Greetings from Oregon, fellow environmental lovers and leaders in the fight for justice!

My name is Rie Tanabe, I’m from Salem Oregon, and one of my first memories ever is standing beneath great canopies of Oregon White Oak trees in my grandparents’ backyard. Gazing up at the behemoths that grew from seedlings, catching the sun rays skipping over the tree leaves, I was reminded even at that ripe young age of three that there are inner workings of this Earth that we cannot always see, and that silent magic is what I’ve come to be astounded by, obsessed with, in love with, and have respect for.

I recently graduated from Willamette University with  B.A. in Environmental and Earth Sciences with a Social emphasis. One of my most favorite classes I took was called “Politics of Environmental Ethics”, or just, “Environmental Ethics”, sans the politics. The reason this class was my favorite is because it forced me to separate myself from all other things natural. It begged me to answer questions like, “Who is worthy of respect? All living things or just humans, and why?” “If you answered all living things, who has precedence?” “If you had to kill a living thing, what would it be; a carrot, a cow, or a small child? Why?”

This way of thinking completely shifted my view of self. I am made to be a part of a system, a whole, great, complex system with multiple variables and players. Who am I to decide which players are less significant? And if I have the rightful authority over plants and animals, should I not be their most respectful caretaker, ensuring their lasting life on this Earth, same as mine?

What we read, talked about, watched, and wrote about in that class reinforced something I already knew, a philosophy of life I had already adopted at the age of three; we are the stewards of this Earth that the Creator made for us to live in harmony with, so that our world would be beautiful and kind and deserving of His loves. So, with this supplemented way of life fresh in my eager mind and body, what should I do to spread the word?

I found EcoFaith Recovery at an opportune time. My head kept wrapping around thoughts and questions like “Rie, how can you take what you’re learning right now and apply it in the real world?” “What are the biggest takeaways here?” and “Can I even make a difference by myself?”

For transparency and efficiency, let’s just say that that last question of “can I even make a difference by myself” was quickly and abruptly answered; no. However, I soon learned that EcoFaith Recovery would equip me with this amazing group of likeminded folks who, amazingly, were just as confused but also just as passionate for answers and outlets. It’s within my intern cohort where I feel comfortable enough to say “Guys can we talk about this major event that just happened in our country?” or “I need space to think but can you pray for me?”

In a season of recovering (5 years of undergrad…I’m taking a “long summer”) I will use this time to reflect on what I’ve learned from my formal education. I’m also taking the time to learn what I can from my place in this world. Where do I live and what is the history of this place? What grew here, what grows now? Whose land was this before it was settled?

Which brings me to the overarching theme of my internship project; social and environmental justice for the Indigenous peoples, plants, and animals of the Willamette Valley.

Recently I’ve had the amazing opportunity to talk with and read about Indigenous people in Oregon and Washington. I use their words when I say “saying sorry isn’t enough”. While in the Columbia Gorge this summer with Presbyterians for Earth Care, The Reverend David Bell from Yakama, WA spoke as part of a faith panel discussing the Doctrine of Discovery and it’s influences in Western Civilization. He said that, in order to move forward from our legacy of violence and force, we must give action-oriented recognition that the Doctrine of Discovery is what our system and theology is based on. When asked for an example of living action-oriented recognition, Rev. Bell said “Make no decisions without an indigenous voice. Sure, everyone gets to talk and have ideas, but the indigenous decide.” By doing so, you give your voice to those who have had theirs cut off by Western powers for so many years. This, agreed Lana Jack of the Celilo Wyam Tribe, is a good step towards progress and reconciliation.

Now my task it to come up with ways to give them my voice. Who needs to speak, where are they and what do they need to say? Here is where I go from, to look for answers in the never-ending fight for social and ecological reform.

Today more than ever it is vital that we recognize our wrongdoings in the name of Christ. Saying sorry isn’t enough, and I’m taking this year to find out how to make things even a little more right in the eyes of those who have had wrongs done against them unfairly.

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“The Role We Play” (By EcoFaith Intern Rie Tanabe)

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