Lummi Nation has a message for global leaders gathered at the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change in France: The Earth is alive.
Youth representatives from the Lummi youth canoe family left for Paris Thursday, Dec. 3, with plans to dance and sing, add their voices to the larger climate discussion, and screen a climate change film featuring the voices of Coast Salish people.
The film, a project produced by former Lummi Nation chairman Darrell Hillaire and many other members of local tribes, is titled, “The Earth is Alive.”
During the summit, world leaders are expected to negotiate a new international agreement outlining steps everyone needs to take to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, according to the event’s website.
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While officials negotiate, citizens are gathering at various events, workshops and conferences planned nearby.
“It’s important to get our word out there to try to make a difference,” said Alexander Phair, 18, who planned to attend with the Lummi youth.
Lummi youth leader Becky Kinley, 25, said the youth planned to stand up for native rights.
“The main reason we’re going is to protect what’s ours, so our people can continue to fish in our local waters,” Kinley said. “So when that legally binding contract comes out, our Coast Salish voices are heard.”
The Earth is Alive
The title of the film the youth took with them has distinct interpretations depending on how the phrase is said in native Coast Salish language: The Earth is alive. The Earth gives life. You give life to the Earth.
“It makes you understand we’re all connected,” Hillaire said.
We’re all canoe mates. When you’re in a canoe, you can’t stand up and argue with one another.
Steven Point, Provincial Court of British Columbia judge
The film is pretty straightforward in concept, Hillaire said. Speakers are heard sharing their stories while video of local rivers, streams, mountains and natural settings illustrate the beauty and feeling of their homelands.
For the overall message, Hillaire said it was important to him that “all of our people are recognized.”
“I’d hope that we’re all pointed in the same direction – the Lummi, Nooksack, Bellinghamsters – when it comes to respect and care for this place we call home,” Hillaire said.
“It should be alarming to us seeing the headwaters dry up,” he said. “It was alarming seeing Baker and the (Twin) Sisters mostly brown this summer. I would think we would want to do something about that.”
Hillaire’s team was still working on filming and editing the project on the eve of the summit, which started Nov. 30 in Paris and continues through Dec. 11.
Hundreds of people gathered in Maritime Heritage Park on a crisp Sunday morning, Nov. 29, to speak about the summit and march through downtown Bellingham as part of marches that took place around the world that day.
Marchers held signs calling for clean energy and opposing fossil fuels.
Some chanted “What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now.” Others simulated salmon swimming upstream with printed salmon streamers attached to long poles that they waved in sync with one another.
We’re asking world leaders to transition all the fossil fuels and help us towards a clean energy future.
Jill MacIntyre Witt, 350 Bellingham climate march organizer
At the culmination of the march, which ended at the Salish Sea Center on Cornwall Avenue, the crowd heard from Steven and Gwen Point, First Nations leaders from British Columbia who spoke to the need to come together to fix man-made problems.
The couple – Steven is a judge in British Columbia, Gwen is chancellor of the University of Fraser Valley – had come down to record their messages for Hillaire’s film.
“We’re all canoe mates. We’re in the same canoe. It’s called Mother Earth, and we’re whistling through the universe together,” Steven Point told the crowd.
“When you’re in a canoe, you can’t stand up and argue with one another,” he said. “When you’re in a canoe you all have to face the same direction, right? When you’re in a canoe we all have to know where we’re going. We have to paddle together.”
But people around the world aren’t working together right now, Point continued, which needs to change, because “if we put things out of balance, the Earth is going to balance it for us, and maybe we’re not going to survive that.”
Shortly after their speeches, Freddy Lane, a Lummi Nation member who helped edit the film produced in part by Binary Recording Studio, hit play on a 10-minute preview of what was expected to be about a 30-minute film.
More information on the film can be found at Hillaire’s production company’s website: settingsunproductions.org.
Several other Whatcom County residents also have made their way to France, including Jill MacIntyre Witt of 350 Bellingham who planned to attend several events at the climate summit.
“We’re asking world leaders to transition all the fossil fuels and help us towards a clean energy future,” MacIntyre Witt said. “The reality is that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to a clean energy economy and move towards 100 percent renewable for our energy use.”
MacIntyre Witt said she planned to work on research for her thesis, asking global climate activists what moved them to action and what they feel would move others to action.
She said she also planned to catalog information on what people around the world are doing to combat climate change so she could bring ideas back to Whatcom County to talk about what might work locally.
The spelling of Freddy Lane’s name was corrected at 5:50 p.m. Dec. 6, 2015.
To follow what is going on at the climate summit, follow #COP21 on Twitter or go to cop21.gouv.fr/en/.