Gidimt’en Evict Coastal GasLink from Wet’suwet’en Territory

Gidimt’en Evict Coastal GasLink from Wet’suwet’en Territory

Press Release from Gidimt’en Checkpoint

NOVEMBER 14, 2021

This morning, members of the Gidimt’en Clan evicted Coastal GasLink (CGL) employees from unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, upholding ancient Wet’suwet’en trespass laws and an eviction notice first served to CGL in 2020 by the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.

Employees were granted 8 hours to peacefully evacuate the area, before the main road into the Lhudis Bin territory of the Gidimt’en clan was closed.

Sleydo’, Gidimt’en spokesperson, commented on the eviction enforcement:

“The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have never ceded, surrendered, or lost in war, title to this territory. That means that what they say goes. The eviction order from January 4th, 2020 says that CGL has to remove themselves from the territory and not return. They have been violating this law for too long.”

Today also marks Day 50 of the establishment of Coyote Camp, where Gidimt’en members, under the direction of Chief Woos, have reoccupied Cas Yikh territory and succesfully blocked Coastal Gaslink’s efforts to drill beneath Wet’suwet’en Headwaters.

In early 2020, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs from all five clans of the nation issued and enforced an eviction notice against CGL, sparking nationwide solidarity protests and paralyzing pipeline work throughout Wet’suwet’en land.

Today, November 14, 2021, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ eviction was again enforced.

The 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Delgamuukw-Gisdaywa court case affirmed that Aboriginal title – the right to exclusively use and occupy land – has never been extinguished across 55,000km2 of Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan territories. Despite this, in 2019 and again in 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have trespassed onto Wet’suwet’en territory and undertaken a series of militarized assaults, enacting violent arrests and following the orders of fossil fuel behemoth TC Energy.

Sleydo’ continued:

“Wetlands have been destroyed. Our animals have been sick. We need to protect what is left for all the future generations. Wet’suwet’en law pre-dates Colonial Law. It has existed since time began in our territories, and we have that same fighting spirit that our ancestors fought so hard to keep alive in us so that we would be able to defend our future generations, this land and this water.”

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This Amazon dam is supposed to provide clean energy, but it’s destroying livelihoods and unique species

This Amazon dam is supposed to provide clean energy, but it’s destroying livelihoods and unique species

This story first appeared in The Conversation.

By Brian Garvey and Sonia Magalhaes.

The Volta Grande region of the Amazon is a lush, fertile zone supplied by the Xingu River, whose biodiverse lagoons and islands have earned its designation as a priority conservation area by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment.

But a recent decision by the Federal Regional Court in the state of Pará, Brazil, allows the continuing diversion of water from the Xingu River to the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam complex – rather than to local indigenous fishing communities. This is a disaster for the ecosystems and people of the Volta Grande.

Drowned trees in the midst of a riverbed
Damaged trees as a result of dam construction. Xingu Vivo, Author provided

The ruling, which reversed a temporary order for river diversion to be suspended, means that 80% of Xingu River flow will continue to be diverted away from the communities of Volta Grande. This impedes the main transport route for many indigenous people who live along the river and reduces fish diversity, compromising food security and livelihoods.

The decision also alters the river’s flood and ebb cycles. In addition to their importance for species’ reproduction and agriculture, these cycles guide local social, cultural and economic activity.

A river surrounded by deforested banks
Flooding and deforestation in the region has been linked to the Belo Monte complex. Verena GlassAuthor provided

According to the Federal Public Ministry, which is appealing the decision, this marks the seventh time the superior court has overturned previous legal decisions in favour of the construction and energy corporation Norte Energia, which owns Belo Monte.

Our team carried out research on the dam complex’s impacts in 2017 with the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science. We found persistent violations of the rights of traditional communities linked to Belo Monte, especially regarding their forced displacement from areas destined to form the dam’s reservoir.

In response, a spokesperson for Norte Energia said that the company has always operated in compliance with the environmental licensing for Belo Monte, and that all actions undertaken by Norte Energia were evaluated and approved by the environmental licensing agency IBAMA.

Belo Monte

Belo Monte is a hydroelectric complex formed by two dams. The first dam ensures sufficient water flow through the second one for electricity generation.

Marketed as supplying “clean energy”, the complex meets the industrial demands of the southern and north-eastern regions of Brazil. However, this appears to only refer to reductions in emissions, which themselves have been countered by evidence of increased greenhouse gas emissions from dams.

In response to these claims, the Norte Energia spokesperson said that hydroelectric power plants are expected to emit greenhouse gases. These emissions have been considered in Belo Monte’s Environmental Impact Assessment and are being compensated through initiatives including restoring local native vegetation and investments in conservation.

Deforested land under a cloudy sky
The Belo Monte complex under construction. Anfri/Pixabay

What’s more, the complex only generates 40% (4,571 megawatts) of its 11,233 megawatt capacity due to the large seasonal changes in flow rate of the Xingu River. A 2009 analysis predicted that the variability of the river’s flow – that reaches up up to 23 million litres per second under natural conditions – would result in unreliable energy generation and conflict over water use.

Although IBAMA judged in 2019 that efforts to mitigate the dam’s impact were insufficient to prevent marked ecological disruption, it permitted continuing diversion of water in February 2021.

As a result, the annual river cycles that sustained communities for generations have been destroyed along more than 120km of the Volta Grande.

