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The time is now - writing about the Environmental Justice Reel Camp for Girls Summer 2020

If we only look at the pool, that’s all we ever see. The pool most likely didn’t just appear there. It has a source. There is something that lead to it being there. So we need to trace. In remembering that there is a source, we also must remember that there are many mea that source comes into contact with along the way to that pool. We must follow the clues, make note of the connections we find, all the way till we get to the head of the stream. The head is where it all begins. And while the stream may divert at several points, find rocks in the middle of one of its flows, see a branch floating in one area and crayfish sitting idly in another, they all have the head as their beginning. They all find themselves relating back in some way. And while the pool may be the one thing we see initially, it becomes clear that it’s not the only thing. It comes from a much larger system, with relationships, intersections, and overlaps.

Pandemics, anti-Blackness, theft of Indigenous lands/cultures, environmental justice: these are all connected. We may be tempted to see one issue as separate but they truly all stem from the same source. Colonization. Empire. Greed. Eurocentric perspectives forced into becoming the norm. A society built to bolster individualism and capital and foster scorn for anything having to do with supportive, community-oriented, reciprocal ways of living.

Multiple channels all leading to back to the same head. Intersections that take some of us many years to trace and burn into our memories. And yet, as I discovered during this camp, young people already have these mea on their radar. BEEN had them on their radar. That when it comes to the intricacies and multi-faceted nature of politics and oppression, this generation of young people aren’t just arriving; they’ve been having the conversation for a while now, they are interrogating and picking it a part from every angle, and they are imagining and dreaming so far beyond any limitation this system would have us cower behind.

As with most programs that HWF hosts, I am once again privileged enough to have been given a brief glimpse into what our future holds with these young people at the helm. 

In the age of Covid, we are being made to think harder than ever before about our connections. Our relationships. How our decisions have the power to effect thousands of other people. We have been blatantly shown time and again that people in positions of power will not take care of us even in the midst of a global pandemic. That capital and maintaining systems that perpetuate constant harm are the only priorities. In the past few weeks, we have been powerfully reminded by our Black relatives that it should not have taken Covid for us to realize any of this; that they have been bearing the brunt of this system, its hatred, its violence, and its neglect for hundreds of years. They have reminded us that we need to catch up and that if we want to build a new and better world for everyone, the time is now. 

With this as the backdrop, participants in the 2020 Environmental Justice Reel Camp started their first few days off with crash courses on environmental racism, militarization, settler colonialism, capitalism and the ongoing mental, physical, and spiritual damage that Black communities, Indigenous communities, and other marginalized peoples experience as a result of continued environmental degradation.

Members of the Sierra Club Oʻahu chapter made sure to discuss the ways in which Ka Pae ʻĀina has been harmed by ongoing settler colonialism and the trauma that missionaries, plantations, and the U.S. military have wrought on this land and its people. Throughout these presentations, participants would chime in with their own knowledge surrounding these topics. They would engage in conversations with each other, ask and answer questions, and offer deep reflections. In my role as a writer, I was just happy to be able to witness the mātauranga flowing freely back and forth between these young people. Between people who have multiple visions but all know how to link them in some way to one another. Between the future. 

I have been with HWF for some time now and in different capacities. I have watched many films and seen a lot of topics discussed. My favorite thing about these programs is that the young people who are a part of them are not afraid to explore all of the feelings attached to an issue. They are not afraid to experiment. They are not afraid to push the envelope. In an era where we are experiencing such frustration and unrest at every level, this ability to express with a whole heart and in full volume is needed more than ever. A film that points out the problem of mass meat consumption might be hard for people to watch but it is necessary for us to acknowledge the overall unsustainable nature of our food systems in the so-called United States. A movie reminding us of our attachments to online shopping and fashion franchises may be difficult to confront as people who have become used to that kind of convenience but we need to watch so we can grow aware of the heavy costs to the environment and peoples’ lives that things such as fast fashion and cheap, mass production have. A film that is a meditation on what it means to live in the age of Covid as an adult, teenager, or child, and all of the hopes, fears, dreams, and losses that come with each of those unique realities, forces the viewer to think about more than just one perspective and reminds us that we still are trying to navigate life even when it feels like it has stopped for many of us. Different stories but they are all in relation.

There are many angles, avenues, and vantage points to take during this time. It is easy to say one thing and just leave it at that. Even in the midst of what feels like the world melting, one can still decide to not question anything. Yet these young people wake up and decide to make art that questions, pushes, and (re)connects anyways. They make the conscious choice to contribute to these necessary discussions and in doing so they join a larger community of people throughout the nation and around the world who are engaged in some heavy future-building. Some very real and very dedicated re-imaginings of the ways we move in this world. Films like the ones I was privileged enough to watch this past week allow us to see that while we have an immense amount of work to do, if we remember that ultimately everything is connected and our struggles are interlocked, we can make change happen. We can make an actual, good future. And young people are leading the way. 

Serena Ngaio Simmons - HWF writer in residence


mea: ‘thing,’ ‘object,’ ‘reason’ in Te Reo Māori

mātauranga: ‘knowledge,’ ‘understanding’ in Te Reo Māori 


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