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?
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:
- Setting boundaries with how much time you spend reading, thinking, and talking about the environment
- Take time to relax when you feel overwhelmed or stressed
- Cultivate good mental health generally
- Practice mindful meditation
- Remember to rest
- Get help if you need it
- Talk to your Elders and connect with your community
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:
- Environmental Racism and Seeking Environmental Justice
- The Land & Ancestral Wellness Wisdom
- The Red Nation – All Relatives Together – Indigenous Action to Save the Earth
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.