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The Story Is In Our Bones: How Worldviews and Climate Justice Can Remake a World in Crisis

Osprey Orielle Lake, S1 Episode 5

What are worldviews and why are they important in climate justice? Many of today’s contemporary worldviews of capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy create a sense of ‘power over’ the planet and other people. Instead, we must compost these worldviews to create a new worldview focused on respect, reciprocity and regeneration. Indigenous worldviews are fundamental to this work, as many root us in our relationship to the land, the living earth, and the cosmos.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), where she works internationally with grassroots, BIPOC and Indigenous leaders, policymakers, and diverse coalitions to build climate justice, resilient communities, and a just transition to a decentralized, democratized clean-energy future. She also sits on the executive committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and on the steering committee for the Fossil Free Non-Proliferation Treaty. She is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature and the newly published book, The Story is in Our Bones: How Worldviews and Climate Justice Can Remake a World in Crisis.

Full transcript between Osprey Orielle Lake, and our Authors on Climate Words host and Climate Books coordinator, Rebecca Gerny, recorded on January 19, 2024.

            Rebecca: Thanks for joining me, Osprey! So first, I’d love it if you could introduce yourself in your own words and share anything I missed.

            Osprey: Thanks so much for inviting me to be with you today. I think I would just add that because we're going to be focusing on my book, The Story Is In Our Bones: How Worldviews and Climate Justice Can Remake a World in Crisis, I wanted just to start by saying, I know we're going to be getting into a lot of wonderful conversations and explorations about language and words, given the nature of your organisation and the beautiful mission that you have. And I wanted to begin also by saying for me that there is a

interweaving between this kind of work of deep conceptualisation and looking at our ideologies and influence of language, with very practical applications.

All this to say that my day job, so to speak, is very very practical. And from our pre-conversation, it sounds like yours is as well. You know, WECAN is very focused on protecting old growth forests and reforesting damaged lands in different regions of the world. We do a lot of advocacy at the UN climate talks. We're very engaged in direct on the ground struggles to stop fossil fuel projects and involved in food sovereignty and food security networks and many other things where we're really lifting up particularly Indigenous, Black and Brown women and gender diverse leaders who are really at the center of the impacts of the climate crisis and also are central to solutions. And so we do a lot of very hands-on work, putting out fires on a daily basis while also trying to build the world that we know is possible and that we're all really envisioning and struggling to push forward that agenda.

And within that, you know, when I wrote this book, I wanted to go upstream to look at a lot of the values and worldviews and ideologies and paradigms that actually got us into this crisis because otherwise we're sort of continuing these same systems of oppression if we don't dismantle them and understand them and generate new ideas.

So I wanted to provide just a little bit of that context as to why in the middle of me running around trying to stop a pipeline, and getting arrested in Washington DC, would I be writing a book in the midst of that? And it's because of a deep sense that we still need to understand where we've been and understand root causes if we're truly going to move forward in a different way and have a big shift in our ideologies and paradigms to move forward in the way that we know is equitable and healthy. So anyway, that's what I would add to your wonderful introduction. Thanks.

            Rebecca: I'm also curious, can you give us a brief explanation on just how you came to be doing this kind of work and what specifically draws you to the work that you're doing with WECAN?

            Osprey: Yes, I think like a lot of us, we come at this work for a variety of reasons. For me, my moment came. You know, I'd always been doing work around the environment and early in my teenage years got very involved in protecting the redwood forests, in Northern California, where I lived, that was, you know, one of the big issues where I was growing up in Mendocino County was the logging of the redwood forests. And I really started out from that environmental lens of questioning, why were we destroying this beautiful planet? Which I know many young people are wrestling with. And it's just shocking to, even though it happens every day, still find it stunning and shocking to look at the absolute magnificence and beauty of our planet and wrestle with the grief and horror of how we are so out of balance with the natural systems. So that really began my work, seeing some of these beautiful redwood forests that I had come to know, really consider the places that I walked for healing and knowledge and being in nature, being decimated. And so that drove my first instincts towards what is going on, even in my early teenage years. And then progressing from there, took time to develop and understand the intersection of environmental racism and the connection between social and ecological crises. And then obviously developing further and learning about Indigenous rights and colonization. And again, then looking at the violence against the earth and violence against women and the role of our patriarchal institutions and how it really fosters this idea against violence against the feminine. So all of these things started to really develop over time.

And then in 2009 when the Obama administration came in, in the United States, a lot of us thought that there would be potentially some real action on climate at the level that was needed. And after the climate talks in Copenhagen, that did not happen. And I was walking in the redwood forests near my home and I was not feeling the calm and that communion with nature feeling whatsoever. It was more like a screaming. And within a really short period of time I just stopped everything I was doing and started doing a lot of research, at the end of 2009 and really saw through a lot of research and statistics, the incredible impact that women have been having and are having on being solutionaries regarding the climate crisis. Not only were they being impacted first and worse due to gender inequality, but also really leading resistance movements to protecting water and forests; leading at the top levels, from parliamentary positions, creating better environmental laws.

One example that I did a deep study on recently, I was asked to do a presentation for the Scenarios Forum, which feeds the IPCC reports for the UN. When we look at something called the Women's Political Empowerment Index, which is basically how are women involved in social issues in their countries, or if they're involved in politics, or their voice being heard. If you just have a one unit increase in the Women's Political Empowerment Index, it leads to an 11.51 percentage drop in carbon emissions. And not that everything's around carbon emissions reductions, that's not the only metric that we're looking at.

