4 ways of co-creating right relations

Learn more about how to undo the colonial relations at the root of the climate crisis through deep listening, self-reflexivity, creating space, and being in action.

Climate change is both a form and product of colonization. To co-create sustainable futures, we must work to undo the colonial relations at the root of climate change. As those benefiting from colonial relationships, white people have a distinct responsibility to contribute toward building ‘right relations’ with Indigenous people.

We offer an entry-point for how non-Indigenous folks, and especially white people, can engage actively in decolonization. Embodying ‘right relations’ is an active and long-term commitment to decolonize yourself and the world. This work is therefore a continuous process of becoming with no end point.

“‘Right relations’ draws on the Indigenous notion of ‘all my relations’ and is a way of being that is grounded in respectful reciprocity with all of creation.”

While the idea of ‘right relations’ comes from Indigenous thinking and activism, these ways of being are relevant to all relationships, not least with other groups that are often marginalized, such as Black people and People of Color.

About the authors and their reserach: Irmelin Gram-Hanssen, Nicole Schafenacker & Julia Bentz, a group of non-Indigenous sustainability researchers working with Indigenous communities across the northwestern parts of Turtle Island (Alaska, British Columbia and Alberta). They offer four ways to create ‘right relations’ based on their open-access article “Decolonizing transformations through ‘right relations’” published in the journal Sustainability Science. This research and outreach is part of the AdaptationCONNECTS project, funded by the Research Council of Norway (Project 250434)

About the artist: Theda Mimilaki (@theda_mimilaki) is an illustrator living in Athens, Greece. She loves drawing humans and animals in natural and surreal environments. Theda values respect for nature, diversity and all beings.

Engaging actively in decolonization

Embodying ‘right relations’ both involves the ‘inner work’ of deep listening and self-reflexivity, as well as the ‘outer work’ of creating space and being in action to actively contribute to the dismantling of colonial systems and relations.

1 Deep Listening

Embodying ‘right relations’ means repairing colonial relationships. Deep listening and present, felt, engagement are being called for as practices to build capacity for ‘right relations’.

‘Non-actions’ of bearing witness and listening deeply make space for Indigenous voices to be centered and for the weight of their experiences to truly be received by the listener.

Deep listening is different from active listening in that it goes beyond listening to the words spoken; it enters into an engagement with Indigenous paradigms, and ways of knowing and understanding the world, in a meaningful effort to think, feel, and act differently.

Rather than attempting to evaluate and translate Indigenous paradigms based on Western understandings of knowledge, an alternative is to truly relate to and learn from them. Deep listening can provide a means of doing so.

2 Self-reflexivity

It is necessary to confront and disrupt mythologies of colonial benevolence and to meaningfully engage as listeners willing to be affected by the truth-telling of Indigenous peoples, Paulette Regan asserts in her book “Unsettling the Settler Within” about Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. This involves critically reflecting on Euro-Western hierarchical belief systems, including the emphasis on individualism.

Being reflexive about which stories we tell individually and as a culture can also be a response to the call for accountability. The act of telling or receiving a story can extend itself into fostering new enactments and ways of being. When coupling deep listening with self-reflexivity, stories can inspire action.

3 Creating Space

Creating space is not only about making room for Indigenous voices in one’s own work, but rather using one’s position to create space for the people behind the stories and voices to step forward.

Often the labor of raising awareness about marginalization and oppression falls on those who are experiencing it. Therefore, amplifying the voices and stories of marginalized peoples, as well as the particular knowledge systems underpinning them, can be one way of creating space and engaging in right relations — recognizing that making space for others implies giving up some of the space we currently hold.

In a more collaborative vein, space can also be created through transcultural learning via art, story and activism where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can share knowledge and imaginaries of a decolonized reality. Related to this, the act of sharing a story itself is a means of creating space.

By centering and amplifying Indigenous voices and acknowledging Indigenous language and metaphors we open ourselves to deeper knowledge of our world and contribute toward dismantling the current colonial relations.

4. Being in action

By responding to the call for members of the dominant group to educate ourselves on structural injustice produced by colonization we open space for personal agency in helping to enact decolonial change. Non-Indigenous people may work to embody ‘right relations’ by fostering relationships within our communities that allow for healthier connections, generative dialogue and teaching/learning practices on inequity and systematic oppressions so that we may collectively work towards a decolonized humanity.

Practices such as land stewardship and the experiential learning of frontline activism are ways of being in action. Many traditional territories across Turtle Island have become sites of decolonial activism in the face of extractive industry. The act of bearing witness to a struggle or more directly, placing one’s body within sites of struggle in solidarity, may enact change on a material level.

These sites have the potential to become spaces where ‘right relations’ are formed and decolonial ways of creating community can begin to be enacted, however imperfectly. In short, presence matters in affecting transformative change.

As many Indigenous scholars and knowledge holders have asserted, decolonization is not just a perspective or a metaphor that informs theory, but is deeply unsettling and requires an active repair of ‘right relations’.

Resources for further learning

This is a selection of specifically relevant sources from the open-access article “Decolonizing transformations through ‘right relations’”. You can find more resources by accessing the article.

Specifically for aspiring allies

On colonization and climate change

Other writing on decolonization and Indigenization

Specifically for researchers and educators in academia

Decolonizing transformations through ‘right relations’ – article published

Back in 2017 and 2018 I interviewed artists and knowledge keepers in Canada BC about the power and potential of art and story in contributing to equitable and sustainable transformations. Back home I shared my experiences with my two colleagues Irmelin Gram-Hanssen and Nicole Schafenacker and we saw there were commonalities with their research but also open questions that we wanted to explore together.

