As an Indigenous little one soldier caught in El Salvador’s civil battle, my father discovered security in a deep, reciprocal relationship with nature.

In her e-book Contemporary Banana Leaves: Therapeutic Indigenous Landscapes By way of Indigenous Science, environmental scientist Jessica Hernandez breaks down why Western conservationism isn’t working, and as an alternative gives Indigenous fashions to heal Indigenous lands. On this excerpt, she describes how her father’s ancestral relationship to nature saved his life as an Indigenous little one in search of shelter in a battle zone.

My father is considered one of my best academics, and I’ll all the time carry his teachings and tales and hope that they’re handed down in our lineage. There’s additionally a narrative he shared with me that places ahead considered one of his best teachings he handed right down to me. That is the story that handed down his intergenerational love for nature and our environments that has been current all through our ancestral historical past as Indigenous peoples. That is additionally what in the end led me to pursue the environmental sciences as I used to be given the chance to pursue increased training. My deep love and respect for our environments and nature is why I grew to become an Indigenous scientist and why I advocate that Indigenous science can in the end heal our Indigenous lands. 

His story the place his life was saved by a banana tree, specifically its leaves wrapping the bomb, is why I chosen this title, Contemporary Banana Leaves, for this e-book. The banana leaves saved my father’s life and it supplied him a recent begin within the diaspora. His story jogs my memory of the cruel realities that wars proceed to go away behind on our environments and our reminiscences. He recollects listening to loud airplane noises that ultimately muted all of nature’s sounds. As he regarded as much as see what had muted his total environment, he noticed navy planes. In an eyeblink, bombs began falling on the encampment and obliterating the whole lot they got here in touch with. The grotesque scenes that these airstrikes left weren’t new scenes to him as this was the identical destruction bombings and navy raids had left in lots of villages and pueblitos all through El Salvador. His survival instincts instructed him to begin working towards the banana tree whereas attempting to keep away from the capturing from the navy troopers on the bottom. All he might consider throughout this time was to hunt refuge from the bombings, and the banana tree was what referred to as him. The identical tree my father had shared his tales to and the identical banana tree he had constructed a deep reference to was the identical tree calling him towards it. This banana tree was particular to him as a result of it had change into his nonhuman buddy, and this buddy allowed him to flee the human world that, to my father, was filled with torment and violence. 

My father instructed me that generally he would climb the tree to get some bananas for the remainder of his comrades as most of them had been afraid of heights. Whereas on the tree, he would sit on considered one of its branches and simply get pleasure from some bananas as he stared into the panorama and prayed for security. It was the identical banana tree in his recollection of occasions that was the figuring out issue to flee and go away the whole lot behind in his native lands. At 14, my father had already spent most of his childhood in survival mode and had witnessed the worst that comes from humankind—battle. This is the reason he all the time sought connections and relationships with vegetation and animals. Crops and animals are harmless and so they by no means need to harm us, he all the time instructed me. The extra we take care of them, the extra they take care of us. They impart to one another, and so they know which people are right here to not simply extract from them but in addition respect and care for them as properly. 

My father noticed a bomb drop above him. As he recollects, he thought his life was going to come back to an finish and all he might consider was “it was going to finish too quickly.” His quick years of his life flashed earlier than his eyes. Nonetheless, when the bomb dropped on prime of the banana tree, the tree’s leaves wrapped themselves across the bomb, stopping it from igniting. It’s a surreal imaginative and prescient that’s nonetheless exhausting for him to consider, however that banana tree saved his life and in the end saved our lineages’ and descendants’ lives. Sure, our ancestors take care of us, however generally in addition they supply us their safety by means of our animal and plant kinfolk. After the bombing stopped, the whole lot in sight was destroyed. Nonetheless, my father was standing beneath this banana tree. 

There’s a magical surrealism on this story, however that’s as a result of the connection we as Indigenous peoples have with nature is way larger than the Western mind-set can ever clarify. That is the religious connection that makes us mourn when the environment is destroyed as elements of our spirits are additionally destroyed with the environment. The banana tree was not destroyed through the bombardment, and it grew to become why my father survived and why I’m right here. 

