For most of my life, people have associated me with arts-dancing, singing, poetry, etc. I have grown to learn that there is an “art” to anything that is done successfully in a way that doesn’t tax the soul of the one bringing what has been in that creator’s minds eye it into this realm for others to see. The skillful execution that makes it appear seamless and “easy” is the art that people love to see on display. However, they never truly respect the work that goes into it for days and hours at a time for even the smallest aspect of what is being presented to come forth. Yes, some of us are “naturals” at what we do. Unfortunately, folks don’t value the natural since they don’t get to calculate its value. I have found this to be the case in various aspects of my life including in the discussions of climate change.
Whether I am in a county or town council meeting, testifying before a state general assembly or on the Hill before US Congressional members or I am making an intervention at the Council of Parties (COP) climate summit / talks, I have continued to see how cultural heritage is not at the top of the priorities being discussed even when the terminology “cultural resources” is used. Since I am a mathematician and computer scientist by degrees, I am quite familiar with creating formulas and also programming that will provide the sought after output. As a proud native Gullah/Geechee that literally lives on the front shorelines of negative climate change impacts, I also know that there is no cost benefits analysis that can fully account for the value of cultural heritage communities since people’s lives are priceless.
It appears that people are more intrigued with investments into what I sought to study when I was in college-artificial intelligence-than they are willing to invest in actual intelligence. There is a tremendous amount of actual intelligence in indigenous communities such as the Gullah/Geechee Nation that are also classified as “BIPOC” communities. Due to the assimilation tactics of white supremacy and its tool of operation-institutionalized racism, I caution you to be very clear about “residents” versus “traditional cultural community members.” I represent Gullah/Geechee traditionalists not simply people born on the coast from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL. The traditionalists of the Sea Islands are the Gullah/Geechees that are the living embodiment of the terms that are consistently utilized and put into professional communities of practice as part of the tools being used to take climate action-adaptation and resilience.
Webster defines “adaptation” as
“the act or process of changing something to fit a new use or situation“
Online dictionaries elaborate further in this manner:
[ˌadapˈtāSH(ə)n]NOUN adaptation (noun)
· blending in · fitting in · settling in · settling down · acclimation
• a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel.
• biology a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.
The way that we definite “Climate Change Adaptation” within the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP) (of which I am a member and a Regional Adaptation Leadership Award and JEDI Fund Award recipient) is
“in human systems, the process of adjustments to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate.“
Before I found out that ASAP had a glossary for the work that the collective members undertake, I had already been living out this very definition. This comes as no surprise since I have repeatedly told the media that we do not have the words “adaptation” nor “resilience” in my native language-“Gullah.” (We also do not have the world “exploit,” but we continue to be exploited as do the natural resources that are inextricably a part of our cultural heritage and very existence.) Therefore, like with so many other aspects of the Geechee dialect, these are “loan words” that we now use in order to bridge the dialogues between us that are the coastal “natives” and those that are in the western world.
Gullah/Geechees are the living example of resilience given that our ancestors had to adapt to a new homeland which they altered into a cultural heritage area and on which we’ve had to endure multiple storms from the 1500s up to now. Even as I type this, coastal flooding alerts continue to pop up on my cellular device from the numerous apps that provide me with weather and tidal information and I can hear the down pours of rain that have gone on since last night and are expected to continue through the weekend along with high winds which add to the potential for rip tides. It is as if GOD let me rip this example from the heavens during the week of the United Nations Council of Parties (COP26) climate talks to emphasize the urgency of the moment!
The leaders of the Gullah/Geechee Nation have been consistently adjusting to the climate impacts and the effects that sea level rise, ocean acidification, and heat island effect have already had on our coast. We continue to work with members of our Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank and new environmental partners on a wide array of education and community engagement, citizens science, and policy change initiatives to moderate and reduce further harm to our nation. We are working on projects that we see as opportunities that are beneficial to our coast including the “Marsh Forward-South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative” to restore and protect 1 million acres of salt marsh. This is in perfect alignment with the Gullah/Geechee Nation Sustainability Plan.
Adaptation is supposed to be done in order to create more resilient communities that can be sustained well into the future. Webster defines “resilience” as
1: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
2: the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
It is also referred to as “toughness” and the ability to bounce back from difficult situations. This definition seems to be an inherent aspect of ‘Blackness” all over the world and is especially pronounced in coastal communities of people of color that already have to deal with additional stressors of inequity, inequality, and racism while recovering from floods and storms and trying to stay healthy or heal during a global pandemic. I wouldn’t say that we “return to” our original shapes, but I would say that we are spiritually strong shape shifters that consistently adapt to what the western world brings into our circle of communal existence. The Gullah/Geechee Nation is artfully able to do this because I have focused on these things in a manner that centers the cosmology and ideology of Gullah/Geechee traditions. Thereby, my artivism in this era (I coined the phrase “The Art-ivist” almost three decades ago to describe who I am and what I do specifically.) has expanded to Adaptation Resilience Traditionally. This ART is based in using traditional knowledge to engage in climate action.
Many scientists and academics have been using the term “Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)” for quite some time. They see it as a “cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living being with one another and with their environment. TEK is an attribute of societies with historical continuity in resource use practices.”, according to the ASAP Glossary. We see it as the way we live!
The respect for the way traditional communities live in balance with all other living things is treaded upon by people with individualistic views of the world. The communal lifestyle may be adjacent to where their houses are located, but their minds and spirits are millions of miles away from centering on and appreciating that which numerous researchers try to extract from those of us that are traditionalists-the knowledge that our ancestors gave us through their collective consciousness which allows us to not just live with one another and the environment, but to live in a way that respects the environment and does not seek to simply extract from and exploit it as is still being done to many cultural heritage communities including the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Until sufficient value is placed on the knowledge that we retain and we are appropriately compensated for this knowledge as consultants and environmental leaders, the stage on which this ART which is vital to the world addressing the climate change crisis is performed will not be open for everyone to see. It will be a travesty for the final curtain to come down because we missed every clue and every cue directing respect to those of the traditional knowledge and cultural heritage communities. Therefore, I awake daily to act and keep the healing scenes rolling. How about you or are you simply seated and watching?
Here are some ways to learn about Queen Quet‘s use of ART: