Celebrating a Historic Moment in Disarmament: The Crucial Role of Activism and Collaboration

RICHMOND, Ky. – As of July 11, 2023, in an extraordinary stride towards a safer world, the last of the United States’ once-vast chemical weapons arsenal has been eliminated, marking a watershed moment in global disarmament history. While this journey has been decades in the making, it highlights the power of community advocacy and steadfast commitment to environmental safety.

The final chemical weapons were stored in military compounds, including the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. Their safe and methodical destruction is largely attributed to relentless activism, with community leaders like Craig Williams and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a node in the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), leading the charge.

Williams and KEF were featured in a recent New York Times article about the final destruction of the United States’ supply of chemical weapons.

When Williams discovered the nearby storage of these deadly weapons in 1984, he began a tireless campaign for their safe elimination. KEF formed the Chemical Weapons Working Group in 1991 a coalition of Madison County residents, to engage in grassroots organizing, policy development and advocacy to mandate legislation to develop safer disposal methods. Through a collaborative effort with KEF and LiKEN, Williams and other members of the community worked towards creating a safer community, a goal achieved through dedicated  advocacy, education, and commitment to alternative, safe disposal technologies.

KEF director Craig Williams walks with Martin Luther King III in an anti-incineration march in Anniston, Alabama (2002). A large crowd of people surround them holding signs and flags demanding environmental justics and chemical disarmament through safe means.
KEF director Craig Williams walks with Martin Luther King III in an anti-incineration march in Anniston, Alabama (2002).

Local and international partnerships throughout the process ensured transparency and community involvement, offering a blueprint for effective community action and environmental safety.

We applaud the efforts of Craig Williams, KEF’s Chemical Weapons Working Group, and all the activists who contributed to this historic achievement. 

Central Appalachian Folk & Traditional Arts: Comprehensive Plan

The Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) Survey and Planning Project is a project of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in cooperation with the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network. The project included a 15-month study of folk and traditional arts in the central Appalachian regions of Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This Comprehensive Program Proposal (CPP) is a product of the Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) Survey and Planning Project, a project of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) in cooperation with the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN). This CPP serves as a roadmap for a multi-state grant-making program designed to increase the understanding, recognition, and practice of the living folk and traditional arts practices present in central Appalachia.

(click image below to view the PDF report)

Central Appalachian Folk & Traditional Arts: Final Report

The Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) Survey and Planning Project is a project of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) in cooperation with the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN). The project included a 15-month study of folk and traditional arts in the central Appalachian regions of Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. This report includes a summary of project activities and research methods, as well as a presentation of findings based on CAFTA’s specific learning objectives. Summarizing trends and identifying opportunities, this document guided the creation of a comprehensive program proposal for a multi-state grant-making initiative designed to increase the understanding, recognition, and practice of the living traditions currently present in Central Appalachia.

(click image below to view the PDF report)

LiKEN publishes report about heirs’ property in Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama

LiKEN has completed a study that evaluates the efficacy of a major law that seeks to protect families that own heirs’ property.  Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common”. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable to predatory land grabs. Across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South, heirs’ property correlates with low wealth and land loss in African American communities and is common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities).. 

As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of forced sales and inequitable land grabs, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 18 states and introduced in seven others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act was introduced in Kentucky in early 2021.  

LiKEN just completed a 10 month study to see how well this law has worked in Georgia and Alabama, and what its benefits might be in Kentucky. The full report can be downloaded here.

Our findings (click here or the image below to view full size PDF)

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Carson Benn cbenn@likenknowledge.org. If you are an heirs’ property owner, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

Addressing Climate-Forced Displacement in the United States: A Just and Equitable Response

By Julie Maldonado

The climate crisis is ravaging communities nationwide and disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who are losing their homes and livelihoods due to more severe and frequent storms, rising seas, erosion, flooding, extreme heat, wildfires, and various other climate events. These communities are further disenfranchised through inadequate and inequitable public policy responses to our climate crisis, including extreme weather events, which further exacerbates and even creates the unfolding, accumulating disasters.

To motivate action to advance community-led solutions to climate-forced displacement in the US, the Legal Justice Coalition (facilitated by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Lowlander Center) and the Rising Voices Community Relocation & Site Expansion Working Group issued policy recommendations earlier this year. The set of recommendations is designed to guide policymakers to address the shortfalls of official current responses to the threat of climate-forced displacement but also challenges them to launch a concerted effort to respond to this urgent crisis. At the heart of these policy recommendations is the need to center the agency, leadership, and self-determination of frontline communities in addressing climate-forced displacement.  

The policy recommendations for both Congressional and Executive Action include the need to: 

  • Increase resources for frontline communities
  • Grant government funds directly to communities
  • Make FEMA more equitable
  • Establish a just response to support adaptation-in-place and/or relocation
  • Create a human rights governance framework

The US Government Accountability Office identified that “unclear federal leadership is the key challenge to climate migration as a resilience strategy.” Currently, there is no lead federal agency tasked with managing and coordinating the federal government’s climate crisis response, nor is there dedicated funding to support community relocation efforts and/or adaptation measures to prevent communities from forced relocation, instead of adaptation in place. 

As detailed in the full policy brief, while the need for dedicated funding for adaptation in place and relocation is clear, it is critical that government programs and policies and the process of disaster planning, response, and recovery should go beyond only financial support for material upgrades to homes and infrastructure. The entire process must account for the true costs to a community, including loss of sacred sites, cultural values, burial sites, health and social well-being, and other intrinsic values—which frontline communities, and in particular Indigenous Peoples, experience when separated from their ancestral lands and subsistence way of life. This is why it is even more imperative that Tribes and community representatives are included in disaster planning at the state and federal levels.

The federal government should establish a governance framework for climate-forced displacement that protects the rights and dignity of communities and provides them with financial resources and effective support. This process calls for a better partnership between science and governance grounded in principles of justice, and for that partnership to jointly explore pathways that put relocation in the context of a larger set of adaptation measures to better understand the tradeoffs across these options over time.

To achieve a response to climate-forced displacement in the United States that centers justice and equity, the UUSC and Rising Voices-Working Group coalition offers a summary and topline recommendations, along with the full policy brief

This coalition of community leaders, legal advocates, researchers, and allies invites you to join in urging our elected officials in the Biden Administration and in U.S. Congress to center equity, justice, and human rights in addressing climate-forced displacements in the United States. 

Please refer to the initiative webpage to read the recommended policy solutions and to sign-on. We looking forward to working with you to #SupportClimateJustice. 

Julie Maldonado, Associate Director

Julie Maldonado is a cultural anthropologist and serves as LiKEN’s Associate Director. As part of this role, she is Co-Director of the Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences program, in joint partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research/National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR/NCAR), and is the lead for the LiKEN-produced PROTECT film, in partnership with Paper Rocket Productions. She also works with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals to facilitate and support the development of tribes’ climate change adaptation planning and vulnerability assessments. Julie is a lecturer in the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Program and for Future Generations University. She is also a founding member of the Culture and Disaster Action Network (CADAN). 

Rising Voices 8: Finding Community Amidst a Pandemic

By Jackie Rigley

I became a research assistant for LiKEN in January of 2020 and I was looking forward to attending Rising Voices 8 in April. Then, March came along and the Covid-19 pandemic unraveled any plans of an in-person workshop. I was disappointed that I would not get to experience the Rising Voices workshop; however, a few weeks later, we got news that the workshop was going to be held virtually.

At the Virtual Rising Voices 8 (VRV8) Kickoff event in April, I did not know what to expect. The program began with a series of videos from fellow Rising Voices participants introducing themselves and their homes. It was refreshing to see new faces and places as I had been sheltered at home for a month. Host Kalani Souza immediately lifted my spirits with his energetic introduction and storytelling superpowers. Conversational topics highlighted Indigenous community experiences not only related to the pandemic, but also topics such as food and water systems, climate variability, and other adaptations to the present challenges. Although many difficult experiences were shared, there was always recognition of the resilience of Indigenous communities. Rising Voices members exemplified a strong faith in one another and effort to help whenever possible. The Kickoff event introduced me to a warm and welcoming community and left me reflecting on everything that had been discussed. 

