UP BEAR CREEK
Small Steps, Big Story: Climate Solutions for Rural Communities
by Art Goodtimes
Sep 22, 2011 | 806 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HEADWATERS 22 … Started and run for a couple decades by the writer George Sibley at Western State College in Gunnison and now led by “Dr. John” Hausdoerffer of Western’s Center for Environmental Studies, Headwaters is a conference I’ve attended religiously for the past two decades, which has made me part of an informal group of advisors call the Headwater Elders … This year’s gathering was a mix of speakers, question & answer sessions, hands-on stuff, audience time, and more … Because the Headwaters region in Gunnison drains the Atlantic and the Pacific, the conference has been broadly defined and has come to include many Western Colorado mountain communities, like Telluride and Norwood – headwaters for the San Miguel and Dolores river drainages. Which is why I’m always surprised so few San Miguel County residents take advantage of this unique educational opportunity. Particularly as climate change is something all rural communities are wrestling with.

WINONA LADUKE … One of the event’s strengths over the years has been hearing from experts outside the range of usual suspects. Having Winona LaDuke speak on food and energy resilience from the perspective of indigenous knowledge and experience was brilliant … While most may know her as Ralph Nader’s Green Party running mate in 2000, she has a long history as an Anishanaabe activist and rural development economist, with degrees from Harvard and Antioch, dozens of national awards, and six books. She is currently co-director of Honor the Earth -- a native organization providing some financial support and organizing more support for native environmental initiatives … Her talk Sustainable Tribal Economies was a keynote summary of a publication from Honor the Earth (which is downloadable, free, on the web from honorearth.org.). While focused on native nations, it seemed an invaluable template for rural communities nationwide in achieving energy and food resiliency … Those were the conference’s twin themes – the re-localizing of food and energy options. LaDuke shocked many of us by revealing that some two-thirds of the energy created in the current national grid system is actually lost in generation and production, calling us a nation of “energy junkies.” She described two paths that Anishanaabe (Chippewa) prophets had outlined for the future. One is scorched and well traveled, and the other is green. It’s very similar to the two paths spoken of in Hopi prophecy. Clearly, with climate change looming over us, we’re coming to an irrevocable crossroads where we will have to make a choice on what path we will choose for our children … She related how one elder had told her, “It seems like this culture doesn’t want to be around for another thousand years” … We learned of the Declaration of Atitlán promulgated at the first Indigenous Peoples’ Consultation on the Right to Food, held in Guatemala in 2002, and LaDuke’s own efforts at preserving native strains of squash and corn, as well as her championing of her tribe’s crop of wild rice – when hand harvested in canoes, not the industrially grown “wild rice” sold in most stores … She was a wonderful speaker – casual and yet deeply informed, humorous while vitally serious, respectful, never deprecating … My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to speak with her at length about Green politics and other issues, as she had to leave right after her talk. But I’m hoping to begin a conversation with her. And I would highly recommend that anyone interested in food and energy independence get a copy of Sustainable Tribal Economies.

ENRIQUE SALMON … While Winona’s Friday night talk was my most inspirational experience, Enrique Salmon’s “Finding the Story” workshop was easily the most challenging and perhaps the most rewarding. It wasn’t about storytelling, as a cursory read had led me to believe. It was more a leadership training in finding and understanding one’s own story – the genesis of one’s own belief system and vision – so as to be able to better communicate to others what you’re passionate about and believe needs transformation. Salmon’s workshop should be a required course offering for any activist trying to persuade others to change – both in understanding oneself first and in using story as a way to entice people over to your perspective … Watch for his forthcoming book, Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stewards of Food and Resilience (Univ. of Arizona).

AND MORE … Attendees had a choice of three community workshop tours: food stories of localizing food production and consumption, energy stories of history and possible efficiencies, and nature stories of ecological resilience … There was a film showing of Melinda Levin’s The New Frontier: Sustainable Ranching Stories and Jack Lucido’s Sustainability in Ranching – both featuring Gunnison County ranchers … Alan Wartes of Denver sang his “Headwaters Anthem,” I did my opening “Art of Getting Lost” poem, and George Sibley read poet Aaron Abeyta’s “Letter to the Headwaters” … In closing came the Gourd Passing on Sunday morning – a Headwaters tradition of listening and speaking, where everyone gets to share their story, poem or song. Mostly we hear how they may have been touched, or even sometimes transformed, by three days of liberal arts academia, real world experience and ritual traditions … I find this the most moving part of the weekend, when young students and seasoned elders all get to hear each other speaking from the heart ... If there’s one regional event a year I would urge community leaders to attend, it would have to be Headwaters -- if only for this chance to learn from dedicated activists and environmental studies students, eager to change the world … It’s the kind of human magic that gives one hope for the future.

THE TALKING GOURD

Raven


shoots from the woods,
his pure blackness stunned
to molten silver
in the evening sun.

And another, right
behind the first,
glides along the road
and then,
into the dark woods,
gone.

-Michael Adams
Lafayette


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