#MujeresPorLaSelva – Indigenous Women of Ecuador Stand for an Amazon Free from Extraction on International Women’s Day

 Text and photos by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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Indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon mach together in defense of the Earth and their communities on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016

On March 8, cries, cheers, shouts and drum beats rang out in the air of Puyo, Ecuador, the streets pulsing with the movement and steady steps of over 500 Indigenous women leaders and international allies, standing together to denounce a new oil contracts recently signed between the Ecuadorian government and Chinese oil corporation Andes Petroleum.

Women leaders from seven diverse nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, including the Andoa, Achuar, Kichwa, Shuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Waorani nationalities had decided to unite on International Women’s Day 2016 with the expressed purpose of drawing attention to the dire social and ecologic implications of these new oil contracts, while calling for respect for Indigenous rights and the lives and just solutions of local women leaders, who’ve consistently put their bodies on the line to stop destruction across the Ecuadorian Amazon.

International Women’s Day events and actions began with a powerful forum at a central school and community center.

Women from across the region and their male allies, from toddlers and youth to honored elders, packed the open air auditorium, filled with anticipation as speakers gathered on stage, colorful banners were strung from the roof, and signs with statements such as ‘Femicide = ecocide – No persecution of women defending Pachamama ’, ‘We want the state to hear us – Andes Petroleum out of our territories’ and ‘They want to criminalize me for protecting my territory‘ were distributed throughout the crowd.

To join the day of action in the jungle town of Puyo, many women had walked, canoed and bused from deep within the Amazon, some carrying small children on their backs and in their arms, and many dressed in the intricate, unique and sacred clothing and adornments of their peoples.

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Women from across the Ecuadorian Amazon traveled by boat, foot and boat to join events in Puyo

The forum opened with ceremony led in partnership by local women and Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA Councilwoman Leader and WECAN delegation member and Special Projects Advisor. Following prayers, thanksgiving and welcomes, key women leaders representing all the nationalities present took the stage to share information about recent developments and current extraction threats in their area, and to share traditional songs, dances, wisdom, calls to action and plans for change.

In just one of many inspiring moments, women leaders of the Huaroni people, who hail from the Northern Amazon where oil extraction has already been devastating the land and peoples for years, took the stage to attest that the Huaroni will stand until the end with their sisters of other nationalities in an attempt to protect their rivers, air and soil of the Southern Amazon, much of which remains uncontaminated under the vigilant care of local women leaders.

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Women leaders of seven nationalities shared songs, dances, wisdom and calls for action and unity before the International Women’s Day march

Osprey Orielle Lake of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Leila Salazar Lopez of Amazon Watch took to the stage to share words of solidarity from the international community and connecting the day’s march to global struggles of women standing in defense of Mother Earth, and for just climate solutions.

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Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN shares words of solidarity from the international community and highlights the importance of women uniting globally to stand for climate justice and the for protection of the Amazon Rainforest and the Indigenous communities.

Osprey shared that more than 2,000 signatures from 60 countries had been collected on a WECAN petition and statement in support of the International Women’s Day actions and ongoing struggles to protect and defend the Amazon and its diverse communities. She also pledged on behalf of WECAN to work in solidarity with the Indigenous women of the Amazon everyday into the future until threats to the women’s communities and territories have been stopped in their tracks.

WECAN delegation member Casey Camp Horinek also spoke after the series of presentations by Amazonian women, recounting experiences of colonization, discrimination and dire environmental damages at the hands of the fossil fuel industry in her Oklahoma, USA community – with the intent of providing insights and support to the women of the Amazon working to prevent similar mal-development and destruction in their homelands.

A tribute was held in honor of Berta Caceres, the Honduran Indigenous environmental leader killed the previous week over her work defending rights and territories from privatization, plantations, and mega dam projects.

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Leila Salazar Lopez of Amazon Watch and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN  prepare to march with Huarorani women leaders of the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon

After the series of powerful testaments from regional women leaders and allies, the women began to assemble to march, spilling out of the school and onto the street.

Mujeres Sapara – presente! Mujeres Shuar – presente! Mujeres Kichwa – presente! Mujeres Waroni– presente! Porque mobilizamos? Por la vida! La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende.

Sapara women – present! Shuar women – present! Kichwa women – present! Waroni women – present! Why are we mobilizing? For life! Don’t sell the forest, defend the forest.

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EYoung women of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku lead the March 8 International Women’s Day march in defense of life and the Amazon

An estimated 500 women moved forward through the city with fierce determination, holding children, leaves and plants representing the forest, and signs with powerful statements and heart wrenching photos of oil contamination and flares.

As the march unfolded, the Ecuadorian government and Andes Petroleum convened a meeting in the nearby town of Shell in an attempt to organize an entry into Sapara territory, knowing that key leaders were away from home attending the march. Outraged, a delegation of Sapara returned to Shell to deliver a letter to the meeting, underscoring their opposition to the new oil project and the governments exploitative attempts to divide the community by falsly claiming there was community consent. The Sapara successfully thwarted the plans to enter their lands, and returned to the growing march.

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Scenes from the March 8 International Women’s Day march in Puyo, Ecuador, where more than 500 women from across the Amazon united in defense of the Earth and their communities

“We are here as the Indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon on this day, the 8th of March, because it is an opportunity, with our presence, demonstrating, to leave messages for the whole world that we, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon do not want petroleum exploitation, we do not want destruction, we want respect for our rights as Indigenous people of the Amazon. So that is why we are here, shouting, angry but happy as well,” explained Rosa Ruiz, a Sapara leader from the community of Torimbo, which is inside the new ‘Block 83’ oil concession.

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Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN and Rosa Ruiz, Sapara leader of Torimbo, Ecuador demand action to keep fossil fuels in the ground across the Amazon and beyond

After hours of marching across the scorching Amazonian city, the women convened again in a central square to raise their voices, share experiences and make plans to protect the Amazon and their diverse communities into the future – vowing to never step down in defense of the living forest and their families and culture.

The following day the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network delegation returned to the capital city of Quito, Ecuador with a van full of Indigenous women leaders and allies from Pachamama Alliance/Terra Matter, strategizing together on the road winding from the edge of the Amazonian plains up switchback curves into the Andean mountains.

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Shuar women leaders march with signs reading ‘Pastaza in danger from extractivist politics’ and ‘Femicide=ecocide – No to the persecution of women defending Pachamama’

The women discussed the critical need to organize ongoing meetings between the women leaders of the seven nationalities and beyond, their conversation underscoring a potency of force and ability to unite across all other divisions seen as lacking amongst male leaders, but displayed brilliantly by the women during the previous day’s march. Plans began to get news and photos of the march and forum out to other women in remote areas to help bring strength and a sense of support to those facing threats and divisions at the hands of extractive industries on a daily basis.

Upon return to Quito, the women presented an evening event, ‘Women of Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Stand For Protection of the Amazon Rainforest’ at FLASCO University.

Casey Camp Horinek and Osprey Orielle Lake presented opening talks linking the social, ecologic and climate crisis and detailing the central role of women in just climate solutions from Latin America to North America and across the world.

They then passed the floor to Narcissa Mashenta, Shuar maternal health provider of Morona-Santiago.

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Narcissa Mashenta (Shuar) and Gloria Ushigua (Sapara) present at the FLASCO University event ‘Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Stand for Protection of the Amazon Rainforest’, hosted by WECAN and Terra Matter

“We as Amazonian women, we work to guard our forest, our land, because women feel that we ourselves are Earth, we are forest, and our children must have safe and healthy air to breathe.”

“Take care of the little bit of the pure Amazon that is left to us, that exists in Pastaza and Morona- Santiago and amongst the other nationalities where there is still sacred Earth, the waterfalls, the rivers that are not contaminated, where our children can bathe safely, the waters that our children need, and which their children will also need.”

Her comments were followed by those of Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, FLASCO university professors and directors, and Belen Paez of Terra Matter who was a central organizer in all the events.

Students, activists, political officials and teachers from Quito and a host of international bodies and Indigenous communities packed the room and engaged in questions and discussion throughout.

