by NASA and the National Park Service. It focused on NASA scientists providing the best science available for communicating about climate change with national park visitors. For year, my interest was learning and seeing how Climate Change is impacting our National Parks. The thought had not occurred to me how it could be impacting indigenous peoples around the world.

This was my first time visiting Washington DC in 31 years. It was very exciting for me to see the tourist sites: The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial, The Korean War Memorial, The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, etc. While I visited DC, someone recommended I visit the National Museum of the American Indian, which is only about two blocks from the Capitol.

When I walked inside, I was amazed to see they had a special exhibit Conservations with the Earth. It was about indigenous voices on climate change from around the world. It showcased pictures of native people from USA, Canada, Central & South America, Africa, Australia, Asia, ocean islands, etc. and how climate change impacted each of them.

One of the first images to greet me was Sarah James. She is part of the Gwich’in People, who are a Athabaskan-speaking First Nations of Canada and an Alaska Native people. They live in the northwestern part of North America, mostly above the Arctic Circle. Speaking about climate change, was this quote from Sarah:

“There is a solution. It’s not the end of the world yet. One thing we have to do is gain back respect for the animals, for all nature. We pray and give thanks to everything that we use. But if it is going to work, it has to be both Western and traditional. We have be meet halfway—and we need to find balance.”

The exhibit then had a sign about “The Price of Carbon.” It stated how “Corporations bought the rights to a forest’s carbon to offset their emissions, but the locals are paying the cost.”

The people caught in the middle are the Guarani, an indigenous people from South America’s interior  of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. The sign stated,

“On the southeast coast of Brazil, American companies with significant carbon footprints are working to preserve 50,000 acres of the Atlantic Forest. The idea is simple: by protecting these trees, which soak up carbon dioxide, the companies hope to obtain carbon ‘credits’ that will allow them to pollute elsewhere. But, this practice, called avoided deforestation, is controversial, especially in nearby indigenous communities.”

The next sign talked about Quara Quara Island, Brazil. It read,

“After centuries of development, just 7% of the original Atlantic Forest remains. While it seems a good idea to preserve the remaining trees by designating them as carbon offsets, avoided deforestation creates many complicated situations.

Between 2000 and 2002, American companies donated millions of dollars to establish a carbon-offset reserve near Quara Quara, the island home of several Guarani families. The companies do not own the land or the trees, but they receive carbon offsets for the emissions the trees absorb, which they can use to offset their own pollution elsewhere or sell to other companies seeking profits.”

One specific story from Quara Quara was Antonio Alves. It stated,

“In 2008, Antonio Alves, a fisherman and carpenter, cut down a tree at the edge of the carbon-offset reserve to repair his mother-in-law’s home. The Green Police, or Força Verde, arreste Alves and put him in jail for 11 days. He was defended by the town’s mayor, a lawyer who has represented scores of residents arrested for similar acts.”

This left a quandary for me. Yes, we do have to protect the last remaining natural areas of the world to reduce the threat of climate change. However, we must do it in a way that respects the local native people and their traditions. They must feel like they are valued stake holders, not intruders, in protecting wilderness areas.

On a sadder note, an exhibit focusing on the Mansus people living in the Manus Island of Papua New Guinea. In the past, the Mansus read the skies to decide when they could fish or travel safely. However, over the last decade, the seas have been rising and scientists and islanders alike report that climate change is becoming evident in the form of chaotic and unseasonal winds, unpredictable rains, and more intense storms. According to resident John Semio of the Mansus people,

“We can’t reach our fishing grounds safely. We find it more more difficult to live now.”

Nothing in their history prepared the islanders for the unprecedented fury of the 2008 storm they call ‘King Tide.’ The sign noted that “quick thinking saved most house from the waves – for now.”

Unfortunately, I just have a few pictures left from the exhibit that I was able to share above in this blog. If you do go on Conversations with the Earth website, you can find more examples in pictures and videos how climate change is impacting Native peoples across the world.

While touring the exhibit, I spotted a special announcement of an evening reception at the museum with members of the indigenous communities from across the world showcased in the exhibit. I came back to the exhibit that evening. It was amazing to see the native people from Africa, South America, Alaska, etc. in person and in their native costumes. I got to mingle among them in the reception and attend some lectures how climate change impacted them.

It’s a mystery to me now why I did not take any pictures of that event. I felt very fortunate to be there.  I felt very lucky since I did not know about exhibit or reception prior to my trip to Washington DC or checking out this museum on a whim. Seeing from the exhibit how climate change impacted some of these native people and meeting them in person, I promised myself I would not forget their stories. I meant to blog about it when I returned to St. Louis, but my mind and writings ended up focusing on other aspects of climate change. Thank goodness for the Leonardo DiCaprio quote to remind me not to forget.

The Pachamama Alliance

The Leonardo DiCaprio quote to hear the the voices of indigenous people also reminded me of the Pachamama Alliance. Around the year 2010, a friend encouraged me to attend a Pachamama workshop, called Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, which are actually held all throughout the United States and world.

