Grassroots bioremediation – radical remedies for toxic realities.
The word radical comes from the latin word radix, meaning “root”. This work is about a lot more then just revitalizing soil for urban gardening or growing mushrooms, it really really is. Both in spirit and in practice! It is about going to the root of the problem, and as healers and community members not just simply treating the symptoms but addressing the root causes of the illnesses and injuries we are seeing in the world around us.
As many of us are seeking to heal the lands we call home, we must recognize that these lands were stolen from Indigenous peoples and devastated through acts of colonization. These lands that surround us not only bear the wounds of an industrial war waged upon their forests, rivers, meadows and mountains, but also the deep painful history and ongoing practice of colonization with its continued disrespect, violence, occupation and environmental destruction forced upon Indigenous peoples. The Indigenous peoples who traditionally tended these lands and who continue to do so never willingly gave up their lands. They have been forced from them so that ports, forts, malls, housing developments, roads, farms, public gardens, golf courses, car dealerships, schools, office towers, mines, dams and pipelines could erase and bury the vibrant life-support systems and strong communities that existed here previously.
We have a lot of work to do in taking responsibility for these injustices and ensuring they do not continue. We must find honorable and meaningful ways to move forward that repair our relationships with each other and the land. As you work with grassroots bioremediation and earth repair, it is important to acknowledge this reality and to keep it in your mind as you carry the information and skills you learn out onto the lands beneath your feet.
When considering engaging in grassroots bioremediation and any kind of earth healing work, it is also important that we acknowledge environmental racism and honor the struggles of the many communities whose toxic impacts it affects. Indigenous communities, people of color and low income neighborhoods are all too often sites targeted for heavy industry, military bases, waste dumps and higher levels of pollution. People in these communities suffer more health and environmental impacts than their affluent, predominantly white neighbors. Whatever laws, agreements and regulations that may be present to challenge such injustices are often ignored and violated by corporations and governments. When it comes to recovering from environmental disasters and industrial accidents, these communities often receive little notification, support or effective cleanup, if any at all. This reality also applies to poorer countries, which have been traditionally used as dumping grounds, and whose rich environments have been exploited and destroyed by wealthier countries and their corporations.
What does this look like on the ground? Massive tar sands mines that are poisoning the world’s third largest watershed and the traditional territiories and communities of the Cree and Dene peoples. Health impacts suffered by the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community which is surrounded by the many refineries of Chemical Valley in Sarnia, home to Canada’s largest cluster of chemical, allied manufacturing and research and development facilities. Countless Indigenous communities across BC whose waters and lands are under attack from mining, fracking, dams, and pipelines. Low income and/or racialized urban neighborhoods whose homes, schools and gardens sit atop contaminated soils or in the midst of heavy industry. The list goes on. Though some folks like myself can simply relocate to cleaner and healthier living spaces, many people cannot, due to economic circumstances as well as community, cultural and historical connections and responsibilities that hold them to these very places. In these realities, environmental destruction, tragic health impacts, oppression and social justice all collide, which is why some folks do the work of grassroots bioremediation for the love of the planet, some for the love of their loved ones and community, and many for both.
The practice of grassroots bioremediation and regenerative earth work not only involves detoxifying and revitalizing the land by working with plants, mushrooms and micro-organisms; it must also include the powerful work of decolonization that seeks to deeply repair and enliven both the ecosystems and the communities that support thriving natural systems.
So as you consider initiating and engaging in grassroots bioremediation work, please acknowledge, respect, support, and honor the original stewards of these lands and their indigenous rights, life practices, knowledge, resistance and sovereignty. Ask permission for the earth work you are about to do. Find out who your ancestors are, where your people come from, the ways they cared for and honored their ancestral lands and at what point this relationship was lost or destroyed. Try to see the land around you with new eyes, the kind that can see beyond the grid systems, megaprojects, dams, overly manicured parks, fields of monocultures and urban jungles. Learn to see the buried streams and the ghost salmon that once flowed through this city to the sea and are now entombed in concrete.
Take the initiative and responsibility for educating yourself on the buried and hidden stories of the lands you call home and the peoples you share them with. Educate yourself on the powerful resistance work of those who are fighting to protect their homelands and communities, and find out how you can best support their struggles! Acknowledge and actively work to challenge the power inbalances and destructive ideologies that have created situations whereby the ability for many different peoples and communities to be healthy, have right livelihoods and live in positive relationship to Earth have been severely compromised. Challenge the capitalist culture that sees the Earth and its living beings as something to be owned, commodified and destroyed for profit, and do your best to not replicate it in the earth work that you do and how you relate to others in the course and outside of it. And remember that the plants, bacteria and mushrooms that we work with are not tools to be used, but living allies to learn from, respect, and honor.
If you want to dedicate yourself to healing the land, engage in preventative medicine and allow your work to extend beyond the physical and into the political. Its great to learn about oil spills and grassroots bioremediation responses, but the best medicine is preventative medicine. If we can stop dangerous pipelines or destructive mines from being built, or if we can pressure companies to properly monitor and respond to spills, that will be much more effective and helpful to the planet and the communities that are then spared the impacts of an environmental disaster. If we can keep wild land or healthy land where we live from becoming paved over in the first place, then that is where we must begin. It’s a lot easier to work with healthy lands and waters then to try to bring them back when they have been disrespected and degraded for decades.
Our healing work is part of a full cycle and there are many paths up the mountain and many places of intervention when it comes to cultivating a regenerative practice with the Earth that is our home – from addressing the toxic legacies we’ve inherited to making sure new ones are not created and passed on to future generations. Ask yourself how you will meaningfully undertake the deep and life-altering work of decolonization and the powerful solidarity and resistance work which it requires. How will you and your work support the land defenders on the frontlines who are fighting for justice, liberation, and to protect the waters and lands that keeps us all alive? We must challenge the voracious colonial processes that created and continue to create such damage in the first place. Because without that, your healing work for this planet will only be superficial and shortlived at best.