Together across borders and communities, allies united this International Women’s Day to stand for the living forest and the women guardians standing for justice for the Earth and their peoples.

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is honored to partner with Amazon Watch who has a 20 year history of  work in the region and with the Sapara people and Kichwa of Sarayaku to expand longtime collaboration – and together to move forward with the momentum of International Women’s Day action to bring forth an end to extraction in the Amazon.

Additional Resources:

For Earth & Future Generations: Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change, Paris

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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On December 7, 2015, women from around the world united at ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris’, a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network event held in parallel to United Nations COP21 climate negotiations.

In holding with tradition, WECAN began the event by honoring the peoples of the land on which event presenters and participants stood. Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Executive Director, presented a gift and opened the floor to Josefina Skerk, Vice-President of the Sami Parliament of Sweden, who offered a traditional Sami welcome on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of Europe.

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“We are all bound to each other, and we are all bound to Nature,” Josefina reflected, “As Indigenous peoples, the bond that we have to Nature is that of a family member, it is someone that does not have to be vocal for you to understand them. And right now our family member, our mother, our Nature is screaming. But thanks to people like you and me who are speaking out, taking action and working together to build strong alliances against this exploitation, there is hope. We are becoming joined in a beautiful weave.”

Sally Ranney, co-Founder of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network took the floor, sharing thoughts on consumerism, personal responsibility, and the imperative of changing our cultural narratives.

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Sally Ranney (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“We are experiencing a wake up call, both internally, for our internal journeys and decision making protocol, and for our global decision making protocol. Climate change asks us to look really deeply at what are values are, and these are the kind of discussion that aren’t happening inside COP21,” Sally explained, handing the mike back to WECAN co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake for a critical analysis and foundation for subsequent panels and presentation.

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Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“It is not a time to be timid, we are not in a rehearsal but rather in a truly a transformative moment,” Osprey began, noting that COP21 discussions and emissions cuts happening simultaneously just outside of Paris remained absolutely insufficient, “There is no later date – the time is irrefutable now, so we are calling for radical change and I want to bring that forward today,”

“There needs to be an understanding that there is a systemic link between the climate crisis, our economic model, and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women,” she continued, outlining why women are impacted first and worst by climate change, but more importantly, why women are key to climate justice and global peace making.

“To address systemic problems, women are advocating for and implementing models of collective ownership of the plants, the forests – they are working to localize their economies… they are already demonstrating alternative plans and policies, small scale solutions with very large impacts.”

“There is something else that women are bringing to the conversation that really cannot be left out as we face massive loss of life, species extinction, and the increasing threats of climate change, and that is our emotional and spiritual intelligence. Healing our seeming disconnect to Mother Earth is a solution, and women’s voices are central to this.”

Osprey drew attention to the critical leadership of Indigenous women across the globe – framing their struggles and solutions as one of the most critical untold stories of the climate crisis.

“We are Mother Earth’s immune system – standing up together to protect and defend and heal her. Through our collective networks, we are calling for system change, not climate change. We need climate justice, and we need to have the courage to change everything about how we are living with each other and the Earth,” Osprey concluded, bringing the first group of outstanding women leaders to the stage for the ‘Women Speak from the Frontlines of Climate Change’ panel.

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Pictured right to left: Kandi Mossett, Josefina Skerk, Eriel Deranger and Thilmeeza Hussain

Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Climate and Energy Campaign Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network of North Dakota, Turtle Island, USA spoke first – sharing immensely powerful words on what is happening in her homeland, and on the connections between capitalism, colonization, and violations of women and the Earth.

“This is COP21 – they have been doing this for 21 years… the truth is that women and Indigenous peoples have the answers, if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what is best for us. You cannot expect to take and take and take and never give back.”

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Kandi Mossett (Indigenous Environmental Network)

“Without balance we will destroy ourselves, and I think that is why women are leading the movement… women have always played a central role in the balance of life and livelihoods…look at the COP21 and what you’ll see is primarily a room full of older white males in suits making decisions on our behalf. My two and a half year old daughter is at home and has no idea about the decisions they are making for her, we must think about the next generation and the seventh generation. ”

Kandi’s spoke on her experiences in North Dakota, where fracking has exploded and brought dire environmental threats and a host of social injustice to her communities’ doorstep. She looked to the roots of escalating pollution, cancer, violent crime, drug use, and sexual assaults and sex trafficking – which all lie in the rapidly expanding toxic industry.

“We need to use the gifts that shine down on us almost everyday from the sun, the wind that blows in our face… So my message to the leaders that are listening, if they are listening, is to use your common sense. Get away from these ideas of greed and power – because when they are sitting around in a torn up world and everything around them is polluted, they will not be able to drink their oil and they will not be able to eat their money.”

Josefina Skerk, Vice President of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, took the floor again to share more on her peoples, lands and the stark climate impacts being felt there.

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Josefina Skerk (Sami Parliment)

Josefina explained that a two-degree temperature increase in most regions results in an eight degree rise in the far North, and that the traditional life and livelihood of the her people is already directly threatened and changing rapidly due to fragile ice and warming ecosystems. The Sami have persevered through intense discrimination and forced sterilization as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s – but now climate change is bringing new threats to their very existence itself.

“We are not strawberry jam, a wise Sami women once said…we do not want to be preserved,” Josefina stated to a resounding applause and calls of solidarity from the audience and fellow presenters.

“However through global work and though connecting with Indigenous people and others – through raising our voices – we are truly finding a way forward. There are demonstrations, there are protests and what we see is leaders taking their place, and they are normally Sami women from our society,”

“I do not know where the men are,” she laughed, “but I do know that women are fighting back and I see the strength of this. Raising our voices is immensely effective.”

Eriel Deranger, Communications Manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Treaty 8 Territory in Northern Alberta, Canada spoke next, bringing critical light to the importance of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous women’s climate solutions.

“Despite centuries of colonization and attempted assimilation, we have persevered and we have survived. Now, in 2015, it is time to abandon patriarchal and colonial ideologies… we have always been here, we have not been discovered. … we cannot move forward to a just and balanced society if we do not unpack these systems of patriarchy and colonization that have brought us to where we are today.”

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Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation)

Eriel continued, “We are seeing a merging of movement, and it is imperative. The environmental movement, the Indigenous rights movement, they are coming together because we have a common goal – the protection and preservation of the lands, of Mother Earth, of the places that have given us life and bred cultures that have persevered… I have no intention of stepping down – I will stand up to every government so that my children know who they are, so that my children can go back to the Delta and eat the fish and caribou and moose and know who they are. Without the strong voices of the women on the frontlines of climate change, without the strong voices of Indigenous women on the frontlines – we would not have a hope, so I want to pay homage to the strong women, all the strong women, I raise my hands up to you.”

Eriel passed the floor to Thilmeeza Hussain, Founder of Voice of Women, Maldives, who offered a jolting testimony based in her experience as a woman of a highly climate vulnerable small island nation.

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Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women Maldives)

“We need to look beyond the negotiations, beyond the text – we need to put a human face on what is going on – we need to understand what is really at stake. Lives are at stake, we are loosing lives, people are dying – that is what is at stake… how many lives are we willing to sacrifice before we act on climate change? How many dead bodies should we serve on a gold platter to these oil corporations before we can satisfy their greed and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy?”

Thilmeeza continued, “as mothers, as women, as sisters – as responsible citizens of this world – we cannot afford to watch our children be killed by climate change, we need to look beyond Paris and insure our governments are held accountable for the promises made here… we need to take strength from each other and move forward, we cannot afford to look back.”

Patricia Gualinga, Indigenous Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador took the stage as the afternoon’s first keynote speaker. Patricia spoke on the struggle and victory of her people, who have campaigned and successfully prevented oil extraction in their territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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Patricia Gualinga (Sarayaku, Ecuador) with translation by Leila Salazar-López (Amazon Watch)

“Our people, our women are determined that there will be no oil extraction in our territory, there will be no mining or industrial development. For this reason, we can say that we are already combatting climate change,”

Patricia spoke to the role of women in this vital work, to the need for strengthened global solidarity, and on the Kawsak Sacha ‘Living Forests’ proposal, her communities integral plan for a just and sustainable future. She framed the global climate crisis as fundamentally rooted in Western thought’s division of the material from the spiritual, and its loss of vision surrounding the profound interconnection of humans and the Earth.

