Q1 2021: The Heart of Sustainability

Sustainable Thoughts by Demarus Tevuk
In Sight by MaryJane Ides

What I see missing from many conversations about sustainability is a topic that deserves more attention – ethics. Not only is there an avoidance of discussing ethics, but there is also a sense that America doesn’t have a shared ethical value system. If we have a shared moral set, then it’s one that is unspoken.

We can make educated guesses as to this avoidance of ethics but I think what’s more important is to focus on the value system that we want to create and support. A sustainable future will only become reality if we are united in the path we take together.

I believe that at The Heart of Sustainability – what sustainability work should be centered and grounded and built upon – is guidance from ethics, values, and morals. The Quarter 1 prompt was “What guides you towards sustainable decisions?” What guides us when we’re faced with a difficult decision? How do we ensure that our behaviors are sustainable?

I am Inupiaq and I grew up living with Indigenous cultures in their homelands across North America, and as a child, I respected and listened to our elders. During cultural gatherings and ceremonies, elders and community leaders would always speak about values like responsibility, taking care of each other, respecting the land, and thanking the earth for gifts like food, shelter, and clothing. These from-the-heart speeches were important intentional reminders of the values that the community needs to exhibit to live well and take care of each other.

Reflecting on the importance of grounding a community in values, it feels strange to look back at events and gatherings where these value reminders are missing. Speaking about our values publicly serves many purposes: value reminders are educational, uplifting, inspiring, and most importantly, they are an expression of our behaviors. Indigenous communities talk about values openly and repeatedly, and we are also leading our community by example through our actions.

Discussing values with the community helps to ensure that the community works together toward a common goal. At Sustainable Seattle, our last two events discussed ethics and values and I’d like to share the patterns that came out of these community gatherings.
Green Drinks Think Tank: Heart2Heart
The February Green Drinks event was a think tank-style gathering. I gave a brief version of my talk on defining sustainability from the Indigenous perspective and shared stories about traditional sustainable values being expressed. I also talked about the Indigenous worldview of humans as a part of nature, how nature takes care of us with gifts of food and shelter, and that it’s our duty to accept gifts and give back to nature with reciprocity.
A favorite story that resonated with our guests was when I talked about picking berries. On the tundra, some aqpik (cloudberry, pictured above) and blueberry fields stretch as far as you can see. My mother and my family taught me to be thankful while picking berries and thanking the berries becomes a very meditative process for me. I begin by thanking the berry plants, and then the arctic bumblebees, and the sun, and the rain, and the soil, and the birds or other animals for spreading the seeds. I thank every step and process that brought the berries here.
After my talk, we had a facilitated discussion and Heart2Heart think tank guests talked about togetherness, kinship, and appreciation. I also thought it was interesting that the conversation inspired a couple of guests to share stories of intergenerational education and this makes sense since values and morals are taught from one generation to the next. One guest talked about how sustainability is an enormous challenge and another resonated with others sharing stories about low consumption and making the most of resources. It was nice to hear the importance of empathy and how holistic or ubiquitous sustainability can be.
We also discussed the question of “How do we feel connected to nature every day?” It’s easy for me to feel connected when I’m on the tundra and I’m so focused on being present in my ancestral homeland. But it’s harder for me to feel connected in my day-to-day life and I need to remember my goal of feeling mindful and connected during hikes or walks around my neighborhood.