But just to give an example of just this role of women and their leadership, 40% to 80% of all household food production in the Global South is done by women. And I could go on and on from the grassroots to the grass tops, the enormous impact when we have women at the helm and gender diverse leaders at the helm. And so this is how the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network was formed, just seeing that was such an incredible entry point and leverage point.

And I just have enormous passion for it. And not only because women are getting the job done, so to speak, but also the incredible opportunity to work these with amazing women leaders all over the world for this collective movement building that we're doing around climate justice and feminist economies and so much work that really can provide a path forward that also involves indigenous rights, and includes a very holistic approach to, basically what a lot of academics are calling a polycrisis, which it is, you know, very intersectional multifaceted crisis we’re now really seeing.

            Rebecca: I'd like to focus now on that word that is in the subtitle of your book, which is How Worldviews and Climate Justice can Remake a World in Crisis. So I'll read your definition of worldviews and then I'd love it if you could give a little more explanation on what worldviews are and why that word is so crucial to our climate justice work. So you write that:

“Worldviews express the fundamental nature of a particular culture, how it operates and constructs perceptions and relationships. They provide an all embracing assemblage of the world around us, including the greater cosmos and how the world came into being. Worldviews influence who we are, how we behave, our dreams, imagining things in our relationship to the very web of life.”

I think that's such a beautiful way of articulating that. Is there anything you'd like to share about the importance of worldviews in this work?

            Osprey: Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that quote. So it's a little bit of what I was saying earlier about wanting to really look upstream of how we got into this crisis. So as an example, we know, and I sense from the work that you do as well, that we actually have a lot of the solutions that we need that are equitable and healthy for the earth. And so there's this big, giant question. How is it that our modern society, the dominant culture, has arrived at this moment where we actually have these solutions, we could deploy them, we certainly have been throwing enormous amounts of money at wars, and yet we won't follow through with these solutions that would work for people and planet, for everyone. And so it begs the question, not that it can't be done, but why isn't it being done? And that led me to this question of worldviews: Where are we coming from? What is our positionality? and How do we arrive at this moment? needs a much broader context than just a political context, or just a societal context, or a psychological context, or even a religious context. What is this context that we're dealing with?

So what I've come to learn is that the current dominant social mindsets and systems are really incapable of addressing the crises we face or providing a flourishing way ahead. They just don't have enough capacity in them. They're not broad enough. They're not creative enough. And they don't dismantle harmful ideologies. So understanding worldviews is vital to entering new thresholds of living. And to me, this is, as I was saying, like a process of radically dismantling certain systems like patriarchy and colonisation and racism and capitalism, like these things that we know are really oppressive systems that have been building up for a long time. I also go into the book, the root causes of these ideologies and systems of oppression.

But at the same time, when we're talking about worldview, on the other end of the scale, it's also about re-imagining worldviews and what are healthy worldviews? And some of them not only need to be dismantled and transformed, but there's also others that need to be deeply remembered and rescued from our ancestral lineages, when all of us at some point lived close to the land and had those relationships and had those stories and knowledge systems that connected us to the earth. And so worldview ends up being this really mammoth topic that we can always sort of wrestle with pieces of, because it's volumes of books to talk about worldview, but we can sort of get at it, which I think is good because it's essential right now, I find it fundamental right now that we talk about worldview, because we need a paradigm shift and we can't just keep going down the same road with the same business as usual and the same kind of thinking to get to where we need to go.

And I think what's exciting right now is that there are a lot of networks of change makers and systems thinkers and activists and writers and all kinds of creative people, your organisation, that are really trying to intervene into our work, these new ideas. And I think that's very key because we're not going to bypass the system we're in. For me, it's a lot about composting and alchemizing and metabolising the world that we have, because we need a pathway from where we are to where we want to go. And that's going to require a process.

And so in this process, we know as an example that we need to install solar panels, deploy wind turbines, recycle, implement energy efficiency, and all these very real solutions. But they alone won't be enough because, even let's say I waved a magical wand and we ended the climate crisis tomorrow, there would still be environmental degradation. We would still have an extractive economy. We would still have environmental racism. We would still not be dealing with colonisation. And so it is a moment to really change our mindset.

We have come to this moment that the climate crisis is really the result of how we have been living with each other and the earth for a very long time. And so that's why we have to have much larger framing. And so what we're looking at is, how we can look at the core focus to transition from an extractivist paradigm of exploitation, hyper individualism and supremacy to a very different worldview of relational earth consciousness, understanding of respect, reciprocity and restoration. And this is what I feel many of us are working to imbue and embody in the kind of day-to-day work that we're doing, while we're also having these deeper, and sometimes very difficult conversations, so that we can provide a worldview change.

And I would just add one other piece, which is that one of the primary worldviews that we're looking at that must change, is the sense of separation from nature and what that has caused and how that ties into supremacy and white supremacy, particularly. And I'll leave it at that because there are huge things I just said, and I don't want to just have a monologue here, but just pointing out that we're not talking in vagaries. There are specific worldviews that we can dive into that really have been detrimental and others that have beautiful and gorgeous that we need to bring forth. But it's not sort of just a general topic, there are actually worldviews in Western society, modern society that can be named that we need to address.

            Rebecca:Yeah, and I was wondering if we could spend just a little time there. For some of us, it's probably very clear why things like white supremacy, colonisation, extractivism are so damaging. But can you provide just a little context on why that worldview is so destructive to our planet and to ourselves, and then why some indigenous worldviews propose more aligned alternatives and why that's important to follow?

            Osprey: Yes. Again, these are giant topics, so we're just going to touch upon them. Yeah. We'll just give everybody a little bit of hors d'oeuvres for reading the book or other research that you can do. Just to say that these are such big topics and they do require a lot of digestion and thought and research and conversation.

