By Heidi Majano and Helene Szabados
Last Friday, Peaceful World Foundation had the opportunity to participate at the 2016 Bioneers Conference. Bioneers is a nonprofit educational organization that emphasizes breakthrough solutions for restoring people and the planet. For over two decades, Bioneers has provided an annual conference gathering both scientific and social innovators to demonstrate visionary and practical models for restoring the Earth and communities.
The conference runs for three days which are broken up into two different types of workshops. The first part of the day is spent in a main hall where we gather to listen to keynote speakers. The second part of the day is dispersed into a plethora of interactive workshops to choose from. We took in many impressions that day and we continued to reflect, discuss, and find ways to implement the ideas generated from the conference into our work at the Peaceful World Foundation.
The conference is a networking hub for individuals seeking knowledge on solutions to improving our planet. Throughout the conference, the general consensus was that our current global situation in regards to climate change, corporate greed, inequality, community injustice and loss of biodiversity are all operating on an old paradigm driven by a narrative influenced in our Nation’s colonialism. This old paradigm is no longer a sustainable model of development and speakers after speakers spoke about the calling for a fundamental change in our perception of how we relate to the world.
Nina Simons and Katsi Cook both made reference to recent scientific findings revealing that all beings have an intelligence. Currently, our perception of the natural world is narrow and incomplete leaving room for introspection and inquiry.
“We are seeing an awakening in our communities that everything is connected and as we continue combining indigenous knowledge and science our relationship with Mother Earth will only strengthen.” -Katsi Cook, Program Director at the Novo Foundation.
Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, described collaborations with elder healers from the remote areas in the Amazon where he has been working for over thirty years. The collaborating partnership includes developing and implementing apprenticeship programs to transmit sacred healing information to the next generations.
We were inspired by Ericka Huggins, a human rights activist, innovative educator who led the Black Panther Party for 14 years. She was introduced by Fania Davis who shared a segment of Ms. Huggins’ past. Fania described Ericka’s pain after the murder of her husband and the steps she took toward restorative justice. Years after Ericka’s husband was killed, a man admitted to participating in the murder and asked to speak with Ericka not only to gain closure but to receive forgiveness for his treacherous behavior. “Resist the urge to go to guilt, shame and fear. Turn to forgiveness” were her heartfelt words. As Ericka described her experience as a political prisoner, she emphasized how spiritual practice was the key to her freedom.
Eve Ensler, an award winning playwright, performer and activist took us into an energetic depiction of the journey into a woman’s body. With her potent stage presence and her dynamic link between a woman’s body and the adversities women face, Eve Ensler empowered the audience to “be the messenger(s) of (our) own deliverance.” Her encouraging and powerful words left the audience energized to participate in creating solutions and becoming agents of change.
After lunch, we chose separate workshops to participate in. Helene chose to be part of the Council tent, engaging council and other dialogic practices for social change and healing. She found this workshop interesting as it was closely aligned to our work at the Peaceful World Conversations. Ilarion Merculieff, first Native commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development and Sharon Shay Sloan, a council trainer and consultant were the facilitators. In the center of the tent, was a colorful display of beans, sand, rocks and other earthly substances.
The hosts started the workshop with a few guidelines, similar to our six ingredients to a good conversation. Ilarion explained what nonviolent conversation looks like and described that traditionally worldly problems were discussed and solved within these guidelines. According to tradition, the word “disagree” is a violent response which was not allowed in council. The most important guideline was to speak from the heart. Ilarion noted, “We live in a society that honors the mind. Before, the heart told the mind what to do, now the mind tells the heart what to do.” The participants were asked to put one thing they care about into the center of the tent to create a powerful connection of energy. The discussion topic was to describe an experience related to social change. Helene found the conversation to be very open as most individuals shared their personal life stories.
Heidi attended a two hour panel discussion, Making Peace with Earth by Protecting Biodiversity hosted by Jessica Sweidan from Synchronicity Earth. The central question around this panel discussion with field biologists and scientists was the following:
“What needs to happen so we can ensure that we pass on a planet worth inhabiting to future generations?”
In reflection, the discussion reaffirmed in Heidi the need to include indigenous peoples in these panel discussions. For many decades, non-indigenous academics and researchers develop plans and projects to “help” communities protect their resources. Often times what is neglected is the humility to build relationships with the people in these communities. By building relationships, we can begin to learn a familiar language of conservation and sustainability. The knowledge is there, but we need to see it with a different set of lens. Relating back to what Nina Simons, Katsi Cook, and Mark Plotkin mentioned earlier in their presentations, a fundamental shift is required in how we relate to the planet and to our inter-relationship with the natural world.
Quoting Ericka Huggins, “Personal transformation is necessary to achieve social transformation” summarized it for Heidi in her profound presentation.
After much time reflecting on our experiences and impressions from our day at the Bioneers conference, we found ourselves feeling hopeful. We found hope as we listened and met people who are actively working towards creating a better world. Bioneers recognizes that our daunting realities require new forms of leadership and organization anchored in collaboration, teamwork, diversity and a network of innovative organizing models.