Latin America is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and indigenous communities directly depend on the sustainability of its ecosystems for survival. Since my first contribution to the blog falls in the same month as Earth Day (which is April 22nd), I’ve been scouring the internet for a resource that can help educators approach climate change not from the perspectives of scientists or polar bears, but from the perspective of people.
Bingo. Based on the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, held in 2009, the Portland Area Rethinking Schools Earth in Crisis Curriculum Workgroup and the Oregon Writing Project devised this Climate Summit Role Play. An accompanying guide is also available online at rethinkingschools.org. Both of these links are critical to the unit.
Students are placed in six groups, representing peoples of the Amazon, the Dine’ (Navajo), the Alaska Native, the Bambara of sub-Saharan Africa, and the indigenous peoples of the central Pacific islands and the Caribbean.
The guide for the lesson plan is based on the actual experiences of a high school class in Portland, Oregon. The plan focuses on four skills and processes:
Learning to Empathize
“This sucks—we are dying!” a student representing the Bambara people announced to the rest of her group (far away from sub-Saharan Africa, in Portland’s Lincoln High School). Background information in the role play, which stresses the human importance of climate change to each group, is based on actual conversations from the Global Summit. Discussion questions guide students to think critically and to prioritize solutions. The role play format takes students out of the distant and artificial world of the classroom and places them in the role of delegates advocating for their communities.
Finding “One Voice”
Representatives venture off and meet other groups to practice articulating their concerns and to learn about the challenges facing indigenous peoples worldwide. While nuclear power might be a solution to some, the representatives of the Dine’ group in the Lincoln High class were genuinely concerned about illness and waste caused by “yellowcake” uranium mining in the Navajo Nation.
Mimicking the Global Summit, groups meet to agree on three action points. In the Lincoln High class, the conversation ranged from emission reduction plans, to limiting deforestation, to funding programs to meet the needs of climate refugees.
The Anchorage Declaration
After reaching consensus on global action points, the class can then read the actual Global Summit’s Anchorage Declaration to compare results.
Ultimately, empathy will make this unit successful. The Lincoln High students were truly moved to care about climate change and its impacts on indigenous peoples. They were also given a voice and provided the opportunity to advocate for a result that now meant something to them.
One last thing: In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to include this poem, which was spontaneously written by Amanda Henderson, one of the Lincoln High students who participated in the role play:
The quietest voices
Have the loudest meaning
Every word said is like
It sends a big movement
It moves the biggest barriers down
It can open a new state of mind.
The quietest voices
Can join and become
A million voices.
For what we say can
Be pushed aside
But when we come together,
We are heard
We do count
We are ready to stand up
We won’t take no for an answer
We will speak until
Everyone hears us
We will not be quiet anymore
We are important
We do count.
Don’t take our voices away.
I hope the unit is helpful.