Thus far I have attended Rising Voices workshops focused on energy, phenology, community relocation and site expansion, and water. Each workshop has expanded my understanding of these separate issues, but also reminded me of the common themes among them. The collaboration of Indigenous and Earth sciences is at the heart of each conversation. Members of Rising Voices recognize the need for this partnership in addressing climate change and climate events. However, in order for this collaboration to thrive, the way that Indigenous Knowledges are valued more broadly must change. Indigenous ways of knowing are often misunderstood and disregarded by Western scientists in the United States and beyond. Indigenous communities have held the wisdom of adapting to climate variability for thousands of years prior to Western colonization; they are key knowledge-holders for climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

Ultimately what stands out to me in my Virtual Rising Voices experience is the intimate community shared by its members. No matter your background, Rising Voices welcomes you with open arms. Each opinion is taken seriously and respected. Even in the virtual space, the personal connection felt significant. I’ve met various family members and pets of Rising Voices members. It has been a blessing to meet people that I share values with, and to truly feel like a part of the Rising Voices family. I have encountered many role models through this experience. On top of being a place to share knowledge, Rising Voices is also a safe space to share emotions and personal experiences. We celebrate one another’s successes and empathize with each other’s challenges. My first annual Rising Voices workshop has been enlightening and inspiring. I look forward to participating in this event for years to come.

Jackie Rigley, LiKEN Research Assistant

Jackie graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) in Winter 2021, majoring in Environmental Studies and Sociology. She grew up in Chicago and going to school in California piqued her interest in protecting the natural environment. She is a board member on the UCSB Coastal Fund, which allocates funding to various projects involved in protecting the Santa Barbara coast environment. She studied abroad in Southern Chile where she had the opportunity to conduct research related to sustainable tourism. She is passionate about environmental justice and the power of community resilience in the face of climate change. Outside of school she loves exploring Santa Barbara, cooking, and painting. She is really interested in changing how cities are developed. She wants to work in Urban Planning, and help build more resilient, sustainable, and humane communities. Jackie is also interested in learning more about fighting climate change on a local, city-wide level.

Searching for Connection in a Time of Distance

Article and Images by Sarah Morairty

I feel that I am not alone in saying that at this point, I am completely lost. We are all no longer able to live the lives we were accustomed to. Our existence, in a way, has been utterly and irreversibly altered. These social distancing protocols have imposed a whole new twist to life, and one that none of us saw coming or were remotely prepared for. During this time of distance and confusion, we are all looking for something to feel connected to.

Generally speaking, our daily lives typically consist of activities and things that give us purpose, whether they be exercising, owning a pet, working a 9-5, going to school, etc. I feel that we as humans are always trying to find our individual purposes, a feat that was hard enough before this crisis. Now, social distancing has added an even more difficult complication. Every day, we have to wake up and figure out how to translate our old lives into a new, more restricted one. Every day, it seems we are presented with another unforeseen consequence of the virus: some are losing their jobs, some are losing loved ones, loved ones are dying alone, healthcare workers are working at maximum levels, students who are graduating in spring aren’t able to have graduation ceremonies, the list goes on. For some, the worst consequence is that they have to be locked inside all day with only themselves and their thoughts.

Amid all this negativity, though, there are beautiful phenomena blooming out all around us, both figuratively and literally. In the figurative aspect, social movements of caring and helping each other are growing. Social media has been a never-ending venting/therapy session where strangers from all around the world can find support and validation from each other. People have become more understanding and compassionate. On the literal aspect, with the retreat of human activity, ecosystems around the world are making comebacks and beginning to thrive again.

Nature continues to move forward, even when it feels like our world has come to a halt. I find this inspiring and beautiful. It seems like many people, including myself, have been looking towards nature for a sense of comfort. Us human creatures have this subconscious yearning for connection to other beings and life, a biophilia that drives us to continuously seek these connections. We are all creations of Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit, and our Earth Mother. We are all connected and have large impacts on each other, and now is the time where this is being made very clear.

