On Remaining Hopeful When All Hope Seems Lost

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

It is a snowy afternoon in February and I am at school, trying to sneak in a lunch between meetings and classes. A dear friend, fellow student, and elder in the community approaches with a smile and tells me that she has been looking for me. She is happy to tell me that she has recently converted to veganism and the rest of her family is moving towards vegetarianism, a controversial lifestyle in Indian Country but one that is slowly becoming more accepted. She has been inspired to make this change by things she has learned about the climate and impacts on water quality. I am very proud of her and make sure that she knows that.

I can tell that there is more there that she wants to tell me so I decide to dig a little deeper, asking her how her classes are going and so on. She is currently enrolled in a sustainable economics class with one of my favorite instructors and the information that she has been learning has had a hard impact on her spirit. After a while, she tells me what she really wants to talk to me about.

“The garbage,” she says, her eyes full of sorrow. “I have always known but I didn’t know it was that bad. I stay up at night, thinking about what we are doing for our children. It breaks my heart.” Her voice is shaking and I reach out to touch her hand. She looks deep into my eyes and the pain in her words pierces my heart too. “This is so hard,” she says. “How do you do it?”

I am familiar with this look and the feeling associated with it. I, like many other environmentalists, intimately know the sort of grief and despair that come along with really understanding how destructive human behaviors have been to our planetary home.

The truth is that environmental work is not easy. Often, it has a very Sissyphian feel to it—you are constantly laboring to move that rock up that hill knowing that even if you succeed, you will be right back at it again before very long. When you are Indigenous and raised to feel a connection with the earth to which you belong, that pain is even more acute because not only are you losing your home but you are losing the source of your stories and traditions as well.

So what do you do? When you know that what you’re agreeing to address is a problem so big that it spans generations in both directions, how do you continue? The problems we face can be overwhelming, even paralyzing, and in situations like this sometimes the best answer is to move. You need to find people who can travel this path with you so that you’re working to move that boulder together. You need to stock up on stories of our victory to get you over that next hill.

This blog is my attempt to do just that. I have titled it “Rezilience”—a nod to the uniquely Indigenous ways in which our peoples have survived and thrived despite unthinkable circumstances and are working even now to continue doing right by our relatives, both human and non-human, those who are here as well as those yet to come. The other truth of environmental work is that there is hope to be had if you look for it. Where there is none, you must create it. The garbage may keep coming and the climate may keep warming, but all that means is that we have to defend what we love even more fervently. We are going to get through this, but the only way that happens is if we get through it together.

Jasmine Neosh (Menominee) holds an associate’s degree in natural resources and is studying public administration at College of Menominee Nation.

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