It was spine-tingling to see the Indigenous delegation lead the climate march in New York, including two of our Board members, Chief Oren Lyons (above, with Dennis Kucinich and Leonardo DiCaprio) and Clayton Thomas-Muller.
In public talks, Clayton and Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network (our partner on the Bioneers Indigenous Forum) praised Bioneers for our 25-year role in movement building that has always placed Native peoples at the forefront.
Indigenous Voices at the 2014 Bioneers Summit Conference
Our upcoming 25th anniversary Bioneers conference will feature dozens of truly visionary indigenous leaders across a dizzying range of topics and issues, including keynotes by Clayton and by Robin Kimmerer, who will one day become well known for her dazzling work bridging Western and Indigenous science.
Our Native-led Indigenous Forum will also feature a special 2-part session bringing together indigenous peoples from the North and South who are engaged in the same struggles, often with the same corporate foes.
We are truly honored to be able to provide the Bioneers platform for our Indigenous brothers and sisters, the world’s old-growth cultures. Read on to learn more about 12 indigenous leaders who will be part of this year’s conference through keynotes, panels, and workshops.
Clayton Thomas-Muller is a member of the Treaty 6 based Mathias Colomb Cree Nation also known as Pukatawagan located in Northern Manitoba, Canada.
Based in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, Clayton is an organizer with 350.org, the Co-Director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute and a founder and organizer with Defenders of the Land.
He writes and speaks publicly on environmental and economic justice, and has been recognized by Utne Magazine as one of the “Top 30 Under 30” activists in the United States and as a “Climate Hero 2009” by Yes Magazine.
Clayton is involved in many initiatives to support the building of an inclusive movement globally for energy and climate justice. He serves on the boards of Black Mesa Water Coalition, the Global Justice Ecology Project and Bioneers. He is also a steering committee member of the Tar Sands Solutions Network.
For the last 12 years he has campaigned across Canada, Alaska and the lower 48 states organizing in hundreds of First Nations, Alaska Native and Native American communities in support of grassroots Indigenous Peoples to defend against the encroachment of the fossil fuel industry. This has included a special focus on the sprawling infrastructure of pipelines, refineries and extraction associated with the Canadian tar sands. Follow Clayton on Twitter: @CreeClayton.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, writer and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.
She is also the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to “create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability."
Robin is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is active in efforts to broaden access to environmental science training for Native students, and to introduce the benefits of traditional ecological knowledge to the scientific community, in a way that respects and protects indigenous knowledge.
Her book Gathering Moss, which incorporates both traditional indigenous knowledge and scientific perspectives, was awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing in 2005. Her second book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, was released by Milkweed Editions in October 2014. Her writing weaves together her Potawatomi heritage, life as a botanist and her passion for the living world.
As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger
Few of us find jobs linked to our identity. Some, on the other hand, have little choice. That’s the case for 35-year-old Eriel Deranger.
Since 2011, she has been spokesperson for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. But it’s the way Eriel is doing her job that’s turning heads. She’s shifting the often thankless task of communicating aboriginal positions on land rights into a tool to win converts.
When she was seven, Eriel wrote a report about a book in her Winnipeg school’s library that, she says, perpetuated aboriginal stereotypes; ultimately the book was banned. “You can just continue on from there,” she says of her career.
Eriel’s goal is to communicate the ACFN’s story, which is partly about the speed of the oil sands expansion. “What’s happening is happening too fast and irresponsibly,” she says. “Concessions are given to industry while environment and treaty rights are often pushed to the side.”
She has brought big names on board, too. Last year, Canadian rock icon Neil Young contacted Eriel to see the oil sands and Fort Chipewyan firsthand. “While he was here he felt he wanted to do more,” she says. The result was Young’s four-city, "Honour the Treaties" tour, which took the ACFN’s message to a broader audience.
Eriel says the ultimate goal for the ACFN isn’t legal action but economic and governance partnerships. “If there is development of lands and resources in our traditional territories, we need to be prominent in determining how those things happen, not just as consultants on the side,” she says.
Crystal is a Beaver Lake Cree First Nation activist, a Sierra Club Prairie activist and the Peace River tar sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network in Alberta, Canada, and a mother of two.
With infectious dedication and passion, Crystal is committed to restoring Native treaty rights and stopping the expansion of the tar sands.
“We have come to a point where we have to not be afraid of holding the Canadian government accountable for our treaty rights,” she exclaims. But she is a lone voice in her community. “Nobody wants to speak about it because they are scared. They say ‘carry our message but don’t use my name.” One of the reasons is that many of the people in the community work for the industry. They lose their jobs if they speak out. She explained that people in her community don’t have a choice. They either work for the industry or live in abject poverty.