A fisherman we interviewed warned, “These children of ours … won’t have the privileges that we had, and can learn nothing, I guarantee that. There’s nowhere for them now.”

The transformation of the region has resulted in the flooding of areas above the dam and droughts to areas below, as well as significantly decreased fish populations and destruction of fish nurseries.

Two images of fish held in person's hands
Adult individuals of the armoured cat-fish (Loricariidae) endemic to Xingu River show sunken eyes, lesions on the lips and fins, wounds on the skin and loss of teeth. André Oliveira Sawakuchi, Author provided

survey carried out by a team from the Federal University of Para in two areas shortly after the river’s flow was reduced also found the first signs of disappearance of organisms like “sarobal”: a type of vegetation that grows on rocks in the Xingu river bed, fundamental for the reproduction of many fish species.

A fisherwoman explained that sarobal “are resistant plants that when the river is flooded, they are submerged, but they do not die … sarobal has a lot of fruit and fish consume the fruit … I think almost every fish depends on it.”

Research found that these plants can withstand direct solar radiation, extremely high temperatures and cycles of severe drought, making their dwindling presence even more alarming.

An island in the middle of a river
The habitat of the sarobal, a plant vital for many river species. Yuri Silva (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Second project

The exploitation of this stretch of the Xingu River has been exacerbated by a second threat to the Amazonian ecosystem. The planned construction of Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine within the Belo Monte dam area by Canadian company Belo Sun has been criticised for providing environmental impact assessments that allegedly ignore serious environmental contamination and violations of indigenous rights.

Now, groups campaigning against this project say they are subject to violent threats, although it has not been established who is behind this. A local resident explained to researchers: “Here we feel intimidated. The guys are really well armed, while we work just with our machete and our hoe.”

These claims appear to illustrate the stark power inequities in this region of Pará – the region with the highest number of attacks on indigenous leaders in Brazil in recent years – as well as the broader social consequences of energy creation schemes.

At the time of publication, Belo Sun had not responded to a request for comment on points raised in this article.

Banner image:  International Rivers/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ending systems of domination: Reclaiming our bodies and politics from global trauma

Ending systems of domination: Reclaiming our bodies and politics from global trauma

The article was first published on the Radical Ecological Democracy website. on 10/24/2021. Article link.

Ending systems of domination: Reclaiming our bodies and politics from global trauma

By Eva Schonveld and Justin Kenrick

As the sun goes down on a system that cannot save us from itself, our only option is to bring that system to an end. But what is that system, and how do we replace it?

We begin from the understanding that systems of domination are, both, inside and between us, and that transforming social and political relations starts as much from our hearts and the personal as from the predicament of the earth, and all our societal relations. We begin from Scotland where we live, and where COP26 will yet again make grand promises but do nothing to stop us all hurtling off the climate cliff edge.

Colonization’s torment continues

Scotland has been both colonized and colonizer. Without the history of colonization of Scotland and England, there would have been no British Empire colonizing overseas. Without the vicious clearing of highland communities from their lands here, there would not have been the families desperate for food and a future, with no choice but to work for a pittance in the factories and furnaces of empire, or to fight its wars.

The mass murder wreaked by empire, the evisceration of others’ cultures and stealing of their lands, and the forced residential schooling of the youth, has viciously harmed indigenous peoples in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia, while being dressed up as a ‘civilizing mission’ or ‘progress’. The same is true of how this system treats the vast majority of those living precariously in the British Isles, who are told that they benefit from a system that blames them for the inequality they suffer. But do even the 1% who supposedly benefit, really benefit? Those whose empathy is broken through the boarding school system, and whose shallowness is groomed by a compliant fawning media perpetuating its life-destroying feudal, corporate and political world?

Finding a way through

It is not by chance that our system is stumbling us into extinction.

We need to find new ways to gather, to make decisions, to organize, and to take responsibility for each other, so that we can respect and nourish all life, since those tasked with this responsibility have so disastrously and inevitably failed, since the dominant system’s purpose is not to respect and nourish but to control, co-opt and exploit.

We also need to re-imagine how we rediscover, create and maintain the enduring or emergent alternatives. Too often they unintentionally include (or fail to challenge) assumptions based on our dominant lived experience of (mostly) patriarchal, racist, hierarchical cultures. The growing understanding of personal and cultural trauma – its ubiquity, its unconscious nature, its debilitating effects, and, most crucially, our ability to learn and heal from it, provide radical possibilities for uncovering and shifting those unconscious (traumatized) assumptions and for (re)discovering genuinely fresh and emancipatory ways of being and working together.

Understanding trauma

Trauma is a complex neurological process, but in brief it is the way our mind deals with events, which we experience as physically or emotionally overwhelming. These are not stored as memories, but are patterned into the nervous system: the unconscious: the body. These patterns can be ‘triggered’ when we are reminded of the initial experience. Because this triggering happens instantaneously and unconsciously, we rarely even notice that we have been plunged into an emotional state which now has little to do with what’s going on in the present.

We all accumulate some level of trauma during our childhood. This can show up in adulthood in disparate areas of life, for example public speaking, standing up for ourselves, managing our anger or coping with rejection, where we know we tend to act differently to how we would like. Dig a little into these uncomfortable feelings and the roots always lead back to childhood within a dominating system. Every one of us experiences our own versions of this, but the underlying reasons are rarely acknowledged. The socially condoned view is that because we largely forget them, these early experiences are over. In fact, unaddressed, they continue to shape our lives.

Imperialism, colonization, supremacy, stratification, capitalism… these are culture level traumas: legacies of past damage that continue to re-inflict it. They play out in the world in many forms: in the stratifications of class or caste, sexism and racism, in economic inequality, wars, biodiversity loss, climate change… and as with personal trauma, the root causes of our cultural traumas are obscured, making what are essentially breaks with reality seem absolutely normal and inevitable, at least to those experiencing it.

Power and society

This system of domination also lives inside of us, within our bodies, our emotions, our relationships, our attitudes, our social structures, the way we act towards those we see as different to ourselves, other species and the wider natural world. We can see it in the way we bring up our kids, in our family and work relationships, and also in our health, education, economic, and political systems.

The casualties of power by domination include those currently at its apex, many of whom have been through a traditional ruling class upbringing of distant or proxy parenting, separation, physical punishment and/or emotional denial combined with treats and rewards, sometimes with visibly crippling results, but intended to result in the smooth, controlled and controlling presentation of the elite. These child-rearing practices are designed to cauterize empathy in the next generation of the ruling class. This vicious cycle of unacknowledged intergenerational personal and cultural trauma, combined with a hereditary system of domination turbo charged by the neoliberal agenda over the past 40 years, is now running close to costing us everything.

Wherever any of us experience or perpetrate domination, it is traumatic and traumatizing. Our personhood, our capacity for loving connection, our innate health are defiled and traumatized by this system. The implications of this collective blind spot for our capacity to create collaborative, rather than dominating, cultures and social infrastructure is monumental: if we can’t name it, we can’t change it.

But at the same time as all this, that innate health (both personally and collectively) is still alive, active and accessible to us. And this is where hope lies. If we address the root cause of our problems – we may even yet be able to change some of our outcomes.

Changing the power dynamic

Given the rapid unraveling of the natural systems that all us living beings depend on to survive, only the deepest of change is enough. We don’t need system change, if that means some changes to this system. We need to turn the dominating system into compost that can nourish the living systems we are.  Carbon emissions have never been the real problem; they are simply a consequence of the fact that our system leaves us too traumatized to act rationally, even in the face of possible extinction.

Personal and collective inner work is needed to unpick the systems of domination that play out in our bodies and psyches, in our personal and work relationships, in our organizations, our social systems, our relationships across cultures and with other species and ecosystems. Doing this difficult, often painful work is the only viable way out of this mess. Luckily, it is also the work of healing and liberation. It takes courage and determination to start, and it is not easy, but once we have begun it is a movement towards health and wholeness that brings with it increasing capacity for connection, pleasure, love and joy.

From shaming to learning

It is impossible to transform toxic power relations without venturing into the emotional realm. Without understanding and working to heal the unconscious drivers, which suppress our empathy, we inevitably end up disempowering others and ourselves, and often unintentionally replicate that which we are trying to change.

None of this is socially acceptable!

In dominating cultures we laugh at and judge harshly people who show their care too clearly – those who go to therapy (screw-ups), who show vulnerability (failures), who take care with language (politically correct) who work for the environment (tree huggers), who protest and get arrested (attention-seeking privileged, or dirty criminals), who dance (hippies), who cry (embarrassing), who try to make a difference (do-gooders).

Standing up to this can be tough, but we can support one another and know that the fact that we feel such social censure is a good indication that we’re successfully challenging the system. Transforming attempts to shame us into opportunities to learn more about the system we need to change is core to this work. We (collectively) need to be doing this work at every level: in ourselves and our relationships, in our families, in our workplaces, in our professions, in the way we do politics, education, healthcare, nature-care, but we also need to be sure that the changes we are making are genuinely coming from a different root and will give us different results.

Resisting, and trusting our guts

Much of the cultural genocide practiced during the (ongoing) colonial period was and is done by people convinced that they are acting well: freeing others from ignorance and ungodliness, bringing health, education and democracy, stimulating new markets.

So how can we tell what change is genuinely helpful?

There are no road maps, but there are processes and practices that can help guide us. Understanding how trauma works, and how to process and heal it is crucial. We know how to work with trauma in the personal mind-body. Working with trauma in our social and cultural systems is not all that different: what we know works in personal therapeutic processes we can apply out in the world.

We can bring curiosity, tenacity, compassion, generosity, sensitivity, honesty, courage, spaciousness and patience. We can look at the history and the painful triggers together. We can express and unwind our hurt, shame and loss together. We can open our hearts, practice mindfully, use our imaginations and our creativity to build new ways of doing things (pretty much everything), get comfortable with making mistakes (and learning from them), with not knowing, with showing our vulnerability, and also with showing the strength of our care.

We don’t have to shrink from hard truths. We can make a stand when we see domination in action, we can pay attention to and resist the old patterning, and we can pick ourselves up over and over again as we inevitably fail. We can apologize, make reparations. We can forgive, build relationship across all kinds of perceived differences, prioritize connection over performance, treasure the local, challenge the global, center the earth, and learn how to trust our collective guts.

We need to resist the cultural programming that says there’s nothing we can do, that those in power know best, that genuine social change is a myth. Let’s resist it by proving it wrong: facing our fears and doing it anyway. Let’s take whatever first small, wise steps we need to towards creating a world where we know and act on the truth that our well- being depends on ensuring the well-being of others, not on exploiting them.