“There is much worry about regarding what the governments are doing [inside COP21]… in many ways it pains me, they are so isolated – have you noticed how they drive in blacked out cars, how they hold meetings in these very cold sites that are so cut off from contact with reality? They have imprisoned themselves in their own heads in some ways, and they are the ones making decisions about the planet. We need to be very worried – if they are generating laws that don’t include us, with which we have never agreed, then we do not have any reason to obey them. If they are going to destroy the planet, it is our responsibility to resist them.”

Patricia continued with words of hope and unity;

“Now is not the time to see social classes, or colors or different languages – now is the time to transform ourselves, it is time to see each other as brothers and sisters. It is the time to understand and the time to change…. This is not a matter for Indigenous peoples, this is not a matter for just those who are out on the front fighting every day against oil concessions in our territories. This is an issue for everyone – respect Indigenous rights, respect the integrity of our lives, of future generations. In this we are all united, and if we are just one more everyday, then we can generate change,”

After concluding the translation from Spanish, Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, provided closing comments contextualizing why it is imperative that we work with communities like Sarayaku to protect the Amazon, and sharing the newly released document, ‘Keep It In The Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth‘.

Fleur Newman, Programme Officer and UNFCCC Gender Focal Point representing the UNFCCC Secretariat, spoke next after having listened to the first panel.

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Fleur Newman (UNFCCC Secretariat)

Fleur presented an overview of her role within the UNFCCC, and the various programs and mechanisms around women and climate change that she helps facilitate, including the UN System Wide Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She shared words of support and encouragement with the women leaders, helping bring the formal COP21 process together with the frontline and grassroots women leaders present at the event.

Following Fleurs remarks, presenters of the second panel, ‘Women’s Strategic Analysis, Policy and Advocacy for Systemic Change and Climate Justice’ took the stage. 

Titilope Akosa of Centre for 21st Century Issues, Nigeria and representative of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency opened the panel with an in-depth analysis on the status of gender equity in the Paris climate accord and the work of the Women and Gender Constituency inside of COP21.

She presented the ten point Women and Gender Constituencies COP21 Key Demands document, and outlined the Constituencies struggles and ceaseless work to retain gender responsive language in the Paris accord.

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Titilope Akosa (Centre for 21st Century Issues & the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency)

“We have made it clear that this agreement, the global agreement on climate change will not be complete without women…you cannot write off half of humanity, it is not possible. If gender is not referenced and if the aspiration of women is not included, if the aspirations of the women on the frontlines are not included in this global agreement, then a whole half of humanity is excluded,”

“We do not want a polluted future, we do not want a future that is used up before our children come to life,” Titilope continued, “We are women, we are the ones that create, we are the ones that bring forth life and this is why we must stand strong for the people and planet. And this is why I am here, I come all the way from Nigeria in Africa – I said that I cannot sit down and allow this to go on, and allow these leaders to gamble with the future. If I have to talk to my children, the ones yet unborn, I will be happy and grateful to tell that when it was time to act, I was there, I stood for their future and I am proud to say that I am a warrior on this land and I am ready to fight to the end. We will not give up on our beautiful planet.”

Mary Louise Malig, Campaigns Coordinator and Research Associate with the Global Forest Coalition in the Philippines spoke next, shedding light on connections between climate change, agribusiness and global industrial trade, and presenting small-scale agro-ecological farming as a critical, tangible and immediate climate solution.

She discussed how the WTO and trade agreements like the hotly debated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) effectively block the progress made through negotiations such as COP and other local and national initiatives, using its fierce, legally binding power to enforce trade sanctions that benefit very few over the health and wellbeing of people and planet.

Mary Lou shared the example of Ontario, Canada, where a tariff program to encourage local renewables was shut down by a WTO dispute claiming they were unfairly favoring local workers and processes – both vital to just climate solutions.

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Mary Louise Malig (Global Forest Coalition)

“It has to be the system that is changed. We cannot win a battle where we just fight inside this arena. We have to connect our struggles – we have to connect the struggles against deforestation, the struggle against free trade, the struggle for real solutions to climate change. We have to connect them all together and really fight to change the system and bring peoples solutions up to the front.”

Mary Lou passed the floor to Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental & Climate Justice Program, who shared a presentation called ‘Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation and Revolution’.

Jacqui spoke to the effects of environmental discrimination and industrial pollution on communities in the US, and called out false solutions such as natural gas, which are only deepening the climate crisis and violating rights, particularly those of frontline communities, low-income families, and peoples of color.

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Jaqcui Patterson (NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program)

“We must address the disparity between who is making decisions and who is most impacted,” Jacqui explained, simultaneously referencing her experience with the post Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and the concurrent COP21 climate negotiations.

She shared stories of successful, tragic and ongoing struggles of women and community leaders documenting pollution related health impacts in their communities and taking direct action to shut down toxic industries and build alternatives – and expanded Mary Lou’s insights on the intersectionality of our people’s movements.

“Not only are we pushing for clean energy, but we are also working to insure that there are economic justice measures in these policies,” Jacqui explained, emphasizing that things like women in renewable energy, accessible and sovereign food systems, immigrant rights and justice, and racial justice are all connected and essential elements of the just transition we so desperately need.

Angelina Galiteva, Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute in the USA closed the second panel with compelling comments on energy policy derived from years of work inside the industry and outside as an advocate, activist and mother.

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Angelina Galiteva (Renewables 100 Policy Institute)

“We are moving forward and we are going to transition the system to 100% renewable energy. Why? Because we have the technology, because it is possible,”

She shared poignant reflections on the role of women in the coming clean energy revolutions, “climate change is a man-made problem, women are the solution.”

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and Coordinator of the WECAN Democratic Republic of Congo program opened the third and final panel.

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Neema Namadamu (SAFECO & WECAN DR Congo)

Neema framed her work in the context of the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world and cradle of more than 60% of Africa’s forest area. She expressed solidarity with the global Indigenous women who had already shared their stories, and urged collective global action to care for the vital ecosystems of the Congo.

“Open your eyes, look to Africa…we must invest in Africa planting trees again, so you can have oxygen – after that we can negotiate everything else we need to negotiate.”

Aleta Baun, conservationist and activist of West Timor, Indonesia took the mike next, speaking on her communities successful resistance to mining, and the ways in which they took positive direct action to conserve the forest and build sustainable local economies around textile weaving in the aftermath of the mobilization against mining.

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Aleta Baun (activist of West Timor, Indonesia)

“In our worldwide land is flesh, water is blood, forest are hair and stone is like our bones… We plant trees to heal the water that was once destroyed by mining companies. We discuss how to build women’s strength, especially though weaving so that we can have economic strength and this will protect us from being uprooted again.”

Aleta passed the floor to Natalie Isaacs, CEO and co-Founder of 1 Million Women, Australia, who addressed themes of overconsumption and lifestyle choice amongst women in wealthy nations.

“Individual action, action of households, action of communities and all of us acting together actually makes a big difference,” Natalie began, reflecting on her personal transformation from an unengaged corporate leader, to a catalyst of women and girls for healthy lives and climate justice.

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Natalie Isaacs (1 Million Women)

“In all our discussions, inside the COP21 climate negotiations – behavior change and how we live our lives is actually the elephant in the room, it is not being talked about…1 Million Women has a big task, we are trying to change the way people in a developed country like Australia live – but luckily we all know that women and girls are incredible change agents,”

Nino Gamisonia, Projects Coordinator with the Rural Communities Development Agency of Abkhazia, Georgia spoke next, providing insights on renewable energy and solar water heater programs in her country, and their benefits for the environment and rural communities.

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Nino Gamisonia (Rural Communities Development Agency)

She highlighted how women are disproportionately impacted by dirty energy and the burning of wood as fuel, and detailed how women’s engagement in solar water programs has generated a profound and critical sense of empowerment amongst those involved.

