Partnerships for Change

Socio-Ecological Creativity as Resistance

a stand of pine trees is silhouetted by a sunset on a beautiful small lake.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dueker

We introduced a new blog feature this month: Partnerships for Change. Curious about the name? Our inspiration comes directly from HECUA’s mission statement. We are driven to “build academic-community partnerships for social change.” Please check this tag for writings, reflections, critiques, and calls to action from HECUA staff, faculty, students, community partners, and alumni. Please submit your own writings as well! Keep in mind: these are individual perspectives from our community, not necessarily institutional positions from HECUA.

We’re excited to offer this opportunity to our community stakeholders! Each month we will invite writing around a monthly theme. This month we’ve chosen Resistance. If you’d like to share a piece of writing on the theme of Resistance in March, please email our Marketing and Communications Director, Laney Ohmans: The first post for this series came from HECUA’s Manager of Internships and Community Partnerships: Emily Seru. The last post of the month comes from our Environmental Sustainability Program Director Sam Grant.

Socio-Ecological Creativity as Resistance

March 28, 2017

We often think of ‘resistance’ as hard. We get a sense in our bodies of tightly closed fists, of a difficult struggle with great risk involved. What is equally true is that movement is what makes change happen. Fostering change requires movement. And yet: change will not occur unless and until there are good enough reasons to change, and enough courage, commitment, creativity and capacity to manifest and sustain change.

I use the clenched fist notion of resistance as a metaphor for how we tend to think about change. Take a few seconds and clench one or both of your fists. Notice the sensations you get in your body when you do that. Some of you might feel strong, and excited to invite more of that energy into your life.  Some of you might feel grief or trauma, with an embodied reminder of times when life truly was/is a struggle. Just to keep going is tough some times.

As an alternative entry point to resistance energy, think of something you totally love that is not present in the world at the level you would like to see.  Go into a slightly meditative state. Reflect on your heart and feel it beating. Reflect on what you love and would like to see more of in the world. Imagine your heart growing to encompass the whole world. Notice how that feels different in our bodies than clenched fists.  Resistance does not have to be about fighting. It is just as much or far more about loving.

These exercises have given you a taste of “body wisdom”, (also known by its trademarked name “somatic experiencing,”) a tool we use in the Environmental Sustainability (ES) curriculum. When applied in groups, this becomes a practice of “social somatics” through the exercise and disciplined practice of group body wisdom.

In HECUA’s Environmental Sustainability program we engage students in recognizing and embodying risk-taking as a core aspect of learning.  We have ingrained patterns of resistance in our own bodies. Over time, we learn how to “be” a certain way, and it is not so simple to change ourselves. The same is true for organizations, for communities, for nations and for the whole global political ecology of the world capitalist system.

I say all of the above to tell a short story about a recent experience in the ES program last semester.

In the curriculum, we focus a fair amount on indigenous ecological knowledge and sovereignty as we consider sustainability more broadly. The semester started after the upswelling of indigenous peoples’ organizing at Standing Rock. That issue was in the field as we began the semester. Right away, we talked about going there. We could experience what was happening and confront questions students needed to grapple with: what does it mean for us to be there? What is our responsibility, obligation to go in a good way in light of what is happening?

Students participated in non-violence direct action training, some light somatic experiencing work and a lot of intercultural dialogue in order to become grounded, sufficiently aware, and then be able to say – “we feel ready to go now.” This iterative, dynamically and intimately participatory process of dialogue and discernment occurred between September and early November 2016. We committed to being “accomplices” in the unfolding resistance of indigenous peoples to our nations (and the world’s) continuing commitment to fuel civilization by burning fossil fuels, no matter the ecological and cultural cost.

My students voted early by absentee ballot so we could show up the night before election day at Standing Rock, and be available to transport people to voting polls, if appropriate, or play other useful emergent roles presented to us.  While I thought we might take people to the polls, or go to the ‘DAPL front line’ and demand no pipeline be built in direct violation of the cultural interests of the Native Nation and the ecological integrity of the water and landscape, it was this second form of engagement that materialized.  As we began a walk-around to make connections, people building a yurt in a winter camp eco-village asked if we wanted to help.

So, in part, that is what happened. Students spent election day assisting in the building of yurt in a winter camp for the Rosebud village. Students also helped with cooking, and one helped build the foundation for a straw bale home.

We woke up on election day to news of Trump becoming President of the United States of America, and wondered how this was felt locally. In the morning meeting in the main camp, people expressed less additional anxiety or outrage than my students or I anticipated. The common expression was that this was a continuation of a long-standing issue of ecocide and genocide – and that Native people were committed to continue fighting for sovereignty and ecological integrity. So, yes the outcome of the election increased urgency, but it was not a huge surprise. People will continue to resist because they love the land, and are committed to sustaining their culture. We are committed to being the best possible accomplices in that regard, on both counts.

That second day we worked with students of the Water is Life school – my students leading them in outdoor ecological education and play. This offered a moment of recognition for us as the student play was demonstrative of what their parents are facing in the struggle at Standing Rock. They have embodied the ‘stand-off’. Even still, they know how to play, and we had a great relaxing day of playfulness and then closed out the afternoon building a second yurt, specifically for the school.

Before we disembarked to return home, I fell into a dialogue with two teachers of the Water is Life school about the future. We committed to a form of support for the fall semester of 2017, assisting in the design of ‘local living architectures’. We journeyed back to the Twin Cities knowing that a Trump presidency meant the pipeline would be pressed forth as an urgent priority and that ‘the struggle’ would be harder for now. We also built relationships and developed an embodied sense of knowing how to engage in resistance as a form of loving what is and what can be. Moving forward with this inner beauty, and healthy relationships established, we look forward to continuing to engage our assets and edges of socio-ecological creativity as a form of resistance.

The world needs a whole lot more of this form of resistance. The mass disruption of ecosystems, the enormous threat of climate change and the runaway feedback loops already in motion, exacerbated by the decision of the United States government to capture and burn fossil fuels whenever and wherever possible, make this a moment that requires more love-energy than any of us can muster alone. So, we call on mass heart-energies entangled now with the creative courage to secure a renewable energy and intercultural future personally, relationally, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

In motion,


HECUA-ES Director



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