We can’t now stop the reckoning that’s underway. We can only wake up, take responsibility, get over our egos and start working together for our collective, planetary healing. This is the ONLY work that matters now. We don’t necessarily need to change what we are doing. We simply need to do it with this in mind/ heart, in community/ society, in relationship with all.

The Sunset assembly

As the sun goes down on the 29th of October, a unique assembly will begin. It will continue for 24 hours, following the sunset around the world, passed from community to community.

Community members will speak and listen to one another from the heart. Each community will use different forms of meeting, as we collectively seek a path towards a politics of wholeness where our decisions are based on being deeply present to each other, rather than speaking at each other. Our common focus is on:

“How the system is impacting on me and my community, and how we are resisting, creating alternatives and maintaining connectedness in the face of it”

The timing is no coincidence: COP26 starts on 1st November and will be no different to the previous 25. The Climate COPs are mind-bogglingly successful at pretending they are tackling the climate crisis, while enabling the fossil fuel industry to receive billions in subsidies, emissions to rise exponentially, and corporate interests to perpetually delay real action.

Grassroots to Global, which has sparked this assembly, is working to build alternatives to our current collective decision making processes. Most of what democracy we have has been wrung from the hands of those with power who have given up only the absolute minimum amount of power they have had to in order to stay in power – most often followed by their rapidly retracting the real power to decide.

We need to rediscover enduring – and explore emerging – ways to gather, to deliberate and to decide together – developing a ‘relational democracy’ that can deepen and replace an easily captured ‘representational democracy’, and that can prevent democracies from sliding into outright authoritarianism.

Enabling the future

This is an ongoing area of exploration (you can read early thinking on that here and here) and will continue to develop as we learn through processes like Reworlding and the Sunset Assembly. Some essential elements of such relational decision-making processes include:

  1. Building relationship: Ensuring all groups are included, specially those that are marginalized – ideally as partners in developing processes – to ensure the whole picture is addressed and that everyone is included. Given experiences of co-option and marginalization, people may start out skeptical, and the proof of inclusion will be in the practice not the promise.
  2. Dealing with power: Having strategies for managing those who are conditioned to take, or give away, personal power, e.g. ensuring those used to speaking, to listen; and, those used to listening, to speak.
  3. Centering empathy: Having strong input to support the development of relational skills e.g. listening, confidence, self-reflection and expression, emotional self-management, empathy.
  4. Addressing trauma: Dealing early and well with conflict and trauma responses when they are triggered, and taking a transformative approach to trauma, reactivity and conflict (they are complex, nuanced and full of incredibly useful information) while also maintaining safety to ensure care for anyone re-experiencing trauma, and to limit triggering of others.

We have to become slow and deep enough to swiftly make the fundamental changes that are needed.

It is not our humanity that is the problem; it is an inhumane system of appropriation and exploitation that persuades us to rely on it for our survival and well being, while it devours both. Our wellbeing can only ever rely on ensuring, not exploiting, the well-being of others.

From few to many, we are everywhere

Groups who will join the Sunset Assembly include:

  • a diverse group of people from the Andes, the Amazon and the coast in Peru
  • a group in North Sulawesi, Indonesia who will be opening with a sunset ritual held by Minahasa elders
  • elders from West Papua reflecting on the devastation of palm oil and other colonial impacts
  • the Ogiek of Mount Elgon in Kenya, who are holding over part of a wider community meeting so that it can happen within this assembly
  • And more, including from Aotearoa, Scotland, Australia  . . .

Alongside these assembly-holding groups, anyone from anywhere in the world is invited to join as witnesses at any point. Witnesses are invited to deeply experience and listen to the holding groups. We believe witnessing is an active process in which attention and intention make a real difference to the process.

In between each section, we will hold a “Sharing Circle’ which is open to all, taking turns to speak for a few minutes each, speaking from the heart without the need to prepare, bringing our own feelings and reflections, and hearing other Witnesses’ voices.

We hope this can be the beginning of a whole-globe check-in. If you would like to participate as a witness, please sign up here.

Beyond the sunset, we aim to hold a Sunrise Assembly after COP, hopefully joined by many new collaborators, focusing on how communities can gather locally and trans-locally to make heart-centered decisions, and so take responsibility for the future in a way that can replace a global decision-making system that is paralyzed by its own trauma.

These around-the-world assemblies are sparked by Grassroots to Global, building on the Reworlding gathering. Our river is joining with many others on different versions of the same journey, and we encourage everyone who is not already engaged to explore and develop their own streams of inspiration, so we can flow together towards a politics of wholeness, which confronts and overcomes the very real obstacles in our way.


Eva Schonveld is a climate activist, process designer and facilitator, supporting sociocratic system development, decision-making and facilitation. She co-founded Starter Culture and is currently working on Grassroots to Global, a project which asks: can we co-develop a more empathic, democratic, political system which could connect internationally in a global assembly to address the root causes of climate change?

Justin Kenrick co-founded Heartpolitics, is a Quaker, and trained in Buddhist psychotherapy. He is an anthropologist and a Senior Policy Advisor at Forest Peoples Programme where he works for community land rights in Kenya and Congo. He is a director of Life Mosaic, and also works on land reform in Scotland. He lives in Portobello, Edinburgh, where he chairs Action Porty which undertook the first successful urban community right to buy in Scotland. He writes in many contexts , and was on the Stewarding Group of the Scottish Government’s Climate Citizens Assembly which XR Scotland campaigned for but ultimately had to leave.

