Rising Voices: Decolonizing Climate Science and Action

I was invited to attend my first Rising Voices workshop this year as a note-taker and research assistant for the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN). In April 2018, I traveled to Duluth, MN, to participate in Rising Voices 6, Rising Together: Mobilizing and Learning from Local Actions.

Bob Gough, Heather Lazrus, and Julie Maldonado established the Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences program to facilitate cross-cultural approaches to climate chaos. The first annual convergence was hosted in 2013 in Boulder, CO. Since then, Rising Voices has grown into an active network of individuals and organizations dedicated to deconstructing the various barriers to effective climate research and action and creating pathways for sustainable solutions. Participants from across the United States and globe come together to address the complexities of climate change and its unequal impact facing Indigenous peoples. Although each annual RV workshop varies in its specific focus, the overall goal is to facilitate constructive dialogue regarding current climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, protection of Indigenous knowledges, sustainable Indigenous practices, and political and institutional barriers to protection and stability. The theme of Rising Voices 6 (RV6) was “Rising Together: Mobilizing and Learning from Local Actions.” RV6 was hosted in Duluth, MN, and thus we focused on the resiliency of Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region and the mobilization of local partners.

My priority throughout the three-day program was to listen and to learn from and about others, so I spent most of my time listening, thinking, reflecting, and feeling. I was continuously reminded of the importance of relationships, responsibility, respect, and resiliency in enhancing life on this planet. One of the most notable things we discussed was the necessity of giving Indigenous wisdom, science, and knowledge of place the same credibility and legitimacy as Western science. Although decolonization is the only definite way to address reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, creating new research processes from both old and new forms of knowledge and knowing is one way to move forward from where we are today. Cross-cultural collaboration, learning from those with different backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of knowing, and collective mobilization are essential to create stronger solutions to climate change.

The overall goals and major successes of Rising Voices are rooted in decolonization, thus establishing the necessity of such a program. Rising Voices facilitates constructive collaboration between Indigenous peoples, allies, and potential allies, while centering Indigenous voices throughout. Priority is given to Indigenous-led efforts for climate research and the return of land and resources; Western scientists and agencies are then challenged to deconstruct their colonial mindsets and commit to supporting tribal sovereignty. Participants in the Rising Voices
program—especially White and non-Native participants—are encouraged to take a critical lens to colonization, capitalism, and all marginalizing practices, and to take action based on their knowledge.

Rising Voices initiates dialogue that is rooted in pain, mistreatment, and historical trauma. The tension that stems from historical injustice can be palpable at times, and I was happy to see that nothing is swept under the rug for the sake of cooperation. Rising Voices provides the opportunity to discuss shortcomings in past partnerships and warnings for future collaboration, and participants feel comfortable voicing their concerns. This sense of comfort comes from the platform of respect that Rising Voices is founded upon. While the tension between participants coming from different perspectives and worldviews was at times palpable, I also felt a lot of love in that room in Duluth, MN, and throughout the entire Rising Voices community. In addition to being an educational experience, I felt that Rising Voices creates a foundation for future healing based upon the love and support I witnessed during the three days we spent together.

I met many wonderful people at the 6th annual Rising Voices workshop. Thank you all for welcoming me and inviting me to participate in such an essential program. Some of my most memorable moments were during our time spent learning from the local communities, and the times we shared together outside of the workshop’s schedule. I hope to attend Rising Voices in future years, knowing how much more I will learn and grow as an individual and as part of this beautiful community.


Sophie von Hunnius

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara