The Land is Holy: Reflections on Seattle Eco-Stewards ’16

by Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle ’16 Alum

A view of the Salish Sea during a visit to the Lummi Nation in Washington.
A view of the Salish Sea during a visit to the Lummi Nation in Washington.

On the windy, rocky, sunny shore of the Salish Sea, we listen as Lummi Nation artist and activist Jewell James shares a very honest history of the Lummi land, waters and people, and their many conflicts with the US government. Then he tells us of a vision or dream. As he speaks, I look across the water to the resort homes recently built on ancient islands that contain Lummi ancestral artifacts used before the glaciers melted. In the dream, he explains, the ancestors’ spirits came across the waters from this traditional tribal territory with the spirits of the children yet to be born. The spirits encouraged the Lummi to continue the stand against the destructive powers of energy markets, profits, and business. The spirits told the Lummi a message, which I am paraphrasing, “Keep fighting for the land; tell them the land is sacred; they will listen; and if they do not, we will change their hearts.”

The Lummi are connected to this land and to the ancestors who once lived there and who were buried there–  buried on land that has since been torn up for business development. Jewell and others I met in Seattle re-framed my understanding of what is best described from this line of our Seattle theme song, Rabbi Shoshana’s The Tide Is Rising: “the land is holy and so are we.”

Six months ago, I was wonderfully privileged to join the Eco Stewards Seattle Program. Gifted with just a week among fellow young, ambitious, passionate Eco-Stewards I gained more than enough zeal and love of God, God’s people, and God’s natural world to empower my faith for years to come. It was worth the long trip for simply the fellowship and study of Pope Francis’ encyclical Ladauto Si. In addition to spending time with Josh, Ashley, Kathleen, Vickie, Kelsey, Melissa, Caroline, Liz, Becky, Rowen, Rob and Dawn, we spent time with several Seattle-based environmental activist groups, including the Sightline Institute and the Backbone Campaign, who are fighting fossil fuel extraction, transport and export activities in the Pacific Northwest.  (It’s a lot to summarize, but here’s a teaser: some “kayaktivists” may have successfully taken on an oil rig in their kayaks…). During our trip to the Lummi Nation, we learned about the tribe’s successful defeat of a proposed coal export terminal that would have violated the tribe’s treaty fishing rights.

The Eco-Stewards '16 Seattle group meets with Kurt Russo and Jewell James at the Lummi Nation in Washington.
The Eco-Stewards ’16 Seattle group meets with Kurt Russo and Jewell James (center) at the Lummi Nation in Washington. Author Alex Haney kneels in front.

After the typical faith gathering, you leave realizing that if we just put first things first, such as God, prayer, love, our common home, the home of our future generations, etc., we will indeed be more holy and happy than if we seek those idols like money and a lifestyle of consumption. Since returning from Seattle to my work as a solar panel installer in Virginia, however, I feel a challenging conflict of being bound to fossil fuels and money even while working in the renewable energy industry. I’ve noticed that when money is involved, it can easily change from “the land is holy” to “the land is materially valuable.”

I drive solar panels and heavy racks in a giant, gas-guzzling Ford F-250. I commute in my older, gas-burning car rather than waking earlier to ride the bus or bike. My computer design programs run on electricity (which is still derived from 66% coal  and natural gas in the US). Even working in the solar business, I am supporting the market for coal trains and pipelines. I also can’t avoid that demon dollar. In my company, all of us need money for one reason or another: to pay off debt, to pay for kids’ food and shoes, the car, the house, health insurance. Some of us have a passion for renewable energy ,but if you look at everybody, it’s the money that brings us to work each day. While making bids for solar jobs, I need to consider the time, equipment, fuel, labor and materials, which all cost money. Even the customers care about the payback period and return on investment. For better or worse in some cases, money is driving better environmental stewardship practices. That same love of money that keeps my solar company afloat is the love of money that drives the coal export terminal construction, the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Deep Water Horizon, the mountain top removal…. We are but victims of ourselves.

Yet, the Lummi and the Eco-Stewards Program challenge me to break the mold. To not let money lead the way. To seek out faith, and something out there beyond ourselves, beyond our money, likely beyond our convenience and comfort. There is a far better way. “But strive for the greater gifts, And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:1)

We invite you to read this inspiring letter written by Jewell James and Kurt Russo as a thank you to the Seattle Eco-Stewards  for visiting the Lummi Nation at a “historical moment” this summer: Lummi Nation Thank You Letter

Meet the author, Alex Haney (Eco-Stewards ’16 Seattle Alum):

Blog author Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle '16 Alum
Blog author Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle ’16 Alum

I am a novice guitar player and work as a solar panel installer with a construction company in western Virginia. I get excited about wild edible and medicinal plants.  “O Brother Where art Thou” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” are two of my favorite movies.  I am a JMU graduate who has taught all kinds of nature-y things at camps in Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Tennessee.  I love being able to call the Appalachian region my home for its rich culture and history. I’ve always loved the natural world, and God, and only recently in the last several years have I begun to see that those both actually do fit together well. I am excited to be part of the Eco-Stewards Program. I am helping to plan our 2017 Eco-Stewards trip to Richmond, Virginia. Stay tuned for more details about this exciting program!

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