“It should never be right that you have to decide between your morals, values, who you are as an indigenous person over feeding your family.”
Although the Beaver Lake Cree’s rights to hunt and fish for all time are enshrined in Treaty 6, their land is being usurped by the oil sands industry, which destroys the very habitat of the animals and fish they depend on. They can’t even visit their traditional burial grounds anymore.
“We have every major oil company on our territory. None of them was given permission by our nation to be there,” she says as she shows us slides of the areas void of life.
But her and her family’s efforts have born some fruit. In May 2008, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation filed a Statement of Claim in Alberta’s court of Queen’s Bench taking the Government of Canada to court for over 17,000 treaty violations. By doing so, they are establishing an important precedent. In March 2012, they were granted a trial. “After we win this case, so many other Nations will come forward.”
The case is winnable. The law is clearly on the side of First Nations. But one barrier to justice is the high cost of the legal system. The Beaver Lake Cree now have to raise $250,000 for the legal team to file the reply to the Statement of Defense, prepare document discovery and attend critical case management hearings.
“It is my obligation as a mother, my obligation to my ancestors to ensure we have our rights respected. It’s my obligation to my future generations and most of all to our own true mother—something each and every one of us in here has in common. That obligation can never be surrendered. We are keepers of the land, stewards of the land. Every single thing that a human being needs to survive is here in Canada.”
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (his first name pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’), a 13-year-old indigenous environmental activist from Boulder, Colorado, came into the world through the Aztec culture on his father's side, and environmental activism on his mother's side. Aztec elders of Mexico chose his name based on the cosmology of the Aztec calendar, and elders Arvol Looking Horse and Xolotl Martinez gave it to him when he was six weeks old in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Xiuhtezcatl has been participating in ceremonies and Aztec dancing since he could walk, and is very connected with his culture. He grew up learning to respect and care for the Earth and all life upon it.
His deep connection with the Earth inspired him to become a voice for protecting the Earth at a young age, giving his first speech at a climate change rally when he was six years old.
Today, Xiuhtezcatl is the youth director of Earth Guardians, a non-profit environmental organization that is committed to protecting the water, air, earth, and atmosphere. He has worked with Boulder City Council members, County Commissioners, senators and congresspeople, and has collaborated with over 50 environmental organizations. He has led and participated in many victories including getting pesticides out of Boulder’s city parks, achieving a fee for plastic bags, and containment of coal ash.
He is currently fighting for a statewide ban on fracking. He gives presentations on fracking in schools and at conferences nationally, and also has developed and shown a presentation called EARTH, teaching about practical changes all people can make to insure future generations a healthy habitable planet.
His work on climate change has led him to become a youth plaintiff against the state of Colorado, and a federal plaintiff against the United States, filing law suits for not protecting the atmosphere. In May, 2012, he went to Washington DC to meet with representatives from all three branches of government, working to garner support for the lawsuits and a Climate Recovery Plan based on NASA scientist James Hansen’s and Bill McKibben’s work. Over 80 members of Congress and the Congressional Progressive Caucus publicly supported the youth delegation.
Xiuhtezcatl was one of the youngest speakers at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio Brazil in June 2012. He spoke on UN panels and at many of the UN side events. He also had the honor of lighting the sacred fire with indigenous elders from Brazil.
Frustrated by the inaction of world leaders, he and two other young people intervened in the UN meetings so that the voices of children would be heard. He is traveling and initiating International Earth Guardian Crews around the globe to fulfill the Earth Guardian mission, and these groups are now going strong in Africa, India, Australia, Brazil and Europe.
Xiuhtezcatl is also a piano composer and has recorded his first album called Journey. His music was used in Trust Colorado, an award-winning short documentary featuring Xiuhtezcatl and filmed by Peter Gabriel's organization, Witness. He also writes and performs original message-driven rap music to inspire and educate his peers through performances. Check out one of his group’s music videos here.
Xiuhtezcatl continues to inspire youth and adults alike, encouraging people everywhere to become more aware and educated, and to work together to face the threats to our future from our environmental and climate crises. Xiuhtezcatl is a living example of one of his heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, and he truly reflects the change that he wants to see in the world.
Patricia Gualinga, the courageous Kichwa leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon, will join with Pachamama Alliance at this year's conference to bring an urgent report from the front lines of protecting the lungs of the planet where women’s leadership is rising.
Many miles up the winding Bobonaza River deep in rainforest lives Patricia's community, the Kichwa people of Sarayaku. They call themselves the People of the Zenith, stemming from an ancient prophecy of their ancestors claiming that Sarayaku would be a pillar of territorial, cultural, and spiritual defense—a beacon of light as strong as the sun the moment it reaches the highest point above their forest lands.
