Environmental Change and Our Mental Health

As Indigenous people, we know that connecting to our land is connecting to our culture. But what happens when our cultural practices are disrupted by environmental changes?

Environmental Injustice
Many of us are aware of environmental injustices that affect our communities – from pipelines cutting through sacred Tribal lands to contaminants impacting our drinking water and our sources of traditional foods.

For example, the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne in northern New York has experienced contamination of their waters, lands, and air due to toxic chemicals produced by factories in the area. For the Mohawk people in this area, many of their cultural practices, like fishing and growing traditional foods, have been impacted.

Connection to Mental Health
When the environment and our cultural practices suffer, so can our mental health. Without the ability to do our cultural practices, which bring many of us connection and balance, we may feel “off balance,” detached, and frustrated among other emotions. Some of us may even feel a spiritual wounding.

Given our connection to the environment and the history of environmental injustice our communities have faced, some of us may feel climate anxiety. Unlike many Americans, Indigenous peoples know that our future is bound to our plant and animal relatives, the elements, and the land. We are deeply aware that anything that impacts the environment, impacts us and vice versa.

Protecting Our Mental Health
As Indigenous people, it is important that we continue to practice our traditional ways of thinking and behaving – including protecting Mother Earth. But if we want to be able to show up with our full energy, we must take care of our mental health.

If your mental health is impacted by environmental changes, consider:

Remember that Indigenous peoples are resilient, and that we have experienced environmental changes before. We can continue to take care of the environment and take care of ourselves.

To learn more about this topic:

Author: McKalee Steen is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management department. She is passionate about studying Indigenous land stewardship practices, providing resources for Indigenous youth, and the power of storytelling. 

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