Photo depicting Nara Bare reading a document while wearing a floral headdress.

Seedcast: Indigenous Storytelling as Environmental Justice

by Tracy Rector

Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have celebrated storytelling as a way to connect the present to past lessons and future dreaming. Narrative sovereignty is a form of land guardianship, and Nia Tero supports this work through its storytelling initiatives, including the Seedcast podcast, as well as in this column for media partner the South Seattle Emerald.

Indigenous peoples often share that throughout the world, storytelling is a foundational part of culture and kinship, a way to express and share knowledge across generations and communities. Indigenous stories are also a form of environmental justice work. Stories are culturally and bioregionally rooted parts of knowledge-bearing systems that tell us about ourselves, each other, where we’ve been, who we are, and even where we may be going, as seen in a number of “futurism” movements. Stories can also shine a spotlight on histories and lineages, draw us into each other’s ways of being, and provide a guide for treating the Earth with respect.

Given the meaningful presence of storytelling across Indigenous cultures from time immemorial, what does Indigenous storytelling mean in the 21st century, what does it look and sound like, and how does it heal the planet?

DJ and journalist Eric Terena of the Terena People being interviewed for the Seedcast podcast in Sherm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November of 2022. (Photo: Tracy Rector)

Indigenous storytelling is rooted in oral traditions, song, dance, and art, such as pottery, and now we’re seeing Indigenous storytellers not just creating through traditional forms, but across new platforms, too — from YouTube and TikTok and visual narrative spaces, like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, to blogging and news sites, animation, video games, NFTs, and podcasting. Indigenous storytelling today is connecting people to each other as well as new audiences in order to exchange experiences, histories, and knowledge, building community power every step of the way. 

This desire to connect Indigenous storytellers with those who can benefit from their sharing most, in order to heal the planet, is at the heart of the Seedcast podcast. A production of Nia Tero, Seedcast nurtures and roots stories of Indigenous experiences and environmental knowledge from all over the world, honoring guardians of the land who have lived in relationship with their traditional territories for millennia. Rather than centering voices rooted only in Western science, Seedcast elevates a discussion of climate challenges and solutions by amplifying and uplifting the voices of Indigenous leaders across all professions and walks of life from across the globe, each one with an essential perspective on how their peoples have approached care of the Earth we share as well as lessons about how we can each enact thoughtful respect for our environment in our daily lives. 

Carmen Guerra (Kankuama), policy manager for Nia Tero’s Global Policy Team, talked with Seedcast about what is means to be from and to protect the Sierra Nevada, or the Heart of the World. (Photo: Tracy Rector)

It’s important to remember that storytelling happens in many ways and for many reasons. For example, we have interviewed global policymakers whose ability to bring forward knowledge through stories affects the very processes of legislation and international law. Their assertions that no decision should be made about Indigenous land without the consent and participation of Indigenous peoples are changing the ways in which global leaders plan for the future.

In 2022, the Seedcast podcast team produced 14 original episodes with Indigenous peoples from around the world, and each episode pulses with time-tested knowledge and new energy.

  • In our episode with writer and educator Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation), Remle shares how his Lakota teachings and guidance from his elders influence how he shows up in the world, up to and including how he participated in the land and water protection activations at Standing Rock.
  • In our episode with Nara Baré of the Baré Nation, we heard how Baré works with her community to support land sovereignty for the Indigenous peoples across the Brazilian Amazon as the first female general coordinator for COIAB (Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon). This episode was produced in both English and Portuguese.
  • In our two-part episode with the Gabbra peoples of East Africa, a Gabbra elder shares how their traditional knowledge has allowed the surrounding ecosystem to support human, animal, and plant life through generations, while also helping them navigate colonization and climate crisis. This episode was made possible through generous collaboration with the Gabbra peoples, as well as the Wayfinders Circle.

The act of storytelling is a personal one, both for the teller and the listener. Whether you’re encountering the personal narrative of another through listening in person or online, watching a video or a dance performance, contemplating a painting or a sculpture, or enjoying the weight and weave of a textile, good stories leave us different on the other side of the encounter, creating new ways to relate to ourselves and one another. 

Educator, editor, and activist Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota) singing with his friends. (Photo: Felipe Contreras)

The goal of Seedcast has been and continues to be to support the rights and traditional ways of Indigenous peoples and amplify their practices of environmental care and reciprocity. Through uplifting Indigenous voices, we are participating in one of many ways to come together in community. The storytellers featured on the podcast show the breadth and depth of the contemporary voices, historical contexts, true histories, and brilliant futures of Indigenous peoples. They share excitement, inspiration, reality, reflection, pressing issues, and viable solutions as living and breathing parts of the territories they represent. They bring forward and transform knowledge and community into something tangible, forming a tether across distance as well as kinship and meaningful relationships. In this way, Indigenous storytelling represents sovereignty, self-determination, stewardship, and environmental activism. And because of their stories, we all get to learn how the work of community-building has a direct impact on Indigenous peoples and local communities — not just in regards to bioregion, but globally, to build up a wealth of knowledge, exchange, reciprocity, and resources toward lasting and impactful change in support of a better future, through building a better present.

In the next and third season of Seedcast, expect more vibrant climate-related stories from Indigenous peoples around the globe. We’re currently working on stories about sustainable Indigenous design and territorial defense in Papua New Guinea; journalism as activism in Amazonia; Afro-Indigenous TikTok across Turtle Island and Colombia; and Sônia Guajajara, the newly appointed leader of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, created by newly elected Brazilian president Lula da Silva. We’re also embarking on another multi-episode series with our generous collaborators at Wayfinders Circle and Pawanka Fund.

The Gabbra people shift locations during the wet season. (Photo from the Gabbra people, courtesy of Pawanka Fund)

The new season of Seedcast begins in March of 2023. In the meantime, we invite you to (re)listen to a beautiful selection of original Seedcast episodes from Seasons 1 and 2 on the Nia Tero website or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

This piece was written with the support of Julie Keck, a consulting producer with Nia Tero.

Tracy Rector is a filmmaker, curator, community organizer, and programmer. She is the managing director, storytelling, for Nia Tero and has directed and produced over 400 films. Tracy is a board member of Mize Foundation and Working Films and a proud mother to two young adults.

📸 Featured Image: Nara Baré of the Baré Nation at COP26 (the UN Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. (Photo: Tracy Rector)

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