He did obtain gun wounds in his leg and was left within the fields by his fellow guerrilla troopers as a result of, injured, he was a legal responsibility to them. As he recalled his story, he did want they might have left no less than some water for him, however they didn’t. He does perceive why this occurred as throughout battle, in an effort to survive one should undertake an individualistic mentality. Which means you solely look out for your self and never others. Your foremost aim as a baby in battle is to outlive. A lot of them had already misplaced the whole lot, from their households to their properties. 

Taking care of nature and nature taking care of us in return is the best instructing my father has taught me. Certainly, nature protects us so long as we shield nature. That is one thing Western science has failed to know or clarify. Settler colonialism launched ideologies and beliefs that nature is supposed to offer us sources, to fulfill our wants, with out requiring us to guard it as properly. Nature has been described as an infinite sink, and that is what has led to overfishing, overharvesting, and primarily environmental degradation. Environmental degradation is the destruction that continues to happen in our environments. It’s why the environment continues to face extreme droughts, wildfires, and different pure disasters and our ecosystems proceed to say no. 

Indigenous peoples know that Western method of thought has additionally taught us that we’re separate from nature. Nature is considered for its worth, whether or not it’s financial, or for its magnificence, a magnificence that’s rooted within the Western notion of pristine wilderness. Nonetheless, each values that we proceed to position on nature and its sources proceed to separate us from it. These financial values (pure capital) are the primary explanation why espresso and banana plantations had been launched in El Salvador. Capitalism, coupled with pure capital, can also be what pushed these landowners to additional exploit and oppress Indigenous peoples to generate extra income. All of these items mixed created these social divides that pushed poor, working-class, and Indigenous peoples to begin organizing to revolt and struggle for his or her rights. 

A number of our rainforest in El Salvador was worn out to make room and clear the landscapes for these plantations. A lot of our elders say that if the rainforest weren’t cleared as a lot because it had been, that even the present pure disasters, similar to hurricanes that El Salvador skilled in 2020, wouldn’t have been as horrible as a result of the three would have decreased the flooding by capturing a few of the water from the heavy rains. In Western science, this has been confirmed as it’s estimated that bushes don’t solely present canopies or covers from rain, however their tree trunks can take up as much as 35% of rainwater. That is the estimate for mature bushes, that are those which can be totally grown and have reached their most peak. Youthful bushes additionally take up rainwater however at decrease percentages. This sole understanding that’s rooted in Indigenous understanding of our environments and the truth that our methods of realizing are ignored underneath settler colonialism is why we now have devastated nature to the purpose that it could possibly not shield us from pure disasters. If there have been extra bushes in El Salvador, the heavy rains from the hurricanes would lower in magnitude as these bushes would have already been mature so they might have absorbed 35% of rainwater. Which means the flooding that impacted our communities essentially the most would have decreased. 

Sadly, we proceed to worth nature’s capital and financial income as an alternative of the safety it could possibly grant us. If our landscapes weren’t degraded to create space for extractive agricultural practices, or large cities, our landscapes could be defending us from any climatic modifications the earth underwent. Nonetheless, we should be taught to adapt to those new environments whereas making certain to replenish what we had destroyed in nature. So long as we proceed to take away ourselves from nature, nature won’t be able to guard us from environmental impacts. In fact, with these environmental impacts, essentially the most marginalized communities, together with Indigenous communities, are those most disproportionately impacted. Settler colonialism has taught us that within the species hierarchy we’re on prime and due to this fact we now have extra energy than different plant and animal species. It’s this notion of hierarchy that favors white individuals within the racial hierarchy system and people within the species hierarchy system. As an alternative of seeing unity and a shared set of energy amongst all races and all species, we proceed to position white males on the prime of our methods as a result of settler colonialism. We additionally proceed to separate people from nature. 

