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.
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.