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David J. Voelker Posts

Three Practices for Facing Climate Disruption (Resources)

This list of sources and resources accompanies my talk titled “Three Practices for Facing Climate Disruption” for the Climate Change Teach-In at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on April 18, 2022.

I’d especially like to highlight the list of feelings and the list of needs from Bay NVC (Non-Violent Communication). Both of these lists are of course partial, but they can be helpful when trying to name feelings and needs for the honoring pain practice that I shared. For a brief description of the concept of “honoring our pain for the world,” see this discussion of the Spiral of the Work that Reconnects.

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Infusing Sustainability into Courses across the Curriculum (Workshop)

On April 12, 2022, I had the great pleasure of facilitating a workshop titled “Infusing Sustainability into Courses across the Curriculum” as part of the Saint Cloud State University’s 2022 Provost’s Summit.

I have shared a list of resources on the following topics:

  • Land Acknowledgments
  • First Nations Perspectives
  • Sustainability & Unsustainability in Critical Perspective
  • Pedagogy & Teaching Resources

The list includes several teaching resources that I share freely through Creative Commons licenses:

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Acknowledgment of Wisconsin’s First Nations People and Land

As a resident of the state of Wisconsin, I live, work, and find recreation on the traditional homelands of several First Nations, including the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples. These Nations were the original human inhabitants of the place that we today call Wisconsin. They each have relationships with the land and waters of the region stretching back to time out of mind. While the achievements of the United States (established in 1776) are frequently discussed in political speech, schools, films, and now even in a successful Broadway musical, it often goes unacknowledged that this nation was created from land that it unfairly took through a combination of deception, intimidation, and force. Such was the case here in Wisconsin.

Thus, in support of historical accuracy and out of respect for these peoples, I believe it is necessary and important for me as a historian, teacher, and citizen to acknowledge Wisconsin’s First Nations people and land. I share and reflect here on some aspects of Wisconsin history that I believe are important for all Wisconsinites to know and consider but that are often neglected.

The Green Bay area, which is the site of my home and my employer, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is located within the traditional homelands of the Menominee Nation and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Menominee were forced to cede the vast majority of their homelands, and their nation exists today only because they fought for restoration after the U.S. government terminated the tribe. The Ho-Chunk were repeatedly expulsed from their homelands and have tribal lands in Wisconsin today only because of their incredible resilience and persistence.

On the west side of Green Bay, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin has treaty lands that were unfairly taken away from them through the Dawes Allotment Act and other schemes. All told, the Oneida lost about 95% of their lands by the late twentieth century, when tribal gaming operations gave them resources to start buying back land. In addition to the Oneida people, who came to Wisconsin from New York state, there are other tribes in Wisconsin—including the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans and the Brothertown Indian Nation—who came here seeking refuge as they were pushed out of their eastern homelands. They placed their trust in the U.S. government, which, unfortunately, repeatedly betrayed the tribes’ confidence, as it did in so many similar cases.

As a settler whose European ancestors migrated to North America between the early seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries, I recognize that I have benefited from the dispossession of Native people. Some of my ancestors, for example, had access to cheap land as a result of the federal policy of expulsing First Nations from eastern territories. I realize that I cannot undo the history of colonization, but I am committed to building a more just future for First Nations people through my actions as a teacher, scholar, citizen, and parent.

I express gratitude for the many First Nations elders, colleagues, students, and friends from whom I have learned so much; for the advocacy that First Nations people have done on behalf of their communities and the larger community of life; and for the resilience of First Nations people across Turtle Island.

Sincerely,

David Voelker

Green Bay, Wisconsin

* For more information about the history referenced here, I highly recommend Patty Loew’s, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, 2nd edition (2019) and The Ways: Stories on Culture & Language from Native Communities around the Central Great Lakes at theways.org.

Updated August 23, 2021

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Dialogue Principles

During the summer of 2020, as I was planning to teach my Fall 2020 courses at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay entirely online, I was eager to find new ways to support students as they developed their capacity to have meaningful discussions about U.S.-American history. To be honest, I also felt anxious, given that political polarization seemed worse than at any time in my teaching career. (Little did I know that the political climate of divisiveness and disinformation would grow even worse during the first several months of the academic year!) What could I do to help foster respectful dialogue? What tools could I provide to help students navigate difficult situations that might emerge, such as microaggressions or hate speech?

