Beatboxing. Soul-saving salmon. Regenerative Food Systems. 

Topics ranged widely at the latest “Architects of Abundance” discussion panel hosted by the Institute of Social Transformation on March 13. Moderated by Dr. Chris Benner, a professor of environmental studies and sociology at UC Santa Cruz, the panel featured three members of various different Indigenous tribes. 

The primary focus of this panel was to shine a light on some of the ways Indigenous land ethics of reciprocity, reverence, respect, and responsibility can be implemented to deal with the climate crisis.

Among these speakers were Dr. Lyla June Johnston of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages, Chairman Valentín Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and Brook M. Thompson, a Yurok and Karuk Native water rights activist and UCSC environmental studies PhD student.

Dr. Johnston, commonly known as Lyla June, is an Indigenous scholar and musician. In September 2022, she gave a TED Talk called “3000-year-old solutions to modern problems,” in which she discussed the consequences of post-colonialist capitalist society, and how to fix them with Indigenous methods of land management.

For her appearance at UCSC on Monday, she said that she wanted to spread the word about Indigenous reciprocal regenerative food systems. 

Dr. Lyla June Johnston ends the discussion panel by performing a traditional song. Photo by Arthur Wei.

“This was just one more opportunity to share the messages that my elders have asked me to share with the world to help bring our food, land, and water systems back into balance,” Dr. Johnston said.

One of these messages, discussed by Dr. Brook M. Thompson, describes the ways in which Native peoples practice sustainable fishing while honoring the Creator spirit. She recounted her tribe’s custom of honoring the land by always throwing back the first salmon catch of the fishing season as an example of this.

Another point of emphasis was the importance of utilizing personal values and honor instead of the stone-cold “facts and logic” mentality stressed in modern capitalist society. 

 “Traditionally, political knowledge is not just about the hard science and facts, but it’s also about the value system […] we can’t separate those two things and expect it to be successful,” Thompson said.

A main message of the discussion panel was how to use compassion to overcome obstacles. 

Chairman Valentín Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band spoke of the necessary healing that needs to be done, not only by Indigenous people, but by the descendants of the perpetrators of colonialism.

“We have to recognize that what happened to us is not our fault. At the same time, we have to give back the knowledge that we have,” Lopez said. 

Lopez’s point ties back to Thompson’s anecdote about returning the first catch. Every salmon thrown back helps sustain nature’s systems.

“The best salmon you’ll ever have [is the one that] feeds your spirits. It’s the salmon you give away to an elder. It’s the salmon you let go,” Thompson said. “It’s the salmon that you give to someone who’s disabled and can’t fish for themselves. And without our salmon, we can’t pass down that culture and that understanding.”