By Erin Roberts
03 / 06 / 2024
A Dreamcatcher. Although the tradition began with the Ojibwe, dreamcatchers became widespread within the Native American communities in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the Pan-Indian Movement. They symbolize oneness and are indicative of Indigenous identity. Photo credit: Andreas Wagner / Unsplash.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of [humans].”

Hehaka Sapa (Nicholas Black Elk), Oglala Lakota Nation

Today the 60th session of the Subsidiary Bodies, the intersessional negotiations on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, gets underway in Bonn, Germany. I will not be sitting in the opening plenary but rather watching online (likely in sweatpants and a hoodie - sorry, not sorry). I am going back home to Canada to see loved ones in that part of the world on the second to last day of the session and decided to follow virtually (to the extent possible) until then so I don’t take anything unwanted back with me (i.e. COVID).

While I’m excited about connecting with family and friends in North America over the (northern) summer, not attending the session does have opportunity costs for me. The very first thing I thought of when I made the decision not to go was that I wouldn’t be able to connect in person with colleagues I don’t get to see very often. Because that’s always what I look forward to most with any meeting I attend, be it in person or virtual: connecting with other humans.  

“It does not require many words to speak the truth.”

Heinmot Tooyalakekt (Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Nation

Researcher and thought leader Brené Brown defines connection in her seminal book, The Gifts of Perfection as:

“ . . .  the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

When I reflect back on my career I can recall many moments when I felt seen, heard and valued, often in the most mundane of circumstances. It. is those moments I feel most in my heart; see most in my mind’s eye. Middle of the night cat naps and hunts for caffeine when those weren’t possible in Doha (and so many other places). More middle of the night conversations in Warsaw, bodies slung over and heads cradled in a sea of bean bag chairs. Feeling broken together in Paris. Gathered in hidden corners of venues in Bangkok, Katowice, Lima, Madrid, Marrakech and so many other places around the world. Moments of hysterical laughter everywhere, fueled by a combination of sugar, caffeine and a lack of sleep (I don’t recommend that combination by the way but it definitely created moments of levity when they were needed most).

“I am because you are.”

Zulu proverb

The truth is - while I have many beautiful memories -  those years were also really difficult in so many ways for so many of us (and the work continues to be for most). The hours we worked. The politics we navigated. The travel. Sometimes I woke up and didn’t know which country I was in. What made it worthwhile was that I wasn’t alone. I had cultivated connections with dozens of colleagues, many of whom had become more like family: a chosen family. So many kindred spirits working towards a common goal: a better world for us all to live in. I had not just one tribe, but many. I felt a sense of belonging. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt understood. I felt like my heart was singing with the hearts of others. And sometimes crying with them too.

However you choose to describe it, connecting with other humans is vital to wellbeing. Yet, despite its importance, humans are connecting less and then to one another. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally one in four older adults experiences isolation while between and 15 percent of adolescents experience loneliness. The pandemic revealed and perhaps exacerbated isolation and loneliness, but social connection has been eroding for decades.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Isapo-muxika (Chief Crowfoot), Siksika Nation

In the wake of the pandemic, the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, made it his mission to end isolation and loneliness, after experiencing loneliness himself a decade ago. In an op-ed he wrote in the New York Times in April of 2023, Murthy cited some of the impacts loneliness has on health, including higher rates of anxiety and depression and an increased risk of heart disease, dementia and stroke. He elaborates on the issue of loneliness and social isolation and offers solutions in his book Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. Murthy and his team have developed a framework on social connection which they are unrolling in the United States.

The United States is not the only country taking loneliness seriously. The UK has a Minister of Loneliness and developed a national framework on loneliness in 2018. Several other countries are taking strides to address loneliness as well. Recognising the global impact of loneliness and social isolation, the WHO recently launched a Commission on Social Connection, co-chaired by Murthy and public policy expert Chido Mpemba of Zimbabwe, with the aim of ensuring that isolation and loneliness recognised as a global health priority. Among the nine commissioners is the Minister of Climate Change in Vanuatu, Ralph Regenvanu.

