October 2011

Climate solutions for rural communities

By Art Goodtimes

HEADWATERS 22 … Started and run for a couple decades by the writer George Sibley at Western State College in Gunnison and now led by “Dr. John” Hausdoerffer of Western’s Center for Environmental Studies, Headwaters is a conference I’ve attended religiously for the past two decades, which has made me part of an informal group of advisors call the Headwater Elders … This year’s gathering was a mix of speakers, question&answer sessions, hands-on stuff, audience time, and more … Because the Headwaters region in Gunnison drains the Atlantic and the Pacific, the conference has been broadly defined and has come to include many Western Colorado mountain communities, like Telluride and Norwood, Cortez and Dolores.

WINONA LADUKE … One of the event’s strengths over the years has been hearing from experts outside the range of usual suspects. Having Winona LaDuke speak on food and energy resilience from the perspective of indigenous knowledge and experience was brilliant … While most may know her as Ralph Nader’s Green Party running mate in 2000, she has a long history as Anishanaabe activist and rural development economist, with degrees from Harvard and Antioch, dozens of national awards, six books and currently co-director of Honor the Earth (www.honorearth.org) -- a native organization providing some financial support and organizing more support for native environmental initiatives … Her talk Sustainable Tribal Economies was a keynote summary of a publication from Honor the Earth (which is downloadable, free, on the website). While focused on native nations, it seemed an invaluable template for rural communities nation-wide in achieving energy and food resiliency … Those were the conference’s twin themes – the re-localizing of food and energy options. LaDuke shocked many of us in revealing that some two-thirds of energy created in the current national grid system is actually lost in generation and production, calling us a nation of “energy junkies.” She described two paths that Anishanaabe (Chippewa) prophets had outlined for the future. One is scorched and well-traveled and the other is green. It’s very similar to the two paths spoken of in Hopi prophecy. Clearly, with climate change looming over us, we’re coming to an irrevocable crossroads where we will have to make a choice on what path we will choose for our children … She related how one elder had told her, “It seems like this culture doesn’t want to be around for another thousand years” … We learned of the Declaration of Atitlán promulgated at the first Indigenous Peoples’ Consultation on the Right to Food, held in Guatemala in 2002, and LaDuke’s own efforts at preserving native strains of squash and corn, as well as her championing of her tribe’s crop of wild rice – when hand harvested in canoes, not the industrially grown “wild rice” sold in most stores … She was a wonderful speaker – casual and yet deeply informed, humorous while vitally serious, respectful, never deprecating … My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to speak with her at length about Green politics and other issues, as she had to leave right after her talk. But I’m hoping to begin a conversation with her. And I would highly recommend anyone interested in food and energy independence to get a copy of Sustainable Tribal Economies.


Autumn Equinox

Rivers run, fires rage,
End times coming, New Age.
Turning wheel spinning fast,
Fleeing migrants soaring past.

Autumn quells the summer light,
Ushers into longer night.
Western spirit, black holes,
Mystery gate, dead souls,

Bear, coyote, owl, loon,
Baying to night and the Harvest
Voices sing with heart’s reminder,
Whoever loses is also a finder.

Nothing else you have to know,
Only this: let go.

— Amy Hannon
Raritan Valley

ENRIQUE SALMON … While Winona’s Friday night talk was my most inspirational experience, Enrique Salmon’s “Finding the Story” workshop was easily the most challenging and perhaps the most rewarding. It wasn’t about storytelling, as a cursory read had led me to believe. It was more a leadership training in finding and understanding one’s own story -- the genesis of one’s own belief system and vision -- so as to be able to better communicate to others what you’re passionate about and believe needs transformation. His workshop should be a required course offering for any activist trying to persuade others to change – both in understanding oneself first and in using story as a way to entice people over to your perspective … Watch for his forthcoming book, Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stewards of Food and Resilience (Univ. of Arizona).

AND MORE … Attendees had a choice of three community workshop tours: food stories of localizing food production and consumption, energy stories of history and possible efficiencies, and nature stories of ecological resilience … There was a film showing of Melinda Levin’s The New Frontier: Sustainable Ranching Stories and Jack Lucido’s, Sustainability in Ranching – both featuring Gunnison County ranchers … Alan Wartes of Denver sang his “Headwaters Anthem,” I did my opening “Art of Getting Lost” poem, and George Sibley read poet Aaron Abeyta’s “Letter to the Headwaters” … In closing came the Gourd Passing on Sunday morning – a Headwaters tradition of listening and speaking, where everyone gets to share their story, poem or song. Mostly we hear how they may have been touched, or even sometimes transformed, by three days of liberal arts academia, real world experience and ritual traditions … I find this the most moving part of the weekend, when young students and seasoned elders all get to hear each other speaking from the heart ... If there’s one regional event a year I would urge community leaders to attend, it would have to be Headwaters -- if only for this chance to learn from dedicated activists and environmental studies students, eager to change the world … It’s the kind of human magic that gives one hope for the future.

JIMMY CARTER … Found a book saved from my late dad’s things that had gotten a bit mouldy in a storage bin whose top leaked. A novel by our former president. I dried the pages and salvaged the book. I didn’t know Carter’d tried his hand at fiction, but since it was a story of the Revolutionary War, I dove in … And it proved a good read. I learned a lot of history about South Carolina, Georgia and Florida during the time of the Colonies separated from England. The characters were strong and engaging. The momentum dragged a little at times, with (no doubt) accurate historical details getting in the way of the storyline. But the writing was good. Not prize-winning, but solid. I stayed up until 5 a.m. reading one night (morning) just to get to the end … I learned that the Creeks had a clan named after the Potato; a member of the radical revolutionary party for the late 1700s in the American colonies was called a “Whig” – a word that originally meant a horse thief; and a member of the conservative party was called a “Tory,” which had started out meaning an outlaw whose first allegiance was to the Pope … The Hornet’s Nest (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2003). Recommended.

Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.