So in essence, when we're looking at the idea of colonisation, patriarchy, racism, and our extractive economy, we're looking at a worldview that has dominion over, to put it in short. This idea that some people are more important than other people, humans are more important than nature. And immediately when we set up these hierarchies, there are winners and losers, and in that framework. And so we really need to move from that idea that there are people who have supremacy, including supremacy over nature, and move out of that ideology and really compost it and transform it.

Instead, we really need to be weaving life enhancing worldviews and new ways of being and thinking into our project narratives and programs. This is what we're really striving to do. And some of that is, as you mentioned, I center a lot in the book, ideas and learnings I've been very fortunate to be able to experience from relationships and mentorships that I've been able to participate in, having wonderful indigenous mentors over many years, to learn about reciprocal relationships with the land. And how to also build a relationship with nature in which we are part and particle of the web of life. And I think this is essential as we get into, how are we going to decolonize our minds? How are we going to decolonize our activities and respect people in their traditional territories?

Here, I live in California on Coast Miwok lands. What does it mean for me to first and foremost learn from the Indigenous people who are still here? What does it mean for me to prioritise: What are their campaigns? What are their calls to action? Are there Land Back initiatives where we can ensure Indigenous people can ever move forward to reclaiming their ancestral lands? And really having that be a focus of attention.

80% of all the biodiversity left on earth is in the lands and hands of Indigenous peoples. So we have a lot to learn about how they are living in harmony with the earth and their traditional ecological systems and the science, their indigenous science, that finally Western scientists are beginning to listen to.

And so these are just some threads that we can unpack, but that's sort of how we would begin is that we're really transforming from this dominion over idea into a relationship and reciprocity idea of worldviews and how we can change our cosmologies to be living in respect to one another and also in respect to an alive and animate world around us.

            Rebecca:I so appreciated how you spend a lot of time also talking about how words are crucial in reconstructing our worldviews. And I would love to get to that in a minute, but I also wanted to first talk about you write that we're all still connected to our own earth-based traditions and lineages, ancestrally, that we might not remember or might not be top of mind in our contemporary lives, especially for those of us living in the United States or the Western world, but that it's there. And I'm going to read one of my favorite quotes from the book that kind of references your title, The Story is in Our Bones. You write that:

“Other ways of knowing arise from collecting the threads of our ancestral origins, even as they may come to us in our dreams or intuitions, for the stories are in our bodies still, held fiercely and tenderly in the deep marrow of our bones. The stories also reside in the landscapes where our ancestors walked, and in the food traditions, dances, customs, and songs lingering just at the edges of colonial spaces.”

I appreciated that. I think I've had conversations with a lot of people in my life recently about knowing things or the way that they practice in their life and in their work that they're not quite sure where it comes from, but there's something that they know they're channeling. And I really found that kind of context that you bring in really helpful. And throughout the book, you give so many examples of ancient earth-based wisdom, specifically focusing on goddesses and different women, as well as more contemporary examples.

So I was wondering if you could maybe share one or two examples from the book, maybe one form of ancient lineages and then one maybe more contemporary, just about these different worldviews that indigenous cultures past and present have.

            Osprey: Sure. And thank you for pulling that quote. And I do think it's really important to simultaneously realise that there are intact Indigenous peoples now everywhere we live, which is a very specific knowledge system and something to respect because we are, most of us, living on stolen land, with Indigenous people where we can learn from.

But simultaneously, it is also part of our journey to, if we're not indigenous, to reach into our own roots, because otherwise we are left to be quite incomplete. We can never be indigenous peoples on other people's indigenous lands, but we're all on a journey that has been in the making for a long time through colonisation, through migrations, through violent interactions, through settler colonialism, through all kinds of issues, through leaving lands where we were persecuted to come somewhere else, but then inadvertently becoming colonisers in other people's lands. And it's complex, but we're here. This is where we are and we need to start regenerating reparations, restorations; How are we going to really move forward in a way where we begin to make sense of this complex story? And so part of that is to indeed regenerate our own knowledge about our own histories. Because it's also important to know that if we don't do that, it is my thinking that, we have created a situation in which as long as the dominant culture, the dominant society, is not connected to the land, is not connected to their ancestral roots, there is such a large void of not belonging or unbelonging and a sense of disconnect from nature and our sense of the way that we are really inseparably connected to the earth but have forgotten it; it is hidden and not experienced as a lived experience. That emptiness leads to a lot of the rapacious economies that we see, and over consumerism, and eventually leads to violence and conquering because there's this insatiable need to fill that void of orphanage from our roots and the land.

So it's not just to feel good, which it does, to connect with our roots. It's also essential as a political action, as far as I'm concerned at this moment in time, and an essential responsibility for us to do all that we can, even if it's tattered and torn pasts. It is our ancestors calling to us to remember who we are in the earth lineage.

It’s as simple as even just remembering we're on this incredible planet with beings that swim and fly and walk and dance and run. And the sun is rising and setting in this incredible majesty, that can get lost in the turmoil. So some of it's just being a human being on this beautiful planet. And remember that every being is a relative of ours.

And I think this fundamental reality is often missing from conventional histories of civilisation. Our history books and courses are primarily human-centric, with events divorced from a relationship to the natural world. And in this compartmentalised, disembodied worldview of modern thinking, our human history is really separated from the natural sciences. But how can we know our human story detached from nature? I think is the question. And this is really a flawed approach. And we sacrifice human well-being to a dominant culture that casts us out from nature to become, as I said, orphans. And I think this is quite dangerous and creates this sense instead of being in a circle of belonging, we then begin to create the sense of being a superior force that exists above nature, with no need to understand our interconnectedness or share responsibility to the web of life. And so this is sort of a short summary of how we got into this incredibly violent and detrimental time.