“We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. Teach your children what we have taught our children: that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth.”

Chief Si’ahl, Duwamish and Suquamish Nations

And while that’s progress,  getting re-connected to one another will take a lot of work at all levels. In a conversation with podcaster and endurance athlete Rich Roll, Murthy described the problem and a potential solution:

“I think one of the biggest things is in plain sight - which is that I don’t think we thought or recognised how important these things were. Similarly, I think the decline in relationships and increase in loneliness over the last few decades is not because we decided that relationships don’t matter. It was more a consequence of neglect. Where we said all this other stuff has become really important; we gotta chase this. And we didn’t realise that relationships don’t just happen. Communities don’t just get built. It’s an investment that has to be made. A priority that has to be safeguarded.”

The journey to connection will require us to remember who we are. It’s not an easy process, but we do have guides to help us. The wisdom of Indigenous Peoples can support us on that journey. Our connection to one another and to the world around us, is something Indigenous Peoples have long known. The rest of us know too. But that truth is buried deep in our hearts and in our bodies. When we forgot who we were, we forgot our connection not just to each other, but to the land, the water, the natural world as we call it (as if it’s something outside of us). As Indigenous author and poet Kaitlin Curtice articulated in this conversation on the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, as children very few of us learn to listen to our own bodies or engage with Mother Earth:

“So much of the trauma, the collective trauma, that we carry in our bodies  - all of us - is that we don’t have a reciprocal relationship of care with the land anywhere. Anywhere we step, anywhere we exist, a relationship with the Earth. . .”

Colonisation separated people from their land, in unimaginable, horrific ways. And make no mistake, colonisation is an on-going project which continues to marginalise and disconnect people, both from the land and from each other. And, as Curtice explained so clearly, we all carry that trauma in our bodies.

“The elders were wise. They knew that [a person’s] heart away from nature becomes hard. They knew that lack of respect for growing living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too.”

Matȟó Nážiŋ (Chief Standing Bear), Sicangu and Ogala Lakota Nations

Capitalism (which has given rise to climate change and so much more that ails the world today) depends on us being disconnected from our bodies and hearts and as such, from their wisdom. A lot of folks don’t want to leave the grind behind, perhaps because they/we use overworking as a numbing tool to avoid the pain of looking inward. As co-host of the We Can Do Hard things podcast, Amanda Doyle, said to Curtice:  

“I learned so much from your story about assimilation as a violence that disconnects us from ourselves and that compels us to erasive who we are. And then the process of deconstruction that you walk us through, which seems to me to be digging through the rubble to remember who we are . . . If the whole world is a relentless effort to separate us from our humanity then it’s almost like our whole life needs to be a relentless fight for the wholeness.”

“Let no one say the past is dead. The past is all about us and within us.”

Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Noonuccal and Pewee Nations

The true work of our lives is to reclaim our humanity, our wholeness. To remember who we are. Thankfully, Curtice provides a framework for doing just that (what she calls practising resistance) in her book Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Everyday which includes four realms: personal, communal, ancestral and integral.

Personal: The personal realm is denoted with the colour red. It is the “lifeblood” or the winter; the connection to our hearts. This realm is reflected when we go inward to listen to the wisdom of our hearts, ask questions, process events, reflect and rest. Ways of practising resistance in the personal realm include art, presence and radical self-love.

Communal: The communal is represented by the colour brown. It is about reclaiming our connection to the land and to each other. Associated with spring, the communal realm is about planting seeds and making changes. Ways of practising resistance in the communal realm include childcare, ethical practices, protecting the land and kinship.

Ancestral: The ancestral realm is represented by the colour blue. It is about fluidity and movement and the spaces we inhabit when we engage with our ancestors. Associated with summer, the work here is about noticing what is growing and blooming for future generations (from what we have planted in the communal realm). Ways of practising resistance in the ancestral realm include decolonisation, generosity, intergenerational healing, liminality and facing history.

