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The rise of sustainability as a force to critique, celebrate and co-modify

Columnist reivigorated after experience with Canadian tribe

The Kwak'wala, a First Nations Tribe, struggled over whether to allow some of their sacred items to a museum in Canada, but decided the educational purposes and cultural value outweighed some of their tribal secrets. Columnist Paul Haeder found this thought process inspiring. (Paul K. Haeder / Down to Earth NW Correspondent)
The Kwak'wala, a First Nations Tribe, struggled over whether to allow some of their sacred items to a museum in Canada, but decided the educational purposes and cultural value outweighed some of their tribal secrets. Columnist Paul Haeder found this thought process inspiring. (Paul K. Haeder / Down to Earth NW Correspondent)
Paul K. Haeder Down to Earth NW Correspondent
It’s been more than 16 months since I started with DTE, and what’s amazing is the output I’ve been able to develop for which the editors have given the green light parallels the range of topics I’ve been given permission to cover – starting with the timely Dispatches from Disaster series covering the Gulf Coast oil madness and the attendant issues, precipitated by Spokane biologist Marc Gauthier’s road to the Gulf, and then a movie, “Gulf Coast Blues,” here. Some other highlights: * Want the low-down on how bad golfing can be to the planet? * You think Spokane doesn’t have articles on Hispanic farmers in the Pacific Northwest? * Want insights from an EWU water expert importing her Indian philosophy? * Thinking about the next Earth Day? How about a writing contest? * Want to learn about food and climate change? * We have the inside look on bees * We care about the beef you think you are putting into your belly * One of my favorites was a piece I wrote on beaver restoration, from another article that first appeared in Spokane Living Magazine, April 2011. The road ahead is full of great stuff from my end, and the idea is to expose Spokane readers and other DTE aficionados to incredible stories detailing the ins and outs of the green movement, the sustainability sector, and innovators and collectives looking at deep change in their communities, and for the globe. I may be pugnacious, and always ready to lambast the vanguard, but I don’t take this sustainability topic lightly, and thus, I fortify myself with a dearth of conferences, classes, workshops and presentations. I’ve been a leadership student at University of British Columbia’s sustainability institute. That July 4-8 2011, class, with a large group of participants and facilitation by innovators in the sustainability world will give much fodder for interesting stories. Look for more finely-tuned and elegantly-grained ways to peel away layers of contextualizing and framing in the sustainability movement/movements. There are innovative things coming from architects, planners, and others looking toward a carbon-less, zero-emission society. Others in the movement tie into everything from steady-state economics, to deep strategic planning for a world moving toward a century that might be ice-free and food-and-energy hungry. The science of climate change and environmental refugees and collapsing ecosystems is widening the gap between marketers and corporate giants and the reality-based models for mitigating and managing a world in tumbling economic, cultural, ecological and energy systems freefall. Writers — journalists and poets and novelists – must tackle this topic with aplomb, grace, wickedness and fearlessness. And pick up the pace. This opening salvo is aimed at pretenders and charlatans in this green movement. Sustainability lite will be looked at in future articles. Green-washing will be another. Look for green burials, small nations sustainability projects, and our own community bill of rights, Envision Spokane. More than I can imagine and plan for will radiate into some prescient and creative story ideas. Sometimes these journeys go down a winding path, crisscrossing my own narrative. Pasts are frames for futures, and I hope to find a deeper meaning in my own story, and all those people I have crossed paths with – as an activist, journalist, educator, and traveler. Some of those voices I’ve been lucky to listen to and interact with bring chills in my spine – Robert Bly, Octavio Paz, Denise Levertov, Tim Flannery, several Cousteaus, and countless others. John Francis, planet walker, Novella Carpenter, urban gardener, both fine people looking within and outside in their respective communities, are just two of many who informed, inspired and entertained when I spoke with them. What about all those people from the 1970s on I’ve been fortunate enough to have interviewed and studied with? Well, this has to be something of value to readers. What I just appropriated again, after years away from the core of some of my Southwest and meso-American Indian friends, came from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver (here). It’s the foundational and simple wisdom I had gained years ago from Mescalero Apaches on the White River Arizona reservation; from Tarahumara throughout the Barranca del Cobre in Mexico; from Buddhists in Vietnam who worked with some of their brethren who self-immolated during the U.S. invasion and war. I had that wisdom inside me, and over the years I’ve been in a flurry of thinking, moving, action. The wisdom got watered down. I regained that wisdom while touring a white man’s museum in British Columbia, on July 4, 2011. The (Kwak’wala people of that region of Canada – a First Nations tribe represented in the anthropology museum – brought some relevance back to my own three decades journey writing poetry, novels and non-fiction. How do I reveal deeply held beliefs and fears of this planet? The Kwak’wala struggled with what they might have chosen to give to the University of British Columbia’s museum as evidence of their culture, whether those things that are hidden – Kwik’waladlakw – like wolf whistles and masks, the supernatural powers from their nation – should be gifted. They allowed the items of the nawalakw, the hidden powers, to be represented through these incredible carvings and representations of the other worlds of their belief and human-nature system. They grappled with this and decided that giving their wisdom to outside cultures would bring that power and create a healing bridge. In this time of silo-thinking, nationalism, xenophobia, hegemony and superstition rising, it’s clear we all have to make more effort to be heard, and to listen. In order to find the meaning in the hidden. This is the time of ecological literacy, clarity, and action. For many, dialogue must replace debate when it comes to earth systems.
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