Perhaps I need not have worried, but given that an online discussion assignment that I called “Historical Conversations” was central to my courses, I decided that I needed a clear plan.

I thus created these Dialogue Principles, which became the topic of the first discussion in my online courses. I asked students to respond to these principles, to make suggestions for other principles, and to share their thoughts about the challenges of having meaningful dialogue during our time (which included the global COVID-19 pandemic, heated debates and protests over police violence, and the U.S. presidential election).

Across the academic year, I worked with about two hundred students in online courses, and across their thousands of discussion posts, I never once noticed a disrespectful remark. I occasionally observed respectful disagreement, which played an important role in the learning process, and scores of students commented on how much they learned from their classmates through these discussions, as they encountered new perspectives and information.

My students, of course, deserve all of the credit for their openminded and respectful engagement in these conversations, but I think that instructors also have an important role to play in creating the classroom community as a zone for respectful dialogue. I wasn’t aware of anything “going wrong” in these discussions, but if microaggressions or even hate speech became a problem, I wanted to have some principles to apply to address the situation.

I am sharing these principles freely through a Creative Commons license; see the end of the document for details. Feel free to modify or customize it for your own needs. I also share a number of resources on Reflective Dialogue, including other shareable handouts.

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“Infusing Sustainability” Workshop

On May 10-11, 2021, I had the great pleasure of facilitating part of a workshop on “Infusing Sustainability” for faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I would like to thank UWRF Sustainability Fellow Grace Coggio for inviting me to participate!

I have shared a list of resources on the following topics:

  • Land Acknowledgments
  • First Nations Perspectives
  • Sustainability & Unsustainability in Critical Perspective
  • Pedagogy & Teaching Resources

The list includes several teaching resources that I share freely through Creative Commons licenses:

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Guided Meditation on the Ecological Self

This meditation is inspired by the concept of the ecological self as described by Arne Naess, Joanna Macy, John Seed, and other participants in the Deep Ecology movement, which began in the early 1970s, and also by a guided meditation by Sharon Salzburg on gratitude and our interconnectedness with other people.

The ecological self honored here is the expansive, interconnected self, that lives in relationship with everything else that exists.

I am sharing this meditation freely through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

If you prefer to download the audio file, you can access it here.

The script for the meditation is available here, in case you’d like to read the meditation yourself or make modifications.

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Canonball Podcast Interviews on Environmental Humanities and Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac”

Canonball Podcast Logo

On March 25, 2021, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Professors Ryan Martin and Chuck Rybak at UW-Green Bay for two episodes of the Canonball podcast. (Here’s the official description of the program: “Canonball is a podcast out of Phoenix Studios at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay that covers the great works from a variety of disciplines. From movies to film to literature to video games, hosts Chuck Rybak and Ryan Martin discusses all things canonical.”)

In the first episode, which aired on April 8, we discussed the Environmental Humanities.

In the second episode, which aired on April 22 (Earth Day), we discussed Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac (1949), as well as Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Speaking of Nature,” from Orion Magazine (March/April 2017).

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Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future

This talk, available on YouTube, was the opening plenary session for the Common CAHSS 2020 Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on November 30, 2020. Professor Ryan Martin shared the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Land Acknowledgment at the opening of the session, and Professor Alison Staudinger skillfully guided me through the questions at the end. In the conclusion of the talk, I quote a sentence from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “All flourishing is mutual.” This phrase appears five times in the book (on pages 15, 20, 21, 166, and 382), and Kimmerer presents it as one of the “teachings of plants” mentioned in the book’s subtitle. Given the degree to which this talk was inspired and informed by writings and teachings of First Nations people, which have been offered freely to all people, including settler colonists, I’d like to encourage anyone who watches the talk to consider how the United States and Canada could move toward reciprocity and justice for First Nations people today–as an essential aspect of moving beyond sustainability.

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways.

This excerpt from the beginning of the talk provides a brief overview:

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways. In my talk this evening, I’d like to focus on several aspects of the public discussion of sustainability, in order to suggest a more honest, expansive, and holistic approach. We can’t begin to talk honestly about sustainability until we come to terms with unsustainability and the harm we have caused on this living planet—including harm to each other. To do that, we have to see things holistically, and as whole beings. We will need sustainable knowledge systems that recognize multiple ways of knowing, and we will need a more robust media system, that shares accurate information and supports honest dialogue. We’ll need to pay more attention to the connections between environmental issues and social and racial justice. Above all, we’ll need to be more imaginative—to envision futures in which we thrive together as members of the larger community of life.

For more information, see the Sources and Acknowledgments for the talk.

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Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism

I recently signed the “Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism” sponsored by The Ecological Citizen , an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal that, according to its mission statement, is “striving to address the central issue of our time: how to halt and reverse our current ecocidal course and create an ecological civilization.”

This statement resonates with me on a number of levels, including its support for the “intrinsic (inherent) value in all of nature and the ecosphere.” While the statement briefly maps out ethical, evolutionary, spiritual, political, and ecological rationales for ecocentrism, I also see important implications for social justice.

Ecocentrism does a better job than the discourse of sustainability of taking into account the profound interrelatedness of all life on Earth. Many of our models of sustainability and almost all ways that we try to implement sustainability reflect the values of human supremacy (aka, anthropocentrism), and will ultimately be self defeating, as Aldo Leopold pointed out in his famous “Land Ethic” essay, which was published in the Sand County Almanac in 1949. Human supremacy as a way of being has been destroying the foundations of our existence for centuries.

Moreover, the ideology and practice of human domination over the natural world in both the past and present is implicated in various systems of hierarchy and domination. I am thinking, for example, of how the African slave trade, which was one of the most brutal of these systems, empowered Europeans to transform and exploit the lifeworlds of the Americas to grow commodity crops such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton, at unaccountable human and ecological costs. But I am also thinking about how global capitalism today distributes both the benefits and harms of industrial production in terribly unequal ways. Thus, some of the most “productive” places within the context of the global economy also have the most polluted air and water. And, some of the poorest communities on the planet will suffer the most because of climate disruption, even as they contributed the least to CO2 emissions.

In other words, although ecocentrism might at first glance seem to replace anthropocentrism with misanthropy, that’s far from true. Overcoming human supremacy is a critical requirement for transforming the various systems of human oppression that continue to hold sway. Thus, as the statement concludes: “a transformation towards an ecocentric worldview is a necessary path for the flourishing of life on Earth, including that of our own species.”

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Earth Day 2020 Talks at UWGB

On April 22, 2020, the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, I was fortunate to participate in a panel discussion with several wonderful UWGB colleagues and Bill Davis from the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The full video recording from Blackboard Collaborate is available here.

Dr. Kevin Fermanich moderated, with assistance from John Arendt. The topics are briefly summarized here, with approximate times for each part noted in parentheses:

  • Dr. Michael Draney, “My life with Earth Day” (00:30 to 08:30) — I was 2 ½ years old during the first Earth Day in 1970 so Earth Day and I have gone through life together. I want to reflect on how it’s doing as we enter our fifth decade together.
  • Dr. Vicki Medland, “Is nature slipping away? ” (08:30 to 16:30) — Earth Day was in part a response to an environment that the organizers no longer recognized. Today, we are shocked by what seems to be a sudden and massive loss of biodiversity and natural landscapes. Why do we not notice these massive changes to our environment?
  • Dr. David Voelker, “Earth Day 2020 in Perspective” (16:50 to 27:00)– How can we understand the 50th Earth Day and the environmental movement that it helped launch in historical perspective, and in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • Bill Davis, “A New Water Agenda for Wisconsin” (31:50 to 39:20) — What would a system look like that could achieve our human health and ecology goal regarding water?

In my response to a question from Kevin Fermanich (at about 50:00 to 53:00 in the recording), I referred to the shared experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. I do think that the pandemic is affecting just about all Americans and most people around the world, whether directly or indirectly. I’d like to emphasize, however, that the pandemic is not affecting all people equally, or in the same ways. In many U.S. cities, for example, African Americans (especially men) are dying disproportionately, and that’s just one example of how the pandemic reflects and compounds existing social and economic inequalities. (For more on this topic, see this column by Owen Jones at The Guardian.)

For more information, see the UWGB Earth Day event page, and the official Earth Day website.

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