Recentering the Movement to Protect Forests Everywhere

Lessons from the North American Forest and Climate Convergence 

bark logo with howling woof that reads defending & restoring mt hood next to a banner that reads bark: to make known by persistent outcry

Earlier this week, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the chairmen of the Yakama and Lummi Nations stood along the Columbia River and called for the removal of the Bonneville, Dalles and John Day Dams. Far to the east, in the homelands of the Shawnee, Kanaskia and Chickasaw people, Courtney Rae and I listened to native women from across this continent emphasize the necessity of indigenous leadership in the fight to protect lands and waters.  

Throughout the continent commonly called North America, known by many indigenous people and activists as Turtle Island, indigenous communities and nations are on the frontlines, bearing the impact of environmental racism and the fight for environmental justice; defending the ecosystems and lifeways under constant threat of exploitation. It is essential that the conservation movement hear, understand, and support these communities.

resurgence convergence logo showing a fist raised in protests growing out of roots

This is perhaps my biggest takeaway from the North American Forest and Climate Convergence, which Courtney & I attended last week in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Organized by the Indigenous Environmental NetworkGlobal Justice Ecology ProjectShawnee Forest Defense & others, the goal of the convergence was to build a radical movement, unifying efforts to protect forests and land with those dedicated to social and environmental justice, creating a resurgence powerful enough to achieve the systemic change we need to survive. Participants came from across the United States, representing a diversity of tactics and interests but sharing a common goal: Bring the fight for forests into relationship with the broader struggles for climate justice. 

To facilitate common understanding between participants from different cultures, politics and organizations, the Convergence encouraged the use of the Jemez principles for democratic organizing. This approach, as well as centering voices from indigenous communities, is an essential part of growing a movement that does not replicate the racism inherent in the land conservation movement of the past century.  

Importantly, as many indigenous participants emphasized, these movements will not succeed without their leadership. Building ecological resilience requires a profoundly different way of relating to the land, one rooted in indigenous perspectives not in market-based climate “solutions” like planting millions of genetically engineered trees on stolen land or converting native ecosystems into tree plantations for carbon credits while evicting indigenous communities from the forest.  

There is so much work ahead of us, but I left the Convergence feeling enlivened and inspired to help bring our mission of forest defense into the climate justice movement through building community, humility and respect. Thank you for being witness to this journey and on Bark’s team as we take our next steps.

 

Sincerely,

Brenna Bell, Bark Policy Coordinator & Staff Attorney

P.S. We are kicking off the Rad◦i◦cle Activist Training with Forest Law + Policy, a 20 year Retrospective next Thursday, October 24th from 6 to 8! Free and open to the public.

P.P.S. Learn more about the intersection of climate change and forest defense at the Forest Climate Revue, hosted by our friends from Forests for Climate Resilience, on Saturday, October 19 from 7-9 at the Clinton Street Theater.  

free mt hood campaign banner reads our forest our future