In the Summer of 2012, I met a Shoshone Elder named Finisia Medrano. (The story of that meeting is told in “Postcard from Eastern Oregon: When Planting Food is Illegal”). She has spent decades following the routes and practices of the ancient migratory “Hoop” of the Great Basin Native Americans, harvesting and cultivating wild food seasonally. In so doing, she has safeguarded vanishing knowledge and made invaluable observations of the ecosystems in an area spanning several states. Over that time she has witnessed the undeniable effects of Climate Change.
“Refugees without legs:” this is the phrase Finisia uses to describe the status of many species of native plants which were traditional staple foods for indigenous Americans that are now threatened in their current ecosystems by the effects of Climate Change. Temperature extremes, atypical rainfall patterns, and disturbances in seasonal patterns are all taking a tangible toll, disrupting cycles of sprout, flower, seed and root growth which had been stable for millenia. And at a rate that is fast and getting faster. Finisia insists that if these plants are going to survive – as viable species and as food sources – that they will need to be relocated to different areas, further north and/or to higher elevations, and that people will need to do the relocating. We, humans, have made them refugees, and we, humans, must be their legs so they can flee. The speed of Climate Change has already outpaced the ability of plants to migrate on their own as they might have in response to previous, more gradual shifts.
“Refugees without Legs”: This phrase, and its implicit call to action, has been rattling around in my head since I first heard Finisia use it. Indeed, humans have induced Climate Change, and I agree that with that culpability comes responsibility. Creatures are suffering who had no role in the destruction we are wreaking. If we are going to attempt to mitigate the change that has already occurred and try to prevent further change – as daunting as these tasks are – then what we must change first is our own minds; we need to adopt new ideas and practices, and discard those that have become irrelevant and counter-productive. One such idea and practice that we must now reject is that of so-called “Invasive Species.”