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Respect for this Earth and its Peoples: 

My Reflections on Sherri Mitchell's Teachings as a White Climate Activist

Written by Sydney Whiting

· Advocacy Stories

Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset is an Indigenous lawyer, environmental and social activist, and visionary. The following is a personal reflection to her powerful essay, “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth,” published in the All We Can Save anthology.  

Through the perpetration of harmful colonial attitudes, the traditional wisdom of Indigenous peoples, knowledge-keepers, and elders have long been neglected in settings of academia, political and social institutions, and scientific research. As author Sherri Mitchell highlights, Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of the land has now ironically been sought out by the White descendants of colonizers who seek to make reparations for environmental destruction brought on by the imposed social, economic, and political systems of the past and present.  

In order to make amends and learn from these teachings, I recognize that I must seek to understand my own positionality as a climate activist, and regard the voices of Indigenous leaders with utmost respect. They are the traditional gatekeepers of this land, and Mitchell’s words continue to challenge my systems of thought rooted in my lineage as a descendant of White, European settlers.  

Lessons for our future 

The first, unifying philosophy Mitchell shares is simple. To protect and preserve our beloved Mother Earth, it is imperative that we shift our focus away from a fractured, individualistic understanding of our world. In order to avoid further catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis, we must shift towards a more holistic understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things.  

Mitchell also argues that the homogenization of our social systems and structures by primarily wealthy White men is related to many contemporary crises, including the environmental crisis. As she elaborates, “[t]he overall lack of diversity within the patriarchal colonial paradigm has had a suffocating impact on creative intelligence and a divisive impact on society.” But the inclusion of diverse voices, and the brilliance of their collective ideas and innovations for a fractured world will help guide us towards a more sustainable, holistic, and empathetic future. 

This led to my personal introduction to the term “kincentric awareness.” Through my evolving awareness of this concept, I understand that it encompasses the reciprocal models of care that human beings, all living creatures, and the natural environment must respect in order to mutually thrive. It is a principle which Indigenous peoples have understood for millennia: we must take care of Mother Earth, and in turn, she will take care of us. Contrary to contemporary economic and social systems which undermine the health of our nations, this principle prioritizes the necessity of working for the common good—not solely for individual benefit.  

Continuity of stewardship  

Mitchell’s reflections on an Indigenous understanding of time is insightful for proponents of climate action: “[w]e realize that we cannot separate ourselves from those who have come before us or those who will follow, because we all exist together in this one moment.” She insists that we must live with the repercussions of past mistakes and consider how our present actions will impact the future generations of all living beings. Once again, it is a lesson we are privileged to consider because of the generational wisdom of Indigenous peoples—they have been guided by this principle all along.  

As non-Indigenous climate activists, the respect of Indigenous knowledge of climate—and the appropriate consultation and inclusion of their voices—is a fundamental component in our shared quest for a more sustainable world. We must act as stewards for future generations, recognize the relationships of all living things, and challenge the dominant social systems which too often dilute innovation and creativity. And we must work together on these goals—because together, we are stronger.