Standing atop of a melting glacier on a remote spot of southern Greenland’s ice sheet are Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia, and Inuk poet Aka Niviâna.
Having only met a few days prior, though communicating by email for months, Jetnil-Kijiner and Niviâna are reciting Rise, the poem they had written together as part of a unique and moving artistic collaboration that asks us to take heed of the climate crisis.
Reflecting on the experience, Jetnil-Kijiner, who had travelled to Greenland for the first time, spoke of the beauty of the landscape rather than the dismay of its destruction:
“It just felt like I was meeting an elder. I was just in awe of the ice, of how large it was, how expansive, how beautiful.”
The message in Rise is a clear rallying call to the global community about the ever-present threat of the climate crisis to their ancestral lands, but rather than express anger or frustration about our inaction, Jetnil-Kijiner said her motivation wasn’t to change people’s minds:
“I’m not here to convince someone else of my humanity or the reality of our situation. I’m just trying to create a different sort of experience that speaks more truth to my own.”
Why Rise matters
Indigenous communities suffer the cruel irony of having a small carbon footprint and making up fewer than 5% of the world’s population but often, because of their close relationship with the land and reliance on natural resources, being the most severely impacted by the devasting effects of the climate crisis. And despite centuries of persecution, Indigenous groups still manage or have tenure rights over at least a quarter of the world’s land surface.
Yet in the West, we are inadvertently contributing to the destruction of intricate, centuries-built connections to nature around the world. Indigenous peoples’ way of life is under threat and most of us are contributors to their fragility. Every purchase we make that doesn’t have environmental protection at its core is complicit: a community erodes, a forest shrinks and a tribal nation teeters on homelessness.
We must do all we can to support aggressive measures to combat the crisis. Otherwise, we risk extinguishing Indigenous peoples’ homes, cultures, traditions and futures, and theirs, plus our, connection with Earth.
About the poets
Jetñil-Kijiner is a poet of Marshallese ancestry. She received international acclaim through her performance at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in 2014. Her writing and performances have been featured by CNN, Democracy Now, Huffington Post, and more. In February 2017, the University of Arizona Press published her first collection of poetry, Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter.
Jetñil-Kijiner’s work has recently evolved and begun to inhabit gallery and performance art spaces – her work has been curated by the Honolulu Biennial in Hawai’i in February 2017, then the Smithsonian art lab ‘Ae Kai in July of 2017 and the Asia Pacific Triennial in Australia in November 2018. Jetñil-Kijiner also co-founded the non-profit Jo-Jikum, dedicated to empowering Marshallese youth to seek solutions to climate change and other environmental impacts threatening their home island. She has been selected as one of 13 Climate Warriors by Vogue in 2015 and the Impact Hero of the Year by Earth Company in 2016. She received her Master’s in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Niviâna is an Inuk writer and this video is her on-screen debut. Niviâna started doing poetry with a wish to create nuanced conversations about not only climate change, but also colonialism and Indigenous peoples rights. She believes in the importance of representation and the inclusion of black, brown and Indigenous peoples.
Learn more about the making of Rise, the team and read the poem here: https://350.org/rise-from-one-island-to-another