Integral: The integral realm is represented by the colour yellow. It is the core of who we are, where we integrate embodiment, presence and the work we do in other realms. Associated with summer, it is a time to harvest  and to gather in everything that has been learned and unlearned in other realms. Ways of practising resistance in the integral realm include cultivating interspiritual relationships, praying and dreaming.

For more on each realm and how you can cultivate connection and practice living resistance to the ways of being and doing that have disconnected us from each other and the world around us within each one, I would highly encourage you to read Living Resistance. It’s a beautiful, insightful read.

“In unity we have strength.”

Maori proverb

The hard truth is that each one of us will have to do our own work to remember who we are in the journey to healing ourselves, our communities, our societies and ultimately, our world. And connecting to another human, truly connecting, can be vulnerable, intensely vulnerable. I know that feeling well. As I’ve written before, vulnerability and authenticity come perhaps more naturally to me than others, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at putting myself out there.

If you want more connection in your life and in the world, sometimes -  maybe all the time - you’re going to have to go first. When I’m psyching myself up to develop a new connection, I often recall a conversation between podcaster Tim Ferris and athlete and entrepreneur Gabby Reece (also recounted in Ferris’s book Tools of Titans) in which Reece describes the process of going first (unpacked further in this conversation). It is simply that: going first. Saying hi first. Apologising first. Whatever it might be that needs doing, taking the initiative to do it first.  I’m doing that now with this blog. It’s not always easy to write about the things I write about. But someone has to go first in saying the things that need to be said.

Connection must be part of our collective work to make change in the world. Because it is not just essential for our own wellbeing as individuals, but also critical for the wellbeing of humanity, other species and the ecosystems that sustain us and all the other species on Earth. The more we lean into building relationships with others, seeing our similarities, not differences, the better off everything will be. And the more we see ourselves as part of, not separate from, the natural world as we call it, the better we’ll be at taking care of it.

“Our history is a living history that has throbbed, withstood and survived many centuries of sacrifice. Now it comes forward again with strength. The seeds, dormant for such a long time, break out today with some uncertainty, although they germinate in a world that is at present characterized by confusion and uncertainty.”

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, K'iche' Nation

Given that, connection should also be a framework for climate action, drawing on the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the political body of First Nations governments and citizens, which advocates for both the rights of and the quality of life for First Nations people in Canada, launched its  National Climate Strategy in 2023. The strategy is  centred around the deep connection First Nations have to the land, water and environment, which are critical to their culture, language and livelihoods, and has three overarching goals:

  1. Uplift First Nations’ knowledge systems, rights, and self-determination within federal, provincial, and territorial climate action;
  1. Promote First Nations solutions to the climate crisis, grounded in their knowledge systems, rights, and self- determination; and
  1. Call for urgent and transformative climate action in line with the First Nations-in-Assembly Declaration of a First Nations Climate Emergency.

This, and other frameworks like it (I chose this one because I’m Canadian), could guide climate action for everyone, everywhere. These three goals could frame global climate action. Let yourself imagine for a moment: what the world might look like if Indigenous Peoples were, as the rightful stewards of Mother Earth, responsible for driving climate action at all levels? What kind of world could we create then?  Can you see it? Now hold that vision and let’s work towards it together.

“A very great vision is needed, and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.”

Tašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse), Oglala Lakota Nation

I  believe we can create a world where love reigns and all humans, species, ecosystems are thriving (which is incidentally the overarching mission of the Loss and Damage Collaboration). But we certainly won’t get there without cultivating more connection, both to one another and to the world around us. As Murthy said in his conversation with Roll:

“We have a choice right now between a world that is mired in fear. Where people are angry at each other. Where people are feeling left out, like they’re on their own. Where they feel invisible. And a world where people feel like they belong. Where they have each other’s backs. Where they feel that the future is something that we can shape together, regardless of what may come. Because we don’t have to face it alone, we can face it together. That is a choice that we have to make about which world we want to live in. And it’s a question of identity . . . We have to decide: do we want to come from a place of fear or do we want to come from a place of love.”

