“Each of us belongs to a particular landscape, one that informs who we are, a place that carries our history, our dreams, holds us to a moral line of behavior that transcends thought.” -Terry Tempest Williams
The desert is not my home. Here, the world feels large, the night sky so expansive it might gobble me up. I know this because as soon as I see the pines and aspens which color Colorado, my chest expands, my lungs open up. I can breathe deeply again.
In June 2013, I had the incredible opportunity to co-facilitate an “Insight Trip” for Philanthropiece’s Youth Global Leadership program. This trip took us through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, exploring social and environmental issues related to land use, Native American rights, and local and regional leadership. We were educated and inspired by many local leaders, who taught us about digging into a place and defending it when necessary.
For many of the inspiring people whom we collaborated with on our Insight Trip, the desert is home, it has been their home, and will be for generations to come. One of these people is Miguel. Miguel is an agricultural genius, activist, and educator in Taos, New Mexico. He shared with us the importance of viewing life and land through an ecosystems lens; that is to say, recognizing that everything is connected and has an effect on everything else, and that balance within all systems fosters growth and resilience. We can consider the industrial agriculture system that exists in the Unites States as example that illustrates an imbalanced ecosystem. One way that this system is dysfunctional is that it discourages seed and crop diversity, inhibiting a plant’s ability to resist any disturbance. Through his own actions, Miguel encouraged us to recognize that seeds have memories, and that we need to listen to and take care of the land that feeds us.
After meeting Miguel, we had the opportunity to live alongside a Navajo family in Arizona, who is being pushed off of their land as a result of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. They are resisting this relocation, largely because their home is a landscape that holds their ancestral history, traditions, and their connection to the natural world. They showed us what it means to love a place, and to live out the ideology that as humans we belong to the land, and that we do not own it. In Arizona, we also learned about the traumatic implications of relocating a group of people who are deeply connected to their land, and of uprooting people from a place infused in their identities.
The Youth Global Leadership Insight Trip provided all participants, both the teen leaders and adult facilitators, with an incredible educational opportunity. We visited communities, organizations, and individuals who are fighting to protect particular places that hold their history, to protect lands that carry complication, consequence, and complexity. However, by journeying through beautiful Southwestern spaces, I felt challenged to simultaneously journey inside of myself, and to re-examine my connection to the western lands that I call home. I am challenged to think more critically about my actions, and to consider difficult questions. At what cost do we water our gardens and run our faucets? How much longer can the Colorado River shoulder the weight of our needs? These are the questions that ignite a fire in my belly, but threaten to overwhelm me with the complexity of the responses they warrant.
Yet, as citizens of this earth, these are the types of questions that we must face. Everyone has a place (or places) that informs who they are. So here are my questions for you: What is a place you have fallen in love with? If this place were to fall under threat of being destroyed (or perhaps it already has), would you fight to defend it? To what end? When we’re really honest with ourselves, I think we’ll find that these are some of the most important questions we can be asking ourselves today.
Alicia Conte is a dedicated Philanthropiece team member who works as our Youth Global Leadership Program Coordinator. She also serves on the Fundraising and Advisory Board for the INVST Program at the University of Colorado.