Naomi Ages, Climate Liability Project Lead with Greenpeace USA closed the third and panel of the day with thoughts on risk, bravery and action on climate change. Drawing on stories of activists who put their bodies on the line for climate justice, Naomi asked each person in the room to reflect on the level of commitment and action that they are willing and able to make in order to contribute to critical climate solutions.

“This is a call to action – choose your version of courage and do the thing for you that really contributes and combats climate change.”

Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, current UNFCCC Climate Change Envoy and former President of Ireland, took the stage to present her thoughts on the climate negotiations and women’s leadership in climate change solutions at COP21 and beyond.

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Mary Robinson (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice)

Mary acknowledged great strides by COP21 government representatives to address the needs of most vulnerable nations and recognize the imperative of human rights and gender equality – however also spoke to a sense of stagnation and repetition within climate negotiations and the struggles to retain gender responsive, just and concrete language within the accord.

“But we’re back again with a real sense that this will be a very important agreement. It wont be a great agreement, but it will hopefully be ambitious enough to help us to realize that on the 1st of January of 2016, we are in a new era,”

“We really need the power and knowledge of women leaders at all levels, it is so important for the future. Indeed, if we had more women’s leadership, I do not think we would be where we are now…women’s participation is an enabler of climate justice,” Mary attested, discussing her foundation’s new report, ‘Women’s Participation – An Enabler of Climate Justice’.

“There really is no longer a divide between the sustainable development goals and the France climate agreement, we bring them together in January. And I really do think that women are at the forefront of what happens after that. Why? Because it’s women that change behavior, its women who influence change – starting in the family, starting in the community, starting by assisting in the schools and having young people encouraged to think about their futures in a way that is sustainable. And it is every little step in all of that…we are going to need transformative change throughout the world, and women in every community would be on the frontlines … in the beginning of next year comes a new surge of energy and commitment to start implementing what this year has brought us at the global level, but we know that it is at the local level that things will really make a difference,”

“In a way, we are privileged to be at this moment when we can in fact bend the curve and get back on track towards a safe world. We are not there, and we will not be there the day after Paris, but we will be heading in the right direction. And we will put gender equality issues on the frontlines, because we know we are sacrificing our children, in my case my grandchildren, to a much more dangerous and catastrophic world, and we cannot have that. … We are ready to take the leadership, to give the changes to make sure that there is no going back and that we have a world of sustainability with our Mother Earth, our beautiful Mother Earth, who we must cherish more, who we must reinvigorate in the degraded areas. Take back the deforested areas and have Mother Earth breathe freely as she has for centuries upon centuries until we started to interfere with her. And it is women who have to be at the forefront of that.”

Following Mary Robinson’s keynote, members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature provided a brief recap and analysis of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, held over two days in Paris the previous week.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance provided an introduction,

“What we’re really seeing, and as we heard from so many of our speakers, is that the way that we are interacting with Mother Earth is not working and part of that is also based upon our legal system that treats Nature as property.… we have to change this system, so the Rights of Nature movement is really looking at the DNA of our legal frameworks and saying NO, Mother Earth has rights, rivers have the right to flow, all the systems of life have the right to grow and thrive and be healthy, and we as human being have to have new laws that allow us to live in good harmony with Mother Earth,”

Osprey continued, “What we are saying through these Tribunals is that we have the right to create laws that work for the people and for the plant, we are not asking for permission. Humans invented our governance structures, humans invented our economies, that means that we can reinvent them again and take back our power as people,”

Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights in the USA shared her insights;

“As long as we continue the story of separation, that Nature is owned by humans, that we are separate from Nature – we are never going to be able to move forward. So the Rights of Nature Tribunal has been a very powerful place, especially when put head to head with the COP, to ask, ‘what would it look like in a world where we recognized the inherent rights of ecosystems to live, to thrive, to regenerate…Imagine if we acted like rights matter, as if our human rights came and were derived from the rights of ecosystems, from nature, from creation – what would it look like to be in that world?”

“We heard not just from experts, but from people who are living this everyday on the ground, defenders of the Earth, people who are living under these conditions. We are really showcasing the world as it could be, because the one thing that I think was critical for the Tribunal was to see that the way the COP process is operating isn’t the way it has to be,” Shannon continued, “We are looking at two very different power structures –we are looking at the power of corporations running the world one way, and we are looking at the power of people taking ownership and responsibility and connection for their communities and saying ‘we can work together, there is a way forward’ – we can together actually commit to our relationship and break the cycle of separation from Nature, we can live as one. We can put forward new laws and really showcase how to make this shift.”

Natalia Greene of CEDENMA (Coordinadora Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y del Ambiente) and Fundacion Pachamama in Ecuador provided more background on the Tribunal and on implementation of Rights of Nature in her country.

“People are thirsty to have these places to voice new ideas, to voice their suffering and the hurt to Mother Earth,” Natalia explained, “Rights of Nature is not theoretical, it is happening in Ecuador, it is happening in the US and in more communities and more places if people start to understand that we cannot work without Mother Earth…. If we want to have peace on the Earth, we must have peace with the Earth.”

Closing the Rights of Nature report back, Osprey called to the stage a group of outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across North and South America to share their stories, struggles and solutions for climate justice as part of a presentation of the Indigenous Women of the America’s: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation)

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation elder and representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island, USA opened and guided the subsequent series of thought-provoking, hard-hitting and heartfelt presentations.

“There is much we want to share, but we want to share first and foremost is our love of you and Mother Earth….it is very simple my relatives, if our [Indigenous] rights are upheld, we know how to save you. So together we have a path to walk.”

Casey spoke on the connections between the conditions experiences by her family– relocation, persecution, boarding schools, and labor camps – and the modern environmental genocide and crisis with which we are all faced, and which Indigenous peoples feel directly and disproportionately.

“The struggle for us is not one issue, it is a totality of all the issues – it is whether or not humanity will continue on this Earth, do we get that honor? Do we deserve that honor? My mother, my relatives felt that we do, they felt that we simply need to align ourselves with the natural laws.”

Faith Gemmill, Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan woman from above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, USA addressed the room next, speaking first in her traditional language. For over 30 years Faith and her community have been protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee, one of the last stretches of Arctic Alaskan coast still free from oil extraction.

The land that Faith and her community defend is the land of the threatened polar bear, hundreds of species of nesting birds, fish and caribou, an animal deeply sacred to her people.

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Faith Gemmill (Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabasca)

“Our elders knew about climate change, they prophesized it. And they said, ‘tell them that we are not standing here for ourselves, we are standing for them [the animals], for their children’. And it is our belief that if this place is ever accessed, it will begins a cycle of destruction of humanity…All of our prophecies are all connected, in the South, in the North and across the world, Indigenous prophecies all say the same thing – there is a path destruction, but there is also a path of life, and we have a choice as humanity – and right now we are at that place where we make that choice.”

“We have to think about our children – what are we going to leave them? We have to change the consciousness of the leaders of the world, that’s what we have to do, that is our responsibility. And I have hope because my people said, if we do it in a good way, we are going to be successful – I believe in us and that is why I am standing here today…I think if we all keep holding our ground, if we all keep defending our territories, protecting these spaces – if we keep it in the ground, we can make it, we are going to win.”

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Canada and Kandi Mossett, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara woman of North Dakota, USA spoke again briefly, sharing messages of solidarity and encouraging everyone in the room to stay engaged with the issues and stories presented, including through donations to the women and organization putting their all into speaking out and driving forward momentum for a just world for all.

“We have to take back the power in our communities because no one else is going to do it for us,” Kandi concluded.

Ena Santi, women’s leader of the Kichwa community of Sarayakyu, Ecuador spoke next on behalf of the women of the South.

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Ena Santi (Sarayaku, Ecuador)

“I am feeling so much emotion to be here and hear the voices of all my sisters gathered here today….we as women are treated so badly so much of the time insulted, violated, treated poorly – physically and physiologically,” Ena began.

“But even with all of these obstacles that we are experiencing in our Indigenous communities, us women are fighting, we are continuing ahead. To save our Mother Earth we have confronted the military, the police – and when this happened I carried on my back my baby of just 2 months,”

“In this way we can save our Mother Earth, because within Mother Earth exists all of humanity… Us women fight for our grandchildren, for our children, for the children that will come in the future – it is for them that we fight. Human beings are not eternal, in whatever moment we will go to rest.”