“When others have surrendered, Sarayaku will not back down! We can't feed our children oil.” And then they prove it again and again, continuously beating back oil drilling plans on their lands, winning landmark cases in the highest international courts, and rising to symbolize indigenous resistance in the Amazon and around the world.
For years, Patricia has been on the front lines of Sarayaku's struggle, a key protagonist in the historic indigenous rights victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and an incredible leader of a rapidly-growing movement of women defending the Amazon.
"We want the Amazon to be valued for what it is, not just an economic resource. We are standing up for our lives, yours, the entire world and for the lives of our future generations!"
Cannupa Hanska Luger
Cannupa Hanska Luger was born in North Dakota (1979) on the Standing Rock Reservation. His genetics are derived from Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, and Norwegian. He graduated with honors from The Institute of American Indian Arts in 2011 with a BFA focusing in studio ceramics.
Cannupa is currently creating socially conscious work balanced with a high standard of craftsmanship and his sculpture has been added to various museum collections and shown in exhibitions worldwide. He is represented by Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.
His mother, Kathy “Elk Woman” Whitman, also a renowned artist, represents his concept of faith; his father, Robert “Bruz” Luger, represents his concepts of hard work and the middle distance.
As a child, Luger spent summers on his father’s ranch in North Dakota, where he learned the benefit of manual labor. His mother raised him (and his six siblings) on her art, as it provided their food, clothing, and shelter; in a way, self-expression was his mother’s life-nourishing milk.
As an artist’s child, Luger naturally understood the ebb and flow of an artist’s life thus, there was little hesitation on his part when he felt compelled to choose the same lifestyle. As a newly emerged artist, who is quickly gaining a reputation of his own, Luger remarks that “For me, now is the time to love and to fail, to learn and to decay. The universe is and that is all. So it goes…”
Together with Ginger Dunnill, Cannupa created the stage art for our 25th anniversary conference. A silent auction will be held for the artwork throughout the conference weekend.
Ginger Dunnill (Hana, Maui, Hawaii) works in audio composition, installation and performance-based art, collaborating with artists from New Zealand to Brazil, creating music and installation work addressing social justice. She produces the Art Beat Conversations podcast featuring interviews with indigenous and other engaged artists. She also composes music scores, including most recently for the film This Is A Stereotype. You can follow Ginger on Twitter and hear some of her work on SoundCloud.
Together with Cannupa Hanska Luger, Ginger created the stage art for our 25th anniversary conference. A silent auction will be held for the artwork throughout the conference weekend.
Katsi Cook (Akwesasne Mohawk) is an Aboriginal Midwife, mother of six and grandmother of 10. Since 1983, she has conducted award-winning environmental justice health research in her home community of Akwesasne, NY.
She is also the founder of First Environment Collaborative of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a program that supports Native American women and girls to develop control of their reproductive power and voices.
In her experience of over 25 years as a Mohawk midwife, women’s health advocate and activist for environmental restoration in her Tribal community—the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne—Katsi works at the intersections of reproductive justice and environmental justice.
Following an apprenticeship at The Farm in Tennesee and clinical training in New Mexico, Katsi returned to Akwesasne in 1980, where she practiced midwifery and helped establish the Akwesasne Freedom School in response to Mohawk parents’ concern over inequities in the New York State education system.
She also started the Mother's Milk Monitoring Project in 1984, to monitor PCB levels in breast milk and to address the environmental impact of industrial development on residents of Akwesasne (one of the most severely polluted Native American communities).
Today, Katsi is a respected elder and educator in her community. She has written numerous published essays, articles for Indian Country Today, and she was a featured speaker at Live Earth at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC in 2007. In 2008, Katsi’s papers became part of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.
“Women are the first environment. We are an embodiment of our Mother Earth. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of the generations both to society and the natural world. With our bodies we nourish, sustain and create connected relationships and interdependence. In this way the Earth is our mother, our ancestors said. In this way, we as women are earth.”
Faith Gemmill, a Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan from Arctic Village, Alaska, is Executive Director of REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands).
REDOIL is a movement of Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Eyak, Gwich’in and Denaiana Athabascan Tribes who came together in June 2002 in Cordova, Alaska to form a powerful entity to challenge the fossil fuel and mining industries and demand their rights to a safe and healthy environment conducive to subsistence.
Faith previously worked on behalf of the Gwich’in Nation for over ten years as a representative, public spokesperson and Gwich’in Steering Committee staff to address the potential human health and cultural impacts of proposed oil development and production of the birthplace and nursery of the Porcupine Caribou Herd which is located within the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
She is a current field representative of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). In this capacity Faith has represented the Gwich’in Nation within appropriate mechanisms of the United Nations to advocate for the recognition of Gwich’in human rights as well as work for the rights and recognition of Indigenous Peoples. Faith also serves on the advisory board of Honor the Earth.