Rest or Run? Discussing Rising Seas and Relocation with the Gullah/Geechee Nation

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (

As the world focused their TVs, cell phones, and social media to the talks in Paris and what the outcome of the COP 21 Conference would be, Human Rights Day 2015 got even less international media attention than it normally does.  In the midst of all of these discussions going on amongst the environmentalists of the world and those that are mandated by jobs with their governments to carry out any new laws or implementation plans that could potentially get passed down, people that live on the front lines of the results of the numerous things that are an on-going part of the climate science discussions and debates are continuing to seek their own means to insure the future existence of their communities.  Some of these communities had their 15 minutes of fame as bloggers and a few media folks posted images of some of the Small Islands and Developing States and areas on the west coast of the Motherland as part of the constant media stream that went on as the interventions continued and the climate agreement was drafted in France.  Amidst the mentions in Paris was to be the Gullah/Geechee Nation, but no photos or stories emerged.

What did emerge for me was yet another invitation to another discussion about climate adaptation strategies that are now being couched as “retreat and relocation” options and plans or “community transformation” plans.  Apparently, in the world of those that are grappling with these issues on a daily basis so that they can be ahead of the next waves that are rising to cover the coast, they are formulating ideas of what to do if another 100 year storm shows up in less than 100 years and the topic of retreat and relocation has been quite an embroiled topic!

In my over thirty years of doing the work to fight to keep Gullah/Geechee heritage and culture alive, I have continuously engaged in translating the languages of various circles so that they have meaning within my community and vice versa.  I am thankful that I have been taught that this ability is a gift.  It is a gift that I treasure not just because of the season that we are in, but every day.  I had to yet open this gift once again to reveal the truth of what was once again taking place outside of the world of the Gullah/Geechee Nation that could have major implications for us inside our world on the Sea Islands especially.

Retreat and relocation plans are being made for many coastal communities in the event that these communities go under water due to various climate change dynamics.  However, there are numerous communities that have no such plans and many are not interested in discussions around such plans.  They prefer to discuss what can be done to keep their communities like they are and increase the value of their investments in those communities.

I found myself having to translate also what “value” was being assessed, calculated, and discussed in this circle that included those from federal agencies such as FEMA, real estate professionals, county, state, and local government employees including planners, etc.  The values they were focused on were monetary and the values I was focused on were cultural.  I found myself emphasizing the fact that “buildings are not the only thing of value and that needs to be considered.”  I said this time and again, but it did not sink in with some folks since their day-to-day work focused solely on quantifying and assessing monetary losses or potential financial losses and then finding the programs and funding from those programs that would meet what was needed and where there was none, they found themselves retreating to find out what they should do next. Somewhere that they ran to, they ran into folks that started talking about having people move entirely rather than having them rebuild and sustain their communities in the event that a climate related event damaged their homes and businesses.  However, they did not realize that those buildings are mere components of much more valuable things that were not calculable in this case-community, family, and cultural heritage.

As I walked away from this discussion, I heard my own words coming to me “We da binya and we ain’t da gwine nowhey!” from the documentary, “The Will to Survive: The Story of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.”   I have said this many times, this time, GOD brought the words right back to my soul and it settled my mind.   After this, I could hear echoing the words of many that had been in the discussion that said, “Thank you, Queen Quet for making me aware that ‘retreat’ also means a place where a person can rest and relax.”   So, at the end of a week filled with more work to fight for my peoples’ human right to remain on their homeland without being forcibly removed and with more work strategizing with world leaders and grassroots leaders engaged in processes to help heal the land so that it is here for our future generations, I could relax and look forward to retreating peacefully at home along the shores of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.


Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ( explains what the pain of relocation would be like for the Gullah/Geechee family via an artistic exercise during an engagement entitled “Transforming Communities at the Water’s Edge.”


  1. Ray

    Hello and peace and blessings.Nothing like working on one’s own alternatives.Those agencies have a strange way of doing things.And when crisis hit, prior important issues are always placed on the back burner.Being proactive is a must in all parts of our lives these days.And without question, retreat or relocation would be devastating.Consider New Orleans in time past and the devastation of relocation and lives destroyed even to this day.Solution oriented solutions can be reached and only when seeing thru the lens of unbiased thinking.

    Looking for the easy way out again would be devastating in to many ways to mention
    and the long term impact on the family culture and communities. In many situations
    as you mentioned those aspects aren’t even mentioned and even understood and
    until it comes knocking on their doors, then it is realized how important family culture
    and community is to a people.And it’s nothing like internal conviction,we ain’t gawine no
    whey! Peace to all.


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