“So us together, sisters that are here now, united, we women must together put forth a strong effort to save our Mother Earth, because pure air still exists in the Amazon of Ecuador. We must keep this in our hearts…. As women on our Earth, in my land where I live in Sarayaku in Ecuador, we will fight until the very end. We will not allow oil, mining, wood companies to enter. We will fight, not with guns, but with thought, in a peaceful way,”

Mirian Cisneros of Sarayaku also shared words,

“We have flown from very far away, like the eagles… we have a prophecy that Sarayaku is called the ‘pueblo de medio dia’ – the people of the noon time. That when all our neighbors had been contaminated, that we would be that community that would be there until the end defending the Earth. We take on this great responsibility as mothers, as wives, as givers of health, food and the security of future generations…. And so we are here, to ask for solidarity, for an alliance between all sisters and brothers of the world to defend our only Earth, the one that has been left to us by our ancestors, by our grandparents,”

Mirian then called on the whole room to join hands and speak together with her, ‘Pachamama estamos contigo’ – ‘Mother Earth, we are with you’.

Monique Verdin, a Houma woman of the Mississippi river delta in South Louisiana, USA spoke next,

“We have lost our land, they cut down our forest, we have waste pits in our back yard and we are loosing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet next to the Maldives,” Monique began,

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Monique Verdin (Houma)

“I came to Paris not knowing what I’d find, and I found these amazing women who are standing up, and I am going home with inspiration…. we cannot be silenced any longer…even though our men are afraid to say anything, even though they are the ones witnessing the land going and know why, they are also being paid by the oil and gas companies and that’s how they feed their babies. They’ve told us that we don’t have any other economic source, but they are wrong.”

Pennie Opal Plant (Yaqui, Mexican, English, Choctaw, Cherokee and European) of Movement Rights, USA took the floor next, providing a beautiful and vital overview, and reading sections of the ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact’, which can be read in full here.

“By this time next year I imagine that there will be millions of women around the world shutting it down…so I want to ask you, whose with us?” Pennie asked, the whole room rising and raising their fists alongside her.

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Pennie Opal Plant (Movement Rights)

Casey Camp Horinek took the floor to close the presentation,

“I want to take this moment to remind us, what is real power? Is it what is in COP’s? Is it Obama? Or, or, realign your thinking, realign your thoughts so that we all go forward with the seventh generation philosophy, each and everyone of us. To think about the seven generations that came before us, and what they went though to arrive at this point, to bring us into life. What about the seven generations to come? If every step you make is thinking about those coming in the seventh generation, then thank you. If not, then switch it up, right now… Realign your thoughts, what is real power?”

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN closed the event with brief words before an end of event group action.

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“We need to reconnect with our original instructions, we need to reconnect with Mother Earth. We have these incredible women and Indigenous peoples who are generously, kindly offering knowledge and information to us, so lets have really big hearts and respect and dedication to what they are offering us. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is first and foremost dedicated to frontline communities in countries all over the world … we the people have power, we the people are making change, this, right here, is where real change is coming from.”

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From right to left: Patricia Gualinga, Neema Namadamu, Mirian Cisneros and Ena Santi – women of Ecuador and DR Congo united

The event will be commemorated and continued through the planting of a French olive tree near Paris – a symbol of hope, peace, growth and resistance into the future.

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Planting Hope in the DR Congo: Women Lead First Ever Reforestation Effort in Itombwe

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WECAN-Congo women walking to the tree nursery in Marunde, Itombwe

For almost two years, women in South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo have been organizing through the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN) Regional program with local partner Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO) to raise awareness about deforestation, protection of the Itombwe Rainforest, and defending the rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples and the local communities living in and around forest areas.

Through an ongoing series of online and on-the-ground trainings with WECAN – the women have built understanding about local and international environmental protection laws, Rights of Nature, the need for women’s leadership, and how care and damages to local ecosystems fits into a worldwide story of climate crisis and hope.

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Women walking past the Itombwe Center

The women have come together to share their Traditional Ecologic Knowledge and strategize on how to protect it, exchange information about the medicinal properties of local forest plants, and envision the transformation of the now stripped dry landscape back into the lush forest that remains in bits and pieces across the region.

In recent months the women have moved from analysis to action – beginning to employ solar lights and Improved Cooking Stoves to lessen their demands for fuel wood, and creating and maintaining tree nurseries in Marinade, Itombwe, which now holds over twenty-five varieties of local tree saplings.

Through sessions with WECAN and SAFECO, the women have also formed a local conservation committee, drafted a declaration, and met with government officials, military members, and local NGO’s to share their work and action plans while calling for accountability and support from state actors.

In September 2015 the women hosted the Territory Administrator of Mwenga (akin to a Governor), the Itombwe Sector Chief, the Marunde Village Chief and other local officials at their center in Itombwe.

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Women leaders present their tree nursery to local government officials

The women shared their concerns around illegal deforestation and environmental degradation, presented their Improved Cooking Stoves initiative, and led officials on a tour of their nursery and growing reforestation project. They then united with the officials and military members to hold a tree planting ceremony, which the Administrator celebrated as the first-ever official event to reforest and protect the Earth in the Itombwe Sector of South Kivu Province.

The Administrator spoke of the extreme value of the women’s work and the significance of this new beginning, sharing hopes that one day soon the world would be able to reflect and admire how the people of the region respect the forests of the Congo, one of the largest rainforests in the world, second only to the mighty Amazon.

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Planting trees during the ceremony

After the government delegation departed, approximately 40 women gathered to celebrate, discuss the results of the visit, and strategize on next steps to heal the land and address the needs of their communities.

Reflecting on all that has been accomplished thus far by the women forest guardians of Itombwe, Neema Namadamu, the Coordinator of the WECAN DR Congo program, explained,

“The women of WECAN-Congo are determined to change things in our little world of Itombwe, for ourselves and for the rest of the world. We are taking our stewardship seriously. We know that the difference we make not only affects our world, but the rest of our planet. We feel the weight of it all and are doing our part. To our sisters around the world we say: We are TOGETHER!”

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator/Founder of SAFECO, Neema Namadamu, met up this month to strategize about next steps for protection of the Itombwe forest and the Indigenous peoples of the region.

On October 27th WECAN and SAFECO will lead the next online climate solutions training with women of Itombwe. On December 7th, Neema Namadamu will present her insights, actions plans, and stories of the women forest guardians of the DR Congo at WECAN’s ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris‘ event during COP21 climate negotiations.

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Explore more photos from the September 2015 reforestation ceremony and training below:

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Women forest guardians of Itombwe

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On the dry plateau above the reforestation site

During Administrator's speech, shot of banner and other tree beds with s...

The women lead a tour of their local tree nursery, which now holds over 25 varieties of sapling

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“The thought of making our home a forest again brings great joy.”

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Views of the women’s growing tree nursery

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A solider plants a tree as part of the ceremony

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Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator observes soldiers eating lunch at Itombwe center after the ceremony

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Neema Namadamu leads a training and reflection session with women after the tree planting ceremony

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The WECAN-Congo women gather in front of the Gazebo at the Itombwe Center for a group photo at the end of the day

Blog by Emily Arasim, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network Communications Coordinator

Democratic Republic of Congo Climate Women Take On Deforestation & Clean Energy Needs

The second largest rainforest in the world lies cradled in the Congo Basin of Central Africa. It represents more than 60% of the African continents total rainforest area, and holds within it an almost unfathomable diversity of life. However, like many of the Earths most precious places, this center of immense cultural and ecologic importance faces escalating deforestation and threats from pressures including fuel wood collection, timber and coal production, unsustainable agricultural practices, and social and political unrest.

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For more than a year, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN International) has been collaborating with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) South Kivu Province as part of the ‘Women for Forests and Fossil Fuel/Mega Dam/Mining Resistance’ program. Through a series of online trainings and on-the-ground strategy and action sessions, WECAN International and local partner SAFECO are providing an arena to address regional socio-economic need, support women in their role as community leaders, and confront critical environmental issues by building local solutions with a global vision.

