Panelists share perspectives on “Diversifying and Decolonizing Food Systems for Climate Resilience in California and Central America” (Photo from C Bacon)
Pedro Walpole SJ
Presentations from the world of the South highlighted what were achieved in recognition of culture and also those that are being lost in many parts of Asia during Day 1 of the 2023 Climate and Environmental Justice Conference at Santa Clara University (SCU) in Santa Clara, California, USA.
Food security and research on culture-based solutions adopted by upland farmers in the Philippines were key points for discussion in the Conference’s Day 1 program on Centering Race, Indigeneity and Income in Community-University Collaborations for Climate and Environmental Justice in the West.
The presentations were deeply inspiring for three reasons. First is the evident integrity, clarity, and identity of the Native American speakers as the opening panel. Second is the realization of how far local society advanced in seriously recognizing the past and including local Tribes in decision making. Third is the academic collaborative action that involved the students who listened first to the community and took directions from members, and then developed the methods to gain insight into local concerns and advocacy.
Monica Arellano is the Tribal Vice Chairwoman for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area and is also engaged with the Tribe’s Cultural Resources Management firm. Her role, as she sees it, is to protect the Tribe’s aboriginal and religious rights, while caring for the proper and respectful treatment of their ancestral remains and cultural artifacts. She engages with SCU students in areas of research that communities need and helps document and strengthen the sense indigeneity that communities identify with, and which local society is challenged to acknowledge. She challenged conference participants to engage in this need for greater understanding of the realities of the past and cultural recognition in the management of the lands of the Muwekma Ohlone today.
Lee Panich continues to examine the long-term entanglements between California’s indigenous societies and colonial institutions, particularly the Spanish mission system, through a combination of archaeological, ethnographic, and archival data. He conducted investigations on Native American life at Mission Santa Clara de Asís on the SCU campus, as well as at Mission Santa Catalina in Baja California, Mexico.
Valentin Lopez is the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and is actively involved in efforts to restore tribal indigenous knowledge and ensure its history is accurately told.
The second panel was focused on Engaging Race and Class in Collaborations for Environmental Justice.
Kamillah Ealom is a San Francisco Native and serves as Greenaction’s Bayview Hunters Point community organizer, advocating for health and environmental justice. She actively works with many community partners on campaigns including advocating for full cleanup of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Superfund Site and other contamination sites to end industrial pollution that detrimentally impacts the air residents breathe.
Roberto Gil oversees the Self Sufficiency programs at the Sacred Heart Community Service. He now oversees several programs and services such as youth and adult education, domestic violence support and systems change, employment and asset development programs, and La Mesa Verde urban gardening and food justice network.
Matt Holmes is a history worker at Little Manila Rising who challenges inequality by cultivating more inclusive education, advocacy, and leadership dynamics that redistribute power and create opportunities for underserved communities. Matt’s diverse experiences allow him to impact “once stuck” dynamics into mutual purpose and create meaningful change, mostly by navigating difficult conversations with white audiences and historically white institutions. He weaves his experience as a history worker with cutting edge data sciences and transformational environmental justice projects to close the gap between academic disciplines, the public sector, and the communities they each have failed to serve.
The panel on Centering Youth Voices in Collaborations shared many youth-led efforts in responding to local socioecological concerns, part of the session on Co-producing Actionable Knowledge for Climate and Environmental Justice in the Americas.
Jesica Fernández, Assistant Professor at SCU’s Department of Ethnic Studies, Keala Uchoa, Richmond youth organizer at Communities for a Better Environment, and many others shared a level of action that is transforming ecological justice in the northern California area.
Iris Stewart-Frey, professor in environmental science/hydrology at SCU, moderated the panel on Creating Change for Water and Climate Justice in California and Central America and is tackling many of the community water contamination issues through multiple local collaborations.
Christopher Bacon, associate professor at SCU’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, moderated the panel on Diversifying and Decolonizing Food Systems for Climate Resilience in California and Central America that shared insights gained from long-term community-based participatory action research partnerships and how agroecology serves as a framework for food systems change and advancing food and climate justice.
This panel featured Maywa Montenegro de Wit, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Ramaytush-Ohlone territory), and her critical approach to abolitionist agroecology, an example of long-term trans-disciplinary research in Central America with Professor Bacon.
William Sundstrom, professor at SCU’s Department of Economics, and Raúl Díaz, Director of Asociación de Desarrollo Social de Nicaragua (CII-ASDENIC) from Nicaragua, shared their work on smallholder diversification and climate adaptation. SCU students Madeline Pugh and Antonio Amore Rojas shared campus-based food security research findings, while Fernando Fernandez Leiva shared his work on food justice with La Mesa Verde in San Jose, California.
From Asia, I responded and also shared on the Winds of Change, a short video documentary of small farmers adopting culture-based solutions in Upper Pulangi in the uplands of Bukidnon, Philippines. The research was done with the Departments of Economics and Philosophy at the University of Namur and Ateneo de Manila University. Four doctoral students – two from Europe and two from Asia – engaged communities in documenting household challenges in relation to corn production and market injustices. In the process, they trained youth in gathering the data, and as a result, the youth learned a little more sophistication in terms of their own community engagement which gave them many other stories in the process.
The research illustrated the impact of corn expansion that was taking over the valley and resulting in ecologically degraded soils. Unjust financial and market trading schemes leave poor farmers with 5% of the economy that they created. Farmers were spending 8-10% interest per month for four months to the financier who held all the cards, and created the price differentials. It is disastrous and they could not find a way out, and in the process, they lost many of their backyard farms.
The listening in this process was crucial because it really comes down to food and water. Obviously, in this sort of landscape, people lose their water source due to agribusiness processes. They also lose their local food sources as glyphosate, a herbicide and known carcinogen, is widely used. The North is exporting a future for glyphosate poisoning the way it did for DDT (an insecticide used in the 1970s), decades after it was banned in the West. There is a need to tackle this use of glyphosate globally, as the fight was lost in Europe a few years ago when France would not act in the European Union.
From this experience, a few experiences of culture-based solutions emerged. Most of the solutions termed as ‘nature-based’ are actually corporate-based solutions that still damage the environment. This is a major issue in the UNFCCC COP process in the monitoring of what is truly nature-based.
Local communities, on the other hand, have the possibility of focusing on planting traditional crops and home-based initiatives that give greater empowerment to women. The Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center, a culture-based school in Upper Pulangi, has programs with Indigenous youth that contribute to the development of culture-based solutions, and is critical for ecological education on agro-forestry and forest regeneration for water security.
The 2023 Climate and Environmental Justice Conference, held on 27 to 29 April, was hosted by Santa Clara University and organized in affiliation with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and built bridges among a broad range of participants from higher education, community-based groups, secular organizations, and government agencies to scale up faith-based, community-based, and academic collaboration for action.