Indigenous Environmental Stewardship: The Native American Way

George Jacob-

George Jacob

George Jacob is the President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium- the largest non-profit watershed conservation group with six branches including Aquarium of the Bay, Sea Lion Center, Bay Academy, Studio Aqua, Bay Model, and the Bay Institute, in the San Francisco Bay Area celebrating its 40th year in environmental advocacy.

“Listen to the air. You can hear it, feel it, smell it, taste it. Woniya wakan—the holy air—which renews all by its breath. Woniya, woniya wakan—spirit, life, breath, renewal—A good way to start thinking about nature, is not to talk about it. Rather talk to it, talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives.”

― John (Fire) Lame Deer, Mineconju-Lakota Sioux

With the office of the President-Elect Joe Biden naming representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as the nominee for Interior Secretary, creating history while honoring heritage, a new era for the environment awaits. Native American Laguna Pueblo lineage makes her the first Native American to ever hold a Cabinet Secretary level position.

A co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, Deb Haaland brings a unique indigenous perspective to environmental leadership as she prepares to be at the helm of natural resources and land. With 574 federally recognized tribes holding sovereign treaties with the United States, their numbers are upwards of 5 million with about 78 percent living outside reservations.

Indigenous Peoples of the world comprise 5 percent of the world’s population and live on 22 percent of the land that is home to over 75 percent of the global biodiversity. According to the 2018 IPCC Report (Inter-government Panel on Climate Change), the native communities are an integral part of climate solutions and environmental stewardship. The Special IPCC Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, draws on indigenous perspectives and practices. Everything from the rotation of crops, plant palette of native species, conservation and forest management practices, water distribution, hunting and fishing levels of consumption, recycling, burning cycles, terrain and geographical nuances, seasonal adaptations, curation of flora and fauna, recognizing vectors of pollination and cross-pollination, movement of livestock, will be at play in regulated measures seeking 360-degree circular economies both at the micro and macro levels.

While the 60-year-old Congresswoman Deb Haaland has recently said: “I will be fierce for all of us” addressing native rights and Climate Change, she has a challenging path ahead of her as the United States looks to rejoin the Climate Accord and undo some of the current policies of the Trump Administration. From Treaty obligations to Earth Justice, the list of complex issues is long and multi-generational braided with emotional and trust issues of marginalization, racism, and the specter of ‘climate refugees’ from the tiny pacific island of Kiribati to the mighty greens of the Amazon.

The Green New Deal alone, if implemented has sweeping implications on environmental stewardship at a fundamental grassroots level. The radical shift in the bill pledges prior and informed consent for “all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples.”

The Bay Ecotarium in San Francisco- a Climate and Ocean Conservation Living Museum in the making, made an early decision to work with native American voices to explain environmental stewardship and climate change solutions. With over 18,500 indigenous peoples in the Bay Area, tribal traditions in the San Francisco Bay Area and languages have survived despite the treatment meted out to them. The exhibit narrative at the living museum and aquarium under planning begins with nurturing nature, warning of existential consequences of indiscriminate greed and irresponsible exploitation of natural resources circling back to appreciating native wisdom.

When the blood in your veins returns to the Sea

When the earth in your bones returns to the ground

Perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you

It is you who are privileged to belong to this land…


[Photo courtesy: Instagram]