And so you're asking about some stories. So, I just wanted to share a little bit about an origin story, because I think origin stories are one way that we can reconnect with our roots. Of course, indigenous people over the world have maintained and held on to their origin stories and their original instructions, which really share good conduct with how to be in good relationship with all of our relatives, human and non-relatives. But I want to also remember that those of us who come from Europe or in other regions also have those stories, and they need to be unveiled and pulled back from just some mythology book in the library.

So one of them is, according to the Greek legend, Zeus's, the gods Zeus and umbilical cord fell to the earth after his birth and became the island of Crete, where an often visited omphalos stone still stands. And there are many omphalos stones existing throughout Europe, some have been worked by human hands and others are just there naturally, as different people recognise their unique places of origin, like where do we come from from the earth? Where do our people exist?

There is the Stone of Divisions, which is located at the center of Ireland, which marks the spot where the Archduke Midday would light a fire at the beginning of each year. And then that fire would then be carried from that naval site, that omphale site, that center stone, to light all of the hearth fires of the community. So there's always this ceremony every year that you come back to your origin place from this stone where you come from on the earth, your origin place, and then the community fires are shared.

The spiritual center of the Hopi people is actually not a stone, but an egg-shaped geyser called the Sipapu, and it sprouts from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the United States, in what is now known as Arizona. And they say this is where the Hopi emerged from the last world into this one.

And so there's these incredible many, many stories, origin stories about, where we come from and how this connects us to the land. But a lot of these origin stories, as the ones I've shared, have been really diminished or violated, lost, eradicated by the dominant culture. And we need to retrieve them because they help root us to the living earth. And it helps our understanding of where we come from, as well as other old time stories. We need to bring them to our awareness again. And when we revive these stories and knowledge systems, then we can really renew them in our current cultural and ecological contexts. And that's what's really, I think a lot of the work of our time is like, how do we renew these stories? I don't live in Crete, even though maybe some of my ancestors, one part of my lineage is from there. But even knowing that story, then how do I renew that story here in Turtle Island in the United States and bring that story of my ancestors with me?

I tell in the book about one of my ancestors from Ukraine and a beautiful gift that my grandmother told me that I carry as a tradition with me now, as a reciprocity practice with the land. And I practice that now and bring that to the new land that I'm in. And this is one way we can begin to regenerate a sense of belonging to place and an animate landscape, and to seeing the earth as our living relative, and shifting our worldview into an animate cosmology. This is part of the process of these stories and ways that we can actualise. So I hope that sort of got at your question.

            Rebecca:I also wanted to give you an opportunity just to briefly share on that tradition you're talking about that you brought, from your grandmother to your own gardening, just because I think it's interesting for folks to know how they can do that with their own traditions.

            Osprey: Sure. There's one section in the book where I had the opportunity to be with my 91 year old grandmother, who in her childhood, when she was a toddler, was in Ukraine, near Kiev. And she and her family left very quickly because of the anti-Semitism there in the pogroms. And her parents took her and her siblings to the United States, to flee the pogroms basically, and begin a new life here. And I was talking to her about some of the stories that she had learned when she was young or that she had learned from her parents or grandparents about life in Ukraine, because there were many different lineage lines. I'll just put it that way, as I still trace and try to find out more about my own family history because sometimes it's not so easy to do, and that's a whole other topic.

But the story that she shared with me is that her grandfather was the mayor of the town right outside of Kiev. And apparently he really loved horses and was part of the calvary. And because he was the mayor of the town, he had the honor of participating in an annual ceremony ritual that the town was engaged in on an annual basis. During the beginning of the springtime after all the fields were planted, they would choose one of the maidens from the village to represent the spring, to be the spring maiden. And she was dressed in beautiful embroidery, traditional embroidery from Ukraine with a beautiful garland on her head with flowers and ribbons. And she would ride the most handsome horse. (This is how it was told to me. I don't know if I would use the term handsome horse, but this is my grandmother's language.) So, a very handsome horse and that her grandfather, my great grandfather, was very, very proud because he got to be the one that escorted the horse, led the horse around the fields to bless the fields for the harvest. And then a beautifully painted egg was planted in the earth as a reciprocity practice really, to give to the land as a gift to Mother Earth for the good harvest, that there would be fertility. And so that was a practice that she shared with me.

And so I was very touched by that. I learned about that many, many years ago. And it wasn't until later that I started really studying about these eggs and the painted eggs and the whole history, which is really profound in Ukraine, and other parts of Slavic traditions around egg painting and its significance, which is quite deep. And the whole history of the symbology of eggs around the world, very universally as a symbol of life. At the time when I was hearing the story, it was quite a bit younger and just sort of recorded it in my mind and thought it was a really cool story. And then it was later on, oh my goodness, this is quite profound. And then opened it up more to learn more, what that actually meant. And so yes, to this day, I garden and I always plant a painted egg and in memory of that and to to bring, again, that blending of worlds together of my traditions in the lands where I now live.

