Skip to content

David J. Voelker Posts

Update to Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism

This post is an update to the Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism that I made on April 28, 2020.

Although I have signed this statement, I want to point out that it neglects to acknowledge the roles of Indigenous peoples around the world in promoting values closely related to ecocentrism. (I do not mean to oversimplify the diverse Indigenous cultures of the world, but most would find resonance with the idea of the “intrinsic (inherent) value in all of nature and the ecosphere.”) The First Nations peoples of Turtle Island and have been especially vocal in this regard. One significant example that comes to mind is “A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Nee Address to the Western World,” which was written primarily by John Mohawk (Sotsisowah), a historian, writer, and activist of the Seneca Nation, and was presented in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977, as part of the International Non-Governmental Organization Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. More recently, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass has reached thousands and thousands of readers. Also, in the past decade, Indigenous water protectors using the Lakota words Mní Wičóni, “water is life,” have stood up against the petroleum industry. Adrián Villaseñor Galarza has also written of the “ancestral deep ecology” of the Indigenous peoples of Central and South America. The establishment of systems of human supremacy over the past several centuries–systems that are now global in scale–has gone hand in hand with colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples and the destruction of their lifeways. Proponents of ecocentrism today have an obligation to learn from and ally with Indigenous peoples, many of whom are front-line defenders of the ecosphere.

Comments closed

The “4Rs” of First Nations Education

Since at least 2018, I have been using a course handout on the “4Rs” of First Nations Education with my students at UWGB to introduce them to widely shared indigenous values when we study First Nations history. After several iterations, I am now sharing the document publicly. I created this document based on many years of working with Dr. Rosemary Christensen and other colleagues in the First Nations Studies program at UWGB.

I’d like to draw attention to the acknowledgments included with this document. I am grateful for teachings that I have received from a number of First Nations elders, in addition to Rosemary Christensen (Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), over the years, including: Napos (David Turney, Menominee Nation) and Carol Cornelius (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican), as well as several elders who have walked on: Dorothy Davids (Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican), Loretta Metoxen (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), David Courchene, Jr. (Sagkeeng Ojibwe First Nation, Manitoba, Canada), and Joe Rose, Sr. (Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa). Their teachings and perspectives have shaped and informed my views in many ways, though I do not claim that these elders would endorse all of my positions. Several colleagues in First Nations Studies at UWGB, including Professors Lisa Poupart, Forrest Brooks, and J P Leary, have been trusted advisors and friends for many years, as I worked (and continue to work) on integrating First Nations history, culture, and sovereignty into my courses.

I have also shared a personal Acknowledgment of Wisconsin’s First Nations People and Land.

I share this online teaching handout freely via a Creative Commons license, as noted on the document.

Comments closed

PPM C02 Stamp

426.9 PPM (May 2024)

Note: When I originally published this piece on June 7, 2022, atmospheric CO2 stood at 420.99 PPM for May of 2022.

A memorial sign for the Ok glacier in Iceland, which was written by Andri Snær Magnason, includes a CO2 PPM stamp:

A letter to the future

Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier. In the next 200 years all our main glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.

August 2019, 415 ppm CO2

If you’ve already seen enough numbers to be very concerned, feel free to skip to the green boxes below.

According to an NOAA report from 4/7/21: “The atmospheric burden of CO2 [then at 412.5 PPM] is now comparable to where it was during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago, when concentrations of carbon dioxide ranged from about 380 to 450 parts per million. During that time sea level was about 78 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.”

As of May 2024, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 426.9 parts per million (PPM).

The concentration of CO2 has increased by 73 PPM since NASA scientist James Hansen testified before a U.S. congressional committee about the problem in 1988. The annual average concentration of CO2 has increased every year since direct measurements began in 1958. Since the beginning of industrialization in the 19th century, CO2 levels have increased by about 145 PPM, an increase of over fifty percent.

Notwithstanding the Paris climate agreement, emissions of CO2 and other climate warming gases (especially methane) have continued to rise, and current plans to reduce emissions are woefully inadequate. In fact, the increase of atmospheric CO2 levels from March 2023 to March 2024 was the largest ever recorded.

As young climate activists have argued, climate change is an emergency and a crisis, requiring action at all levels of society and government. If ever there was a moment for human solidarity–with other humans and with the larger community of life–this is it!

Although individual behaviors are important, given the scope of the problem, large-scale collective solutions are essential. The Citizens Climate Lobby is an important non-partisan group working to address human-caused climate disruption. Wisconsin Conservation Voters also promotes clean energy policy. 350 Wisconsin, an independent affiliate of, focuses on climate justice as a critical approach to addressing climate change. If you are experiencing climate anxiety or climate grief, Gen Dread is an excellent resource.

Updated June 25, 2024.

Comments closed

Envisioning Sustainability through Teaching and Learning

On April 12, 2022, I was incredibly fortunate to have an opportunity to give a co-keynote address at the 2022 Saint Cloud State University’s Provost Summit on Excellence in Teaching and Learning entitled “Envisioning Sustainability through Teaching and Learning,” with my friend and former UWGB colleague Alison K. Staudinger. Alison and I met frequently throughout early 2022 to craft a talk in dialogue format, building on our collaboration for UWGB’s 2020 Common CAHSS conference on the theme of Beyond Sustainability.* We attempted to address the big question, “Can the university, through both teaching and research, help co-create an affirmative vision for the Anthropocene?” A video recording of the event is available, as are our sources. Thanks to Alison for the collaboration and to La Vonne Cornell-Swanson for making it possible!

