Voices that beautify the land

FLAGSTAFF-On April 27 and 28, the Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association (AERA), the Black Mesa Water Coalition and Native Movement will host an event that will allow community based groups in the Southwest to present their latest efforts and achievements.

Representatives from the AERA, Bioregional Lifeways Network, Black Mesa Indigenous Support, Black Mesa Water Coalition, ECHOES, Flagstaff Activist Network, Hualapai Ethnobotany Project, Native Movement, Natwani Coalition, Paatuwaqatsi Run, Save the Peaks and To'Nizhoni Ani will be on hand to discuss their efforts and to share information on how grassroots efforts can be successful.

The event opens Friday, April 27 at 5 p.m. with keynote speaker Dr. Enrique Salmón, a member of the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) tribe of northern Mexico. Salmón is a noted ethnobiologist, and will speak about traditional ecological knowledge. Dr. Gary Nabhan, director of Northern Arizona University's Center for Sustainable Environments, will also speak. Nabhan co-founded the organization Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org) specializing in traditional heritage seeds. He is also a recipient of the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing in 1986 for his book, "Gathering the Desert."

On Saturday, the doors to the Coconino Center for the Arts will open, with an opening prayer at 8:45 a.m. Phyllis Hogan, director of the AERA, will deliver opening remarks at 9 a.m. A free screening of "Dance of the Warrior Mouse," written and directed by Susan Green, will show at 4:30. This film, describing the efforts of many of the presenters to save Navajo Aquifer (N-aquifer) water, opened the recent Sedona Film Festival. The celebration on Saturday night (7 - 9 p.m.) will feature a live band, Sonaya and the People's Crew.

Jessa Fisher, the assistant herbarium curator for the AERA, explained why the organization felt it was important to feature local, largely Native American efforts to preserve the water, land, plants and other natural resources here on the Colorado Plateau.

"We thought it would be a good idea to showcase these individuals. There has been so much work done on the grassroots level, yet not many people within our community knows what they have actually accomplished," Fisher said. "Some people have a vague idea. We wanted to showcase the really hard work going on with individuals from the community and from the reservations-the Navajo, Hopi, and Hualapai."

Evon Peter, who directs the organization Native Movement, describes his group as a compilation of young leaders working towards sustainability, health and well-being. Native Movement heads hands-on projects both in Alaska and the southwest.

"Our projects fit into two categories," Peter explained. "Some feature work directly through a connection with people on the land. These include rainwater harvesting, permaculture and natural building projects using material on hand, such as cob work or straw bale building. The other category includes capacity-building where young people develop and run their own projects or media. They promote their own viewpoint."

One example is the "Outta Your Backpack" media project, run by Native Movement and Indigenous Action Media. The project teaches Native youth to present their stories and news reports.

"Come prepared to hear about exciting work young people are doing-producing their own media and arts. Expect to hear about natural building, both on and off the reservation" Peter said.

Enei Begaye directs the Black Mesa Water Coalition. She and Waleah Johns will be at the event to talk about the work their organization is doing.

"We will be highlighting the Just Transition program, talking about the work we have done and providing updates," Begaye said. "We will talk about climate justice [and] the importance of everyone getting involved in environmental justice. That is what Just Transition is about-supporting local community voice in energy and economic independence."

Referring to the solar movement taken up in Cameron and Shonto on the Navajo Nation, Begaye said that Just Transition is a way of helping other communities do the same.

Phyllis Hogan, who founded and directs AERA, sees the event as a way to honor young people she has had the honor of working with in one way or another.

"These kids have inspired me," Hogan said. "I watched the birth of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which was formed after hearing the words of Black Mesa Trust Director

Vernon Masayesva at an AERA conference. I look at the work done by young people like Lillian Hill, Enei Begaye, Waleah Johns, Roberto Nutlouis, Evon Peter and the Youth of the Peaks, and I am so inspired."

For more information on the event, which is funded by the Christensen Foundation, send an e-mail to azethnobotany@hotmail.com.

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