Documenting Salmon Is Life Art Activism
I was fortunate to travel to Paris with Salmon is Life, an arts-based environmental project developed for the UN Climate Change Conference December 2015.
Our intention was to bring beauty and love of the natural world to the streets of Paris, a city that was under lockdown after terrorist attack on citizens. We represented NW salmon, a species without a voice, and to support indigenous-led actions throughout the city. Our team included Denise Henrikson, Paul Cheoketen Wagner, Lisa Marcus, Debra D’Angelo, Nicole Brown, Cathy Ballew, Jill McIntyre and videographer Jeff Dundicliff.
It was an honor to photograph our actions and write Paris Diary entries published by YES Magazine. Here’s a few of those:
Paris Diaries, Dec. 5, 2016
Today, the #SalmonIsLife project took flight! Our vision – held for months of community art-making to create 300 silk batik fish, while raising funds – was finally realized. The reality of bringing love and hope to the people of this city and COP21 visitors exceeded our dreams.
The illuminated salmon flew in a small school of 25 fish for the closing of the Rights of Nature International Tribunal, where a global alliance of peoples are creating a new legal platform to represent nature itself. Paul Cheoketen Wagner’s haunting flute and the luminous, dancing salmon drew in nearly everyone who passed by. Many paused for a long while, smiling. Many appeared to be emotionally impacted. The children’s eyes lit up and we gave them salmon to fly with us.
Next, the salmon made a long city trek to Place2B, a watering hole and point of connection for COP21 bloggers, media, NGOs, etc. Today, the focus was on the ocean, so we were invited to perform and share the message of the salmon. Paul Cheoketen Wagner and Lummi Elder Cathy Ballew shared a taste of their indigenous wisdom and respectful, graceful ways. They told stories of the salmon, giving thanks to the city of Paris and to all who are working for the Earth. Paul told us the Salish word for salmon means “hard-working people.”
We are the hard-working people, too. It’s physically tiring to carry our gear, go for long periods without food, rest, and bathroom breaks, and to walk with uncertainty in this unfamiliar place. Yet it’s an act of love. Our plans are evolving in the moment. We are seeing what is calling us and following that call. Every moment is a gift, a surprise that is unfolding right in front of us.
Paris Diaries, Dec. 6, 2016
Today Salmon is Life was privileged to join indigenous peoples from all 4 corners of the globe
On a historic voyage on the Seine, we met many beautiful peoples who gathered for ceremony, and to celebrate their connectedness and unity with songs and drum. We felt so welcomed, and very honored – to bring the salmon delegation, representing the natural world.
#PaddleToParis was a historic moment, proclaiming the first bioregional marine sanctuary in the world: Santuario Embera-Wounaan ZEE in Central America. The proclamation states: Restore natural habitat and animals across our bioregion to more than 51% of historic levels, as soon as possible.
We watched delegates sign a canoe paddle, affirming the proclamation. And then the man from — he offered the paddle to us. We were stunned. What an honor, to be included!
With tears in our eyes, each of us on the Salmon team signed the paddle. We all had a feeling of being part of something much bigger than us – something momentous, real and powerful.
We were feted with beautiful Parisian food and incredible conversation. We then traveled by bus and train with the indigenous peoples to their ceremony at a castle in Millemont, where the native peoples have gathered for the last week.
This ceremony was extremely powerful, especially as the elder women were called in to support a woman whose family members were killed this week, while she was in Paris. Her people are defending the forest in Peru. Her grief was palpable. The healing offered by the elder women was deep, inclusive, and respectful. We were all affected.
The pinnacle of the evening was a call to action: each of us agreed to uphold Mother Earth, to not be deterred, to use all our strength and heart to support the indigenous peoples’ of the world leadership.
Tonight the Salmon delegation was honored to fly at a gala event honoring 20 indigenous communities around the world who are creating sustainable, real solutions to climate change.
At the entry, I was detained by UN security who searched my bag and wanted to know all about them. I told him all about the project, that the Salmon represent the Pacific Northwest and were made by hundreds of community members. He let me in, saying “We just don’t want you to poke anyone with those sticks.”
At the reception, we chatted with elegant Parisians and indigenous peoples in regalia over champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The award ceremony, hosted by Alec Baldwin, and with a special appearance by Jane Goodall, lifted our hearts with the tenacity, creativity and resilience of these peoples.
These brave peoples have reclaimed dead waterways. Reforested massive areas. Documented illegal deforestation. Transformed drug cartel-driven economies into thriving, sustainable, honorable communities. What a gift, to see them honored and respected for their traditional ways, as well as the deep wisdom and hope their work represents.
A highlight for many was a gracious mother and doctor from Afghanistan, who received an award on behalf of the Rural Green Environmental Organization (RGEO). She spoke from her heart after her official acceptance speech: “The planet is sick. Our communities are sick. I cannot eat, I cannot relax. So how can we relax, how can we sleep, how can we live like this?”
A shocking statistic: every week 2 environmental activists are killed. Many are indigenous peoples just trying to defend their way of life, which includes treating Mother Earth and all her creations as family. We’ve heard this same unifying theme from all the wisdom keepers.
We are continually honored by these people, especially those who put their lives on the line to protect their lands and rights.
After the ceremony the Salmon flew in the audience, in celebration and deep thanks. Some of our salmon team hobnobbed with luminaries in the lobby, while we readied for a post-ceremony performance across the street. Paul’s flute rang out and the salmon danced freely in the evening air as the theatre emptied. A bus pulled up next to us, and soon all the award winners were delighted by our salmon delegation, en route to the bus. We shook hands and thanked nearly all of them personally. A rare honor, to show our gratitude for those who are truly saving the Earth.
We highly recommend that you watch the videos of their deeply inspiring projects. Also, here.