The Rising Voices Impact

– Vera Petrovic, Lawrence High School, Kansas

It is almost dark. The sky is a dusky blue, and meets the murky waters of Lake Superior at the horizon line. Elongated grey waves approach me, and their foamy resolution echoes sweetly in my ears. The professor guiding my research group bends down to touch the water. He smiles. “You can drink it,” he says. “It’s that pure.”

Rising Voices 6 participants at Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Sara Herrin.

I visited Duluth, Minnesota in April 2018, my junior year of high school. The waterfront city was hosting the 6th annual Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences workshop, and I attended as a research assistant for LiKEN, the co-organizer. Both my father and brother had been involved with Rising Voices, but this was the first year I was actively participating in the workshop, compiling information for the public workshop report. My job was to listen and observe. I spent three attentive days with individuals at the forefront of climate advocacy, and a month later, when I sat down to write the report, I had no shortage of material to expound upon.

 

When I think of Rising Voices, I am reminded immediately of its warmth. People laughing and hugging, enjoying food and company, sharing stories and wisdom. I have little experience with professional workshops, but from what I do know, the atmosphere of Rising Voices is distinctly welcoming. It gathers together activists, scholars, and scientists, and most importantly, enables a discussion where Indigenous voices are heard and heeded. Indigenous knowledge is the pillar of climate knowledge, and it is fittingly the focus of Rising Voices. The conference takes a widespread and publicized issue–the impending threat of climate change–and presents adaptive solutions through a lens of traditional ecological knowledge. It is truly a revolutionary approach, because it combines both Western and Indigenous knowledge in a single exploratory event. 

 

Rising Voices is an enlightening experience, but its greatest value comes in its wisdom.  I remember Daniel Wildcat, Acting Vice-President for Academics, Haskell Indian Nations University, musing that perhaps “society has developed too much.” To listen to the speakers of Rising Voices is to take a pause from a fast-paced and urban approach to life and science. To listen deeply is to understand that climate resiliency and prosperity comes from honoring the Earth, as indigenous communities have done for centuries. Rising Voices is almost narrative in its nature, because so many of its speakers reflect on their personal connection to the land. Such a personal interest, in turn, prompts strengthened and consistent action. 



Water from Lake Superior, shared during the Opening Ceremony of RV6. Photo courtesy of Craig Elevitch.

I touch a finger to the water, and it is frigid. The professor bends down next to me, and takes a handful in his palm. He raises the seeping water to his mouth and drinks. Behind us, other members of the group marvel at the waves and walk slowly along the black rocks. As I watch them quietly delight in the view of Lake Superior, my stomach swells with gratefulness. I realize how grateful I am to be here, along Lake Superior, with people from the Rising Voices workshop, a gathering that cherishes a personal connection to the natural world and encourages a traditional ecological approach as the first combatant to climate change. 

 

Rising Voices: Representation and Empowerment

Itzel Flores Castillo

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

 

Rising Voices is a program that facilitates “cross-cultural approaches for adaptation solutions to extreme weather and climate events, climate variability and climate change.” It brings together Indigenous community members and physical scientists, social scientists, and engineers to establish conversations and plans to help communities who are adversely affected by weather and climate impacts. However, Rising Voices is much more than that. It is a place for Indigenous community members to speak of their struggles, their fights, and the need for Western science to acknowledge them and their knowledge. And for me, it is a program where I found the representation and empowerment from people of color who could be my mentors – people who I do not often see in an educational system that is predominantly white. 

 

I was introduced to LiKEN and Rising Voices through Julie Maldonado in 2017 when I was taking her course in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which focused on the impacts of governmental policies and projects on communities across the globe. This class is where I first learned about Shishmaref, Alaska and how this community is suffering from island erosion, and how our government is not supportive enough – if at all – of relocating or financially supporting this community. Later I became a research assistant for Julie and LiKEN and had the amazing opportunity to attend the 6th annual Rising Voices workshop in 2018, held in Duluth, Minnesota as a notetaker and aid in writing the workshop report. I say amazing because I found in Rising Voices much needed inspiration, role models, and revelations that I had not quite realized I needed.

 

The majority of participants were Indigenous. They were people of color completing their Masters degrees, running for public office, working in STEM fields, running their own companies, and so much more. Most of all, they were people who were fighting battles against a system that has primarily aimed to colonize our minds and taught us that the Western way is the only way – that being light skinned is the only way to get ahead. And it was being in the presence of all these people that made me realize this was the first time I had ever been surrounded by so many people of color at once and see just how lacking all of our systems are of these kinds of conferences, discussions, and people to represent us. 