These Indigenous Women Are Reclaiming Stolen Land in the Bay Area

These Indigenous Women Are Reclaiming Stolen Land in the Bay Area

This story was first published in YES! magazine.

By Deonna Anderson.

On a cool morning in December, Johnella LaRose stands in a 2-acre field in east Oakland, overseeing a group of volunteers preparing a section of this land that the Sogorea Te Land Trust stewards for the arrival of a shipping container. LaRose is dressed to work, wearing jeans and boots that look broken in.

The container will serve as storage for farming equipment, she says, and in case of a natural disaster, as a safe shelter for people to gather, sleep, and access resources.

LaRose is co-founder of the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an intertribal women-led organization that is in the final stages of securing nonprofit status. It’s working to acquire access—and ownership—to land in the Bay Area, where Ohlone people have lived for centuries.



Label for buckwheat in the hugel raised bed where the Sogorea Te Land Trust grows plants native to the region. Photo by Deonna Anderson

The goal, says LaRose, is to establish a land base for the Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone people, whose ancestral territory includes cities in the East Bay. “The land gives us everything that we need in order to survive,” says Corrina Gould, a Lisjan Ohlone leader and the other co-founder of the land trust. “That’s how people lived for thousands of years on our land and other Indigenous people’s land. … You work with the land so that it can continue to provide, but that you honor that relationship by not taking too much.”

Gould says Sogorea Te plans to steward the lands it has in a way that honors it.

Sogorea Te got access to the land in east Oakland in 2017 through a partnership with Planting Justice, a local grassroots organization that owns the property and uses it to house a nursery of edible tree crops for purchase by community members and others online. The land is also a place where Planting Justice’s reentry work takes place, because the nursery is staffed mostly by people who were formerly incarcerated.

Planting Justice plans to give the deed on the parcel to Sogorea Te—at no cost—in the future. And the two organizations plan to continue to work on the land together. In the future, Sogorea Te intends to purchase land by partnering with organizations who own land and are willing to transfer ownership.

LaRose hopes the lands Sogorea Te stewards will facilitate healing and build resiliency for Ohlone people. When she imagines the purpose the shipping container could serve, for example, LaRose thinks about Hurricane Katrina and its disproportionate impacts on poor and Black communities in New Orleans.

The Trust’s vision for this particular plot of land is to create an Indigenous cultural site.

As LaRose talks about her hopes, the volunteers build the foundation for the 5,000-pound shipping container. So far, volunteers have dug down 4 inches, removed the dirt, leveled it out, and started hauling gravel to fill in the hole. Once the container arrives, they’ll build it out with a kitchen, deck, and solar panels.

The 2-acre parcel where LaRose and volunteers are working is in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of east Oakland, which has little access to public transportation and grocery stores. It is surrounded by dense rows of apartments and houses. Train whistles and freeway noise can be heard from where LaRose and the volunteers are working.

Sage—called “miriyan” in the Ohlone language—grows in the hugel raised bed. Photo by Deonna Anderson

Near the back fence of the plot runs San Leandro Creek—renamed with its Ohlone name, Lisjan Creek, by the trust. Previous work parties have installed a hugel (short for “Hügelkultur”) raised bed where plants native to the region are growing. A no-till mound of soil and wood chips, Sogorea Te’s hugel has sage, wild onion, and milk weed, each labeled with their Ohlone name—miriyan, ‘uuner, and šiska. The plants are used for ceremony and medicine.

The trust’s vision for this particular plot of land is to create an Indigenous cultural site with a traditional arbor 9- to 15-feet tall, built out of redwoods. The arbor will be a place for ceremony that Ohlone people can pass on to future generations.

Gould says that the Ohlone never lost their connection to the land.

“We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so there continues to be a deep connection to land and how we relate on a daily basis has changed because of colonization,” she says. “It’s really been my generation that’s been able to come out and begin to speak about these horrific issues and to talk truth to history.”

Sogorea Te comes from a history of Ohlone people working to gain recognition and access to land in the Bay Area. The name Sogorea Te is the Ohlone name of a site in Vallejo, California, where a cultural easement fight took place in 2011. LaRose and Gould’s first organization, Indian People Organizing for Change, was involved in reoccupying the territorial site for 109 days. During that time, together with the Yocha Dehe and Cortina tribes, they recreated a village site with a sacred fire and stopped development of a sacred site along the Carquinez Strait.

Owned by the nonprofit Planting Justice the east Oakland plant nursery is planned to be transferred to the Sogorea Te Land Trust once the mortgage is paid in full. Photo by Deonna Anderson

The occupation led to the first cultural easement agreement among a city, a park district, and a federally recognized tribe. Gould says the easement allowed the tribe to have the same rights to that land as the other entities.

LaRose and Gould say they began Indian People Organizing for Change in 1999 to address issues relevant to their community, including homelessness and protection of sacred Indigenous sites. All of these issues, they say, are rooted in the same problem: dispossession from their people’s ancestral lands.

The issue of land return is particularly important for the Ohlone people who for centuries have had no land base and have been politically and economically marginalized. Today, the Ohlone are not on the list of 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States.

