Three of the images from “Thriving People, Thriving Places.”

‘Thriving Peoples, Thriving Places’: Pop Art Campaign Honors the Contributions of Indigenous Women to Global Biodiversity

by Nia Tero

(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)


We are in a critical moment. In the midst of an ongoing global pandemic that is leaving no family untouched, compounded by increasingly extreme weather events linked to climate change, a unique global art project is shining a light on voices essential to the ecological solutions and collective healing we seek: Indigenous women.

“Thriving Peoples, Thriving Places” is a collaboration between two Seattle-based not-for-profit organizations — Indigenous-focused Nia Tero and design lab Amplifier — launching on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which is Aug. 9. The global exhibit includes six original portraits commissioned from Washington, D.C.-based artist and illustrator Tracie Ching. The art will be available digitally as well as at public art events in cities, including Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York City, São Paulo, and London. The project celebrates Indigenous women who have acted as stewards of biodiversity across Earth and prompts action amongst an engaged global audience.

The nine Indigenous women at the center of this project are robust examples of real action we can take to strive for the health and future of the planet. They are from communities spanning the globe, from the Philippines and New Zealand, to the Brazilian Amazon to Scandinavia, to the global north, embodying Indigenous experience while carrying generational knowledge and inherited dedication:

Image depicting Sonia Guajajara, Nara Bare, and Celia Xakriaba in their regalia against a yellow and green background.
Sônia Guajajara is a member of the Guajajara nation, an activist in Brazil, and a leader of Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil), which brings together 305 ethnicities around the agenda of Indigenous rights in the region. | Nara Baré is a member of the Baré nation and a Brazilian activist who was the first woman to assume the general coordination of the largest Indigenous organization in the country: the Coalition of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon. | Célia Xakriabá is a member of the Xakriabá nation and a Brazilian activist leading a new generation of female Indigenous leaders in the battle against the destruction of Brazil’s forests both in the Amazon and the lesser known Cerrado, a savanna that covers a fifth of the country. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.
Art depicting Pania Newton in traditional clothing against a bright pink background.
Pania Newton is a member of the nations of Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Waikato, and Ngati Mahuta. She is a lawyer and Maori land rights activist who organized the group Save Our Unique Landscape to protest the development of land at Ihumatao in south Auckland. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.
Image depicting Gunn-Britt Retter in blue and red regalia against a red background.
Gunn-Britt Retter is a member of the Saami nation, a professor, formerly part of the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat, and current head of the Saami Council’s Arctic and Environmental Unit. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.
Art depicting Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone in Inupiaq and Kiowa nation clothing (fur-lined and hooded clothing) against a blue and brown background.
Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone is a member of the Inupiaq and Kiowa nations. She is an environmental activist whose artistic work focuses on revitalizing ancient skills, such as hide tanning, traditional regalia making, and tool making. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.
Image depicting Twa-le Abrahamson-Swan and Deb Abrahamson against a blue backdrop.
Deb Abrahamson is a member of the Spokane Tribe, an environmental activist and a water protector who played a large part in the push to clean up the legacy of uranium mining on the Spokane Indian Reservation; Abrahamson died of cancer in January 2020, attributing her illness to the radioactive toxins that she had dedicated her life to saving others from. | Twa-le Abrahamson-Swan is a member of the Spokane Tribe, an environmental activist, and the executive director of the River Warrior Society, a collective across the Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Kalispel, Nez Perce, and Spokane tribes; Abrahamson-Swan refocused the collective’s energies on providing pandemic and wildfire relief; she is Deb Abrahamson’s daughter. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.
Art depicting Vicky Tauli Corpuz against a purple background.
Vicky Tauli Corpuz is a member of the Kankanaey Igorot nation and an activist who not only helped organize the Igorot student movement in Manila in the 1970s and the Indigenous Peoples’ Movement in the Cordillera but also actively participated in the drafting, negotiations, and adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Artwork by Tracie Ching. Image courtesy of Real Change.

This campaign precedes several critical global convenings, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Marseille, France, in September, the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, and additional critical climate and biodiversity conversations in 2022 and beyond.

At global policy events such as these, from which decisions evolve affecting how governments around the world respond to global issues and emergencies, the presence and participation of Indigenous women is vital. As acknowledged by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Despite their enormous assets and contribution to society, Indigenous women still suffer from multiple discrimination, both as women and as Indigenous individuals. They are subjected to extreme poverty, trafficking, illiteracy, lack of access to ancestral lands, non-existent or poor health care, and to violence in the private and the public sphere.” As such, Indigenous women are at the intersections of the world’s most pressing issues — and the urgency and solutions needed to address them — meaning their presence and leadership in global policy discussions is essential.

The activists, artists, and scholars at the heart of “Thriving Peoples, Thriving Places” exemplify the ideals of guardianship, kinship, reciprocity, and wisdom. Their voices, work, and leadership benefit not only their own people and communities, but all of us who share this planet, which is why now, more than ever, we must celebrate them, listen to them, and, most importantly, follow their lead.

Learn more about “Thriving Peoples, Thriving Places” at https://niatero.org/overview.


📸 Featured Image: Three of the images from “Thriving Peoples, Thriving Places.” Artwork by Tracie Ching. Images courtesy of Real Change.

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