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WECAN International and SAFECO led the most recent three-day training in February 2015, bringing together twenty women and seven men from ten different villages around the Itombwe rainforest. The DRC Climate Solutions Training is part of an ongoing program held in the area with the aim of growing the knowledge and capacities of the local, indigenous women to create and enact place-based climate action plans. Building on previous sessions, the February training covered topics including deforestation in the Itombwe forest, forest protection and restoration techniques, and the use of Improved Cooking Stoves as means of reducing pressures on the forest and improving family health and wellbeing.

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During the first session, participants engaged in conversations about the importance of trees and their relationship to climate change, focusing specifically on the immense value of native species and why exploitative practices such as logging are so detrimental to the health of the rainforest, the livelihood of their communities, and the global environment. Crucially, the group discussed and observed how they can work as guardians of the forest and as climate leaders without sacrificing their livelihoods or access to the diverse gifts provided by the land.

In connecting the lives, stories, and experiences of the local women to a larger climate change narrative, the facilitators hoped to help the women see the great power and agency they hold.

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Day two was spent visiting a small nursery where women learned techniques for starting and maintaining a tree nursery to contribute to reforestation efforts. Participants planted over 100 trees and discussed how these trees contribute to water purification, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, sustainable food production, medicinal plant access, and so much more.

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“From these trees we expect to fight climate change by protecting wild ecosystems, as well as satisfy our needs of fuel wood, medicine, and timber production,” explained training participate Yena Nasoka.

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The third and final day was dedicated to discussions and practicums surrounding the use of Improved Cooking Stoves. Participants learned about the characteristics of the stoves, which facilitate more energy efficient, rapid cooking and reduce the amount of smoke polluting living spaces, lungs, and the surrounding air. Because of their improved efficiency, the stoves require less fuel wood, which can help reduce deforestation rates in a region where the collection of wood for cooking and light pressures the local environment.

During discussions, women expressed excitement about the use the Improved Cooking Stoves for cooking and to contribute to forest conservation, but explained their concerns about not having a substitute for open fires used for light at night. WECAN International and SAFECO have begun the next phase of the program, which includes arranging for small hand-held solar lights to be brought into the region for light at night and for the women to develop their own small businesses selling and maintaining the solar lights.

“I’m excited by WECAN’s holistic approach to bring solar light so we can have light at night and Improved Cooking Stoves. This will work in our region,” reflected one woman, Butunga Nalisa, on the final day.

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Participants in this and previous WECAN trainings have formed a local conservation committee to insure that the progress made during training sessions will continue to grow and take root in their region. Through the committee they aim to share what they have learned with other community members, work to document and denounce deforestation, and create a collective voice to speak out when fellow citizens or local authorities facilitate unauthorized timber and charcoal production.

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Following the February session, the committee of training participants held a meeting with local chiefs, government officials, and the WECAN DRC coordinator to present their suggestions and requests.

Their recommendations for the protection and restoration of community wellbeing and the precious Itombwe rainforest are the following:

  • Implement laws and regulations to prevent forest fires and deforestation by holding guilty groups and individuals accountable for their actions.
  • Provide diverse tree seeds to local people and organizations involved in the process of planting trees.
  • Support and create campaigns to make others aware of the importance of forest protection and tree planting, and to promote the use of Improved Cooking Stoves in all villages.
  • Extend environmental education to community members of all ages.
  • Uplift and implement Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
  • Support local villages in getting cheaper solar panels and solar lamps to charge phones and provide light at night.

The WECAN/SAFECO partnership will work to help the communities surrounding Itombwe bring these recommendations to fruition, and will continue to strive to support, encourage, and strengthen the women leaders forging the way.

For an inside look into the recent Climate Solutions Training in the DRC, check out this short video created by the participants: 

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By Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

In Photos: Amazon Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change Impacts and Solutions

Women around the world are experiencing the impacts of a changing climate on a daily basis. While they remain disproportionately impacted by interwoven environmental degradation and social injustice, these women are increasingly taking the lead in the movement for climate change solutions that address the root causes of this crisis and move towards a just and healthy world.

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Photo by Caroline Bennett

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, groups of women are rising with fierce determination, taking direct action to protect their communities and families, diverse cultural and ecologic heritage, and Pachamama, Mother Earth. After decades of fossil fuel and mineral extraction in their homeland, these women have made a bold call to end the destruction; keep the oil in the soil.

Amazon Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change is a photo series seeking to provide a lens into the lives and stories of some of these women leaders. Workshops held with Kichwa, Shiwiar, Sápara, and Waorani women in the Ecuadorian Amazon helped produce these “speaking” images, which combine portraiture with written testimonies, hand-painted by the woman in the border around her photograph. In these self-reflections, the women speak on their culture, history, traditions, struggles, and reasons for fighting oil extraction in their ancestral lands.

Amazon Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change was created by Ecuadorian photographer, Felipe Jácome, and Amazon Watch Editorial Director and Chief Storyteller, Caroline Bennett, as part of a project jointly sponsored by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International), Amazon Watch, and Acción Ecológica.

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Photo by Caroline Bennett

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Portrait series by Felipe Jacome. View more of his incredible work at http://www.felipejacome.com

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Photo by Caroline Bennett

Select prints will continue to be shown as part of a traveling photography exhibit, bringing the stories and solutions of these indigenous women to audiences within the Amazonian region and across the world. On December 8, 2014, photos will be featured at WECAN International’s ‘Women Leading Solutions of the Frontlines of Climate Change-Lima’ event in Peru, with more information available here.

photo exhibit in Coca

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Blog by Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN International Executive Director) and Emily Arasim (Special Projects & Communications Coordinator)

Global Women Leaders Raise their Voices at ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

“As governments meet tomorrow at the UN Climate Summit, women worldwide are joining in solidarity to speak out against policies and activities that not only threaten the climate and their communities but the very future of all life as we know it,” began WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, welcoming the tightly packed crowd to ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’, held at the U.N. Church Center in New York City this past Monday, September 22nd 2014.

“We need system change,” she continued, “Women are standing for our Mother Earth, women are standing for future generations, women are standing to protect the web of life and front line communities.”

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

The event, held as part of the mobilization surrounding the People’s Climate March, Climate Week NYC and the U.N. Climate Leadership Summit, served as a forum for global women to share why and how they are standing and leading the movement for climate justice and equitable solutions to the climate crisis.

First Nations acapella group Ulali opened the event with their song ‘Idle No More’, so powerful in its words and rhythms that goosebumps and tears overcame many of those gathered. Blending poignant lyrics on taking action and the coming “human awakening” with traditional drumming and singing techniques, the song set the stage for a compelling event.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Sally Ranney, co-Founder of WECAN International, introduced the organization further and congratulated everyone present for participation in the People’s Climate March the previous day, urging that, “we have to move now with a lot of solidarity, a united voice”. Her speech highlighted biodiversity protection and unity with frontline communities, two themes which reverberated throughout the panel discussion.

Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Treaty 6 Alberta Canada, and Sierra Club Canada opened the panel with an impassioned speech reflecting her experiences living in “ground-zero” of the tar sands.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Crystal spoke of dire levels of soil, water, and air pollution engulfing her home, explaining that more than 84% of her people traditional land has been leased to oil companies without community consent, making them “economic hostages” on their own homelands. However Crystal also spoke of hope, “this is an everyone movement. If you are living, breathing, walking, this fight belongs to you too… we are here, and we are not going anywhere.”

Taking the audience on a journey from the tar sands of Alberta to the oil fields tearing at the Amazon rainforest, Patricia Gualinga, Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador spoke next. Her speech focused on her communities fight to protect their cultural and ecologic heritage from the expansive fossil fuel and mining projects being pushed under a false development paradigm. Clean air and water, organic foods, and the ability to walk barefoot without fear of contamination is true wealth, Patricia explained, with poverty emerging only from destruction of the Earth.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

In reaction to the exploitation of nature and indigenous communities the women of her region marched hundreds of miles in October 2013 from the Amazon basin to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, denouncing continuing violations and demonstrating an unwavering resolve to stop the destruction.