Heart Work, Mind Work during Trivia Night


In March we held our second annual Sustainability Trivia Night and we partnered with some amazing co-hosts: City of Seattle Office of Sustainability & EnvironmentDuwamish Valley Sustainability AssociationPuget Soundkeeper Alliance, and Basilica Bio. The questions covered a great range of topics. S2’s questions were open-ended to invite attendees to speak from the heart, in alignment with the quarter’s theme. There was a pattern of people valuing our interconnectedness and our collaborative efforts and wanting to live in balance with nature.
The common feeling that came out of this quarter’s discussions was a strong desire to connect with each other and to recognize the relationships that humanity needs to take care of each other. Understanding the importance of our connections gives me hope as we work together to build a sustainable future.
I wanted this quarter’s theme to bring our hearts and our feelings into the conversation about sustainability. It was hard for me to find articles and research about empathy, values, morals, and ethics and how they are all related to sustainability – and that brings me back to my opening point about the fact that ethics are missing from the mainstream discussion about sustainability.
It’s time to ground ourselves in a set of sustainable values that guide us to our shared goals. We need to start speaking about values at our gatherings. Asking the question about what guides us should be easier to answer than it has been.
If our goal is to build a sustainable future, then we need to start now by talking about our shared morals and values. Sustainability is achieved when we work together and are united in our efforts. We need our heart and our mind to work together in sustainable decisions.

Demarus Tevuk

Demarus Tevuk is a researcher, writer, and educator with a strong background in traditional ecological knowledge, native pollinators, native plants, science, and engineering. Demarus is an Inupiaq from Nome, Alaska and her childhood with indigenous communities across North America greatly influenced her research on the definition of sustainability from the indigenous perspective. Demarus earned her degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Washington and she has a certificate in Permaculture Design. She produced case studies on climate change projects led by tribes that were funded by EPA Region 10 grants. Demarus loves to pick berries and gather traditional food and she is an avid fiber artist and loves to sew, spin yarn, weave, knit, and design knitwear.

I Love Indian Tea

Many accounts from early explorers and settlers detail the unspoiled “virgin” American landscape. It is nearly impossible to step foot on any 5 miles of the Americas that have not been altered and cultivated by Indigenous people over thousands of years. These are landscapes that exist only due to human intervention and are the sites of some of the richest biodiversity in the world.
One such area is on my ancestral homeland. We call it “the prairie”, but the low ground shrub is a marsh. We gather “Indian Tea” which is called Labrador tea commonly, in the Ericaceae family. During a certain season, the marshland was set on fire. Our ancestors watched the flames, weather and wind, and minded the places where the fire would come too close to the woods. Over thousands of years, the marsh regrew the plants that we depended on in abundance and kept others on the fringes. The charcoal benefitted the soil, and the plant life encouraged the adaptation of certain species – some of which do not exist anywhere else in the world.
Due to the cession of our usual and accustomed lands during treaty times, limitations of accessibility, and misunderstandings of traditional controlled burning, the prairie is being slowly swallowed up by the forest. The concept of “virgin forest” and “virgin land” survives in many environmental sciences narratives and popular discourse. The concept maintained a version of sustainability built on the flawed idea that human intervention is a problem and if an environment is simply left alone, then nature will rebuild itself. This landscape was created and needs our hand in maintaining it so plants and living things do not vanish.
My great-grandmother told me how her family continued to paddle canoes to gather resources like tea, and today my family drives to trailheads and walks miles to gather tea in the perfect environment that our ancestors made. The sips we take of steeped tea are a connection to the land, our memory of the medicines of grandmothers, and our recognition of our responsibility.


MaryJane Ides

MaryJane Ides is an enrolled member of the Makah tribe, and grew up on the Makah reservation in Washington State. MaryJane was constantly surrounded by a rich culture and by artists, craftspeople, and by various culture-bearers who encouraged her developing artistic skills. She was fortunate to have known her great-grandmother and some of her great-grandmother’s sisters, all of whom were accomplished basket weavers. MaryJane was taught how to make basketry out of the inner bark of the Western Red Cedar tree and marsh grasses. While in her late teens and early 20s, MaryJane took a great interest in much older utilitarian basketry of the era prior to the coming of settlers and learned greatly from the Ozette village archaeological collection at the Makah Museum. From working with the Ozette basketry collection and other objects made of cedar bark, she was able to build upon the teachings of her great-grandmother and integrate the making of utilitarian items and basketry into her skill set.
To see MaryJane Ide’s jewelry and basketry, check out her FirstDaylightDesigns store or her Instagram page.