Below you find the result of this exploration with them. This article was just published with the title “Decolonizing transformations through ‘right relations'”. It is part of a special Feature: On the ‘How’ of transformation: Integrative approaches to Sustainability. You can access it with the following link: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11625-021-00960-9.pdf.

In it we highlight the intimate connections between climate change and colonization and argue that decolonization will be an integral part of equitable and just transformations toward sustainability. We engage with the idea of ‘right relations’ as a way of decolonizing transformations research and practice and offer four characteristics for transformations researchers to embody: listening deeply, self-reflexivity, creating space and being in action. While we acknowledge the acute need for decolonizing relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and societies in particular, we extent the idea of ‘right relations’ to all people and all places in an effort to co-create a decolonized humanity.

I am so very thankful and grateful for the insights I received to how we might engage in sustainable and equitable transformations. 

Art and artists at the European Climate Change Adaptation conference

For the 4th European Climate Change Adaptation conference which took place in Lisbon between 28 and 30 May 2019, I curated and organised an art program. It consisted of a live performance, two exhibitions, and a children’s choir concert.

The conference opened with a live music and video performance by Tone Bjordam and Marten Scheffer. They performed a new work specially composed for the conference, built upon a recent article co-authored by Scheffer entitled Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. This art and science collaboration aimed to provide the audience with a multi-sensory experience showcasing a transdisciplinary approach to the climate challenge.

 

 

 

 

An exhibition of Tone Bjordam’s paintings, inspired by different biotopes, was hosted at the conference. The drive behind the Norwegian artist’s practice is to create a space for reflection around processes in nature, and to achieve an in-depth understanding and a sense of feeling connected with nature around us. Bjordam has a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Oslo National Academy of the Arts and her work has been on display in numerous countries around the world. Bjordam is particularly interested in finding ways to communicate science through art, especially the wonder that drives science.

 

 

 

 

ECCA also hosted an exhibition of work from young artists. Entitled Art for Change, it is the result of a collaboration between Artistic Secondary School Antonio Arroio, Lisbon and the Art for Adaptation project. More than 80 students of grades 11 and 12 engaged with climate change through transformative learning approaches, by approaching change as an experiment, and through climate fiction.

 

 

 

 

Their artworks reflect their newly gained insights and critical thinking about the subject (Check out the supporting website created by the students to read about the rational behind the artworks). The exhibition integrated posters produced with silk print and stencil techniques, and objects which aim to question, highlight and reflect different aspects of climate change. Art for Change aims to empower young people to explore new climate narratives and solutions, help to visualise the connection between global climate change and our daily actions, and reflect on the implications of individual and collective change towards more sustainable forms of living.

 

 

 

 

Finally, the conference closed with a musical performance by the children’s choir of Santo Amaro de Oeiras, Lisbon. This choir participated in 2012 in the Global Rockstar competition, promoted by the United Nations, winning the first place with the song “My blue planet” and representing Portugal at the Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The choir has taken part in recordings and performances with several international artists, including Mara Abrantes, Suzy Paula, Secret Lie, and Lemm Project.

 

 

 

 

 

ART FOR ADAPTATION @ ECCA2019

I am excited to curate the art program at this year’s European Climate Change Adaptation conference (ECCA) to be hosted in Lisbon from 28–31 May 2019. A program of thought-provoking art, including visual art and music is being developed exploring alternative ways of communicating and engaging people in the complexities of climate change.

Some highlights of the Art Program:

The conference will open with a live music and video performance by Tone Bjordam and Marten Scheffer. They will perform a new work specially composed for the conference, built upon a recent article co-authored by Scheffer entitled Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. This art and science collaboration aims to provide the audience with a multi-sensory experience showcasing a transdisciplinary approach to the climate challenge.

An exhibition of Tone Bjordam’s paintings, inspired by different biotopes, will be hosted at the conference. The drive behind the Norwegian artist’s practice is to create a space for reflection around processes in nature, and to achieve an in-depth understanding and a sense of feeling connected with nature around us. Bjordam has a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Oslo National Academy of the Arts and her work has been on display in numerous countries around the world. Bjordam is particularly interested in finding ways to communicate science through art, especially the wonder that drives science.

Marten Scheffer is interested in unraveling the mechanisms that determine the stability and resilience of complex systems. Although much of his work has focused on ecosystems, he also worked with a range of scientists from other disciplines to address issues of stability and shifts in natural and social systems. With the help of a Spinoza award and an ERC advanced grant he founded SparcS and now works on finding generic early warning signals for critical transitions. He also co-founded the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS) and is currently a distinguished professor in ecology and mathematical biology at Wageningen University.

ECCA will also host an exhibition of work from young artists. Entitled Art For Change, it is the result of a collaboration between Artistic Secondary School Antonio Arroio, Lisbon and project Art for Adaptation. 80 eleventh and twelvth-grade students engaged with climate change through transformative learning approaches, by approaching change as an experiment, and through climate fiction. Their artworks reflect their newly gained insights and critical thinking about the subject. The exhibition integrates posters produced with silk print and stencil techniques, and objects which aim to question, highlight and reflect different aspects of climate change. Art For Change aims to empower young people to explore new climate narratives and solutions, help to visualise the connection between global climate change and our daily actions, and reflect on the implications of individual and collective change towards more sustainable forms of living.

Parallel to the scientific program, conference participants are invited to the Art Room, where short films and videos on climate change will be shown.

Finally, the conference will close with a musical performance by the children’s choir of Santo Amaro de Oeiras, Lisbon. This choir participated in 2012 in the Global Rockstar competition, promoted by the United Nations, winning the first place with the song “My blue planet” and representing Portugal at the Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The choir has taken part in recordings and performances with several international artists, including Mara Abrantes, Suzy Paula, Michael Jackson, Secret Lie, and Lemm Project.