I urge us to look toward our communities’ teachings and Earth Mother for guidance. The medicine wheel has brought some organization into my newly unorganized life. I learned from one of my elders to use each section to represent an area of my health and well-being: spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental/intellectual. Each week, I make sure to keep track of the things that I have done to maintain each section. When one area is lacking, I can take more time to fill in the holes. In this way, I am ensuring that my well-being is holistically being cared for. 

Yellow flowers on green stems. Large  brown bee on one of the flowers.

Right now, we are in the time of spring, ziigwan, the yellow section of the wheel. In my tribe, it is a time of renewal and new beginnings. Just as the land is awakening and creating new growth, we can utilize this shift from COVID-19 to grow and start anew. While we cannot go out and do all the things we used to before, there is much to see around us. Go outside and look at all the fresh growth. Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, spiders are spinning their webs, squirrels are scurrying amongst the trees. Take advantage of the clearer skies and look at the sunsets, the stars, and moon. Enjoy the beauty that each day brings.

This period in our lives is difficult and even painful at times. But we mustn’t let the negativity consume us, lest we all become windigos1. Stay kind to your neighbors, to your environment, and to yourself. I wish you all the best in this challenge of reinventing ourselves and our futures.

1A windigo (there are different variations in spellings from tribe to tribe) is someone who has become overwhelmed with greed, selfishness, and/or negativity and has thus turned into a wicked monster. It is a warning tale of my tribe against these negative characteristics.

Sarah Morairty, LiKEN Research Assistant

Sarah is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in American Indian and Indigenous Studies. She is part of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She is a passionate activist for the rights of Mother Earth and marginalized communities and has research interests in sustainable development, climate change and its impacts on communities of color, traditional approaches to land and resource management, economic and political approaches to the transition towards a green society, food sovereignty, cultural preservation and protection, and institutionalized marginalization. She wants social and environmental justice for all, as well as a healthy and positive future for our children. As she says: “In the words of my ancestors, ‘Maamawi mashkogaabawiyang’; together we stand strong. Let’s build a better world together.” 

How Have Disinfection Byproducts Impacted Eastern Kentucky’s Drinking Water?

By Sarah Birnbaum 

New research shows that failing infrastructure causes significant contamination of drinking water in many Eastern Kentucky water systems.  One kind of contamination is disinfection byproducts, which result from the mixing of organic matter and chlorine-based disinfectants during the water sanitation process. Improper maintenance of infrastructure is the main culprit for these violations, as there may be leaks in pipes or low water pressure that can permit organic matter to mix with chlorine, causing these byproducts to form. When consumed or inhaled, disinfection byproducts can yield adverse health impacts, including increased risk for certain cancers in addition to an increased risk for cardiac birth defects. The University of Kentucky, Martin County Concerned Citizens, and Ricky Draper (LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator) recently completed collaborative research in Martin County that found elevated disinfection byproduct levels, with 47% of samples being above the EPA maximum contaminant level (Pratt 2020). Additionally, 99% of residents have had issues with their drinking water including, but not limited to: odor, color, and taste.

To continue this research, I examined disinfection byproduct levels of adjacent counties in Eastern Kentucky through the Kentucky Drinking Water Watch website.  Data analysis demonstrated trihalomethane (THM) was the most frequently elevated disinfection byproduct, often exceeding the EPA maximum contaminant level. Additionally, it was discovered that two other nearby counties hold similar violations to Martin County: Wolfe County (22 violations 2009-2019) and Boyd County (41 violations 2009-2019), bringing up concern for possible disinfection byproduct exposure for residents that reside in these areas. Overall, Martin County still holds significant disinfection byproduct violations, (33 violations 2009-2019). This research has provided a step to address water contamination in Eastern Kentucky and help identify where new infrastructure is likely needed to combat disinfection byproduct contamination. Hopefully, in the near future, Eastern Kentucky residents will have access to clean, safe drinking water free of disinfection byproducts. 

white woman with brown eyes and long straight light brown hair. Smiling. Wearing a white shirt.