* Here is a video recording of Alison’s Sept. 24, 2020, talk, “Making Good Choices: Thinking about Ethics beyond Sustainability.” And here are links to video and sources for my Nov. 30, 2020, talk, “Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future.”

Comments closed

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.

By “practices,” I mean an activity or way of being that you can intentionally engage with on a regular basis. This goes a bit deeper than a habit. You may have a habit of brushing your teeth, but you might do this without much intention or mindfulness. A practice requires a certain level of mindful engagement. Francis Weller, who is a psychotherapist, writer, and grief activist who graduated from UWGB, has explained that “A practice offers ballast, something to help us hold steady in difficult times.” He says “Any form will do–writing, drawing, meditation, prayer, dance, or something else–as long was we continue to show up and maintain our effort” (Wild Edge of Sorrow, p. 5).

I want to emphasize that I did not invent these practices! Many of these are “ways so old they’re new,” to use a felicitous phrase from poet and activist Lyla June Johnston, who has Diné, Cheyenne, and European ancestors. They are especially rooted in indigenous and South and East Asian wisdom traditions. I’m especially influenced by the Work that Reconnects, whose root teacher is Joanna Macy, who respectfully draws on these traditions. In fact, the first two practices come directly from the spiral of the Work that Reconnects.

I hope to share these practices more fully in the future, but here’s a short list:

  • Ground Yourself with Gratitude
  • Honor Your Pain for the World
  • Support Interconnectedness
Comments closed

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:

Comments closed

Acknowledgment of Wisconsin’s First Nations Peoples and Lands

Above: “Current Tribal Lands Map” from WISCONSINFIRSTNATIONS.ORG.

As a resident of the state of Wisconsin, I live, work, and find restoration on the colonized 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, waters, and plant and animal beings of this region stretching back to time out of mind. While the achievements of the United States (established in 1776) are frequently extolled, it often goes unacknowledged that this nation was created from land that it seized through a combination of intimidation, deception, 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 peoples and lands. 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.

After Wisconsin was established as a territory in 1836, its official seal depicted white settlement moving in from the East as a Native person exits to the West. The seal prominently features the Latin phrase “CIVILITAS SUCCESSITT BARBARUM,” which translates as “CIVILIZATION SUCCEEDS BARBARISM,” with “succeeds” here carrying the sense of following and replacing. The image and the slogan both convey clearly the ambition of white settler colonists to expel First Nations people from Wisconsin and replace them with a white population and new regimes of land control. Although this vision of colonization was not fully realized, the United States systematically expropriated the vast majority of the Indigenous peoples’ lands over the following few decades.

Illustrated seal of the Wisconsin Territory from 1836 depicts white settlement replacing Native people and includes a Latin phrase that translates "civilization follows barbarism."
Seal of the Territory of Wisconsin (c. 1838)

The Green Bay area, which is the site of my home and my employer, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is located within the colonized homelands of the Menominee Nation and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Menominee were forced to cede most 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 reservation lands by the late twentieth century, when funds generated through 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 First Nations 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 (primarily from Germany, England, and France), 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 cannot undo this history, but I am committed to interrogating and interrupting the systemic injustices of colonization and contributing to a more just future for First Nations people through my actions as a teacher, scholar, and citizen.

There are many ways for Americans of settler heritage to ally with First Nations people, including: learning about the histories and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and advocating for accurate and authentic instruction in schools; advocating for the sovereignty of tribal nations and respect for treaty rights; opposing the appropriation of Native culture and the harmful stereotyping of Native people though the use of Indian mascots; helping protect tribal lands from exploitation and protecting access to sacred sites; and contributing to organizations such as the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), both of which are Native-led organizations that advocate for tribal communities and their sovereignty. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Great Lakes region, there are many opportunities to support tribal enterprises and organizations. The Safe Shelter in Oneida, Wisconsin, accepts monetary and in-kind donations and offers volunteer opportunities, as does the Wise Women Gathering Place on the west side of Green Bay. Wisconsin Conservation Voices has a project called Wisconsin Native Vote that promotes voting among Native Americans in Wisconsin and employs Native advocates.

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. The teachings that First Nations elders have generously shared have affected me deeply.**

David J. Voelker

Present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin

Updated January 10, 2024.

* 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 For additional information about land acknowledgments, see this resource page that I co-created with Dr. Crystal Lepscier for a Feb. 2022 Lifelong Learning Institute course at UWGB. Dr. Lepscier and I also shared a resource page on “Federal Indian Policy and First Nations Identity: From Boarding Schools to Cultural Revival” for a May 2023 Lifelong Learning Institute course.

** In the acknowledgments to my November 30, 2020, lecture, “Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future,” I acknowledge many First Nations elders, colleagues, and friends by name.

Comments closed

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.

Comments closed

“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:

Comments closed