Image Source: pachamama.org

The Pachamama Alliance focus is about weaving indigenous wisdom and modern knowledge for a thriving, just, and sustainable world. Its purpose empowered by its partnership with indigenous people, is dedicated to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet.

At the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, participants learn:

* Human beings are not separate from each other or Nature. We are totally interrelated and our actions have consequences to all. What we do to others we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.

* Indigenous people are the source of a worldview and cosmology that can provide powerful guidance and teachings for achieving our vision—a thriving, just and sustainable world.

Image Source: achamama.org/event/awakening-the-dreamer-changing-the-dream

As far as climate change, Pachamama believes:

* If present trends continue, the probable future for life on Earth will be defined by periods of substantial social, environmental, and economic disruption, if not complete collapse.

* Humanity already possesses sufficient resources, technology, and know-how to reverse these trends. What is missing is the sense of urgency and the popular and political will to act.

* Without concentrated human intervention, certain tipping points will be reached that will make our present trajectory irreversible.

The origin story shared during the Symposium is fascinating.

Deep in the pristine Amazon rainforest, spanning the borders of modern-day Ecuador and Peru, the Achuar people have lived and thrived for centuries. With their deep devotion to their land, the Achaur kept had their sophisticated culture and worldview remarkably intact as late as the mid-20th century.

Since the early 20th century, individuals and corporations from the so-called “modern” world have sought to exploit Achuar land for its oil, disregarding its irreplaceable ecological and cultural wealth. From contact with neighboring tribes, the Achuar knew that oil companies were poisoning the rainforest and everything alive in it, steadily moving closer and closer to their home. Thus, the Achuar made the courageous decision to reach out to form partners in the modern world that was threatening their very existence.

Since 1995, the Pachamama Alliance, named for the Kichwa word for “Mother Earth,” has collaborated with the Achaur and all of of their indigenous neighbors to preserve their cultures and protect this very biodiverse region of the Amazon basin. The Alliance has empowered these indigenous groups with legal, financial, and technical assistance, including mapping and land titling to secure ownership of their lands. It has also provided trainings and workshops to guide them in asserting their rights and economic development sustainable local products and ecotourism.

For two decades, this partnership has enabled the indigenous people to preserve millions of acres of pristine tropical rainforest. The Alliance’s work to include legal rights for nature in Equador’s constitution provides a powerful precedent that is now being replicated globally.

Lynne Twist,
co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance
Image Source: lynnetwist.com

According to the co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance, Lynne Twist,

“From the very beginning, the indigenous partners told us that it was really great that we were working in the Amazon with them shoulder to shoulder but that is only half the battle. They told us that if we really wanted to protect their lands permanently, we would need to go to work in our part of the world.

As they put it, we would need to change the dream of the north, the dream of the modern world. A dream rooted in consumption and acquisition, without any regard to the natural world or even to our own future.”

Since 2005 hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have attended the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. Now this interactive program is offered in an online course as well.

The live symposium or online course offers a challenging and inspiring curriculum that exams the root causes of humanity’s most pressing issues. It then encourages people to participate in key grassroots movements are can actually making a difference, such as Move to Amend and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

After years of curiosity to attend a Pachamama training, I finally had an opportunity in the summer of 2013. Earlier in 2013, I founded a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) group in Ashland, Oregon. A friend attending the CCL meetings, Lorraine Cook, was also involved with the Pachamama Alliance. She invited to speak at the end of an Awakening the Dreamer Symposium held at the University of Southern Oregon on July 9, 2013. I immediately jumped at this invitation to attend.

The two and a half hour Awakening the Dreamer Symposium was a very positive experience for me. I highly recommend attending if you have a chance. Pachamama’s message really connected to me. The symposium focused on hope for the future, emphasis on sustainability, and a belief that humans can take the necessary actions to reduce the threat of climate change. Even more, the goal of this training is to inspire participants to get active with local grassroots organizations like Move to Amend, SOCAN (Southern Oregon Climate Action Now), and Citizens’s Climate Lobby.

As a climate activist, I admire how it presented the issue of climate change from an indigenous perspective of caring for our Mother Earth, creation, and healing our natural world that sustains our lives. There was much audience participation so we felt like we were vital participants. It did not feel a dry and gloomy lecture. The symposium offered opportunities to chat with a partner sitting next to us and group discussions to go over concepts we just learned from Pachamama.

At the end of the training, we are awarded a handwoven friendship bracelet. My understanding is that members of one of the South American native groups, especially the Achaur, hand make these bracelets. Another person attending the training ties it around your wrist towards the end of the symposium. We are encouraged to wear the bracelet daily to remind ourselves daily of the symposium. Even more, we wear the bracelet as a reminder of our importance to take action to protect our planet.

