Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ Voices Matter to the Climate Crisis
I'm trying to do queer climate work having been inspired by the teachings of my To'ahani (Near The Water People) ancestors to live off the land. At Near The Water Farms, a dormant family farm in desperate need of resurrection, we are giving the land a second life through regenerative agricultural techniques. The vision is to grow foods to feed the 800 or so community members.
This dry farmland, nestled below the Chooshgai Mountains in the Navajo Nation, was a healing space of kinship that lost its value due to the market economy and its transaction-based relationships. This shift resulted in abandoned farms that were later replaced by big-box stores. Growing up, I heard the narratives of how my family grew food -- with and for each other -- until imperialism changed that. But today, I can only envision and execute this sort of dynamic in a more modern sense, through regenerative farming practices.
"Queer voices matter because we do the work to relearn and reclaim our personal narratives, heal our own beings, and apply these lessons to our larger community."
As Indigenous Two-Spirit and LGBTQ (2SLGBTQ) beings, we do our best to live the teachings and matriarchal values of our ancestors. We do our best to heal some of the strained relationships that were born out of land disputes, centered on American values of liberty, freedom, and independence. We do this work by calling out the historical traumas that are associated with Hweeldi (The Long Walk), when my people were forcibly removed from our homeland in 1864 and kept in a concentration camp until being let go in 1868.
Why do Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ voices matter? Because we learn the ceremonies of our people -- we become healers. We use mental health therapy to unravel, heal and understand our post-traumatic stress disorder -- which influences our nervous systems and behaviors. Queer voices matter because we do the work to relearn and reclaim our personal narratives, heal our own beings, and apply these lessons to our larger community. Some of us are doing the heavy lifting in an attempt to end generational curses.
"The ancestral lands and the current lands of Diné, Pueblo, Paiute, Ute, and other Indigenous communities are a territory thirsty for water."
Despite our internal work, the winds continue to blow more often and hotter than usual. Haze from wildfires in nearby states and dust from rampant overgrazing obscures the east-facing side of the Chooshgai Mountains. Cattle stock is preferred and grasses long for growth. The drought-resilient seeds recently sowed into the ground are thirsty for monsoon rainwater. More dust storms and larger sand dunes now reach the tops of high mesas.
This is the face of the ongoing climate crisis in the Navajo Nation and probably throughout the rest of the Colorado Plateau. The ancestral lands and the current lands of Diné, Pueblo, Paiute, Ute, and other Indigenous communities are a territory thirsty for water.
"Land use is now predicated on grazing permits, or by different clan groups, who essentially bully families away from living in specific geographic areas."
As a queer Diné person, I face these personal and environmental threats on a daily basis, like so many others around here. Even as life seems bleak in this arid place, this is home. Ceremonial life cycles continue, especially after the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. We just need the monsoons to come. There is life and hope, regardless.
Internally, there are conflicts about the best way to use and care for the land. Most, if not many, stake land as their own. But the land is actually collectively owned by the US government on behalf of the Navajo Nation. So to keep such assigned pieces of land active, we do our best, even if federal and tribal policies fail to accommodate our climate needs. Land use is now predicated on grazing permits, or by different clan groups, who essentially bully families away from living in specific geographic areas. Even a person like myself with direct ancestral clan ties faced such conflict, but thankfully, I knew who to speak with and was given the blessing to build my home.
Kiss the Ground: A Regenerative Secret, October 24, 2018.
Externally, there are conflicts with the wider, so-called environmental land conservation movement, where rampant patriarchy exists. A National Geographic article written last July explains a lot in its title: The environmental movement is very white. These leaders want to change that. The subheader of the article reads, "People of color have long been excluded from environmental policy and conservation -- creating blind spots that perpetuate inequality." It goes on to discuss just how white the environmental movement is, in both demographics and attitude.
"We are here to stay because we are strong, resilient, and fighting for environmental justice."
In my experience, talking with cis-hetero men, they often cite Edward Abbey for their work and inspiration to protect Mother Earth and Father Sky. I've read Abbey, and put him down after a few chapters. Abbey's writings on the possession, discovery, and entitlement of land from the white male perspective immediately pushed me away. Surprisingly, it's been adopted by some Indigenous men, who are too colonized to even realize such modern world views contradict the teachings of their ancestors with spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse.
But, even as we may do our best to be un-American, at a recent brunch, a Dene friend (an Indigenous group of First Nations in Canada) told me, "You Natives in America are so entitled that you do not know how much American you are." The preference of the white patriarchy over our matriarchs ruins our communities. And this is a notion further explored in an upcoming anthology of contributors across the Intermountain West called, New World Coming: Frontline Voices on Pandemics, Uprising, and Climate Crisis, of which I am co-editing with Brooke Larsen.
Like our matriarchs who we embody, 2SLGBTQ+ beings bring solutions to our communities, including those having to do with climate change. While Diné 2SLGBTQ+ relatives are doing social justice and decolonization work online and within our communities, they are also holding political office, weaving, growing foods, and healing our people through ceremony and traditional ecological knowledge. We are here to stay because we are strong, resilient, and fighting for environmental justice. We're from here. I am To’ahani. I am Dinétah.