Sarah Birnbaum, LiKEN Research Assistant

Sarah is a senior at The University of California, Santa Barbara double majoring in Environmental Studies and The History of Art & Architecture planning to pursue a career in Environmental Justice. Within the realm of Environmental Justice, she is especially interested in sustainable community development and public health. Outside of school Sarah enjoys hiking with her German Shepherd, doing yoga, and cooking new meals. She has been excited to be a part of the LIKEN team, having the opportunity to learn from community members, in addition to having the ability to share her knowledge and passion for Environmental Justice with others. 

West Virginia Mine Wars

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is now located in the Matewan National bank building. Photo by Chris Burney

article by Bethany Turley and Chris Burney

The Mine Wars Museum opened in its new location at the Matewan National Bank building in Matewan, WV, on Friday, September 4th, 2020. LiKENeer Christopher Burney and Bethani Turley visited the Mine Wars Museum for its opening on Saturday September 5th. The reopening was initially planned for May 16, 2020 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Matewan, but the opening was postponed due to the novel coronavirus. The museum opening coincided with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1440 chapter’s Labor Day celebration, held just down the road in Matewan, which included appearances by WV Gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango, and WV Attorney General candidate Sam Petsonk. Many museum visitors on Saturday were donned in UMWA branded t-shirts and facemasks.

The Mine Wars Museum depicts the history of several armed uprisings that occurred between 1900 and 1921 by coal miners in the Southern West Virginia coal fields. Its exhibits are laid out chronologically, starting with exhibits about the everyday life of Southern WV coal miners and their families, including the terrible working conditions they faced in the mines and the oppressive political situation they faced outside of the mines.  The museum then details the events and actors that led to the Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection in the US after the Civil War.

Garments on display as part of a new exhibit about women’s lives in West Virginia coal camps at the turn of the century.  Photo by Chris Burney 

The new museum location, which is a much larger space than the previous location, has allowed for the museum to go more in depth into topics such as women’s lives at the turn of the century, and contemporary exhibits. One of the contemporary exhibits is about the 2011 march on Blair Mountain, when locals marched over 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and prevent strip mining of this historically important site. Another is a revolving exhibit, which currently displays photographs by West Virginia’s Roger May. May’s exhibit includes contemporary photographs of landscapes and locations that were significant during the mine wars. The Mine Wars museum touches on issues of importance to our contemporary moment, including the labor history of unions and mining and race relations in Appalachia. 

The Mine Wars Museum was originally located near Blair Mountain, but it moved to Matewan in 2015 where it was set up in the former the Chambers Hardware and Furniture Store building, but the museum outgrew the small location. The Matewan National Bank building, the museum’s new location, is owned by the UMWA Local 1440. This site includes a window in the museum that overlooks the site of the Matewan Massacre, paying austere homage, including a view of the building with bullet holes from the shootout.  The new space is large, allowing for the museum to expand and to take on new projects. The building features a UMWA community center, a parking lot that can host outdoor events, a space for rotating artist exhibits, a gift shop area, and a space to hold the museum and community archives preserved on site for more in depth scholarship. 

The UMWA community center can hold up to 150 people and is equipped with seating and presentation equipment. The archive has long been a goal for the museum. They currently have in their possession a host of materials, including many personal letters written by various actors who were involved in the miner’s union and in the uprisings. On Saturday board member Wilma Steele discussed some of the materials that will be held in the community archive, such as personal letters from Eric Kerr, who was pivotal in setting up UMWA owned hospitals for miners in southern West Virginia. These items will be stored and digitized in the community archive. 

The museum’s new larger space has allowed for new exhibits which showcase more recent history including the 2011 march to save Blair Mountain from mining. The formation of the WV Mine Wars Museum has its roots in this protest march. Photo by Bethani Turley 
You can visit the Mine Wars Museum at 401 Mate Street, Matewan, WV 25678. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am. to 6 pm and has a suggested entrance fee of $5 per person. You can also support the museum by becoming a member. Face masks are required, and they are limiting the number of guests to 10 at a time. 

The Rising Voices Impact

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.”

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 Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (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.

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.

I bring the water to my lips, and I drink.

Vera Petrovic
Lawrence High School, Kansas