The idea behind establishing a land trust was for these Indigenous women to create a land base for their community.

Ohlone life changed dramatically when Spanish military and civilians began to encroach on the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1700s.

Colonizers raped and forced Ohlone people into labor, brought diseases such as small pox and measles, and dispossessed Ohlone people of their lands.

Ohlone people survived and continued to live in that region, which today is one of the densest and most expensive metro areas in the U.S.

In 2015, LaRose and Gould established Sogorea Te Land Trust. It was another step in the work they’d already been doing to restore cultural access to ancestral lands.

Planting Justice and Sogorea Te Land Trust staff use this work area to store equipment sell plants and conduct portions of trainings. Photo by Deonna Anderson

Gould says they hope the land trust will allow Ohlone people for generations to come to reengage the land in the way that it was and has been done traditionally. That looks like bringing back traditional songs, dances, and ceremonies back to the land “and to try to create a balance.”

The idea behind establishing a land trust, which was sparked after Gould attended a meeting with existing Native-led land trusts in 2012, was for these Indigenous women to create a land base for their community.

“When you follow the rules, man, you’re not going to get anywhere,” LaRose said. “You really just have to really be brave and just put yourself out there and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen. This is what we’re going to do.’”

So far, the largest lot of land that Sogorea Te has access to is the quarter-acre in east Oakland.

The organization Planting Justice purchased that plot in the fall of 2015 as an additional location for its food justice work, with a low-interest loan from the Northern California Community Loan Fund and individual donations from community members. The nonprofit already owned land elsewhere in the East Bay.

Volunteers from the group Manhood Embodied moved and leveled gravel at the plant nursery stewarded by Sogorea Te Land Trust in east Oakland. Photo by Deonna Anderson

In November 2016, its founders Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi drove North Dakota to join the #NODAPL protests in Standing Rock. On their way back to the Bay Area, they started thinking about their relationship to the land and their role in the Indigenous people in their own community.

Raders said both he and Zandi were aware of the history of colonization and genocide that happened to Indigenous people in California. But during their conversations with Indigenous elders, they began to ask themselves what it meant for Ohlone people to not be federally recognized and have no land base.

“I’m not really sure how this is going to look, but we want to be able to figure out how to give the land back to Indigenous people,” Raders remembers thinking.

Diane Williams, a friend of Sogorea Te’s founders who worked at Planting Justice, connected the two organizations in hopes that they’d work together in some capacity.

After numerous months, members of the groups, including LaRose, Gould, and Raders, finally met in August 2017 and officially started their partnership in fall 2017.

Trichostema grows in the back section of the land shared by Sogorea Te Land Trust and Planting Justice in east Oakland. Photo by Deonna Anderson

At that meeting, Sogorea Te learned that Planting Justice still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on the mortgage but that when it was paid off, the organization wanted to sign the title over to the land trust, “which was a real surprise to us,” LaRose says.

“We want to be able to figure out how to give the land back to Indigenous people.”

That’s the first piece of land that the land trust was given to steward, with a verbal agreement between the organizations that they’d share it and work in cooperation with one another.

“It’s clearly understood by the Planting Justice board and the Sogorea Te Land Trust that this is a partnership that’s going to continue,” says Raders, a Planting Justice co-founder, who notes that his organization is committed to transfer the land to Sogorea Te ownership no matter how long it takes to pay off the mortgage. From there, the trust will establish a lease agreement with the organization so it can still have operations on the 2-acre parcel.

Planting Justice considered putting a cultural (or conservation) easement on the site, one that the Land Trust would manage, but it couldn’t because it is still paying off the mortgage of the land. Raders said the mortgage holders did not allow Planting Justice to move forward with an easement in case the mortgage did not get paid in full.

“Conservation easements last forever, no matter who owns the property in the future so those restrictions still run with the land,” said Sylvia Bates, director of Standards & Educational Services at the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization.

Johnella Larose points out the soap root plant that grows in the hugel raised bed. Photo by Deonna Anderson

In a scenario where an entity owns or is stewarding land with a conservation easement, the organization is obligated to make sure those restrictions stay in place. The mortgage holders did not want to deal with that possibility.

LaRose and Gould say that they’re figuring it out as they go along and are open to all the possibilities of acquiring land. “I don’t think that there’s one way that we’re looking at it,” Gould says. “We’re just trying to figure out, ‘how do we do that?’ and we’re bringing people along with us.”

In addition to the land in east Oakland, the trust stewards five plots of land throughout the Bay Area where they grow native plants and gather for ceremony.

Sogorea Te is also now in talks with an organization about land in Sonoma County. And in March, LaRose and Gould caught wind of a couple of vacant lots in Oakland that they might want to take into their care.

The organization doesn’t yet own any of these parcels, but they hope to soon.

Passionfruit grows along a section of the back fence on the land shared by Sogorea Te Land Trust and Planting Justice. Photo by Deonna Anderson.

In partnership, Planting Justice and Sogorea Te continue to work on the land together, as Planting Justice pays off the mortgage on the 2 acres in east Oakland and Sogorea Te raises funds to buy other parcels in the east Bay. Planting Justice plans to give the land to Sogorea Te once the mortgage is paid off. From there, Planting Justice will continue to operate on the land with a lease from the land trust.