And just because of your generosity and the conversation, I'll add just one little more tidbit to the story. At the end of last year, after a lot of planning, one of the incredible women we have the honour of working with is Casey Camp Horinek from the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma, an amazing Indigenous leader. And we've worked with her for many years, over a decade. She's the one who actually wrote the foreword to my book. And she had been planning a long time and through Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, we partnered to support her on the Ponca Nation to build an earthen lodge, which is a traditional lodge of the Ponca people that they haven't built for over 150 years because of colonisation and displacement from their original territories in Turtle Island or the United States. And we were able to support them in building this lodge, which is quite extraordinary, and eventually we're putting together a short video about it. It will be available on our website. But it's going to be a place for shelter during the climate crisis from tornadoes. It's a food security and food sovereignty project where we're growing traditional foods. There's a place inside the lodge to store food and can be sheltered during emergencies. And of course it has tremendous ceremonial and traditional purpose and value.

So, we were invited by Casey and her family, some of the staff from WECAN, to go there when they had the opening ceremony for the lodge. And it was an incredible ceremony with women that had come from all over the region who are different tribelets, so to speak, of the Ponca Nation. And, it's not really my place to talk about the ceremony itself, but it was just incredibly moving to be in this lodge with these women.

And the reason I bring it up right now is I had brought one of the painted eggs with me and gave that to her as a gift for the ceremonial lodge and explained to her and to the women there that story. And so, it was just one of those moments of, we were there, mostly there to listen and learn, but also there was a deep healing for all of us. And we had difficult and hard conversations about colonisation and reparations and all of these things, but also there was just this beautiful sort of cultural and spiritual moment of this exchange, of us all recognising the earth through this egg and our ancestral lineages connecting to the earth and living reciprocity. And it was just a very sweet moment of the possibility of what this can mean.

            Rebecca:Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think we need more of that. And I really appreciate that kind of reverence and respect. So yeah, thank you for sharing that story.

I would love to transition now to talking about words as you focus so heavily on them and of course, that climate words, we are word nerds. So you write in the book that, “language is foundational in influencing and informing our worldview and the way that we imagine, experience, and the actuality of the world around us”, which is so central to our mission at Climate Words. And you actually have a whole chapter on words and the importance, and you share so many different words from various indigenous languages, which I really appreciated.

So I guess to start, could you maybe just share about why words are important to the climate movement and in changing our worldviews?

            Osprey: Sure, I think that one of the things that led me to this is the fact that worldviews are also conjured by words. And so we have to understand what words are. And I began to really ask this central question and became particularly interested in how we can develop an earth-loving language that respects nature and the beauty of existence. And a language that's decolonized and anti-racist and has equity and care in it. And also a language that can better knit us to the land and ground us in a specific place.

I think that, through colonization and through monotheistic religions, which we haven't even talked about really which is a whole other trail here, of the patriarchal institutions and the role of changing words and how words were co-opted and also made to be harmful. We have got to really look at how we're going to reclaim a language and transform our own tongues into languages of belonging and kinship. And how can we bend and circumvent and liberate our language so that we stop objectifying nature and become speakers of languages that affirm a living universe, affirm one another and are not so negative and detrimental to life.

Even, you know, just to give some examples: the word lunacy or being a lunatic, obviously we can hear the word luna, which is the moon, in there. And so if you're someone who loves the moon or is interested in the moon, you're crazy. And of course, many women's circles were built around moon cycles and having our own bodies be involved in the moon cycle. So it's just like a really simple example, but it gets at this quite a bit. Or the word terrible, something that's really terrible, terra goes back to the goddess Terra or the earth. And so now you're being terrible when you're connected to the earth.

And it does have an influence. We can say, “oh, well, they're just words and they don't mean anything.” Except for that our brains are completely connected to words. I'm sure you know this because of the work and research you're doing. And so, yes, it absolutely does matter if we are having an earth language that is negative for a long time. Even now, if you watch the news and there's a big rainstorm coming or rains coming, bad weather.

The weather is bad. Instead of like, no, it's winter and it's snowing and raining, this is what's supposed to be happening. But it's inconvenient to our lifestyle, so it's bad weather. And all this negativity about the earth. Or that there's dirt outside and we're dirty. No, it's beautiful, fertile soil. And I could go on and on. So this language issue is huge in how it frames our world and how we see the world and how we experience and have sensations around our experience, our lived experience.

And I'll just give one other example and then pass it back to you. You know, on the flip side of this, one thing that I really enjoyed when I was doing some artwork, which is another part of my life, I was in the Czech Republic with an artist friend Milan and he was sharing with me, I was asking him about some of the old Slavic roots of language. And he told me about the old words for the calendar names of the year. And I really loved hearing them because, again, just in the language, it brings you into place and relationship. So as an example, January, which when I say January in English, it doesn't mean anything to me. I'm vaguely aware that it goes back to an ancient goddess or god of something, I'd have to go look it up. But even so, I don't have a direct relationship to what that means to the land, even if I know exactly who Juno is. But January is leden, which means ice. Okay, so you're talking about the ice time. Or February in the old Czechish language is únor, which is hibernation, or ice lowers, okay, so things are hibernating. And March is brezen, which is birch or sap. And so we can see now we're moving more towards the spring. And I won't go on and on, May is kveten, which is blossom, or the flowering time. So you get the idea that each of the months of the year is directly something that's happening with the land or human relationship to the land. It might even be something about what people are doing at that time, but you're actually talking about the land in an animate and relationship way, versus just some abstract word that has nothing to do with nature directly. And so I think this is critical to how we're forming our minds in relationship with the world around us.

            Rebecca: And I'd love to bring up the example that Robin Wall Kimmerer proposes, because I think it's just really a great example here, but how we refer to a lot of things in nature as it. So like a lake is it, a mountain is it, a cloud is it, a lot of animals even, animate things use the pronoun it. And so that as she writes, and I think as you explain, opens the door to exploitation rather than responsibility. You quote her, you explain this, that “when a sugar maple is an it, it gives us permission to pick up the saw. The it doesn't matter.”

And so I'm wondering if you or if you'd like me to kind of explain her counter proposal to that pronoun and why changing the way that we even use pronouns when referring to the natural world is really important.

            Osprey: Yes, and just to mention her, her wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, from which I quoted from, and just what an incredible contribution that Robin Wall Kimmerer has made to this discourse that we're having right now. And she put forward, as you said, this concern about the word it, and then she was putting forward the Anishinaabe word. I'm just trying to pronounce it properly, Bemaadiziiaaki, which means beings of the living earth. But Kimmerer recognised that English speakers needed simplicity, which I think I just demonstrated (laughs). So she proposed the ending of this beautiful word, which is ki, to be introduced into the English language. So while honouring the indigenous language from which the word came, English speakers could use ki instead of he, she, or it, to talk about the more than human family, such as you were mentioning the sugar maple. So we can say ki is giving a sap again versus it is giving a sap. And so I really love that. And also how Kimmerer explains that the plural pronoun would aptly be kin, which is perfect.

It's just so absolutely brilliant. I mean, she's brilliant. And so I really love that, how internalised and saying ki can help us recognise the agency and the intelligence and the liveness of our more than human family. And that can assist us in transforming our worldview and how we behave in the world. And so I think it's really brilliant.

And I do wanna say, even though I was sort of teasing about, and then she brings forward this idea about English speakers needing simplicity about those complex words, and I agree. And I would also say part of the healing process and transformation process is for us to wrap our tongues around these difficult words and not resist them. And I think that part of the decolonisation process is to be able to take the time to have our tongues do different things, because it will also change our mind, as we're talking about, to say these different words. And so I try to slow down and really learn these words. And it has not been easy for me and it's embarrassing and it's difficult, but I also think it's part of the process of becoming human in these lands that we now live, is to also learn the language, because that language is tied into frequencies of understanding of the land here. And so I think one of the things that we can support is indigenous languages, because they also carry a worldview, and the words carry different meanings that are not even translatable into English, because we have a very different mindset.

As an example, we've been talking about languages that are not animate. A lot of these indigenous words go deep into animacy and multifaceted meanings that are quite profound in one word, that help your mind conceptualise things that we don't have available to us in the Western society. So I would also just add, even though I very kindly appreciate she reduced it to ki, I also wanna honour the very difficult twisting of tongue to say it correctly.

            Rebecca: Yeah, and you write in the book how speaking these words out loud, and similarly towards saying the names of ancient goddesses, that in and of itself is an act of decolonisation, of returning and restoring ourselves. I think you particularly talk about this with the Kichwa people in the living forest and your experience there. I don't know if you wanna maybe share anything about that and the word, I think it's Kawsak Sacha, but you can please correct me, which means living forest. Maybe you wanna give us a little more context on the Kichwa people and their experience of living with Pachamama, which you spend a good amount of time talking about in the book.

            Osprey: Sure, yeah. I feel incredibly fortunate and humbled to have really built for over a decade now a relationship with some very powerful leaders of the Kichwa, the Sarayaku people who are Kichwa people living in southern Ecuador, particularly through projects to protect the Amazon rainforest there. And they have been incredibly successful there. The Sarayaku are amazing people. They have won cases to stop fossil fuel extraction in their territories. They've had cases against the Ecuadorian government. They've been amazing leaders in political arenas and cultural arenas and being powerful land defenders even against incredible odds.

And one of the things that I continue to be engaged in is a vision that they put forward, that they've been working on for a very, very, very long time, I'm not recalling the exact year, but in the last five or six years now, and it's in the book, the precise year. They put forward an official date to bring to the government and have a launch of what they call the Living Forest Declaration or Proposal, which is Kawsak Sacha, it's pronounced Kawsak Sacha. And it is, basically, they stated that, after all of the colonization they have experienced and oppression of indigenous peoples around the world, that it was so important for indigenous peoples to put forward their view of forest management. I don't even think they would use the word management, but how to live in the forest in a healthy way, because there are always, indigenous people are always subjected to all of these government plans that are not their plans. And these are their traditional forests that they have been maintaining and caring for and stewarding for thousands and thousands of years in a good way. And suddenly they have these forest plans placed upon them. And so then being listened to who have been caring and stewarding quite well these forests in a healthy way for generation after generation. So they put forward Kawsak Sacha, this living forest declaration to demonstrate how to have a forest plan. And it's extraordinary because it is cultural, it is political, it is spiritual, it's ecological, it's philosophical, it's completely comprehensive.

And so the details of that are in the book, but I was very moved to be part of the opening ceremonies, the launch of the Kawsak Sacha, the Living Force Declaration, in Quito in Ecuador, where the government came and different international agencies. And they invited our organization and a wonderful partner organization, Amazon Watch, who has been really leading out in the Amazon, to come and be international partners and witnesses to this event. And it was days of festivities and going into these deep, gorgeous dialogues about the living forest and all the different beings in the forest, and the different entities in the forest, and really explicitly understanding the deep science and ecology and spirituality of the forest. And I would just add one other thing, which is they have a beautiful way of demarking their land, which is not fences, but through these flowering plants that they're growing around the outer rim of their territories to demark where their territories are. And I love that idea of the flowers being the symbol of life as a way to share where you live versus putting up a fence. I think that says a lot right then and there.

