Cultural Competency in the Midst of Environmental Injustice and Environmental Racism
by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)
Since its inception in 1996, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (www.gullahgeechee.net) has focused on numerous environmental protection and restoration issues along the Intercoastal Waterway of the Sea Islands and Lowcountry that comprise the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Whether on a local, state, or federal level, we have witnessed the inequitable distribution of resources to maintain the land and water quality of the communities of the less financially affluent. We have witnessed the “natives” being left out of the meetings where the legislation concerning what can and cannot be built in various communities takes place. We have also witnessed the illnesses that have now taken hold of many people on Sea Islands and especially in the urbanized areas of the Gullah/Geechee Nation such as Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Savannah, and Jacksonville. These illness range from seafood related illnesses to asthma. These communities are then asked to participate in health related studies, but these study reports are not informing the people that are continuing to make laws approving of overbuilding and rebuilding along negatively impacted coastal areas. Instead, legislative members and elected officials seem to see these as simply educational perfunctory exercises instead of acting in a manner in accordance with the findings in such a way that would improve the quality of life for their constituents.
With all of this in mind, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition and members of the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank have engaged in a number of workshops and conferences in order to enlighten others on indigenous knowledge that can be beneficial in cultural competency training. If those coming into the communities of the indigenous people that are traditions keepers in the coastal communities have no knowledge nor respect for the unique culture there such as the Gullah/Geechee culture then they will continue to plan things that will amount to environmentally unjust practices.
The environmental justice movement has continued to grow due to the continuing injustices within communities of people of color and low income communities. 11 facts of environmental racism was recently posted by “Do Something.org” at https://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-environmental-racism. This serves as an “independent third party” report which further informs and supports the work that the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition continues to undertake on a local, state, federal, and international level in order to heal and restore our communities and to prevent any more environmental injustices from taking place within our Gullah/Geechee homeland. It is absolutely imperative that our voices are a part of the planning for our own nation. We have chosen to be proactive in regard to our environment in order to sustain our culture instead of being reactionary after thousands of people have died due to environmental injustice and environmental racism. To that end, I share a recent environmental training that I took part in helping to organize and at which I presented on behalf of the Gullah/Geechee Nation:
Competence is defined as
“the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.”
We continue to successfully and efficiently stand up for the environmental, land, and cultural rights of the Gullah/Geechee global community. As my proverb which is the slogan of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition states “Hunnuh mus tek cyare de root fa heal de tree.” When one starts digging down where roots are, you need to have the right tools. Cultural competency training is one of those tools that we pray others will pick up from us and use in not only healing our community, but in healing the earth, the waterways, and the world.
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