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“Mankind has a chance to change the direction of this movement, do a roundabout turn, and move in the direction of peace, harmony, and respect for land and life. The time is right now. Later will be too late.” — Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya, from the introduction
Although for a great many people, the human impact on the Earth—countless species becoming extinct, pandemics claiming millions of lives, and climate crisis causing worldwide social and environmental upheaval—was not apparent until recently, this is not the case for all people or cultures. For the Indigenous people of the world, radical alteration of the planet, and of life itself, is a story that is many generations long. They have had to adapt, to persevere, and to be courageous and resourceful in the face of genocide and destruction—and their experience has given them a unique understanding of civilizational devastation.
An innovative work of research and reportage, We Are the Middle of Forever places Indigenous voices at the center of conversations about today’s environmental crisis. The book draws on interviews with people from different North American Indigenous cultures and communities, generations, and geographic regions, who share their knowledge and experience, their questions, their observations, and their dreams of maintaining the best relationship possible to all of life. A welcome antidote to the despair arising from the climate crisis, We Are the Middle of Forever brings to the forefront the perspectives of those who have long been attuned to climate change and will be an indispensable aid to those looking for new and different ideas and responses to the challenges we face.
A welcome compilation of interviews with Indigenous Americans about climate change.
Jamail is a Martha Gellhorn Award–winning journalist, and Rushworth is a California-based teacher of Native American literature. As the editors demonstrate, all of the contributors to this dynamic collection are rooted in ancient cultural philosophies that radically challenge non-Native ideas about climate change. “For the Indigenous people of the world,” writes Rushworth in the preface, “radical alteration of the planet, and of life itself, is a story many generations long.” Jamail goes on to point out that Native Americans have already witnessed massive destruction in the past few centuries, ranging from the annihilation of the buffalo from the Great Plains to the decimation of Native populations “as a result of sanctioned settler mayhem.” Consequently, Indigenous Americans are uniquely equipped to philosophically and practically tackle climate change. At the heart of these interviews is a rejection of current practices. Before colonization, Native peoples like the Hopi spent centuries perfecting systems that successfully cared for the Earth. According to Unangan elder Ilarion Merculieff, this balance was disturbed by European colonizers who created what Yupik elders describe as a “reverse society” or “inside out society.” Ilarion argues that the only way to cope with climate change is to reject Eurocentric notions of “normal” and to adopt Indigenous ways of thinking and being. Interviewees suggest a variety of abstract and concrete avenues for doing so—e.g., Potawatomi scholar Kyle Powys Whyte’s recommendation to alter our relationship with clock time or Quinault President Fawn Sharp’s idea to use Native knowledge to preemptively shift her constituents’ homes to flood-safe areas. Throughout, contributors remind us that the Earth has survived for billions of years and will survive for billions more; humans, however, may not. Readers will be impressed by both the depth and breadth of the interviews as well as the contributors’ evocative, vivid storytelling and palpable emotion.
A refreshingly unique and incredibly informative collection of vital Indigenous wisdom.
This timely compilation of interviews shines a spotlight on the environmental knowledge of 20 individuals who belong to Native Nations. Rushworth, a Native American educator and activist, and Jamail, an award-winning journalist, spoke with a wide variety of Indigenous academics, artists, and community leaders, seeking to center their voices in the ever-intensifying debate about how to heal a hurting planet. Rushworth poses this question of enormous urgency to Edgar Ibarra, a college student and abolitionist activist: “Our focus is the disruption of Earth; how did we get here? How do we move on in the right way?” The interviewees speak freely, generating the warmth of intimate conversation and pointing to numerous solutions already at work in Indigenous communities. Dr. Melissa K. Nelson, a proponent of tribal food sovereignty, sees the COVID-19 pandemic as proof of humanity’s failure to understand that every natural resource, including air, is communal. Musician Lyla June Johnston acknowledges that since many Native Nations have survived previous epidemics and social collapse, there’s much to learn from intertribal conflicts. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natalie Diaz elucidates arising emergencies in the English language itself. Insights like these, and dozens more, deserve deep attention and will hopefully spur readers into action to save the planet and themselves.
-Diego Báez, Booklist
Advance Praise for We Are the Middle of Forever:
“We Are the Middle of Forever does something incredible with time: it covers millennia of Indigenous history, grounded in conversations across the arc of the pandemic, all while giving the broadest platform for intellectuals whose visionary work today makes them ambassadors from the future. This is a book whose reading is medicine, a beautiful invitation to a more sacred world in the company of some of the brightest stars of contemporary Indigenous activism.” -Raj Patel, co-author (with Rupa Marya) of Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice
“In these times of great suffering and danger created over 500 years by the invasion of settler mind which ravages the earth, these distinct voices, youngers and elders, from different tribes and different locations, teach us once again, the sacred ways they have learned from their experience, their ancestors, their ceremonial traditions and the Earth. When we finish reading and incorporating each word from these wisdom carriers, we will know, finally, how to live. The path we are each called to walk will be clear. My prayer is that we will each have the courage – the Earth and a viable future for all beings depend upon it.” -Deena Metzger
“Jamail and Rushworth have succeeded in crafting a timely and necessary volume that includes the perspectives and honesty of seasoned thinkers and powerful new voices, altogether representing a chorus and cross-section of experiences, ontologies, axiologies, and visions for the future. The observations and lessons pull you in and simultaneously devastate and uplift the soul. We Are the Middle of Forever is not to be consulted as a recipe book for those seeking to draft new policy by blindly adapting Indigenous cultural and ecological knowledge. It is, at its core, a call to stop, listen closely, and think and act with humility when it comes to identifying and applying Native-sourced wisdom and solutions to the problems facing humanity.” -Tsim D. Schneider, citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of The Archeology of Refuge and Recourse: Coast Miwok Resilience and Indigenous Hinterlands in Colonial California
“This book proves what many already know to be true, but which many more need to hear–Indigenous people are the heroes of the climate justice movement. With few resources and in the face of great danger, Indigenous frontline struggles have already accomplished more to mitigate climate change than almost any other strategy. The Indigenous contributors to We are The Middle of Forever ask us to join these movements in a march towards a future that has been prophesized–a glittering future of abundance, cooperation, and peace. Whether or not we follow their vision will determine the fate of all.” -Melanie Yazzie, Co-Author of The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save our Earth
“We stand on the precipice of global calamity, the consequence of centuries of colonial disconnection. Recognizing that Native leaders have warned us of our reckless ways all along, Jamail and Rushworth sought insight from those whose communities have persevered despite this same genocidal holocaust. We Are the Middle of Forever presents twenty heartfelt Indigenous reflections inviting us to contemplate relationships and reciprocity, kinship and connection, and responsibilities and obligations. This beautifully edited must-read encourages us to challenge our own colonial assumptions in the hopes that we can “find the tools we need to fix what we’ve broken” while we still can.” -Martin Rizzo-Martinez, CA State Park Historian and author of We are not Animals: Indigenous Politics of Survival, Rebellion, and Reconstitution in Nineteenth-Century California