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Advanced Leadership Students Attend Bioneers Conference

Eco Leaders and Solidarity In Action students attended the unique BioneersConference in Marin on October 19-21, exploring the theme “Pathways Forward.” Bioneers offers the opportunity for environmental leaders, youth activists and professionals to share knowledge and come up with creative solutions to the most pressing environmental and social problems we face today. The O’Dowd students attended countless workshops and panel discussions, and heard from speakers addressing a range of topics, from recent groundbreaking research on plant consciousness to the struggle of protecting land in the Amazon Rainforest from oil drilling.

Out of the 14 O’Dowd students that attended the conference throughout the weekend, five had the privilege of participating in an intensive program called “Intercultural Conversations.” As a part of this program, organized and funded by the Bioneers organization, these five students committed to participating in a series of “Talking Circles” over the course of six months preceding the conference. During these “Talking Circles,” the students connected with other groups of native and non-native youth from across the nation via Skype and engaged in critical conversations around environmental and social justice issues that disproportionately affect indigenous people. This experience finally culminated in the Bioneers Conference, where the youth got to meet face-to-face and attend the conference together.

Read testimonials written by some of the O’Dowd students who participated in the “Intercultural Conversations” program:

Kwame Glover ’19 (Solidarity In Action):

Accepting the offer to join the 2018 Bioneers Intercultural Conversations was a decision that has changed my life. From the Intercultural Conversations, to the intense Bioneers Conference, I have loved every moment of Bioneers. Starting with the Intercultural Conversations with fellow youth, I learned valuable knowledge of the history of indigenous peoples and about their current struggles. I enjoyed talking to fellow youth and hearing their very different perspectives on topics such as racism, environmental injustice, and climate change. These conversations helped me gain new understanding and prepared me for the Bioneers Conference which took place in October.

The Bioneers Conference was filled with a diverse group of people from all around the world. For me, it was great to see so many people of different age, race, and religious faith coming together to learn and be inspired to make change. The conference was also filled with amazing speakers such as Cat Brooks who is a local activist and politician in the Bay Area. I was very excited to see a leader who not only is running for Mayor in my own city, but who is making an impact with her activism nationwide.

Another speaker who I really enjoyed was Jayden Lim who is an award-winning Pomo activist. I was inspired to learn how she was able to speak in front of the former first lady Michelle Obama and accomplish so much while also being a high school student. Along with these two amazing women were many other speakers who took turns captivating the crowd. I loved how although each speaker was unique, they all had the same positive energy and kept the theme of unity within their messages.

My main highlight of the Bioneers Conference was certainly meeting new people and gaining new connections. During the entire conference, everyone, including the speakers, was very open to sharing knowledge and having conversations about any topic. This is my main highlight because I absolutely enjoyed being able to interact with people who represented communities and cultures that I rarely interact with. I feel as if it was easy for me to step out of my comfort zone and talk to different people because the group was so diverse and unique.

The Intercultural Conversation talks helped a lot with preparing me for the conference. For instance, learning about history of racism and slavery in California gave me a very different overlook on many topics from the Conference. Learning about the history of the native people is knowledge that I will cherish and try my very best to spread along. I feel that learning about the history of native people is the first step into being more equipped to help with the current struggles of indigenous people. I look forward to not only helping with indigenous problems but combating local problems in my own community. Participating in Bioneers has given me the knowledge and the drive to make a change and speak up about injustice. From the Skype calls in May, to the conference in October, I am very grateful to have participated in the entire Bioneers experience.

Mia Rahman ’19 (Solidarity In Action):

The Bioneers Conference has been one of the most inspiring and formative experiences in my life so far. Connecting with and learning from activists from so many fields and backgrounds helped me envision the potential scale of passions and ideas that youth today have to offer. I was inspired by the ways in which these activists of all ages used arts, sciences, customs, and technology as tools to spread and strengthen their movements.

The Intercultural Conversations program did a great job unifying people from different backgrounds around a common cause. I enjoyed our monthly videos and Skype calls and learned about how modern society has devalued indigenous people. While I found our conversations moving, it was even more impactful meeting the group in person and experiencing the conference alongside the members whose stories we had heard and who had taught us so much. Attending the indigenous workshops and meeting the group the day before the conference built a strong foundation within the Intercultural Conversations team that lasted throughout the conference.

The conference gave me a better understanding of others in my community. I learned about struggles and injustices that different groups face and how to use a background of privilege to give voice to silenced groups without speaking for them. I learned about how native knowledge is ignored by a society who causes rapid environmental degradation, even though indigenous people lived sustainably and in balance with the surrounding environment for thousands of years.

The conference helped me envision a path and mission for my future. It helped me understand the importance of youth taking on the challenge of social justice as a lifestyle, rather than a destination. It helped me connect with people who were so passionate about helping others and saving the environment and had created enormous change in their communities and inspired me to do the same with my life. Although it may sound cheesy, I now truly believe that this generation of youth truly can change the world for the better if we are dedicated and work together across belief systems, age groups, ethnicities, and genders.

Rio Galicia ’19 (Eco Leaders):

My participation in the Talking Circles, ICC program and Bioneers helped me better understand how important it is to take action on environmental injustice now and how important it is as youth that we are fighting for change. The ICC program educated me on the authentic experience of California’s indigenous people and the different issues that native people are experiencing everyday. These conversations and talking circles made me think more about respecting the knowledge of the indigenous people of my area and respecting their land. Being able to learn about the real indigenous people instead of the vague and misrepresentation that I learned in elementary school gave me new insight and appreciation for their culture and traditions before colonization.

Along with Bioneers, these programs provided me with a new way to see the world. I am a lot more conscious of how my actions impact other minority groups and the environment all around.Although there is a great amount of disparity in the world, Bioneers gave me hope and motivation that there can be positive change and we can all be part of it. The speakers at Bioneers inspired me to pursue a career path that benefits the health of the environment and every person in it. This really helped me during this time because I am applying for college and now have an idea of what I am passionate about pursuing and doing for the rest of my life.

Ever since participating in ICC and Bioneers, I have tried to bring the same perspective and knowledge I recieved to everyone around me. Everyday I try to get people to make small positive differences in their life that add up the more people do them. A big part of what inspired me is that we need systemic change in order to save the health of people and the planet. It inspired me to be apart of the movement for a greater change so that every living thing on this earth can live with dignity and wellness.


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