Highlighting the simultaneous diversity and unity of the voices of the global climate justice movement, Dr. Fatimata Diop took the floor next to discuss climate vulnerability and solutions in her West African home of Senegal.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Fatimata discussed her work leading the UNDESERT program in its efforts to combat desertification and biodiversity loss through reforestation and agroforestry initiatives. Dr. Diop also spoke on issues of deep social inequity;

“In Africa people did not have lunch because of the climate change issue. Some of them will not have dinner because of the climate change issue. African people are not responsible. We need climate justice, we need more solidarity… let us work together to inspire real change, change that empowers women and gives them a central role in decision making,”

Angelina Galiveta, founder of 100% Renewables Policy Institute presented next on the reality of the transition to a zero carbon future. Speaking from years of first hand experience working within the energy industry, Mrs. Galiveta made it clear that we already have the tools and solutions needed to transform our system, if only we move forward boldly now.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Nobel Laureate Jody Williams spoke next, demonstrating first hand the power and importance of the solidarity work discussed by her fellow presenters. She focused much of her speech on issues of leadership that have consistently resulted in policymakers putting profit over the planet, at the expense of life itself.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

“Perhaps we take them [our leaders] out to the middle of a field and have them negotiate there, or perhaps, where we should really put them is in the middle of the tar sands… let them see the realities of their policies,” stated Mrs. Williams, reflecting on the U.N Climate Leadership Summit to be held the following day.

Closing the panel was Ponca Nation elder Casey Camp-Horinek of the Indigenous Environmental Network, speaking on reconceiving and reviving our relationship with the Earth and each other. Casey described how true power resides not in any economic system or governement, but in the water, air, soil, and biodiversity that sustain us every single day.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

The event also served as part of WECAN International’s launch of the Women’s Climate Action Agenda. Lake held up the 80 plus page document and explained, “The Women’s Climate Action Agenda analyzes the root causes of environmental degradation and social injustice, ultimately presenting powerful recommendations and alternative solutions to the climate crisis. We can act now and we must act now, this is what the Action Agenda declares on every page.”

Following the panel discussion, WECAN International women from across the globe delivered updates on climate issues and solutions in their regions. Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of Voice of Women Maldives, spoke on the dire political, social, and environmental conditions in her country and on the imperative for concrete action now. She was followed by Carmen Capriles, WECAN Regional Coordinator for Latin America and Founder of Reacción Climática in Bolivia; Neha Misra, Chief Collaboration Officer of Solar Sister; and Claire Greensfelder, long time activist and media aficionado who has served as a consultant to WECAN International.

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The event closed with a Wall of Women Action, bringing presenters and audience members together in physical demonstration to highlight women’s roles as guardians of the Earth, their communities, and generations to come. Looking out over the group of men and women of all ages and heritages, shoulder to shoulder with their hands over their hearts, the words spoken minutes before by presenters echoed in my head. “Our struggle is united”, “WECAN, we are women of action”.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

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Blog by: Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communication Coordinator

The People’s Climate March: Reflecting and Moving Forward

There is nothing quite so moving as the energy emanating from hundreds of thousands of people moving as one, arms linked, voices raised in fierce determination. On September 21, 2014 more than 400,000 people mobilized at the People’s Climate March in New York City, breaking the record for the largest climate demonstration in history and making an unprecedented statement on the need for immediate and transformative action on climate change. Across the world, more than 2,646 additional events were organized in 162 countries, bringing more that 50,000 people to the streets of London, 25,000 to the streets of Paris, 2,000 to the streets of New Delhi, and thousands more to the streets of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Burundi, to name but a few of the spectacular global actions.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

On the ground at the NYC People’s Climate March, constituencies from all walks of life united as one, creating powerful alliances both within and across groups representing indigenous and frontline communities, women, families, scientists, labor, youth, farmers, politicians, animal rights defenders, divestment campaigners, elders, peace activists, multi faith groups and more. In order to highlight the disproportionate effects that the climate crisis is already having on some sectors, Indigenous and frontline communities lead the march, followed by women and youth.

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Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

In the cool morning mist, members and allies of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) gathered to march as part of the women’s contingent. Under the bright green banner reading ‘Women for Climate Justice’, a group of women (and men!) of diverse backgrounds and ages began to grow until our meeting spot on the corner of 68th and Central Park West became packed and overflowing with excitement. The women’s delegation was honored to have Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen, and climate ambassadors from across the globe amongst the hundreds of incredible women who mobilized with us.

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Before beginning the march, WECAN International members and allies joined together in the street for the ‘Wall of Women’ action. Standing shoulder to shoulder, fists placed over the heart, the ‘climate women’ formed a line to represent their role as guardians of Mother Earth and their communities. On the sidelines taking photos, I was immediately struck by the beauty and power of this act of physical solidarity, which was echoed by international allies who submitted wonderful photos to our online photo gallery (wecaninternational.org/climate-march-2014-gallery).

As the march began to surge forward, a wave of cheers rolled through the crowd and hundreds of colorful banners and hand made signs were hoisted into the air. Chants of “Women. Climate. We want justice now,” rose around me, lead by mega-phone wielding WECAN International co-Founders, Sally Ranney and Osprey Orielle Lake and allies from the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

During the march, Executive Director Osprey Orielle Lake and members of the WECAN International team set off through the crowd to join Indigenous allies at the forefront of the march. There, in front of a beautiful paper-mache representation of Mother Earth, we caught up with Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Patricia and Nina Gualinga of Sarayaku Ecuador, Melina Laboucan-Massimo of the Cree First Nation, Casey Camp Horneik of the Ponca Nation, and Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who derives her heritage from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara peoples.

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Osprey Orielle Lake and Patricia Gualinga at the March. Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014.

At the march to bring attention to the devastating impacts that extractivism and misconceived ‘development’ are having on their people’s culture and lands, it is these women who remind us everyday why we marched on September 21st, and more importantly, why this march is just the beginning.

As Naomi Klein states in her new book ‘This Changes Everything, Capitalism versus the Climate’,

“Climate change is not an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake up call. A powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing the planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.”

As we look forward from the historic People’s Climate March, we must remember these words and the stories of the indigenous women who live on the frontline everyday. The crisis unfolding around us demands that the People’s Climate March be but the first leap in our unrelenting mobilization for ecologic and social justice. We must do this, we will do this, WECAN do this.

View the full ‘WECAN International at the People’s Climate March’ photo album here.

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communication Coordinator

From the Amazon to Alberta: Indigenous Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change

From the Amazon Basin to Alberta, Canada, Indigenous women are leading efforts to halt environmental destruction and restore health and justice in their communities.

Photos by Felipe Jacome

Photos by Felipe Jacome

In the Amazon, oil extraction, mining, mega-dams, and unsustainable agricultural and ranching are disrupting one of the great network of water and forest upon which the Earth’s climate depends, threatening plants, animals, and people in an unprecedented way. As female givers of life, the women of the Amazon have felt a great responsibility to lead the fight against continued destruction of Pachamama, our “life giving Mother Earth.”

Patricia Gualinga Montalvo of Saryaku Ecuador, is one of the Indigenous women leaders on the frontlines of the movement to protect the Amazon. Known for her key role in the historic Indigenous rights victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found the Ecuadorian government guilty of illegal oil concession, Patricia has fought ceaselessly to protect her homeland from the decimation wrought by the fossil fuel industry. With Patricia’s guidance and that of our partner Amazon Watch, WECAN International has been working to support women’s media outreach and mobilization efforts in the region.

As part of the Women for Forest Program, WECAN International is also honored to be working with Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sápara Women of Ecuador. The Sápara have long organized to protect their territory, which includes over 300,000 hectares of the some of the most biodiverse and pristine rainforest in the world. The Sápara women have released declarations, participated in press conferences, and were crucial in the ‘March of the Women’ in October 2013, during which 100 Amazonian women walked over 300 miles to denounce the Ecuadorian government’s plans to auction off their ancestral land.

