Capitol Hill Oceans Week Kicks Off

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Today kicks of Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2021 (CHOW), an annual, three-day event organized by the National Marine Sanctuary foundation that encourages activists worldwide to engage in dialogue about sustaining the health of our oceans and Great Lakes. This year, CHOW hopes to shine a light on the role of environmental justice and equitable climate action strategies in the ocean and Great Lakes conservation movement. Opening discussions featured an array of speakers from Tribes and communities working on the front lines of ocean conservation, all eager to rally support for collective action and an equitable future.

Why This Matters: Indigenous and people of color are not always adequately included when it comes to major conservation decisions despite the vast expertise they can bring to solving our toughest environmental challenges. For instance, experts emphasize that restoring Indigenous sovereignty, returning to historical land management practices, and prioritizing environmental justice for marginalized communities will be crucial to halting climate change. What’s more is that ocean conservation and social justice are two crucial components of protecting our oceans and ensuring their vitality for future generations. 

This year’s CHOW intends to lift these voices to the front lines of the ocean and Great Lakes conservation movement, and with partners from the White House, the private sector, and other advocacy organizations, it has a great chance of success.

Making Waves: CHOW 2021 kicked off, virtually, with opening remarks from several Black and Indigenous conservation leaders, including Francis Gray, chairman of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Brenda Mallory, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, also affirmed the Biden administration’s dedication to climate action and environmental justice. Opening remarks were followed by a panel of environmental justice leaders about the historical failure to center equity in marine conservation.

Among the topics like cultural heritage, youth climate action, and the balance between modern science and historical conservation practices, panelists emphasized that investments into Black and Indigenous communities are crucial to saving the earth. 

I’d say to folks that want to help organizations like ours: lend us your technology, your expertise, pro bono, open your networks to us, share your funding with us,” said Summer Lee Haunani Sylva, the Executive Director of Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

Just give us more than one seat at the table…and most importantly regard our traditional knowledge with the respect…that you do your science.”

These themes were carried through to other CHOW panels on resilient coastal communities, food security, and climate policy engagement in U.S. territories. The panels similarly featured leaders from conservation and social justice advocacy networks and featured appearances from Congress members, including House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC).

While equity and inclusion are the spotlight topics of this year’s event, panelists say they hope this year won’t simply be a data point.

We can’t put one brown person or Black person on a panel or in a room and expect change to happen,” said Michael E. Roberts, the President and CEO of the First Nations Development Institute. “There’s going to have to be resource sharing in a real way…with Indigenous and Black communities throughout this country to bring them to the table as equal partners in this discussion because you’re not going to get the benefit of our knowledge, and our deep historical data and observations, without us being properly resourced and heard.”

All CHOW presentations and panels are open to the public and free to access, making engaging with ocean conservation from home a breeze. Register here to join the conversation!

Go Deeper: We asked CHOW Advisory Group member (and executive director of Green 2.0) Andrés Jimenez to tell us more about how the conference worked to include these issues from a programmatic standpoint and what you can expect from this year’s event.

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