WORDS AROUND THE FIRE Project
with Estephanie Martinez-Alfonzo
WORDS AROUND THE FIRE: listening into integrity
Many people, and many ‘nature connection’ organizations, are working on how to engage in reciprocal ways and be in better integrity with both the Indigenous people whose land they are on and the Indigenous lifeways that they learned, share and teach as skills. This corresponds and relates to creating more conscious and equitable spaces for all people of color, and extends to the global work of healing relationships both between people and between people and land [and all she encompasses].
These conversations and intentions are beautiful, but it can be hard to find clarity on how to move forward, especially for organizations which are predominantly led by, and working with, white-priviliged people. Often when organizations attempt this sort of work, their limited relationships with indigenous people lead them to center and emphasize the few relationships they do have. This can lead to organizations feeling that they are excused from further growth by virtue of those relationships, and can make it harder to hear the very real criticisms that some indigenous people are offering the nature connection community. More broadly, it also contributes to the broad cultural pattern of viewing indigenous people as monolithic, which is a problematic form of tokenization.
So it seems as though the lack of relationships, or few isolated relationships that nature connection organizations have with indigenous people are emphatically not enough. Especially when held apart from the broader indigenous community and perspective, can lead to excusal from continuing development and permission of ongoing harm.
One large piece of the path forward is more dialogue, listening, and destimitization of these conversations. This must happen both on an individual level and on a broader social level within our communities and networks. Hopefully these broader conversations can help us, both as individuals and as a professional community, to deeply hear and integrate the diversity of lived experiences and perspectives that indigenous people carry. This humanizing process of witnessing is a necessary step in the work of seeing and walking healthier paths.
Towards this goal, mycorrising is proposing a series of recorded interviews with indigenous people. Given mycorrising’s central location and relationships in Wabanaki territory, a majority of these interviews will be with Wabanaki people, but will include a diversity of people who are indigenous to Turtle Island. The interviews will include people who are sharply critical of how these lifeways are being shared, people who are working professionally to share their lifeways within white-led organizations, and diverse perspectives in between and beyond. They will represent a broad spectrum, with a specific valuation of Elder’s voices. The diversity of voices and perspectives is important to these dialogues for a deeper and more holistic understanding of what it is that we, both as nature connection schools and as individuals who have learned and are sharing these lifeways, are being called into.
Mycorrising will conduct a series of 10-20 filmed conversational interviews with indigenous people across turtle island. These will explore questions of integrity, relationship, historical context, criticisms, and indigenous leadership. These conversations will have two discrete foci: the first will be personal; what invitations and criticisms indigenous people have for people of settler ancestry around how to behave and engage on Turtle Island.
Many people with white-privilege are seeking to understand what is being asked of them and how they can engage in ways that are more honoring, and many indigenous people have suggestions on how privileged people should be engaging, and these interviews seek to facilitate some deeper sharing between these two groups. From this personal scale, the interview questions will expand out to the second focus, which is the organizational scale; asking how organizations, especially those primarily led by and working with more privileged demographics, can engage in the work of nature connection in ways which are more in alignment with the wishes of indigenous people.
These interviews will be available in their entirety, and also edited into a single 90-min film which will represent the central ideas and tones that emerge throughout the interviews. The film and the full interviews will be available for rental online on a sliding-scale, with the revenue being returned to the native people who are interviewed or their selected organizations, indigenous organizations directly, and mycorrising.
The initial release of the film will be for communities and organizations exclusively, and will include a set of suggested conversational guidelines, prompts, and short curriculum. The intention of this is to take the work deeper. These interviews are not for entertainment, and are not meant to be simply “watched” as a passive observer. The purpose is to integrate and share the perspectives of the film with our communities, and to carry those lessons deeper and further.