WECAN International also continues to a support campaigns to stop oil exploration in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, a zone previously deemed ‘intangible’ due to its unparalleled biodiversity and unique cultural heritage, which is now being opened up to oil companies. This solidarity work included sponsoring and promoting an art exhibit in the capital of Quito, which documents the struggle of the Indigenous women who are defending the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil exploitation. The words written on the images are self-reflections of the women´s lives, of their culture, history, traditions, and their reasons for fighting oil extraction in their ancestral lands.

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Photos by Felipe Jacome

View the full series y Felipe Jacome here: felipejacome.com/visual-testimonies/the-last-amazonas

Thousands of miles away, the Indigenous First Nations women of Alberta, Canada are also rising to protect their land and the health and integrity of their communities from the destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry. The women of Alberta have been at the forefront of the mobilization against the Keystone XL pipeline and expansion of the tar sands and its infrastructure, demonstrating the severe threat such projects pose to climate, land, water, and tribal rights.

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Photo by Osprey Orielle Lake

Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation is one such organizer, who tirelessly challenges the expanding industry. In May 2008, Crystal spearheaded a law suit against the Canadian Government, presenting to the court over 17,000 violations of Treaty 6, which guarantees her peoples the right to fish and hunt in their ancestral homeland. This right, negated by decimation of local ecosystems for tar sands development, is central to Ms. Lameman’s vigorous campaign to hold the government and corporate entities responsible for their exploitation of the tar sands, and the resultant destruction of the land, and her people’s heritage and livelihood.

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Photo by 350.org

This September 2014, WECAN International will host ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ on September 22, and ‘Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions’ on September 23, as part of the action surrounding the United Nations Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March. Patricia Gualinga, Gloria Ushigua, Crystal Lameman, and other outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across the world will join us to present their stories, visions, and climate solutions. For more information, see wecaninternational.org/pages/climate-march-2014

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Blog by: Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director

A Healing Journey in the Tar Sands of Alberta

Blog by Anna Gerrard

The Fourth Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk was an event that impacted me in many ways, particularly in my personal relationship with the land and the ongoing struggle to protect it. I felt this year that I had to be there no matter what, and so I flew from Victoria, B.C. to Edmonton, Alberta where I met three unique and kind women to carpool with up to Fort McMurray. Along the way, one of these women, Patti, shared a story with us about a retreat she had been on where she learned about listening to her body’s intuition. She explained that before you can heal the land you have to heal yourself first. Janine, another woman in our convoy was very interested in water and the relationship that people have with it. These ideas that we discussed on the drive up became an echoing theme throughout the weekend.

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We pitched our tents right beside Gregoine Lake, on Treaty 8 territory near Fort McMurray. The next morning, standing under tarps in the rain we listened to some excellent speakers who travelled from far and wide, including Winona Laduke, Tzeporah Berman and Bill Mckibbon. There were also workshops, including one called ‘How to Be an Ally to First Nations’. I learned that it was important to remember to not assume that I knew anything, and that reconciliation was an important part of this journey that we are on. We need to speak with each other in an honesty way, learn from one another and realize that all struggles are ultimately connected. To heal the land, we have to heal ourselves and this includes our relationships with First Nations people. That night I was lucky enough to join others who were dancing in a drum circle around the fire. I felt that we were all united somehow by the sound of the drumming and that even though a lot of us were strangers, we were connected together along this journey.

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The walk in the Tar Sands was fourteen kilometers, and we walked for most of the day. Before we began, we listened to Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Crystal Lameman, Naomi Klien and others speak about the Tar Sands and about what was happening in Lac-Megantic regarding the derailment of a train carrying crude oil. We prayed for the healing of everyone involved in these ongoing, and heart breaking oil-related disasters.

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At the beginning of the walk, I had multiple conversations with people concerning whether or not it would be appropriate to wear a mask during the walk. Someone said that they didn’t want to, in solidarity with those who live up here and breath in the fumes every day. Others were concerned and all too aware of the contents of the air they were breathing in, and decided on wearing one. I chose not to, a decision I regretted half way in when my chest became heavy from the thick cocktail of toxins in the air. At this year’s healing walk, I was very happy and honored to meet Osprey Orielle Lake from the Women of the Land delegation, someone who I had only known previously through online correspondence.  It was a walk alongside new friends, familiar faces and many others who have been involved in Tar Sands issues for a long time.

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We stopped to pray in silence with the elders along the way, once in each cardinal direction. I prayed to the Mother Earth for forgiveness, and for all of the people who did not understand what were doing to the land and to it’s people. At one point, we stopped and stood facing a tailings lake where scarecrows in orange jump suits stood awkwardly on floating barrels. If you didn’t know better, it could have been just a lake in a valley because it was so large. It doesn’t necessarily make sense right away, because it’s hard to fathom that there was no life there, aside from the man who sat in a speedboat that was cutting across the ‘lake’. I sat in the dry and sandy dirt as air cannons popped dully in the distance, designed to scare away birds and wildlife from the tailings site. Watching that orange boat cut through the ‘water’, the reality truly hit me that this was nothing like the lakes I know and love. No children and their parents would ever swim or ride in a boat through it; there were no animals there, no plants, not a single living thing. It was a wasteland, and it was enormous. I felt my heart sink into my stomach, as my lungs felt heavy and I cried for the Earth.

I walked alongside local First Nations and talked to many people who I hadn’t met before. Tar Sands workers drove by slowly in their big trucks, and a lot of them honked to show support. I found it interesting how some of the other walkers were filming the workers, while the people in the trucks had their cameras out, aimed back at us. It was not a negative experience, and I felt like some of the people driving by were grateful for what we were doing. It would be nice if there were more Tar Sands workers walking with us, perhaps next year.

I was very moved by the conversations that I had with the people who I met along the journey, and the things that they taught me were healing on a personal level. Although I felt this healing in an individual way, the experience also reminded me of how small I was, and that my responsibility to this struggle greatly outweighed my ego’s involvement in the grand scale of these emotional, raw and incredible issues. We are connected with the land, and in order to heal on a deeper level we have a responsibility to heal each other, our connections and ourselves. About 400 people travelled to the Tar Sands not only to heal the land, but also to symbolically walk together and unite them selves along this difficult journey. As Winona Laduke said on the previous day, we need to pace ourselves because this struggle is ‘not like finishing a term paper’, there will always be more to learn and more to do. Walking to heal the land isn’t just a reaction to the wounds that have been inflicted on our Earth. It is also about forming new, healthy and valuable relationships with each other so that we can continue this journey and move towards reconciliation.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular things that happened at this year’s healing walk was the birth of a baby boy, who was born in a teepee by the lake the night before people began arriving for the walk. I met a girl named Antje and together we asked if we could enter the teepee, where we spoke to the baby’s mother. The inside of the teepee smelt strongly of pine, and she was very beautiful and calm. Many people agreed that the birth of a new baby was a great blessing, and a symbol of hope for the future.

Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation told us that the rain that weekend was a blessing, and that it was our mother cleansing herself. The presence of water was very important that weekend, but by the third night, everything in my tent was cold and damp. As much as I appreciated the healing aspects of water, I also worried that I was going to catch a cold if I didn’t find a ride into town to sleep somewhere warm. Admittedly feeling a bit ashamed to be bowing out this way, I was generously offered a ride into town by a woman named Laurita Roberts. She was so wonderful and easy to talk to, and we ended up carpooling together all the way down to Edmonton the next day. I was able to see a side of Fort McMurray that I would not have otherwise seen, and I met some of the people living there that were very kind and friendly. Laurita taught me about the high living expenses there, and showed me where some of the flooding had happened. She drove me to the greyhound station, where I caught the airport shuttle, caught my flight to Calgary, almost missed my connecting flight and finally madeit back home to Vancouver Island.3-936478_10151640798776245_169149724_n

On the way, I stopped andstarred in awe at “Got Oil?” T-shirts and baby clothes that were on display in an airport gift shop. I could hardly believe it, and I found them rather embarrassing as a representation of Alberta for international travellers. Alberta is much, much more than it’s oil industry, just like the oil workers and people living in fort McMurray aren’t all that bad. The people living in Northern Alberta are some of the kindest, most heart-warming, wise and courageous people that I will ever meet and I am proud to be on this journey of healing with them.