Rising Voices made me realize just how much I needed to see people who looked like me in higher positions so I could know just how much I am worth and how much I can do. We need to continue growing so we can have our voices heard; so communities of color can get the help they need and not be pushed to the back of the agenda because they are not considered important enough to put first; and so that the younger generation can have more role models who look like them and who can help them navigate the system. Especially given the current political context, programs like Rising Voices are more important than ever.

Rising Voices: Decolonizing Climate Science and Action

Sophie von Hunnius

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

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.

Rising Voices 6 keynote speaker Karen Diver (College of St. Scholastica) and participants Rosina Philippe (Grand Bayou Village), Boyo Billiot (Isle de Jean Charles), and Betsy Taylor (LiKEN). Photo courtesy of Craig Elevitch.

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. 

Preventing the Preposterous: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Unpurposed

By Craig Williams

In February 2015, Kinder- Morgan, Inc., one of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure companies, proposed the re-purposing of 964 miles of their 70+ year old 24 inch pipeline from transporting Natural Gas (NG) to transporting Natural Gas Liquids (NGL). One needn’t be a genius to realize it would take more pressure to move a liquid through the pipeline than to move a gas. But, that was just the beginning of our concerns. 

Upon digging a little deeper, it became apparent that there were many additional risks associated with this proposal, such as leaks, explosions, water and land contamination and the like. The pipeline company also wanted to reverse the flow from South to North using this antiquated line, so fracking materials destined for export could be moved to the Gulf from PA and OH. People began to question the potential risks associated with this proposal.

It didn’t take long for them to recognize this was a plan that prioritized profit over people and to begin organizing against it. Efforts were initiated to bring citizens, organizations, governments, and institutions out in opposition to this plan in an organized fashion. Legal strategies were developed as an additional tool to protect communities along the route. The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a project under LiKEN, worked with local, city, and county governments, academic institutions, and economic development organizations to educate, and to urge vocal opposition to the proposal. 

Over the course of the following three and a half years, KEF was able to get more than fifteen of these types of entities to not only vocally come out in their respective communities, but, also, to send letters directly to the Kinder-Morgan President and CEO urging them to cease and desist. All were copied to the appropriate Congressional officials, as well as the federal agencies responsible for issuing permits to begin the project. Two counties went so far as to pass their own ordinances requiring conditional permits be issued by them prior to the project moving forward. (See joint Press Release for a list of entities who made public statements against the pipeline re-purposing). 

Meanwhile, grassroots efforts to educate the general public were vigorously undertaken to provide the underpinning needed to increase the political pressure objectives. In addition, legal actions were taken to challenge the pro-project decrees issued by the federal agencies along the way. These efforts were bolstered by presentations by scientists and documentation of problems associated with similar proposals. This multifaceted approach eventually tipped the scales in favor of communities. On October 2, 2018 Kinder-Morgan filed a request to vacate the certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity previously issued, that would have allowed the project to proceed. KEF and LiKEN are proud of the role they played in achieving this victory on behalf of the public’s health and safety and the protection of our collective environment. 

The Beginning of the End

An effort that began nearly 35 years ago has finally come to fruition as the destruction of the last stockpile of chemical weapons in the United States is set to begin. Craig Williams, Director of Kentucky Environmental Foundation, along with many others, fought to make sure this process was safe for the community around them.  We are proud to see the results of so much hard work.

The Beginning of the End

by Craig Williams

In 1984 the Army announced their plans to incinerate the 500+ tons of chemical warfare agents contained in 101,000 weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. On May 28th, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to mark the start of operations at the neutralization facility at the Depot to finally begin disposal of these weapons of mass destruction.

In the 35 years it took to get to that point, the citizens in Central Kentucky fought an elongated battle to change the Pentagon’s approach of the open-ended combustion technology to a more contained, manageable, protective  and safer method of destroying these weapons. A true David vs Goliath tale that ended the same way as that story. The communities prevailed – but it was challenging to say the least. The good news is that operations have begun, and within a few years the weapons will be relegated to the history books. This will not only relieve the immediate community to the risks associated with storing these weapons of war, but will also bring the U.S. into compliance with the International Treaty requiring global destruction.

The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF) and the grassroots groups across the country and around the world who formed the Chemical Weapons Working Group under KEF’s banner were relentless in their pursuit of methods that provided maximum protection to the workers, the communities and the environment while pursuing this noble objective. Now, we are at the final stages of our and our Nation’s effort to eliminate these weapons.

Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts Spring Summit

CAFTA advisors, field team members, and LiKENeers assembled for a
group photo on a windy day, closing out the first of three Summits at Eupepsia
Wellness Center, in Bland VA: from left: Cassie Patterson, Eric Lassiter, Jordan
Lovejoy, Ellesa Clay High, Sophia Enriquez, Crystal Good, Katie Hoffman, Robert
Colby, Christina Benedetti, Nicole Musgrave, Danille Christensen, Jess Porter,
Melissa Biliter, Travis Stimeling, Tammy Clemons, Mary Hufford, Doris Fields, Drew
Carter, Betsy Taylor, and Michael Gallimore.

At the end of April 2019, LiKEN joined the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) in
launching the Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) survey. Under contract with MAAF, LiKEN is directing a fifteen month survey of 112 Central Appalachian Counties in Virginia, Ohio, and West Virginia. Identifying folk and traditional arts, practitioners, as well as existing forms of support for them within the region, the survey will inform the development of a new multi-state program designed to promote the understanding, recognition, and practice of diverse forms of folk and traditional arts in Central Appalachia, including those of newly arrived and emerging communities as well as those that are well-established. Advisers and fieldworkers convened for two days at the Eupepsia Wellness Center in Bland Virginia for the first of three summits, to share information and ideas for research that is now underway.
For more information on the project, please contact:
Jess Porter, Program Officer, jess@midatlanticarts.org 
Mary Hufford, CAFTA Fieldwork Director, LiKEN, mhufford@caftaplanning.org.

Project Overview Map created by Melissa Biliter.

CAFTA fieldworkers Nicole Musgrave, Michael Gallimore, and Jordan Lovejoy,
developing work plans for researching their counties.  Photo by Betsy Taylor.

LiKENeers Mary Hufford and Melissa Biliter, leading discussion of methods for
fieldworkers’ preliminary surveys of their counties. Photo by Betsy Taylor.

“Stories of Place Project: Martin County, Kentucky leads the Way”

By Mary Hufford, Director of Stories of Place

The Stories of Place, Martin County team, photographed during a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg.  Photo by Willa Johnson.

Nina McCoy, Ricki Draper, and Mickey McCoy reviewing a map of Martin County that is
used during Stories of Place meetings with students. Map courtesy of Aaron Guest.
Photo by Mary Hufford.

“Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities”

In August 2018, with the support of a Whiting Fellowship awarded to Karen Rignall (faculty member  with the Community and Leadership Development program of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment), LiKEN launched its Stories of Place program at Sheldon Clark High School, in Inez, Kentucky. As director of LiKEN’s Stories of Place Program, I have been working with Karen Rignall, project coordinator in Martin County, Ricki Draper, a fellow with the Highlander Institute, and Sheldon Clark faculty members Allison Leip (English) and Christin Roberson (Science). Our community adviser is Nina McCoy, who formerly taught biology at Sheldon Clark High School.  Twenty high school sophomores gather each week for Stories of Place meetings. They are developing the skills needed to conduct documentary interviews with elders in the community. They are also learning GIS mapping skills, and in the spring they will meet with Willa Johnson, of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, for training in editing and producing podcasts. 

Stories of Place students locating their homes and special places on a map of Martin
County during the first meeting. Photo by Allison Leip.

Thinking of Stories of Place as applied narrative ecology, we approach “place” as an ecosystem  that depends on the stories we tell for its ongoing renewal. What are the environmental and social conditions that sustain storytelling in our communities? And how does storytelling nurture environment and society together?  Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities. Our curriculum introduces students to the unique legacies of the mixed mesophytic forests of the region, as they identify and explore landscapes and histories shaped by more than a century of coal and timber extraction.  Through discussions of the work of Appalachian writers and filmmakers, students learn to tell the stories of their communities. On the way they meet with and learn about key figures and institutions in the region’s cultural history, including a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg in October, and an upcoming visit from Gurney Norman, who grew up in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky, and who from 2009 – 2010 was Kentucky’s poet laureate.  

Talking with community partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as with members of Indigenous communities in the Western U.S., we hear a persistent refrain: Distracted by technologies of the digital age, we pay less attention to our local surroundings, and to the communications between young people and elders that strengthen communities of land and people. Stories of place uses digital technology to address both rifts, and to engage youth and elders in planning for the future of their communities.  

Poster at the entrance to Sheldon Park High School advertising Stories of Place. Twenty sophomores signed up. Photo by Mary Hufford.