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Indigenous leaders join artists, scientists and authors at online symposium, Living Nature


Image: Artwork by Frances Disley

In the lead up to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, and as the planet approaches dangerous tipping points, it is more important than ever that we listen to Indigenous voices.

That’s why, from 26-28 October, Invisible Dust and Flourishing Diversity will present Living Nature, a three-day event series that explores the future of human relationships with nature through a lens of art, science and Indigenous wisdom.

Taking place online, the programme will bring together an inspiring list of global Indigenous leaders, alongside leading artists, scientists, philosophers and authors, to reimagine the potential of human relationships with nature, through a series of powerful talks, film screenings, listening sessions, discussions, musical performances, and more.

Blending art, science and Indigenous knowledge, Living Nature will provide fresh perspectives from all over the world, creating a space where everyone can listen, learn and grow.

Run Riot spoke to Ed McGovern from Invisible Dust, the producer of Living Nature, and Katy Molloy, Director of Flourishing Diversity, to find out more about the project.

Run Riot: As the focus turns to the negotiations and global programming around COP26, what role do you think arts and culture has to play in driving some of the messages world leaders need to hear?

Ed: Arts and culture have various roles at times like this and all of these roles are vital. They can shift the boundaries of what is possible, encourage people to see things in new ways, and prompt people - including world leaders - to stop looking away from difficult things that need attention. Art also creates opportunities for people to connect on a personal and emotional level to what’s going on in the world, which is a key part of Invisible Dust’s work and why we believe it’s so important to bring artists and climate scientists together.

Katy: The sixth mass extinction, unlike the previous five, is driven by human action. Not all people / cultures are responsible, however. Many Indigenous and local communities have maintained a deep wisdom regarding our interconnection with nature and their cultural practices support healthy ecosystems. Western-led cultures use a disproportionate amount of resources and create much higher levels of pollution than non-Western cultures. Therefore, the cultural roots of the climate crisis must be recognised by leaders. To facilitate actual change, leadership needs to include and listen to a wider spectrum of people across our society and globe, those that can help us envision and create alternative models of living that prioritise values and practices that sustain and respect all life. We’re delighted to have 11 Indigenous speakers contributing to this programme including two Listening Sessions where western cultural and political leaders will join us in an intentional listening role to hear an Indigenous person share their perspectives on the climate situation.

Run Riot: Tell us about your forthcoming Living Nature programme of events taking place. How do they stand out from the crowd in terms of the perspective you are taking and the people you have invited to take part?

Ed: We made an early decision that in this programme, we would focus on the positive potential of nature relationships, rather than the ways that those relationships are broken. We drew inspiration from a passage from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass in which she asks the students in her General Ecology class if they could give any examples of positive interactions between humans and the rest of life - they couldn’t:

“I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day—brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl—truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like? If we can’t imagine the generosity of geese? These students were not raised on the story of Skywoman.”

So, with Living Nature, we are attempting to contribute a little to imagining what that path toward ecological and cultural sustainability might look and feel like. Fittingly, the first-panel discussion asks “what can humans learn from the rest of life?” and it features Simon Starling, a Turner-prizewinning conceptual artist; Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca Tribal Council woman and activist; Jonathan Baillie, CEO of On The EDGE Conservation; and Swati Thiyagarajan, a journalist filmmaker and production manager of My Octopus Teacher. I don’t know what they will answer but I can’t wait to hear.

What follows that event is three days of discussions, film screenings, artist Q&As, talks and music. We’re really looking forward to bringing people together online and we have a great afternoon and evening of events lined up. Three highlights from that final day are Ati Viviann Villafaña, an Arhuaco youth environmental activist who is stopping by London on her journey to COP26 in Glasgow from her home in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia; the brilliant multiinstrumentalist Cosmo Sheldrake, who is playing an improvised set of sounds sampled from the natural world; and a talk by Manari Ushigua - a traditional healer and leader from the Sápara People in Ecuador

Run Riot: Why are indigenous voices particularly important to give a platform to at this time?

Katy: At this time of accelerated global change, many people are seeking solutions to address the mounting consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change impacting the health and wellbeing of our planet.

It’s scientifically recognised that 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is found in areas where Indigenous cultures dwell and have done so for hundreds, often thousands of years. This is no coincidence and their territorial struggles are the planet’s struggles.

To address the global ecological crisis, it’s essential we listen to, learn from and support the cultures worldwide that so effectively steward most of what remains of the bio-cultural diversity that sustains our planet. Indigenous leaders must be invited to the high-level decision-making tables of global environmental gatherings like COP26. Allyship with communities asking for our support is a vital contribution we can all make.

Run Riot: What do you hope audiences might take away from attending events?

Katy: My top three would be: 1) A stronger sense of hope about the future and the potential that humans have to create a vibrant world. 2) A clearer understanding regarding some of the matters underlying climate breakdown. 3) Inspiration for how we start to move in a different direction that’s embedded in the scientific fact that we’re not living separately from the ecosystems that make our lives possible.

Run Riot: Invisible Dust brings together artists and scientists to create extraordinary projects in the name of acting on climate change - what else do you have coming up / are you working on that we should look out for?

Ed: We have recently announced Wild Eye, a new nature and art project that brings together leading artists with great opportunities for people in the Scarborough and Whitby area and visitors to observe and engage with the outstanding wildlife including dolphins and whales that is found along the North Yorkshire coast. It’s going to be amazing, which is okay for me to say because I haven’t really worked on it.

Run Riot: And what more can we expect from Flourishing Diversity?

Katy:We As Nature’ is our monthly event that explores how we as individuals and communities can deepen our alignment with each other, our fellow species, the land and the waters. In the first half, a visionary speaker shares their experience of listening to and learning from life; in the second half, we engage in dialogue, envisioning possibilities that move us towards a flourishing world. On Wednesday 27 October we’re really excited to be joined by artist and environmental activist, Judy Ling Wong.

Living Nature: Art, Science and Indigenous Knowledge will take place online from 26-28 October. Find out more at  https://invisibledust.com/projects/living-nature

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