Our Village: Review

"It had the feel of a family reunion as their stage rang loudly, day and night, with cries and chants to ancestral spirits and translated words of age-old wisdom" Justin Catanoso from Mongabay

In September 2018, ‘If Not Us Then Who’ in partnership with the Hip Hop Caucus, convened a 4 day community corner space in downtown San Francisco, featuring dynamic presentations, special performances, networking receptions, compelling art and music, a virtual reality exhibit, and a variety of film screenings.

The space served as a powerful platform for the Guardians of the Forest delegation, as well as other indigenous and grassroots voices.  It was a place where people could come together to explore solutions to the climate crisis, while addressing issues of health and economic justice.

 

 

From the beginning, our team had the intention to create an inviting space that would welcome people from all walks of life to belong to a community inspired by justice and our connection to the earth. In this spirit, and in discussion with Embera indigenous leader Candido Mezua (Vice President on the board of INUTW), we collectively chose to call the space the ‘Our Village, Community Corner’. The intention for the space was to create a welcoming ‘village’ of artists, leaders, influencers and decision makers that enabled the ‘Guardians of the Forest’ coalition to meet new allies face to face and spark creative solutions-based ideas to their demands.

The five community demands formulated by our indigenous partners (AMPB, COICA, AMAN, AMPB) made up the central framework for the community corner encouraging creative solutions based conversations. The demands became a powerful way to engage with the space, allowing people to understand the interconnectivity of our communities from urban landscapes to tropical forests. The demands are about ending violence, ownership and recognition of territories, consent and community driven decision making, respect of ancestral knowledge & cultural leadership, and direct funding & finance to communities.

‘Our Village’ kicked off with a private opening reception on Tuesday, September 11th in partnership with Nia Tero entitled ‘Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Guardianship of Earth’. Attended by over 300 people the evening brought together indigenous leaders from all corners of the world, with high-level policymakers, influencers, and funders.

 

"It was a pleasure participating in the wonderful community space you created with the Hip Hop Caucus in California" Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
"The evening at Our Village was remarkable.  I was thrilled with the tone and the camaraderie and inspired by the voices." Peter Seligmann, Nia Tero

Throughout the Tuesday evening, a range of influential leaders, politicians, and activists spoke, including Vicky Tauli Corpuz (UN Special Rapporteur for RIghts of IP’s), Javier Kinney (Self Governance Director for the Yurok Tribe), Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands Poet), Peter Seligmann (CEO of Nia Tero), Mina Setra (President of the board for INUTW), Laura & Tashka Yawanawa (Chief of the Yawanawa tribe), Reverend Lennox Yearwood (President and CEO of HHC), among others. Woven throughout the speakers, the crowd enjoyed lively music from a group called Rako Pasefika, a drum and dance group from the South Pacific, Dadang from Indonesia and Djuena Tikuna from Brazil.

President of the Board of ‘If Not Us Then Who’, Mina Setra, shared some beautiful sentiments during the opening reception… “the Village is where everybody grows, where everybody shares their stories and knowledge, where the elders pass their knowledge to the children, where boys become men and girls become women, where all decision making processes happen…and it is the village that brings us all here today.  We are all inhabitants of the earth, we are all sharing responsibilities, and we are all sharing in this together…we are all brothers and sisters…”.  These words set the stage for the week, and infused the spirit of ‘Our Village’ into the space to carry us through the next three days of programming.

‘Our Village’ hosted over 20 panel presentations with over 75 dynamic speakers over the course of the following four days. We partnered with over 25 different organisations that included the Land Tenure Facility, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, Pachamama Alliance, the Institute for the Future, Mongabay, Amazon Frontlines and many others. These panels were each distinct and lively conversations exploring topics covering clean energy democracy and financing, ancestral wisdom and traditional knowledge, community resistance strategies, food justice movements, experiences on the frontlines of climate disaster, participatory filmmaking practices, and innovative community solutions.

"I'm quite impressed that once again y'all threaded the needle of creating such a dynamic container that could serve so many diverse needs to the satisfaction of so many. To have well attended, serious panels shedding light on things like the brutal reality facing frontline Indigenous communities share space with a rocking dance floor and network-bonanza bar for people to come to share a drink after a day in the streets and conference rooms is a feat not easily pulled off, so kudos and thanks again!” Laurel Sutherlin from Rainforest Action Network

‘What is your imagination when you say the Village…a group of simple houses in the jungle Amazon? Or maybe long house in Borneo? Or just a simple hut? The Village is a place where all the things can happen in community.  A group of people start in 1 2 3 households, that bring people all together. .. What does the village mean for us now? Village is like a home, it’s my home, a place where I can go when I’m so tired of the city, when I need to feel the peace of the forest…That’s why we were inspired to establish this venue…

One of our collaborators in the space, Laurel Sutherlin from Rainforest Action Network, shared his reflections on the week with us.  These words sum up the dynamic nature of the community corner space, and give a snapshot into the kinds of connections that were made:

“From direct experience, as well as lots of external feedback and conversations, I saw so many people benefit from the space in substantial and beautiful ways. To see our allies from Indonesia and the Amazon sharing stories of struggles and solutions with allies from the Yurok and Canada and beyond was really pretty extraordinary. Like I witnessed in Paris, the space provided a unique social function that helped infuse a feeling of real community and connection into what could have been a disjunct week of separate events and experiences. " Laurel Sutherlin from Rainforest Action Network

All in all, we achieved what we set out to do in the creation of ‘Our Village’, and learned an immense amount in the process.  We will continue to evolve the concept of the ‘community corner’, and we are dedicated to create future events to support indigenous communities in the ways that are most needed.