He argues that love is our greatest source of strength and our greatest source of healing. We can reflect that choice, to choose love, in our institutions, in how we develop and implement policies and the way we engage with and hold our political leaders accountable. The possibility for a better future, the opportunities to build a different world together, lies in your heart and in mine. There is hope because there is a solution. And that solution is focusing on our similarities. Our shared humanity. Not in stressing our differences and certainly not in more “othering”.

"May the stars carry your sadness away, May the flowers fill your heart with beauty, May hope forever wipe away your tears, And, above all, may silence make you strong."

Geswanouth Slahoot (Chief Dan George), Tsleil-Waututh Nation

So, Dear Reader. I leave you with this: For those of you in Bonn, over the next two weeks I urge you to choose love. I invite you, particularly those of you coming from developed countries, to focus on how similar we are, how deeply we are all connected. Those on the frontlines of the climate crisis in developing countries (if that’s not you) are not separate from you. They are your siblings in the human family.

If you’re in negotiating rooms, I urge you to think of bringing Indigenous knowledges and wisdom into those rooms. And when you go home, I urge you all to draw on and integrate Indigenous science, knowledges and wisdom into your work at all levels.

And while choosing love inside the venue, I urge you to also choose love outside. I hope you get out into nature as much as you can. Feel your toes in the cool grass; the sun on your face. I hope you get quiet enough to hear the melody of birds singing as you make your way to the venue in the morning. I hope that you take time for evening picnics in the sun or drinks under the shade of tall trees at Alte Zöll, I hope you take long walks or bike rides along the Rhein. I wish for you many moments of levity while doing the mundane, like waiting for plenaries to start. And I hope you laugh early and often.

For those of you not in Bonn, I wish for you the same. More connection with everything around you. More spending time in nature. More lighting people up with the warmth of your heart. Because the more we do that for each other, the more we lean into and choose love, the better off we’ll all be as we create a different world together.

Erin Roberts is the founder and global lead of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. This year she’s on a journey to cultivate her own wellbeing and help create a thriving community of folks working on Loss and Damage who are healthy and happy as they create a different world together. She hopes you’ll join us. Stay tuned for the next blog on rest, coming to a screen near you in July in time for those (hopefully all of you) taking some time off after the UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn.

Further reading:

Baszile, N. (2021). We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, And Legacy. London: HarperCollins Publishers. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/we-are-each-other-s-harvest-celebrating-african-american-farmers-land-and-legacy-natalie-baszile/4374999?ean=9780062932563.

Brodkin, E. and A. Pallathra (2021). Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections. London: Little, Brown Book Group. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/missing-each-other-how-to-cultivate-meaningful-connections-edward-brodkin/4937693?ean=9781472146045.

Brooks, D. (2023). How To Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/how-to-know-a-person-the-art-of-seeing-others-deeply-and-being-deeply-seen-david-brooks/7461524?ean=9780241670293.

Brown, B. (2022). The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition. London: Hazelden Information & Educational Services. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/the-gifts-of-imperfection-10th-anniversary-edition-features-a-new-foreword-and-brand-new-tools-brene-brown/6584166?ean=9781616499600.

Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. London: Ebury Publishing. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/atlas-of-the-heart-mapping-meaningful-connection-and-the-language-of-human-experience-brene-brown/6240016?ean=9781785043772.

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. London: Ebury Publishing Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/dare-to-lead-brave-work-tough-conversations-whole-hearts-brene-brown/406737?ean=9781785042140.

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. London: Ebury Publishing. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/braving-the-wilderness-the-quest-for-true-belonging-and-the-courage-to-stand-alone-brene-brown/1227560?ean=9781785041754.

