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Sometimes, as a student at a TCU, you get to live dreams that you didn’t even realize you had. For me, that dream came in early May 2019, when I was invited to a pizza party at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s famous Mesa Laboratory and Visitor Center.
This opportunity came as part of my participation in the 7th annual Rising Voices conference, held this year in Boulder, Colorado. Rising Voices is a conference that seeks to advance scientific work through intercultural collaboration between a variety of worldviews, methods, and disciplines. Here, you will find representatives from all manner of universities, non-government organizations, and atmospheric research institutions from all around the country. You will also find a nearly unprecedented number of Indigenous scholars from all stages of academia.
As soon as I walk into the room for pre-meeting coffee, I am stunned by the energy. It is clear that everyone is excited to be there, and although I am not a morning person, I am quickly swept up in their excitement. After most people have convened, the conference kicks off with a ceremony that leaves us feeling very clear headed with very full hearts.
Before we get into the morning plenaries, one of the members of the Rising Voices team leads us in an exercise to discover who is in the room. One by one, different groups are asked to stand: first-timers to the conference, returning attendees, students, Indigenous scientists, non-Indigenous scientists. Although every group gets a hearty round of applause, there is a moment when the Indigenous scientists are standing and I find myself wiping tears away in between wild applause. Luckily, I am not the only one.
I think the standard expectation for a gathering of science-minded folks is that this would be a place to leave emotion at the door, but that is not the case at Rising Voices. This is a space of safety and respect, where you are encouraged to show up as your whole self. Ostensibly, we are there to talk about climate change, but within that category there are so many other things to discuss. We talk about the water and the land, and we talk about our ancestors. We talk openly about the challenges faced by our LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters, and non-binary relatives doing this work and how to be better allies to them. We talk about the particular hurdles that climate change presents to those nations whose sovereignty is not yet recognized and brainstorm ways to help. We talk about the past and we talk about the future. And amidst all the talking, we build stronger connections, new partnerships, new projects, new ways to see the same world.
At the end of that first day, the whole group makes the journey up into the hills for the event we have all been waiting for. As soon as we are out of the car, I am floored by the Mesa Lab’s beauty. The facility was designed by famous architect IM Pei, who had passed away that same week. The lab stands proudly amongst the foothills of the Rockies and from every place, there is a new, breathtaking vista to behold. There, I meet a new friend and PhD student who I had only communicated with over a conference call. Within minutes, we find ourselves engaged in a deep conversation about our communities and how we carry them with us in our work, even when far from home. We meet up with another student and talk about the future of Indian Country over pizza, and how excited we are to get there.
There is a popular saying in the Rising Voices community: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Looking around at all the other Indigenous students proudly taking their seat at the table and pulling up a chair for others, I feel indescribably proud to be among them. In an age when the projection models are scarier by the day, nobody knows what the future is going to look like but I hope it looks a lot like this. And I hope it has pizza.
Jasmine Neosh (Menominee) studies sustainability at College of Menominee Nation.