The learning started at the Cross-Cultural Center on Monday afternoon, when L. Frank, Angela, and Jacqui met with a group of collaborators developing community resilience projects at UCI. (Go here to read about the Community Resilience Co-lab and the Regional Resilience Project.) “We are extinct, and that’s a tough place to be,” L. Frank began. The dialogue continued around the importance of following protocol as a way to earn respect when engaging with any community. Being invited into collaboration is very different from assuming that what Indigenous communities have to offer can be taken, again, without their consent.
Angela explained that for her, as an Acjachemem woman, she has a responsibility to protect the land, air, water, animals, and people in her homeland. She reminded us that our campus sits on land with indigenous heritage. If we don’t know the history of this place, we miss moments when people took care of each other. L. Frank spoke of a treaty signed between the Acjachemem and a Hawaiian sovereignty movement, right here at UCI.
On Tuesday, a much bigger group gathered in the Student Center for the formal panel. L. Frank quieted the room with a lilting song. Then, in opening remarks, Angela told the story of a meeting between California Indigenous leaders and Black Lives Matter organizers as they explored “how you build cross-movement solidarity…in a real way, not in a rote, tokenizing way, because it’s hard, and colonization has hit us all hard and deep, and in ways that cause us sometimes to be at each other’s throats.” Working across movements might seem to be an obvious way to build strength, but the reality is much messier. Angela described how the Indigenous leaders tried to convey what it’s like to be called upon to “save the Indians” when they had been fighting to survive all their lives. And they were heard, Angela reported, because that’s when Janaya, who was at that meeting, said, “I get it. Standing Rock is everywhere.”
After Angela’s opening, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham, the founder of New Narratives, welcomed this conversation as part of UCI’s work to build human infrastructure for change. Co-moderators Abby and Suma set the stage, with Suma informing the audience that, “environmental justice means the disproportionate environmental burden on low-income communities and communities of color. There is a very large and growing body of literature that shows that, even more than income, race is the stronger determinant of exposure to environmental harm.”