Cohen, G.L. (2022). Belonging: The Science of Creating Connection and Bridging Divides. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/belonging-the-science-of-creating-connection-and-bridging-divides-geoffrey-l-cohen/18138641?ean=9781324006183.

Curtice, K.B. (2023). Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Everyday. Ada, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/living-resistance-an-indigenous-vision-for-seeking-wholeness-every-day-kaitlin-b-curtice/7311830?ean=9781587435713.

Curtice, K.B. (2020). Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God. Ada, MIchigan: Baker Publishing Group. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/native-identity-belonging-and-rediscovering-god-kaitlin-b-curtice/3654233?ean=9781587434310.

Davis, W. (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-wayfinders-wade-davis/18706444?ean=9780887848421.

Gilio-Whitacker, D. (2020). As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock. London: Beacon Press. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/as-long-as-grass-grows-the-indigenous-fight-for-environmental-justice-from-colonization-to-standing-rock-dina-gilio-whitaker/1718391?ean=9780807028360.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. London: Little, Brown Book Group. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/tribes-we-need-you-to-lead-us-seth-godin/4635901?ean=978074993975

Hanh, T.N. (2013). The Art of Communicating. London: Ebury Publishing. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/the-art-of-communicating-thich-nhat-hanh/4449347?ean=9781846044007

Hari, J. (2019). Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/lost-connections-why-you-re-depressed-and-how-to-find-hope-johann-hari/910739?ean=9781408878729.

Hernandez, J. (2022). Black Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/fresh-banana-leaves-healing-indigenous-landscapes-through-indigenous-science-jessica-hernandez/6413055?ean=9781623176051.

Hood, B. (2024). The Science of Happiness. Seven Lessons of Living Well. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/the-science-of-happiness-bruce-hood/7518572?ean=9781398526372.

Johnson, A.E. and K. K. Wilkinson (2021). All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. New York: Random House USA. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/all-we-can-save-truth-courage-and-solutions-for-the-climate-crisis-ayana-elizabeth-johnson/2349420?aid=6489&ean=9780593237083.

Junger, S. (2017). Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. London. HarperCollins Publishers. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/tribe-on-homecoming-and-belonging-sebastian-junger/1853071?ean=9780008168186.

Kanafani, G. (2013). The Land of Sad Oranges. Cyprus: Rimal Publications. Find it here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/land-of-sad-oranges/ghassan-kanafani/9789963610808.

Kimmerer, R.W. (2020). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/braiding-sweetgrass-indigenous-wisdom-scientific-knowledge-and-the-teachings-of-plants-robin-wall-kimmerer/2981482?ean=9780141991955.

Lushwala, A. (2012). The Time of the Black Jaguar: An Offering of Indigenous Wisdom for the Continuity of Life on Earth. Arkan Lushwala. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-time-of-the-black-jaguar-an-offering-of-indigenous-wisdom-for-the-continuity-of-life-on-earth-arkan-lushwala/12592470?ean=9780615681818.

Mitchell, S. (2018). Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-based Change. New York: North Atlantic Books. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/sacred-instructions-indigenous-wisdom-for-living-spirit-based-change-sherri-mitchell/9561563?ean=9781623171957.

Murthy, V. (2020). Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. New York: Harper Paperbacks. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/together-the-healing-power-of-human-connection-in-a-sometimes-lonely-world-vivek-h-murthy/18732502?ean=9780062913302.

Samuel, K. (2022). On Belonging: Finding Connection in An Age of Isolation. London: Abrams. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/on-belonging-finding-connection-in-an-age-of-isolation-kim-samuel/7351612?ean=9781419753039.

Thomas, L. (2022). The Intersectional Environmentalist. London: Profile Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/the-intersectional-environmentalist-leah-thomas/6737151?aid=6489&ean=9781800812857.

Yunkaporta, T. ( 2021). Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. New York: HarperOne. Find it here: https://bookshop.org/p/books/sand-talk-how-indigenous-thinking-can-save-the-world-tyson-yunkaporta/8033160?ean=9780062975621.