Photo by Sal Ingram.

In this week’s Community Chest, City on a Hill Press spoke with Carolyn Rodriguez and Michelle Neumann, the organizers for the upcoming American Indian Resource Center’s “Green Team” event, Heal the Earth. Heal the Earth looks at sustainability with an indigenous perspective. Rodriguez is affiliated with the Amah Mutsun tribe, local to Santa Cruz and the central coast, and Neumann is Lucieño of the Pala Reservation.

CHP: What is the Heal the Earth Event?

Carolyn: It’s all about sustainability through Native American traditions. We want everyone to come, not just Native Americans. We have a keynote speaker, Chris Peters, and he’s going to come do a presentation about his work with the Seventh Generation Fund — he’s the CEO. We’re going have workshops from an organization, Sustainable Works, [and] two representatives plan to hold workshop sessions. They’re going to teach everyone how to make zero-waste lunch and biodegradable cleaning products. After that, we plan on having a discussion panel so the students can talk about sustainability.

CHP: What is it like to look at sustainability through an indigenous lens?

Carolyn: I think one of our ideas at the beginning was that we wanted to show that we, Native Americans, are here on campus. And originally we lived sustainably, that’s how our culture was. Of course as time went on, we kind of lost that. So even us, the members of the green team, we’re just trying to find our culture. It’s something we’re learning about: Native Americans and how they keep sustainablity, and we’re taking that and putting it to today’s perspective.

CHP: What do you hope students take out of this event?

Michelle: I just want people to be more environmentally aware. We’re trying to revive traditional values within the indigenous communities.

CHP: What is the most important thing about sustainability?

Carolyn: I think that the most important thing is water and and zero waste, specifically water contamination and pollution.

Michelle: Especially within reservations, because a lot of indigenous people fish and they can’t the eat the fish [they catch] because it’s contaminated. That affects a lot of indigenous communities.

CHP: What does it mean to be indigenous today?

Michelle: I feel like I still need to discover who I am and what comes with my background, like traditions. Being Native American and being on campus, where I’m just crowded with different people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, you kind of feel like you’re this little voice. Especially with the small indigenous community on campus compared to the other [communities].

Carolyn: I know our community is small, but because I feel like I am who I am, my voice, a Native American voice, an indigenous voice, should be heard just because I’m like everyone else. And just like anyone we shouldn’t be ignored or hushed, especially about our whole history. We’re still here, we still have a voice and we should be heard.