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Speaking at the Navajo Sustainability Symposium

At the end of April we were able to present and attend a landmark event that happened in Flagstaff, Arizona. The first Navajo Sustainability Symposium brought together many great minds of the Navajo Nation, including scientists, government officials, and concerned citizens, all looking to work together for a new and more sustainable economic development plan. In support of these aspirations, we were honored to be included in among those experts invited to the event to speak, learn, and collaborate.

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A New Leaf

Just a month earlier, the Navajo Nation ended their bid for the coal-powered Navajo Generating station. While this is a positive move for Arizona as a whole, due to the environmental concerns of coal-generated power, the implications for the jobs of many Navajo people wasn't as clear.

The Navajo Sustainability Symposium, a vision of Edward K. Dee (a dear friend of ours and the Executive Director of the Office of Navajo Government Development) speaks to all the new possibilities that are on the horizon for the Navajo Nation, as well as their people's commitment to securing a bright future for the next generation and beyond.

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Finding Hope with Guest Speaker Paul Hawken

On the day that we were able to attend as speakers, the editor of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (https://www.drawdown.org/), Paul Hawken, was one of the keynote speakers, and his speech was an absolutely inspirational kick off to the Symposium.  It's easy, when working in sustainability or the environmental field, to feel completely dwarfed by the shear size and implications of climate change (or perhaps more aptly named- the climate crisis). Hawken's book is a reminder that there are 7.5 billion other people on this planet, and from that massive pool of potential, there are many different ways to fight and address this looming crisis. His book tells readers not to give up, and in many ways, his speech was a reminder to the people gathering at the symposium what the stakes were and why we were there.

While Hawken spoke to several of the most important solutions currently being implemented around the world, there were a few that stuck out to me in particular (but not numbered by importance here).

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(1) Protect and regrow forests: Natural spaces have always been so important to me personally, and using tourism as a method to incentivize their protection has been the focus of my research. For me, seeing Hawken speak to the role of protected, healthy environments in fighting climate change was a good motivation to continue what I do.

(2) Educate women and girls: To me, it makes perfect sense. When you educate all of your people, you have stronger, more adaptable communities. But when women are empowered and elevated they are able to take control of their own lives and plan for families in ways that are inarguably more responsible and healthier for the planet than otherwise.

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(3) Support female farmers: It was a surprise to hear that financing female small landholders is not only a path to sustainability but it provides more value for the dollars spent. In particular, because female farmers tend to produce more when taught the same methods of production as men.

(4) Don't waste food: Call me naïve, but I had no idea that food waste was such a major source of greenhouse gases. Hawken was quick to speak to the amount of effort that goes into supplying food around the world, and if that isn't something to honor by limiting waste, I don't know what is. For so many ethical reasons as well, it just makes sense to avoid waste when it comes to food- better distribution of food supplies to address world hunger, the environmental impact, and animal welfare.

Of course, the expected solutions were included as well- renewable energy sources, less meat consumption, etc. What was most poignant to me, however, were the myriad of ways that we are currently trying to address this problem, and the great potential for many of them to be scaled up for bigger and better results. Furthermore, it seemed to me that in trying to address climate change, we might also just make life better for people everywhere, while protecting an array of ecosystems, and all the species that make them vibrant.

Innovation and Commitment with NGOs and the Navajo Government

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When Hawken stepped down, we had the opportunity to learn more about the potential for the Navajo Nation and other indigenous communities and nations to contribute to a sustainable future in ways big and small from the Native American Venture Fund. In particular, there is considerable potential for the Navajo Nation to produce energy via renewable means, solar and wind. In the case of solar, we discussed systems by which solar could be implemented on working lands to increase biodiversity and pasture quality, while providing shade in support of traditional livelihoods such as shepherding. This idea of coupling modern, sustainable means of producing capital with traditional skills is something that I hope to see the Nation implement and perfect; the potential seems endless when there are investments and resources to make innovations possible.

As we broke for lunch (and I mentally prepared myself for my presentations), Council Delegate Jamie Henio of the 24th Navajo Nation Council presented a comprehensive sustainability bill to us, which outlined the goals of the Nation moving forward (often in the Diné language). Key to the emergence of government interest in sustainability was the role of Diné (the original name of the Navajo people) traditions, language, and culture in guiding this new movement forward, which emphasizes renewable energy, traditional lifeways, and finding development solutions that prioritize the long-term well-being of the Diné people. It was amazing to see the commitment that the Navajo Nation has for the future, and to see that they might lead the way in efforts around the world to bring responsible development to their communities.

Sustainability via Tourism from Camhi Environmental Consulting

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Finally, I had the opportunity to present at one of the break out sessions about making tourism work for community well-being, economic growth, and as a method to protect the environment. In particular, I presented my audience with a variety of tools, from free mapping apps and data sources, to tourism value chain mapping methods. I wanted to leave everyone with some new means to help plan and build the tourism industry that they envision and which their people decide that they want. And I wasn't there to tell anyone what kind of tourism I thought would work best for them. In the end, I think the best way to develop a functional, sustainable tourism industry is to provide the community with means to determine what resources they need, what the opportunities are, and how to plan for the resulting challenges. Finally, I stressed the importance of capacity building, because in the end, if tourism ends up being a trend for any destination, a community that has grown its’ skill sets and knowledge base on the back of the tourism industry will only strengthen themselves in the end. In my opinion, the more people know, the more opportunities there are for new innovations to arise.

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If there is anything that I learned from the symposium, it is that innovation and a will to move forward is what we need to attain sustainability and fight climate change.

Written by Aireona Bonnie Raschke, Ph.D. (Senior Consultant)



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