Trigger Warning: This blog includes mentions of genocide and colonization.
What if I told you I loved you? How would that make you feel? Would you feel all sunshine and rainbows or would you feel that twinge of discomfort that it was just too soon?
We’re all familiar with the weight of the L-word…and the struggle of holding off or even blurting it out because it means so much. When we say “I love you,” it comes with a set of expectations about commitment, behavior, and maybe even puts us in a place of vulnerability (like, what if they don’t say it back!?). The popular rom-com trope of I-love-you hesitation proves that the ways in which we say things – and the words we choose to use – can frame our understanding and shift our perspective.
At Finch, we love to talk about words and what they mean – it’s why we try to point out impact washing when we see it and avoid calling things ‘sustainable’ as a catchall. So, with that in mind, is today Columbus Day or is it Indigenous Peoples’ Day? ...This seems like a good opportunity to talk about what intentional language within the sustainability space looks like in practice.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY
We couldn’t help but get super stoked when we saw Indigenous Peoples’ Day pop up on our calendars along with Christopher Columbus Day… and it’s not just because we love a long weekend in October to go leaf-peeping.
As we don't want to give him unnecessary airtime, we're going to keep this short. Columbus Day commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, and some argue that it celebrates Italian-American heritage and the ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’. The second Monday in October has been a federal holiday since 1937. Indisputably, Columbus and his men proceeded to commit the genocide of
the Taíno people, or Arawaks, who had flourishing and vibrant communities. In 1492, there were more than 100 million Indigenous people in the Americas and, by the end of the nineteenth century, it is estimated that the population size was lowered by roughly 95%. This power-based violence is well-documented in first-person accounts in diaries and letters.
Rather than recognizing the loss of life, language, and culture from the systematic eradication of these Indigenous populations, the celebration of Columbus Day has provided a euro-centric, white supremacist framing of history. To reject this narrative, communities across the United States have begun to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Many cities and states, including Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Nevada, Minnesota, Alaska, and Maine, celebrate either Native American or Indigenous Peoples’ Day or have
We won’t criticize anyone for celebrating Columbus Day, but we do think of it as an opportunity for learning. So, what does this have to do with sustainability and the environmentalist movement?
THE SLIDING SCALE OF SUSTAINABILITY
Language is constantly evolving and is extremely contextualized in culture, geography, and generation. This means that the way we say something today may become antiquated tomorrow — everything from spelling (think Ye Olde English) to meaning (anyone want to know the origin story of curse words?). Let’s look at some examples of this happening within sustainability.
- Is it ‘climate change’ or is it a ‘climate crisis’?
- Is it ‘recyclable’ or is it ‘circular’?
- Is ‘plastic’ a convenient solution or is it detrimental to oceans?
- Is it ‘carbon neutral’ or is it ‘carbon positive’?
- Is it ‘social justice’ or is it ‘environmental justice’?
The way we talk about these core components of sustainability has evolved over decades and they will continue to change as we learn more about the impact of our actions and the science behind it. For context, we define sustainability as ‘a practice that can be continued indefinitely without degradation to people or the planet’, and we believe that no product can be truly 100% sustainable if you consider its full life cycle.
So, that language piece is a lot to think about, but is there actually a tie between environmental sustainability and Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Abso-freakin-lutely.
Let’s say that someone said, “the environmental movement started with crunchy hippies.” That may sound right because it may seem that the environmental movement ‘started’ with hippies, but its roots are much deeper, more diverse, and culturally intertwined than this statement gives credit to. Indigenous communities and their approaches to resource management are a core backbone of how we think about our relationship with the planet today, and must be centered in conversations around environmentalism and sustainability efforts. An intersectional approach to the environmental movement is grounded in environmental justice, which recognizes the relationship between people and the planet as it relates to social injustices. At Finch, we give credit where credit is due, and that’s just another reason why we’re recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day today.
PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION
Everything we write on Finch’s Decoded blog is looking to answer what it all means and why it matters. When it comes to the importance of language...what it means is why it matters. As humans, we can’t be perfect, but we can live our commitment to progress over perfection.
So, let’s put it all out on the table! We love you and wish you all a Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day.