An interesting take on Western conservation. Scandavian teens are much more likely to get access to the MSM than Hernandez though.
‘Fresh Banana Leaves’ shows how Western conservation has harmed Indigenous people
Environmental scientist Jessica Hernandez talks with Science News about her new book
In Fresh Banana Leaves
, Jessica Hernandez describes how Indigenous communities in Mexico care for milpas,
agricultural fields in which multiple types of plants are grown together because they can support one another. In this milpa in Central America, bent corn stalks support newer crops. In the background stands nonnative banana trees.
Fresh Banana Leaves
North Atlantic Books, $17.95
During the civil war in El Salvador that began in the 1970s, an injured Victor Hernandez hid from falling bombs beneath the fronds of a banana tree. The child soldier, a member of the Maya Ch’orti’ group indigenous to the region, made a crutch from a branch of the tree and limped toward Guatemala, toward freedom. “I strongly believe that it was this banana tree that saved my life,” he told his daughter, Jessica Hernandez, who shares the story in Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science
. “It is ironic because banana trees are not native to El Salvador,” he said.
Jessica Hernandez, an environmental scientist, draws parallels between her father’s story and that of the banana tree. The banana tree’s journey from Southeast Asia via colonial European ships forced the resilient plant to adapt to its new home in the Americas. Similarly, her father adjusted to being displaced, eventually settling in the United States, often experiencing less-than-warm welcomes along the way.
Hernandez uses her father’s stories and other first-person accounts to frame a complex discussion on the interplay between colonialism, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, land degradation, and differences between how Western researchers and Indigenous people approach conservation. Western restoration can often focus on rooting out invasive species, Hernandez points out. But such a narrow focus, she contends, fails to understand that Indigenous people — the lands’ original stewards — are integral parts of imperiled landscapes.
Some researchers are now taking a community-based approach to conservation, in which Indigenous people participate in project planning instead of serving as study subjects. But this still doesn’t go far enough, Hernandez argues: In such studies, non-Indigenous people often end up speaking for Indigenous communities.
spoke with Hernandez about what she sees as conservation’s failures, Indigenous displacement and the connection between the two. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
SN: How do you use the term “Indigenous”?
Somebody who still has their ancestral practices, their cultural traditions, their kinships with their people, whether they’re displaced or not, and are native to that region, or to that place that they can call home.
SN: You write about how ecocolonialism — when non-Indigenous “settlers” govern Indigenous lands without consulting Indigenous people — can exacerbate climate change and result in Indigenous displacement and ecological grief. What is ecological grief?
When I talk about ecological grief, I’m talking about the longing that many [displaced] Indigenous peoples have to return to their lands. Another way to look at that is the relationships that we [Indigenous people] have with nature — especially with our plants, animals and nonliving relatives. When the impacts of climate change destroy them, there’s a mourning that we all undergo as Indigenous peoples.
A lot of settlers have lost their relationships with nature. They view nature as commodities without understanding that some of these natural resources mean something else to many people, aside from economic value. ...