Our Plant and Animal Relations

This separation between people and the environment—together with each vegetation and animals—prevents us from seeing them as our kinfolk. This is the reason we proceed to position financial values on them, as if we certainly noticed them as our kinfolk, there wouldn’t be a price ticket hooked up to them. It’s no shock that as Indigenous peoples we see our plant and animal species are kinfolk, therefore, why many vegetation and animals play an vital position in our creation tales. These creation tales differ amongst communities, tribes, and pueblos as we’re distinct and never monolithic. For instance, for us Zapotec individuals, our creation story states that our ancestors had been born from bushes and jaguars. Our ancestors had been created by our deities inside caves by using pure sources to create our individuals. We got here from earth, and this explains the robust connection we now have with our Mom Earth as Zapotec individuals. On condition that we’re youngsters of deities, we consider that in our afterlife we return to the clouds and our spirits feed the earth with essentially the most important useful resource of them of all, water. This reveals that we perceive that our position on earth doesn’t finish once we are gone as we’re persevering with to offer water to our plant and animal kinfolk within the type of rain. This is the reason we name ourselves “cloud individuals” and that is the literal translation from our names, Binnizá, Binn Ditzaá, amongst different variations based mostly on the Zapotec variant every pueblo speaks. Which means vegetation and animals are certainly our kinfolk as we got here from them, and for this reason we proceed to guard them and advocate for his or her rights as properly. 

Our creation tales give attention to native animals to our area, and this demonstrates that we all the time knew that we needed to dwell harmoniously and in robust relations with them since time immemorial. In contrast to Western European cultures which have commodified all pure sources, together with animals, once we devour animals we proceed to ask for his or her permission and safety earlier than we devour them. Nonetheless, these usually are not the beliefs or values Western cultures have because the agriculture methods give attention to breeding animals for consumption in lots and making them endure inhumane practices in order that we are able to proceed to have our beef and different meat merchandise. 

For Indigenous peoples, we now have a relationship that Western cultures can’t perceive with animals as they’re our direct kinfolk, and we proceed to know that a few of them are positioned on earth for us to devour and solely take what we want with out overkilling or overhunting them. Throughout colonization lots of our animal species went by means of these boom-bust cycles as a result of they had been being overhunted and overharvested by settlers. That is the primary cause why we witnessed large declines of our conventional meals, specifically our animal species. We’re nonetheless dwelling in a time the place we are attempting to extend these species by means of Western conservation and its practices, however the continued impacts from local weather change makes it exhausting. That is the primary cause why we as Indigenous peoples know that Western cultures don’t perceive what it means to dwell in concord with our plant and animal species as pure capital continues to worth animals and vegetation for his or her financial worth and never for the relationships one can construct with them. 

For my father, the banana tree grew to become his relative, and this relative supported him whereas he endured essentially the most terrible occasions in his life. The banana tree had created his sanctuary away from the truth he was dealing with. 

We strongly consider that the connection he had constructed with this tree was why the tree protected my father. A bomb not igniting upon it being dropped is what Western faith teaches us is a miracle, however we deeply know that it was simply nature taking care of my father as a result of he had taken care of nature. If it weren’t for this tree, I might not have existed on this world and neither would this e-book. Many elders have instructed us that our ancestors as soon as dreamed us into the longer term, however my father additionally believes that it’s our plant and animal kinfolk that do that as properly. So I’ll all the time wonder if that banana tree dreamed me into my father’s future and will likely be curious to know which of my descendants it additionally dreamed of.

Excerpted from Contemporary Banana Leaves: Therapeutic Indigenous Landscapes By way of Indigenous Science by Jessica Hernandez, printed by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2022 by Jessica Hernandez. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

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Dr. Jessica Hernandez
is a transnational Indigenous scholar, scientist, and group advocate based mostly within the Pacific Northwest. She has an interdisciplinary educational background starting from marine sciences to environmental physics. Her work is grounded in her Indigenous cultures and methods of realizing. She advocates for local weather, vitality, and environmental justice by means of her scientific and group work and strongly believes that Indigenous sciences can heal our Indigenous lands.

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