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Journey to the Four Corners with Bioneers Indigeneity Program, Day 7

This blog series is to share our week-long Kinship Journey to the Four Corners region to experience first-hand the amazing work undertaken by our partners with from the Colorado Plateau Intertribal Conversations Group, and inspired by our collective efforts to protect the Rights of Nature.

Anything written in this blog series reflects my personal interpretations, and does not reflect Bioneers Collective Heritage Institute or the opinions of the other people with whom I traveled.

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, and Day 6


The early risers in our Kinship Circle group rose at dawn to experience the famous Red Rocks of Sedona. I amused myself thinking about what a terrible four-corners Native I would make, after hearing over the past week about the virtues (really its more of a traditional and spiritual cultural mandate) of getting up early with the sun for health and well-being.

Incredible Red Rocks State Park at dawn, in a photo taken by Bioneers Executive Director, Joshua Fouts, who visited the spectacular site for the sunrise (while I was sleeping).

The other late risers and I joined the early birds at 9:00 am for a final group breakfast together around a big table on our hotel terrace. For the past week, the trip highlighted the homelands and the work of our partners at the Colorado Plateau Intertribal Conversations Group (CPIC) and Diné Hozho. Our goal for this morning was to situate Bioneers partnership with the CPIC into a bigger context around environmental and social activism.

Our final breakfast together on the 2017 Kinship Journey.

Indigeneity Program Director, Cara Romero, talked about how the relationship between Bioneers Indigeneity and CPIC grew organically over the years, leading up to the “Rights of Nature Workshop” we co-hosted with CPIC gathering members in June 2017. Co-led by Thomas Linsey and Mari Margill of the Community Legal Defense Fund, this workshop provided us an opportunity to learn more about this groundbreaking strategy for ecosystem protection (check out this recent blog I wrote about Rights of Nature and Indigenous Peoples).

Due to their sovereign status, federally recognized US tribes pose an incredible opportunity to forward community-led Rights of Nature policy initiatives to protect indigenous homelands for generations to come. While they could run the risk of facing lawsuits from the corporations responsible for environmental destruction, upholding Rights of Nature by writing them into tribal constitutions has the incredible potential to strengthen tribal sovereignty. “Right now, we are in learning mode, working at a slow-growth pace to get it right, the way tribes have traditionally adopted new ways,” Cara explained, in reference to the upcoming Rights of Nature Traditional Ecological Knowledge Workshop and Indigenous Forum panel we programmed for the 2017 Bioneers Conference. In our vision, we see many tribes coming together in many places at the same time to exercise Rights of Nature. When tribes and their allies act in solidarity to protect nature, corporations won’t be able to keep up the fight to destroy it.

You can learn more about the potential for Rights of Nature frameworks to change communities and protect the planet for generations to come at the 2017 Bioneers TEK pre-conference intensive, Reclaiming Indigenous Worldviews: Implementing the Rights of Nature in the Bay Area and Beyond, and the Indigenous Forum Panel, Rights of Nature: Codifying Indigenous Worldviews into Law to Protect Biodiversity.

Next, Bioneers Executive Director, Josh Fouts, presented a brief overview of some of the incredible outcomes of the 2016 conference — which includes a new marine preserve, ambitious partnerships around carbon farming, and bringing traditional ecological knowledge to public education.

Bioneers Executive Director, Joshua Fouts, talks about some of the incredible outcomes of connections made at the 2016 Bioneers Conference.

Bioneers gives the pioneers of game changing movements like the Rights of Nature a platform to bring about cultural zeitgeist to move in the direction we need to be going as a society to protect our planet. Bioneers co-founder, Nina Simons offered the closing words to our breakfast, and we all went around the table, proud to be a Bioneer and an accomplice to our partners at CPIC.

Bioneers Co-Founder, Nina Simons, expresses gratitude to Deon Ben for the partnership between Bioneers and the Colorado Plateau Intertribal Conversations Group.

After a break, we gathered back together for lunch at Chocola Tree, an organic, gluten-free eatery and juice bar. Our whole group was thrilled with the restaurant menu offerings, with several declaring it, “the best place we ate on the whole trip.”

We loved Chocola Tree! The menu was deeeeeelish!

I went straight for the lemon ginger juice, followed by a Mediterranean salad, and a vegan “chocolate brownie” which was absolutely to die for. (As an aside: What is it with vegan desserts? It’s the world’s best kept secret that vegan desserts are always sweeter, richer, and more satisfying than conventional, flour, sugar, butter and cream ones.) I felt cleaner, happier, and satisfied after finishing my amazing lunch!

My yummy Mediterranean-inspired salad was so fresh, it came with its own insect.

Bioneers Executive Director, Joshua Fouts, was quite pleased with his green smoothie starter.

After lunch, we learned more about the plants we had seen throughout the landscape over the past week with an ethnobotany walk, led by Deon Ben, Sunny Dooley and Ruby Chimerica. Our hosts explained that they can only talk about the plants from their specific homelands, and tribal perspectives, acknowledging that Sedona is also traditionally stewarded by the Yavapai Apache, who have their own sets of knowledge about this place. Our hosts were also careful to present only what could and should be shared about the plants, as some meanings and uses are to remain private. Even with these cultural protections in place, I learned so much about what plants can be eaten or used for drinks at different times of year, and to help with specific medical conditions. I also learned about which plants are good for basket weaving, and other kinds of “every day” uses. I feel like not knowing the plants and ecosystems of a place is like walking around a city without being able to read, so the ethnobotany walk was a real treat for me.

Learning about the sumac, pinyon pine and other plants that grow in the area.

Taking a moment on our last day together for a warm hug in friendship and gratitude.

After the ethnobotany walk, we returned to our hotel, where we enjoyed a special presentation from the Director of the Indigeneity Program, and award-winning contemporary photographer, Cara Romero. Fresh off her award recognition for her photograph “Ty” as “Best of Classification in Class III, Painting, Drawing, Graphics and Photography,” at the 2017 Santa Fe Indian Market, Cara presented a slide show of her incredible photography (check out her website here).

Cara Romero is one of the most talented photographers in Indian Country today. We were treated to an “artists view” of her process, and the meaning behind the powerful and provocative images she creates.

“Ty” photograph by Bioneers Indigeneity Program Director, Cara Romero, which won the top honor at the 2017 Santa Fe Indian Market.

Dear friend to the Indigeneity Program, Heather Henson, also shared with us a sneak peak of her (and Ibex Puppetry’s) amazing environmental theater production, Crane: On Earth in Sky. We were all amazed at the visually stunning and powerfully emotional coming of age story about

A crane, Ajijjack, who shares the lessons of taking care of the environment as she learns to take flight. This production is accompanied by environmental education whose lessons incorporate ingenious little paper puppets, that teachers and children can make together to embody the lessons of the story. We are very excited about Heather’s environmental education work, which incorporates Indigenous wisdom in a respectful way for all people to benefit from, and are looking forward to supporting it in future endeavors.

Heather Henson demonstrates how to cut and make your own paper crane puppets in less than 5 minutes.

How ingenious is this instant puppet?

My 3 year-old daughter and I made and played with the paper puppets after I returned home. Its hard to believe, but all these creatures were on a single piece of paper.

For our final meal of the trip, we came together at the acclaimed Saltrock kitchen. After dinner, we watched the moon rise as we gathered for a final talking circle to express the gratitude we felt for the experience we shared together. We knew our lives were changed, but just how had yet to reveal itself.

We had our final meal together at Saltrock kitchen. (The food was great!)

After we bid our final tearful, goodbyes, I set out to put fuel in our van so I would be ready to transport my travel companions to the airport the next morning. When I got to the gas station, I encountered the same man I met at the gas station a few days before, when I stopped by to pick up some odds and ends. Even though he was at the opposite end of the political spectrum from me (based on our conversation from a few days prior), I liked him, and we were able to have an intelligent, interesting discussion about gun control, and the role of government in the affairs of citizens’ rights.

He remembered me too and said, “I’ve got something for you,” and he handed me a crystal gathered from a local rock hunting spot. I thought that was a “super Sedona” way to end my 2017 Kinship Journey.

I’ll always treasure my Sedona crystal, a gift from my friend at the Circle K, placed here on a sifter made by master Hopi basket-weaver, Ruby Chimerica.

← Day Six



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