Water is Life: Climate Change and Cultural Strife

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

In 1999, I had my first opportunity of going before the United Nations to insure that they were well aware of the human rights violations that had perpetuated against my people on the Sea Islands and in what is often referred to as the “Carolina/Georgia Lowcountry” and northeastern Florida.  The speech that I made before the Human Rights Commission led to global attention coming to and being sustained for what came to be the Gullah/Geechee Nation in 2000 when I was enstooled as the official head pun de boddee fa de Gullah/Geechee.

In 2000, I had no idea that while we were along the shoreline of Sullivan’s Island where over 40 percent of all Africans enslaved in North America came through, that our kinsfolk on the shorelines of Nigeria from which many of our ancestors had been taken were also fighting to take a stand for their human rights.   The Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre (LHAHRDEV) was established in 2000, as a-not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, working to secure economic and social justice through human rights.

LHAHRDEV seeks to strengthen the field of human rights with special focus on economic, social and cultural rights democratic governance, indigenous issues, climate justice, and campaign against all forms of human rights abuse and violations and to further develop the tools and explore strategies for achieving their promotion, protection and fulfillment.  This year I was able to represent LHAHRDEV at the United Nations’ COP22 while also continuing to represent the same NGO that first got the doors of the United Nations’ opened for me-the International Human Rights Association for American Minorities (IHRAAM).

IHRAAM promotes the self-determination of a number of indigenous peoples in the Americas.  They promote public and governmental awareness of all legal instruments for human rights protection as subscribed by the United Nations and international law.  IHRAAM is a NGO with consultative status with the United Nations.

The coupling of the missions of these two NGOs during “World Water Day” and “Oceans Day” at COP22 was both a highlight of my journey and a painful reminder of all that we have to fight for as people of coastal heritage.  #WaterisLife was the theme of the day that struck me very hard since for decades I have been telling people that in the Gullah/Geechee Nation “the land is our family and the waterways are our bloodline.”  Trulee fa we, wata da life fa tru!

As I had time to ponder this theme while sitting in a session led by partners that the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition and the Gullah/Geechee Nation have at the Union of Concerned Scientists and US/ICOMOS, they stated how cultural heritage is a source of resiliency.  However, in the climate change discussion, people have been looking at how to protect cultural heritage without also realizing that would mean that you need to focus on the continuation of cultural practices.  They were looking more at where do you build a building or how to maintain the built environment.  Now, people realize that they need to look at the living patterns of the cultural groups that are actually sitting on the assets.  The unfortunate thing is that many of these groups are not leveraging those assets.

I thought of how the Gullah/Geechee Nation does recognize the assets that we have and how the battle is under way and has been for quite some time regarding who has the right to leverage these assets.  We documented this in my book, “WEBE Gullah/Geechee: Cultural Capital & Collaboration Anthology.”

The questions of how to translate “water language” into policy given the fact that climate change is the biggest threat to cultural heritage sites and coastal cultural communities in the future arose as part of the discussion and I questioned why one presenter did not have the culture and the people listed as informing policy on her chart.  However, she stated that it should have been there.  This oversight at such a critical event and critical time spoke volumes to the very thing that this panel was seeking to present.  Those that study situations and do not live on the front shorelines of it often miss critical aspects of what is essential to the matter and to the communities affected.  This can make a major difference in what is translated and what interpretations are conveyed.

Fortunately, GOD had it that we were joined in the room by a brother from Nigeria that was living the very issue that we were here to discuss.  Prince Goodlove provided an overview of the fighting and civil strife that was taking place in his country and how this has replaced the harmony in Nigeria because the water is gone in several places.  The people of the north that no longer have water are now going south and doing hostile takeovers of lands where the water is still flowing.  When he used these geographic terminologies, I again could only nod and agree because the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s onslaught came through people attempting to occupy the waterfronts and that has contributed to many of the extreme negative impacts on the water quality of our area and the loss of cultural heritage continuation of some sea work practices.  This onslaught has come via those from the north coming south as well.  As Prince Goodlove said, “Those from the north now come south to take the land that the people of the south need to sustain themselves.” I could barely remain calm.

I gave thanks for being in this space representing my homeland and the Motherland.  I felt it was Divine Order that Prince Goodlove and Queen Quet Goodwine would connect here.  When I spoke to him, he immediately asked “When are you coming back here?  We need you here!”  I felt the sincerity in his statement and I in my soul I knew that my people needed me here and that is why the Gullah/Geechee Nation sent me, but is was not a coincidence or accident that it would be the Nigerian family that made this opportunity possible for me.   As is African tradition, the elected and enstooled royalty were here to get into the flow of this moment and represent the lives of our people.  The leaders of the living traditions must teach the others of the world how water is truly life and not simply a hashtag for a day.

As we departed this session, a question that the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank members bring forth in numerous arenas lingered as one to be addressed in the policy making and the implementation plans-“How do you measure the non-economic value that a community suffers in reference to its culture?”  At that moment, I wanted to be able to distribute “WEBE Gullah/Geechee: Cultural Capital & Collaboration Anthology” to everyone in the room that wanted the answer and I gave thanks that we were already ahead in seeking the answer to this question.  May folks now come to those that live the cultures of the coast for the answers.  Hunnuh need fa yeddi we and be paat ob CULTURE IN ACTION wid de people ob de sea!

Given that we already realized decades before this day that #WaterisLife and without it, there would be hardship and strife, it is not a surprise that we would be able to inform the global community of what we need to seek to do in this regard.  Now, let’s see how the global community will flow together in healing the earth and changing the climate in a positive way and not just celebrating a hashtag for a day.


Read of the entire Queen Quet COP22 Journey:





Be a part of history and contribute to the journey:





1 Comment


    1. Water is Life: Climate Change and Cultural Strife — Gullah/Geechee Nation | Toni Roberts' Photojournal of Self-Transformation

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: