a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Scientists have been warning the world about global warming since the 1950s and they continue to warn our government to curtail greenhouse emissions and plan for global changes in the life support systems of the planet. The movie industry has made us aware of life as we know it ending in catastrophe, atrocity, and violence.. The destruction is singular and swift, drawn from the tradition of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic stories were meant to lift the veil to show how horrible “reality” is, even though the conflict occurs in a place far in the future. Science and mass media haven’t generated much political change.
For this issue, I called for work from those who are not portrayed in movies or asked about global warming: indigenous writers, writers familiar with indigenous issues, writers from marginalized communities as well as writers from small island communities. The work in this issue beautifully portrays human awareness of global warming across a wide range of emotions and places. Writers in the Earth section show us many places where we cope with these changes: Manhattan, Midwest cities and countryside, northern Wisconsin forests, the desert of the Southwest, the forests of Australia. In the section on water, we feel its importance in cycles of transformation; how it brings food and sustenance and is tied to human feeling in its many forms. In the third section on wind, the writers and artist make us more aware of our complicity in global warming. We don’t often think that driving a car is sinking an island. In the final section focusing on the sun, the poets and writers reveal how tough the sun can be on people and the land, how the colonizing past is still with us. What informs the work in this issue is an awareness of the slow unfolding of the problem: the globalization of capital and the use of fossil fuels that power what we modern folks have come to accept as the norm.
What makes the Western hemisphere different from the other continents? Unlike Europe, Asia and Africa, the Americas were dispossessed. Settlement altered the hemisphere. MesoAmerican beliefs reverberate in other Native cultures in the ways people imagined spirits as the invisible forces that maintain the mystery of life and thus deserve dignity and respect. Within this mystery of vital inner forces, a dynamic process brings forth life, death and more life. In contrast, Western civilization opposes life to death, making death fearsome. Ernest Becker’s insightful analysis in The Denial of Death (1973) argues that by repressing death, Western society becomes obsessed to the point of deadening bodily awareness and sensitivity. Fearing death and denying its purpose, “Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing.” (284). In reading through this issue, I wonder whether the lack of political will to address the ongoing death of creatures and ecosystems is tied an obsessive need to keep using fossil fuels, because economic “growth” rests upon it. Writers in this issue portray some aspects of these differences.
Joel Heath’s “People of a Feather,” (released in October, 2013) portrays the knowledge and skills of the Inuit of Belcher Islands and their use of Artic Eider duck down. Eider feathers are gathered and used to keep the people warm. Hydroelectric dams on Hudson Bay are causing fresh water and seawater to mix. Electricity produced in the winter changes the direction of the flow of both kinds of water, making the sea ice variable and brittle. The eider ducks depend on open water and stable ice through the long winter. They are under stress and their populations are dwindling. The declining population of Artic Eider ducks affects not only the Inuit who have begun to work with scientists in order to research the changes. The loss also signals that currents from the North Sea have been changed and may be affecting the hemisphere and the earth as well. The Inuit and scientists are currently researching the changes. While not mentioned in this issue, writers in this issue relate similar problems of global capital affecting people’s lives in many ways.
How can we overcome fear in order to generate political will and action? By reading this issue and sharing it with other people. In The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner explains that we act upon intuition more than reason. We decide to act based on feeling more than reasoned inquiry. The more we can remember real and fictional stories that portray vivid and compelling events, the more likely it is that our intuition guides us to take action. Intuition needs examples. The more examples we generate of what global warming means to Indigenous, marginalized and small islands peoples, the greater the possibility that people will feel a need for social change. We don’t know how to love this planet, the mysteriously beautiful forces that give us life, the beings around us, or each another.
Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in The Tree of Knowledge, explain the need for further knowledge. They theorize love as the biological foundation of social phenomenon: “without love, without acceptance of others living beside us, there is no social process and, therefore, no humanness. . . . ” If we dismiss love, they argue, we dismiss as well the 3.5 billion years of human history, because love, as a “biological dynamic with deep roots” forms within us a “dynamic structural pattern” that leads to social life. They conclude that “we have only the world we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth. The “tree of knowledge” generates this recognition of love: “We affirm that at the core of all the troubles we face today is our very ignorance of knowing” (248). Writers and poets in this issue share their work, decreasing our ignorance and hopefully, increasing love.
Roberta J. Hill who also published under the name, Roberta Hill Whiteman, is an Oneida poet, fiction writer and scholar. She’s published poetry and prose for the last forty years. Her poetry collections include Star Quilt (Holy Cow! Press, 1985, 2001); Her Fierce Resistance, (Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1993), Philadelphia Flowers (Holy Cow! Press, 1996) and her newest published in May, 2013, Cicadas: New and Selected Poetry, (Holy Cow! Press, 2013). Her poetry has appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies, including Luna; Prairie Schooner; The Beloit Poetry Journal; The American Indian Culture and Research Journal; The Cold Mountain Review, and most recently, Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. She has read poetry and presented scholarship throughout the U. S., Canada, the Dominican Republic, Australia, New Zealand and China. She’s read in Portugal for the International Meeting of Poets, Coimbra, Portugal; at the Festival International De Poesia De Medellin, Columbia; presented at the Associacao Brazileira de Estudos Americinos, in Niteroi, Brazil, and most recently at the symposium, “Native Innovation: Indigenous American Poetry in the 21st Century,” held in 2013 at the Poets House, NYC. Her recent short fiction has appeared in The Deadly Writers’ Patrol; Crossing Rivers, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country; and Powwow: American Short Fiction from Then to Now. She continues to seek publication for a biographical manuscript of Dr. L. Rosa Minoka-Hill, the second American Indian woman physician. She is also currently working on a collection of short fiction and essays. A professor of English and American Indian Studies, affiliated with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she teaches courses in Native American, Multicultural and Environmental Literature. In 2011, Roberta became a fellow of the Black Earth Institute; in 2013, she was elected to serve on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union-Wisconsin. She lives outside of Madison, Wisconsin.