Because the training did have a deep impact on me, I have worn it everyday since attending that July 2013 symposium. I even wore it to my wedding. It has been a constant reminder for me to follow my mantra to “Think Globally Act Daily” to climate change. Thank goodness for the Pachmama Alliance Awakening the Dreamer Symposium to reinforce my passion.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling at their wedding. November 1, 2015.


Indigenous People are impacted the most by climate change

Even though I received much inspiration and a broader perspective from Conversations with the Earth and the Pachamama Alliance, it still really troubles me how climate change negatively impacts indigenous people.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s quote at the Golden Globes was a reminder for me how native peoples across the world are on the front lines of climate change.

Keep in mind that DiCaprio’s speech was criticized for mentioning indigenous people. Slate writer Aisha Harris referred to DiCaprio’s speech as “awkward and cynical” and even doubted its sincerity. She wrote,

The Revenant is only the latest in a long history of major Hollywood studio films featuring indigenous characters that is told from the white male perspective.”

Leonardo DiCaprio
Image Source: imdb.com

Even more Harris is critical of the portrayal of the Pawnee tribesman (played by Arthur RedCloud) who later assists DiCaprio’s character in his journey home? According to Harris, the Pawnee character is typical of the Hollywood stock Native American character. She wrote, “He’s much more a mysterious, kind person of color than any real, flesh-and-bone character.”

Fair enough. However, DiCaprio’s full remarks at the end of his Golden Globes speech really spoke to me:

“And lastly, I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

DiCaprio’s statement recalled a statement I heard from this YouTube video, Dr. Hayhoe’s Keynote Address at the June 2015 Citizens’s Climate Lobby Conference. Towards the end of that video, Texas Tech University climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe refers to a map released by the Washington Post on February 3, 2015 of countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Basically, poor third world and politically unstable countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and central African nations are the most vulnerable to climate change.

Image Source: washingtonpost.com

Living in the most vulnerable and even not so vulnerable countries are indigenous people who are the least responsible for creating this problem. Even for those of us do not not have the same culture, religion, values, and traditions as indigenous people, it is still vital that we reduce the threat of climate change for the most vulnerable native peoples as well as our children.

As Katharine Hayhoe argues in that same YouTube talk:

“Why do we care (about climate change) if we’re Christians? We care because the number one commandment is to love God and number two is to love your neighbor. We are told to love others as Christ loved us. And, how did Christ love? Sacrificially. Not saying we’re equal, but saying ‘I am putting you above my own life and I am willing to give my life for your life…When we look at who is impacted, it is in the places where it is not fair. It is not the people who created this problem.”

What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves

As we live in modern civilization with all of its luxuries, we forget that all of us are descendants of ancient indigenous people. We live today because of accumulated wisdom over many generations. We discard their wisdom at our peril.

I want to close this blog with the thoughts and wisdom attributed to Chief Seattle. Historians do not think the text below is historically accurate or even something that Chief Seattle said. Even if he did not, these words speak of a wisdom for the ages. They speak of caring for the Earth. Even more, what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

The only known photograph
of Chief Seattle, taken in 1864
Image Source: wikipedia.org

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

May we do all we can to reduce the threat of climate change to respect our ancestors, our fellow humans that we share the planet especially indigenous people, and our children.



4 thoughts on “‘It’s time we heard the the voices of indigenous people around the world.’

  1. Unknown

    Dear Brian,
    Your writing stirs my soul to renew my commitment to Pachamama. I am doing the work, but Pachamama is calling to Awaken the Dreamer and Change the Dream. Thanks for writing from the heart.

    1. bettling Post author

      Thank you for your comments. That is wonderful that my writing has renewed your commitment to Pachamama and calling you back to Awakening the Dreamer and Change the Dream. You just made my day.

  2. Diana O

    Thanks for your heartfelt writing – there are many of us who hear the voices of Indigenous people in our dreams and consciousness. I keep a little book of quotes in the bathroom: Simply Living, the SPirit of the Indigenous People edited by Shirley Ann Jones. Just a few lines each day deepens my sense of wisdom from those who live close to the land with history and culture. Makes me want to listen to wind in the trees and have dirty fingernails from the garden. Travel hither and yon is destructive to Earth. I appreciated your story on carbon offsets – nothing is pure and good, nor pure evil either. We each go gently and do what we can, feeling the urgency with loving actions in our own circles of influence. Keep writing!

    1. bettling Post author

      Thank you for your comments. You have me curious to check out the book, "Simply Living, the Spirit of the Ingidenous People edited by Shirley Ann Jones. I am happy to hear how native culture has influenced you also. I am glad you appreciated the section on carbon offsets since that has to be part of the conversation to make sure they are implemented in a way that connects and not hinders the local native people. I really like what you wrote: "We each go gently and do what we can, feeling the urgency with loving actions in our own circles of influence." Looks like I could learn a lot from you also. All the best! I hope you will enjoy my future writings also.

      Brian Ettling

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