Each Step We Take is a Prayer to a Just Transition

Each Step We take is a Prayer to a Just Transition

Written by: Isabella Zizi, Earth Guardians Bay Area crew leader and incredible RYSE youth council member

As a young indigenous woman in today’s society, I feel that it is my duty and obligation to be a beacon of hope and transformation for the future generations to come. We are living in a time when we simply forgot our original instructions from what Mother Earth has always offered us; LIFE.

This ideal western social concept of “the American dream,” and being so wrapped up with consumption and greed, is at the root of us ignoring our true selves. Mother Earth has done her job at letting us live day by day, but the distractions of our daily lives has us forgetting to care and protect Mother Earth just as she needs of us. 

Photo by: WECAN's Alana Conner

Photo by: WECAN's Alana Conner

If we do not stand up for clean air, water, and soil now, life on mother earth will not continue, and we cannot let that happen. We don’t have time to wait for those in power to find a solution, the people are rising and waking up, and now the future lies in our hands and the decisions we make. There is no longer a veil to cover up unwanted struggles to keep our waters, lands, and bodies clean and safe, and it is time to act in a peaceful and prayerful way.

I have lived in Richmond, California for 23 years and am very well connected with the progressive community here, but it hasn’t always been like that. When I was a child, I had to learn multiple evacuation drills, not just for earthquakes, but for unexpected explosions from the nearby oil refinery. “Stand firmly between the doorways or hide underneath the tables.” our teachers explained “If you start to smell something that you aren’t used to, shut your windows and cover any open cracks or crevices with old towels or shirts.” At that age, it didn’t make any sense to me. Then, on August 6, 2012 , the Chevron Refinery had an old pipe burst. I was outside enjoying the beautiful summer weather with my family and neighbors when we heard a loud boom and a sudden disappearance of the sun. enormous roaring black clouds shot straight into the sky with a couple more booms following it. At that moment, my mother had yelled “Chevron just exploded, get in the house now” that is when that evacuation drill came back and made perfect sense.

The explosion didn’t just send 15,000 Richmond residents to the emergency room, it also contaminated our bay, air, and soil and all of life that was exposed to it. All who were affected are walking and living proof that we cannot depend on the fossil fuel industry anymore. Communities like mine who are affected by explosions, oil spills, and air pollution can no longer fish in our oceans, or fully connect to Mother Earth when we do gardening because we are given warnings of health issues or high levels of contamination.

This is why I joined the climate justice movement, because my story needed to be heard. I understand the crucial times we are in, and the need to find that just transition away from the fossil fuel industry. I am blessed to be surrounded by my indigenous grandmothers and elders, receiving their guidance as they walk me down this path. It is an honor to continue to pass their knowledge and encouragement to strengthen and uplift those who haven’t yet found their spark or support to be reminded to walk with dignity, love, and in a prayer for all of life on Mother Earth and for those yet to come.

Photo by: Peg Hunter

Photo by: Peg Hunter

I was introduced to Idle No More SF Bay by Pennie Opal Plant in 2014 when she invited me to attend one of their grandmothers prayer group meetings. I fell in love with their devotion on creating a positive change concerning Indigenous rights and the Rights of Mother Earth. Around this same time, the Refinery Healing Walks were born and Idle No More SF Bay made a four year commitment to walk from one refinery town to the next from 2014 to 2017.

There are five oil refineries along the Northeast bay of San Francisco; (Pittsburg) Tesoro, (Martinez) Shell, (Benicia) Valero, (Rodeo) Conoco-Phillips 66, and (Richmond) Chevron. These walks connect the dots of the different sacrifice zones and educate those who are unaware about these industries. We walk for clean air, water, and soil, and for a just transition so that all life on Mother Earth including our non-human relatives may continue to live in a sufficient way.

My first walk awakening was May 2015 when we walked from the Shell refinery in Martinez to the Valero refinery in Benicia. Each walk begins with a water ceremony and we invite all participants to combine collected water from their watershed to be placed in a pail that is carried until we hit our ending destination. Indigenous leaders start us off with a grounding prayer and explanation of how walking is healing medicine for us. The grandmothers lead the way with a shake of their rattles and the beat of the drum complimented with a beautiful women warrior song.

Photo By: Leon Sun

Photo By: Leon Sun

I had the opportunity to collect the water that morning at the Martinez Shoreline and was surprised by a curious beaver. We had our traditional medicine and were singing a water song and giving our blessings to the beaver as it was swimming in figure eights watching us. I took on an important role to be a monitor for this walk and I felt a sense of protection and guidance for all of those who were with us, including our non-human relatives who were flying above and crawling below. As I made my way from the front of the line to the end, I was in this zen mode from the quiet prayers to the peaceful conversations that followed.

This experience helped me understand that it wasn’t just an all day commitment of walking, it was a statement and each step was a prayer for new beginnings. That small connection with the beaver showed that they are listening and I had so much gratitude from then on.

Photo by: Peg Hunter

Movements have sparked up like Black Lives Matter, climate justice and immigration rights, all of these empower the human race to continue in a peaceful and balanced way. It is not always easy to think and act in this way, but we have to remember that these movements continue to roll out an even bigger outcome than ourselves: a better life for our future generations. It is important for us to lay out what we are for rather than what we are against, and that is how I believe we will make a difference.

I was a participant in the 2015 first ever White House tribal youth gathering where I met over one thousand other amazing and inspiring youth who are creating positive changes for Indian Country. I was part of an environmental workshop where we were able to express the challenges and successes happening in our community to federal officials.

This is where I found my voice and was able to find my true passion on continuing my involvement around environmental issues and uplifting the younger generation to get involved themselves. In reality, this is our future that is at risk and it is important for us to create change now so that way we won’t have to worry about when we get older. I now want to take my story and this work to the international arena, because this global crisis demands a global movement to rise up.

Photo by: Leon Sun

Photo by: Leon Sun

Not all heroes wear capes, and my heroes have been the frontline activists who put their bodies on the line understanding that now is the time to act by disrupting business as usual and visually being noticeable through creative art. Our ancestors, our non-human relatives, and the next seven generations should be our focus during these movements and moments in time. Just imagine, what will you tell your great great grandchild when they ask you, “what you did during your lifetime when the world was in a crisis?” Let this replay in your mind and always remember, the choices we make now will fall in the hands of those yet to come.