As Families in Nature’s newest and youngest employee, I was very honored to be invited by my Executive Director to attend the 2017 Children and Nature Network conference in Vancouver, BC. When I got to the conference last Tuesday, I was very excited, yet a little trepidatious as I had no idea what to expect.
Tuesday evening, Ta’Kaiya Blaney delivered the opening address. She is a young environmental and First Nations activist from the Tla’Amin First Nation, who grew up along the shores of the Salish Sea in BC, Canada. Ta’Kaiya, while only 15 years old, spoke clearly and eloquently about her ancestral connection to the land and the ways in which her identity as an environmentalist and a First Nations person are intertwined in her activism. She then performed a moving original song accompanied on the guitar. She sang with a powerful yet delicate voice, and in her lyrics called for action and unity. Her intensity and presence as a performer gave me chills, and in that moment, I realized that this was more than just a conference. This was a communion of the New Nature Movement, and my presence here meant that I was embedded within this work.
The next day, Scott Sampson delivered a Keynote Address about the rise of the New Nature Movement, and his words reinforced my feeling of belonging here. He reminded the audience of what was required of a successful social movement: a clear vision, coalition building, and collaboration. These pieces pushed me into an active headspace and helped generate ideas for concrete actions I could take when I got home.
The most transformative piece of Scott Sampson’s address was on the necessity of reframing the New Nature Movement. Sampson stated that we need to embrace the scientific fact that we, as humans, are embedded within nature. We need to shift our consciousness away from an anthropocentric view of the world, where nature is a resource for our use, to a biocentric view of the world where we are a part of nature and nature is a part of us. The building of positive nature narratives is central to this shifting consciousness. Sampson drew on the story of evolution as an example. Evolution is an elegant scientific narrative that explores the magic behind how life came to exist: from the separation of matter to form planets, right down to the emergence of life that eventually led to the human species. We need to tell this story to each other constantly. It is an essential piece of our vision, a scientific mythology that binds us. Sampson offered me a new piece of this puzzle: how this evolution story is not over, and humans have a choice of how to continue our evolution. We can co-create with nature and build cities that work with nature instead of fight against it, and allow the following generations to thrive alongside nature.
On the third day of the conference, I had the opportunity to attend my Executive Director’s session entitled, “Addressing Age-Appropriate Engagement in Family Nature Clubs.” My Executive Director, Heather Kuhlken, spoke with Kristine Webber from Nature Kids BC and Tania Moloney from Nurture in Nature Australia on a panel discussion led by Monica Lopez-Magee from C&NN. I have become familiar with, and intrigued by, the structure of family nature clubs during my time working for Families in Nature, but this was my first time hearing Heather speak about it for an audience. Given this new perspective as an audience member, I was struck by one concept in particular: Heather’s insight that the strength of a family nature club comes from giving teenagers responsibility. Heather stated that all teenagers really want is their parents’ trust. Once they have trust, they will not only behave, but also become leaders. That is one question that comes up a lot about family nature clubs, how to bridge the gap between families with young toddlers up to teenagers, and the solution of using teenagers as leaders really resonated with me as well as the rest of the audience. By engaging young leaders in our work, we can build a stronger community that values our environment.
In Richard Louv’s Thursday Keynote Address, he also spoke of using positive visions of the future in order to actively reject our tendency toward dystopia. Hearing Louv talk about the godliness of nature connection, of the near-holy space that is created between humans and other animals when we interact, I was reminded of all the times I have been in a painful place and nature has healed me. Listening to Louv speak about this, I felt this deep need to contribute to a positive future narrative in order to help others gain access to nature’s healing, and I was flooded with ideas of how to do so. Richard Louv’s address dispelled any feelings I had left of being too inexperienced to contribute to this movement, and instead, I was left only with inspiration.
The next morning, José González from Latino Outdoors led the Keynote Panel of Young Leaders and I was reminded that youth are a benefit, not a detriment, to our common goals. José expertly drew out amazing answers from the panel, encouraging them to speak their mind. One panel participant, Chloe Dragon Smith, spoke about how important it is for organizations to send their junior members to these conferences, and I felt a surge of pride for Families in Nature for valuing my attendance at this conference.
Sarah Walker, Executive Director of Come Alive Outside, exclaimed with honesty how she was “sick of talking,” and instead was ready to go home armed with actions inspired by this conference. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Children and Nature Network conference, and I am ready to use the energy I received there to take concrete steps forward. Last week, I began to see how all the work we do at our small nonprofit, Families in Nature, is part of a much larger social movement. I am now part of a network of people with a shared vision, and this vision is what I will be striving toward with every action I take during the next year. I am so grateful to be part of a community that is working to build a positive future despite the trouble surrounding us. Thank you, Children and Nature Network, for accepting me into the fold of the New Nature Movement and empowering me to work toward our common goals.
by Emily Binford