            Rebecca: Absolutely. Yeah, I found that very moving as well. And I just wanted to bring in some words that you offer in their idea of the living forest. That in the Kichwa language, they refer to the persons who inhabit waterfalls, lagoons, swamps, mountains and rivers as runa. So that living entity actually has a name and its personhood. And that the communities that those runa form are called, I think it’s, llata. (It's two L's, which I'm doing the Spanish accent for) but llata, llata. But yeah, that there are words, and as you describe what we have words for, what we notice is connected. If we have a word for it, we're able to notice it. And so I think, understanding that the forest is alive and giving the persons in that forest words is so crucial to that understanding and like what you're saying, that kind of really inclusive way of forest “management,” as we might say now.

There's one other Kichwa word that I really appreciated you sharing, which is minga, which is the process of collective work and the pooling of knowledge. You write that “minga work and democratic living teaches us that we live by doing things for others.” So even just that word, that reciprocity that's embedded within the word is just another way that the language itself kind of embeds a new relationship into our worldview.

            Osprey: Exactly, and I really love that word minga as well because it's their way of gathering together and working collectively, but the understanding of it isn't that they're just having a meeting, it's a minga, it's not a meeting, it's much more than that. It's a collective effort of meeting together, to meet with the land, to vision together, to build community together. So it's a very broad understanding of what is meant to take place in that circle of council, with many more different components than what we consider at a meeting in a linear fashion. And I think it's beautiful to walk into a minga with that concept in your mind.

            Rebecca: Absolutely, it's very, what we might call sociocratic or horizontal kind of leadership and engaging in everyone's opinions rather than most maybe corporate meetings today are very hierarchical. So yeah, I appreciated that. There's also a few other words in different languages that are related to that sense of mutual-ness, mutuality. In the Maya language, the word kas-limaal is “mutual indebtedness or mutual insparkedness”. I love that word, insparkedness.

There's another word in the Maori language in New Zealand, which I'm definitely going to mispronounce, but it's Kaitiakitanga, which is “the practice of protecting the land in respect for one's ancestors and preserving the land for future generations.”

So these words that really embody the mutuality and the relationships that we hold between ourselves and the land, really shifting from that more colonial or capitalist mindset.

            Osprey: Yes, and I think also that as you say, these words build a broader understanding and bring inherently within them a relationship to the earth and the larger cosmologies. But also I was really interested in how they inherently provide, how can I say this, a deeper understanding of the physics of life. In other words, a lot of times indigenous people have told me that it is much easier for them to understand quantum physics than most Western thinkers if you were not a physicist, because their language already has innately in it an understanding that when we look at the atomic level, the world is sort of blinking in and out all of the time. It's not as it appears solidly. And their language inherently encompasses that, which also helps them, in a very embodied way, not feel separate from the tree or the lake because there is a permeability to the reality that exists between us that is not conceptual, but is actually experienced, because they have the words that they've grown up with that embody that understanding. Where I have to really work, as a Western thinker, to be sitting on a chair and think, well, it's here, but it's not here. Or the tree is not so separate from me. And yeah, I'm really fascinated also about how these words affect our worldview, but also just our lived experience and reality of what is all around us and our relationship to everything around us. And how we can then expand our understanding of cosmology and where we even live. So, yeah, I think it's, it's all of those things together. And these words can be like one word that have such a multivalent, multifaceted meaning that is dimensional. They're not linear words. They're words that encompass huge realities in one word.

And I also like to think about the actual sound of them, which is why I was talking about sort of learning to wrap our tongues around them, because I think that the sounds come from a very specific space. And sometimes when I talk to indigenous people, they'll say, Oh, well, the language came from the land. It came from the goddesses and gods. It came from the creator, creatress, creator mother, creator father gave us this language. And I think that there's something really in that of where these words come from. And if you go to different parts of the world, how people have unique languages that can sound like the birds in their region or the creeks in their region.

And I was particularly taken by this concept of a joik that I wrote about in my book, which I had the incredible opportunity to hear a joik, and just kind of to finish the point I'm making about this multivalent understanding. I was with Casey Camp Horinek I mentioned earlier. She had called for a water ceremony during one of the UN climate conferences, because most of the time we're running around talking to people in negotiations and involved in advocacy and policy. But sometimes we need these other spaces to happen while we're doing that kind of really hardcore work. And Casey had called for a water ceremony and people all over the world were invited to participate in bringing water from their homelands. It was in the evening and at the gathering, water from lakes and rivers and seas and streams were brought from different regions. People had little bottles and they were then poured into a central pottery bowl to be given to the local waterways, sort of with prayers for healing for the world's waters. And part of the ceremony included inviting women from various lands to sing water songs from where they had come from and then offer their water.

And there was this young Sami woman from the far north of Sweden who said she was gonna sing a joik, which I didn't know what that was at the time. And when I closed my eyes and I was listening to her, it just completely, my whole body was tingling and had goosebumps and I began to visualize the northern lands and hear trickling snow melt and the splash of glaciers calving and fast paced rivers and these whistle-like guttural tones and trills. They were like resonances that I had never heard before. Like from where I come from in my California rivers, that's not what they sound like. But they were clearly water sounds, but they had such a different tonation. And I felt really transported to where she lived from the sounds that she was making. And I could visualize what she was singing. And again, this sort of goes back to the way that these sounds and words come from the land and tie us into the land very directly. And the joik, that the words and sounds within that, really touched me, and how that is not intellectual, I actually had the experience of how that works.

            Rebecca: I also wanted to bring up, I think this word is really emblematic of what you were talking about, words that have so many different meanings. And my Irish accent is horrible, so I'm definitely not going to pronounce this correctly, but I think the word is Cáithnín, which are, you write,

“are tiny things such as dust specks, snowflakes, subatomic particles, eye irritants, but also the goosebumps that you feel in moments when you contemplate how everything is interrelated and how tiny we are in relation to the whole, like that feeling when you realize or maybe remember that we are all unified.”

You write that it's “a magical word that connects the seemingly ordinary occurrences to the universality and infinity of human experience.” So just connecting between the small tiny living world and that sensation that it gives us, that I think you were describing when listening to the joik - those goosebumps.

            Osprey: Absolutely. And I also think that's why it's important, as we were talking about earlier in the conversation, about stories that need to be retrieved. So like we're in the process of dismantling and transforming these old systems of oppression that need to be really composted and metabolised and alchemized into something else. I think it's also true with language that we need to reclaim our language and also be able to go back into some of the older root words in our languages and reclaim them and revitalise them and bring them back into the architecture of our daily language. And I'm talking about words that are pre-colonised and pre-patriarchal times, even as you were talking about earlier, the names of the goddesses and people not even really understanding them. I spent some time in the book, as you know, talking about the different goddesses and their names.

As an example, what came to mind right now is Inanna, who's an ancient goddess who has had many stories and many meanings around her. But one of many, because of course these ancient gods or goddesses aren't relegated to a linear, this is this. That is also, I think, very difficult in our Western mind, that things can be, again, multifaceted, have many meetings. So one aspect of Inanna is that when we talk about her in Western terms, in terms of looking at the Inanna mythology, we see her as the story of being in the night sky and talk about her symbolising this and symbolising that. But when we really study some of the stories about her, it's the story about Venus, the planet Venus rising and setting. And so it's usually described as her symbolising this. And what I'm trying to make in the book as a statement is it's not a symbol of, she is that. Inanna is Venus, not symbolising. When we look up at the night sky and we see Venus, that is a living deity that is alive. And we can have many names depending on what culture we're in, some people call it the Morning Star and the Evening Star, or Inanna, or whatever names you want to call Venus. But again, wrapping our mind around a living cosmology and understanding that a lot of these goddess names relate to actual seasons, or entities of living beings in the world, like you're mentioning the runa, the beings in the forest. That these names are related to an actual world and how do we reconnect that in our minds and in our spirits in our hearts to revitalise a pre-colonised, pre-patriarchal language, to bring back our language that belongs to us.

            Rebecca: Is there anything else language related or other words that you wanted to bring up before we kind of shift into closing this interview?

            Osprey: There's so many words. Oh my goodness. You know, we've kind of gone on a vein, so I do want to, I think I want to just share a poem because we've kind of gone down a vein, but I also want to also just talk about something very practical for a moment because we've gone down a really good rabbit hole here, which has been so fun. And I've loved this conversation. And it's, you know, most people would definitely not want to have this conversation perhaps at this level, but I think it's fabulous. And I think it's actually, like I said, to me, it's part of my politics at this point, because I think it's that important to transform how we're living with the earth.

But I also wanted to point out, because this is a climate show, like there are things that really need definitions that I'm not gonna take time on, but I want people to know in a very practical way on our website, you can dig into things like, I just finished, with a colleague on our staff, writing a very deep analysis on the need for real zero, not net zero. Shifting from false solutions to real solutions and a just transition. And how, because we do spend a lot of time, in advocacy work with governments and with financial institutions and advocating at the climate talks, the framework is all around net zero and how that is the mechanism which we're going to get to maintaining the Paris climate agreement and the 1.5 degree guardrail. But when you really investigate and interrogate what net zero is, it's filled with loopholes and carbon offset schemes that don't work. And so we did an analysis on what is real zero versus net zero and that report can be found on our website. And so I wanted just to mention a few real time, practical, not that this is impractical what we're talking about, but advocacy and policy words that need to be brought in. And so I think that's a good thing that people really need to understand that net zero is not the answer it appears to be, and we need a real zero platform.

Another, there's two other things I wanna mention, which is the rights of nature, which we touched upon, but I think people really can dig into that as a political framework on how we can have new environmental laws and how nature really needs rights, and it's in context to the whole conversation we're having on this interview around how can nature become a rights bearing entity. So we have not only human rights, but also the rights of nature. And it's a very fast growing political movement all over the world, as we change our environmental laws to recognize that nature is alive and that we're part of the web of life and how nature needs to be able to thrive just as we see humans thrive. And so, how do we change our laws to not be regulatory laws, or regulating harms to nature, but completely turning law upside down to really see that rivers and forests have rights of their own. So those are some things I wanted to introduce: Real Zero, Rights of Nature.

And then also the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Like how do we actually have a treaty that phases out fossil fuels? Unlike the Paris climate agreement that mostly deals with carbon reduction emissions, which is very important, but not enough. We actually need an international mechanism to completely phase out fossil fuels. And I wanted to mention the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which we are in the steering committee of and just the amazing momentum that mechanism is having. 

I wanted to also frame up that there are some reports on our website that I think can really help the discourse on moving from a lot of the conversation about solutions to climate change into some actual instruments and language that can be utilized to move us to where we need to go. Even the definition of just transition, that definition can be co opted and means something very different than what our global climate justice movements mean. So I am a firm believer that we need to really define what we're talking about and what these things mean and how they actually play out in real time.

            Rebecca: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. Just really quickly, I wanted to say that yes, that I think this conversation has been pretty heady and I really appreciated all the Indigenous words. But like you said, and I think at Climate Words, that is our focus as well, on the words that we're using in these policy conversations and in our advocacy, in our activism, making sure that we have a clear understanding of what is net zero, and what is true zero. And so we're really aligned on that and thank you for bringing us back into the kind of policy and action space as well.