LaRose said she’d really like someone with the resources to come in and give them the money to pay off the mortgage in full.

“Weirder things have happened,” she said.

One way Sogorea Te is raising funds is through the Shuumi Land Tax, a tax that the land trust has been implementing since 2016. It’s a voluntary tax for people who live on Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land, encompassing two dozen cities that make up most of the East Bay.

It was modeled after the Honor Tax that the Wiyot people started in Humboldt County, California. And there are other groups running similar taxes, like Real Rent, which encourages Seattleites to make rent payment to the Duwamish Tribe.

The Shuumi Tax is based on how many rooms people have in their home and whether they rent or own. As the value of a person’s home—or of rental costs—increase, so does the tax.

“But a lot of people give a lot more money. A lot more money but it’s this idea that you’re really paying for the privilege of living on Ohlone land, occupied land,” LaRose said. “It’s like reparations of some sort.”

Bins of sage and other plants in the back quarter-acre of a plant nursery stewarded by Sogorea Te Land Trust. Photo by Deonna Anderson

In 2018, KALW reported that the land trust received $80,000 from 800 contributions in the previous year.

The tax funds have been used for staff, office costs, and supplies. And in the future, they will be used to buy and maintain lands that are under the land trust’s stewardship.

Back at the Planting Justice site, two hours have gone by and the volunteers’ work is almost done for the day. Their last big task begins when the contractor brings another truckful of gravel. Volunteers spread out this new load until it’s level.

LaRose says volunteers and other community members are always thanking her and the Sogorea Te team for doing this work.

“But I’m like, ‘we have to do it.’ It’s not like we want to do it,” she said. “We have to do it.”

Deonna Anderson

DEONNA ANDERSON is a freelance digital and radio reporter and a former Surdna reporting fellow for YES!

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Indigenous cultural revival and re-enchantment with nature: the journey of the Colombian Muysca people

Indigenous cultural revival and re-enchantment with nature: the journey of the Colombian Muysca people

This story first appeared at Rapid Transition Alliance.

By Matt Rendell
This story weaves the indigenous cultural revival of the Muysca people of Suba in Colombia, together with the transition to more sustainable living. It is contributed by award-winning author Matt Rendell who spoke with Muysca social activists and grew to know the community through his work as a cycling journalist in the riding obsessed country, and the elite cyclist, Nairo Quintana, who is probably the best known international Muysca advocate.

As the climate emergency bites, sustainable new social and cultural practices are urgently needed. Lasting change may require not just temporary good intentions, but permanently reconfigured identities. Around the world, groups are already working hard on such a project. On a steep hillside in an area called Suba above Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, a new group of Colombians are claiming ancestry from the ancient Muysca people – indigenous people whose land this was when the Spanish invaded in the 1530s – and proposing a complete regeneration of their culture. They intend to restore the language and return the landscape to its previous mystical role, bringing what remains from history alive with new myths and rituals. The group believes it has much to teach the rest of the world about understanding how we are all indigenous people with a need to connect to shared places, traditions, and rituals.

The Cabildo Indígena Muysca de Suba – the local organisation spearheading the Muysca revival – has its centre in the town square, where traditional crafts such as weaving are taught, and the beautiful fabrics produced are used to raise money for the project. This small but ambitious organisation is trying to reverse the identity loss caused by urbanisation through restoring the Muysca collective memory. Its leader, anthropologist Jorge Yopasa, explains how much of the knowledge is still available:

“We read what the anthropologists say, and the historians and archaeologists, but we also talk to our grandparents. Oral history yields surprising results. What the anthropologists say they were doing in 1680, our grandparents remember doing in 1960 or 1970.”

Numerous small vegetable plots form urban gardens across the slopes, alongside traditional round houses with conical roofs, traditionally made with wood, clay and reed, but now often made from recycled materials. These houses face East in memory of how, in pre-Columbian times, such dwellings might be arranged in large enclosures in the form of a vast cosmological clock. The East and West-facing doors turned the buildings themselves into a three-dimensional calendar detecting equinoxes and solstices. The people who live here are researching their own indigenous history, re-planting their traditional foods – such as quinoa – and reclaiming and cleaning up what they see as their land. This is an environmental, social, and spiritual effort. They wish to reverse what they see as the erosion of the spiritual dimension that came with urbanisation. They hope to undo the negative, impoverishing impact of science and Enlightenment thinking that the sociologist Max Weber described in his famous expression, “the disenchantment of the world.”

The Muysca have already been under attack for hundreds of years. But Muysca quinoa and the Muysca language are on their way back, and linguists are using old, colonial dictionaries, and surviving, closely-related languages, to revive the old tongue. Nearly five centuries after the Spanish conquest, the Muysca revival is real.

Credit: “Quinoa” by RahelSharon (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wider relevance

Protecting the world’s indigenous inhabitants has been shown to be an effective way of safeguarding the natural world – particularly if knowledge held by the older generations can be saved in time to be passed on. Awareness of this is growing slowly and there are currently active campaigns by indigenous peoples to support elders whose intimate knowledge of the Amazon is threatened by Covid-19. But there is another indigenous group that are often forgotten: the original dwellers in the spaces now occupied by the world’s cities, dispossessed by modern development of their land and culture, and only now rediscovering and reviving their cultural specificity as a spiritual, environmental, anti-consumerist cultural force for good.

