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  • Writer's picturePeter Yolles

Indigenous Science at Bioneers

Bioneers, otherwise known as biological pioneers, held their 35th annual conference in Berkeley, where the 2000 attendees included over 120 tribal representatives. I had the opportunity to hear from indigenous leaders from a range of tribal leaders including the Mohawk tribe of New York, the Ohlone and Tamal tribes of the Bay Area, and the Yurok tribe of the Klamath River of California. Jade Begay (Tesuque Pueblo, Diné and Southern Ute) of the Indigenous Environmental Network described how climate change is affecting native communities. She sought to distinguish the difference between sovereignty and self-determination, and encouraged the audience to read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Her parting words were to commit to regenerate ourselves through devotion to deep love, loyalty and worship of our sacred Mother Earth.

I also attended the Indigenous Forum on Landback, featuring facilitator Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Corrina Gould (Lisjon Ohlone), and Kawenniiosta Jock (Kanien’kehá:ka, Wolf Clan from Akwesasne, Mohawk Nation Territory). Corrina spoke eloquently about how her tribe secured their first ever grant of land, as a gift, of 1/4 of an acre in Oakland, held by the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in the East Bay. She inspired with “Open up your imagination and figure out a way to say yes.” Ohlone people felt homeless in their homeland. Since receiving the land, tribal members have reintroduced cultural traditions and given their people the first chance to reconnect with the land.

Kawenniiosta told her story of growing up in upstate New York near the Adirondacks on a reservation that had become a dumping ground for PCBs causing people to become sick with cancer and suffer birth defects. She is now president of the NGO her father started, Waterfall Unity Alliance, which has purchased a 60-acre berry farm, rematriating the land, and building a traditional long house. “We are at a time when Mother Nature is fighting extinction. Human beings are spiritually and physically sick, and many people are seeking new ways of living in balance,” says her father Kanerahtiio. “As the oldest living democracy in the world, our traditional methods of living in right relationship will help us all heal together. It is time to make the old ways new again. It is time to restore balance and return to the original message of the Great Law of Peace.”

Building of the traditional Long House

I was fortunate to see Prof. Leah Stokes and Kim Stanley Robinson, a favorite author. Stokes gave her spirited talk about her 2-step solution to mitigating climate change by, first, creating a 100% clean electricity grid ASAP, and second, to electrify everything since every home is basically operating a fossil fuel power plant.

KSR discussed what has occurred since his groundbreaking climate novel “Ministry for the Future” was published in 2019, which he described as a “dark time.” The old regime is gone, and yet the new regime is not yet here. He described some tremendous progress with the COP27 Loss and Damage Agreement and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 30x30 Agreement to save 30% of the lands and waters by 2030 (and hopefully 50% by 2050).

Finally, Erin Matariki Carr (Ngai Tūhoe, Ngãti Awa) of RIVER from New Zealand inspired us with “Together, we will pioneer tomorrow’s answers today and as we reconnect and bind ourselves to all life around us, our sense of duty and responsibility for [Earth] grows.”

- Peter


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