Modern urban sprawl has taken over indigenous territories all over the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Only now are they beginning to reconstruct their identities, and build, as they do so, a new way of working-class urban existence that encompasses and absorbs youth culture, environmentalism, the rejection of consumerism, and the re-spiritualisation of the cosmos. The modern Muysca call this “el proceso” – the process.

Of course, the Muysca are a small group who are unlikely to be able to shift national policy. But openness to their culture could bring with it an understanding of other ways of being in the world. For example, the pre-Columbian system worked on gift-exchange rather than currency. And before the arrival of the European invaders, gold was not used as currency of exchange, but as a means of communicating with the gods. It was mixed with copper, moulded into shining religious figurines called tunjos and, within hours of production by the Muysca metalworkers, buried in the earth or dropped into lakes in a passion play of the visible and the invisible. The urban Muysca today are not rich in gold as their ancestors were. In fact, they lie right at the base of Colombia’s social pyramid. But their decision to take an active role in retelling their own history is interesting. Today, the Muysca elaborate new stories of their ancestral past, integrating, revising, and occasionally forgetting ‘official’ versions imposed by representatives of the State.

Context and background

After years of urban expansion, during which Bogotá engulfed the remaining of the Muysca people, it finally annexed Suba in 1954. By then, much of their identity had been forgotten. But, according to the academic Pablo Felipe Gómez, who has spent twenty years studying the urban Muysca movement, “Most of these elders never recognised that they were Muysca. Their identity lay dormant in the memory because of the historical processes that had overwhelmed them. No one ever told them that they were indigenous!”

When Carlos Caita, the first governor of the Suba cabildo or indigenous council, began studying land titles in the 1980s, he realised that they went back as far as the abolition of indigenous reserves and collective indigenous property in 1875, when the land had been distributed among five resident Muysca families. After its annexation by Bogotá, the families who had not sold their lands were dispossessed by unscrupulous surveyors and lawyers, and the Muysca, bereft of both language and traditions, disappeared into a historical dead-end as manual labourers or caretakers of other people’s property.

Credit: “Bogota, Colombia” by szeke (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 1990 descendants of the five families resident on the nineteenth-century Muysca reservation began legal proceedings to recover their lost estates. In 1991 Colombia adopted a new Constitution that undertook to recognise and protect its ethnic and cultural diversity. Under the framework established by this new Constitution, the Ministry of the Interior gave the group of five families its blessing, thereby transforming it into the first urban Muysca community. Before long, the descendants of peoples expunged from history centuries before began to assert their indigenous identity.  Between 1991 and 2006, four Muysca councils were given state recognition and Muysca was one of 101 ethnic identities listed in the 2005 national census. However, since 2006, the State has refused to certify further groups, perhaps seeing that the community in Suba had tripled its membership in a decade, and that new organisations were emerging. The rebuilding of their cultures proposed by these groups, reviving ancient myths, rituals and elaborating new ones, also meant bringing back their language, which was forbidden in 1770 by royal decree, when Spanish became the dominant language for social, religious, economic, and political reasons.

Enabling factors

Leaders who are inquisitive about the past and about culture – in this case anthropologists – undoubtedly helped the transition, along with some favourable legislation in the form of a Constitution that was trying to renew itself in order to include formerly excluded people. This interest in the past includes the chronicles of the Conquest, which contain accounts of Muysca legends taken down by the priests who accompanied the Conquistadors. These have been scoured to identify possible sources from which to shape a modern Muysca culture. However, to renew a culture and reconnect it with the land, detailed knowledge from the past plus a generous dose of imagination to fill in the missing gaps has enabled the Muysca people to rebuild – and to regenerate when rebuilding is no longer possible.

The local food illustrates this process. The area’s name Suba means “quinoa seed.” The Conquistadors long ago replaced quinoa, a Muysca staple, with wheat. But the old ways, once outmoded, have a way of coming back, and local people are beginning to grow vegetables and medicinal plants of spiritual significance to the Muysca. These include sweetcorn, potatoes, coriander, uchuva – known in the UK as physalis and in North America as golden berry – and, of course, quinoa, which has taken the better part of five hundred years to become the latest superfood. There are other examples of how modern life rejects the past, stigmatises it, then rediscovers it with a premium price tag attached. For example, the crop hemp, once enormously important in Europe for making rope, clothing and a huge range of materials, has returned after decades in the wastebin as an alternative, more sustainable crop for making designer clothing and as an insulator in eco-builds.

Perhaps the extreme poverty of Colombian urban life for many has turned people elsewhere to look for a better kind of life – particularly with the knowledge that it was not always this way. Young Muysca talk about how their grandparents used to eat trout from the Bogotá River. To do so today would be unthinkable: millions of gallons of industrial chemicals, farm run-off, household detergents and human waste drain unfiltered into it, while it has become a sewer to Bogotá’s 8 million inhabitants, and for hundreds of thousands more along its basin. The river has become so toxic that inspectors require oxygen masks and special clothing. The Muyscas are part of the environmental movement pressing for a clean-up. Many are active in public and development policy, fighting to save the environment. These people recognise how urban life separates economic life from nature and separates people from their spiritual selves; they want to create a new way of urban living that will not destroy the planet. This is something we have seen in other places, from London’s National Park City movement to efforts to pedestrianise cities and grow food in cities.


Banner image by Aris Gionis at Flickr

Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0