As noted in our call out, this special issue of Plumwood Mountain Journal has a focus on the intersections between environmentalism, human rights and Indigenous rights issues. Such intersections seem not only necessary, but logical to us, and we believe the evidence-based reality of the ‘sustainability’ of First Nation custodianship over land as opposed to the rapacious exploitations of colonial-industrial interventions supports this logic.
But logic in itself is never enough, and the material and spiritual implications of respecting First Nations custodianship and place-specific relationships to country/land speak beyond all the attempts of colonial capital to erase, replace and supplant. Those material and spiritual ‘qualities’ of a (totemic and otherwise) relationship to land (which is much more than ‘place’), are embedded in language and song, in movement and relationships, in actions and cultural knowledge. They don’t need Western ideas of poetry to validate them or to convey their meanings, but ‘poetry’ as an act of publication has become a lingua franca of resistance, and ‘eco-’ meeting ‘justice’ produces a poetics of rights that might be a means of challenging that very colonial rapacity. We are interested in poetry that addresses injustice, however direct or indirect a particular poet may choose to be. Really, it’s a case for a poetry of sensitivity and conviction. It’s a case for the biosphere. It’s a case for pluralistic modes of respect.
So, as also stated in our call out, our aim is to present an array of poetry that consolidates ‘rights’ and opens up ‘new’ perspectives on how ecologically-concerned poetry can be sensitive to First Nations cultures, country, and knowledges, and also take into account global human rights focuses. That doesn’t mean that every poem here directly refers to First Nations peoples, but every poem respects environment and the biosphere, and in doing so respects First Nations. Some poems are written by First nations poets and directly address both the necessity of healthy natural environments and healthy biosphere, while critiquing colonial rapacity which is the cause of so much personal, community and ecological damage. Other poems are written by non-First Nations poets who are deeply concerned about a loss of contact with the natural world—a distance that leads to insensitivity, indifference, and ultimately the destruction of the biosphere we all rely on, we all share.
These concerns might be expressed through a poetry of climate rights that refutes invasive, colonising/exploitative industries that ride roughshod over the dignity and health of the biosphere. That was our hope, and the poems we received addressed these concerns in various ways and to varying degrees, but the selection we ended up making seems to us to provide enough of a ‘cross-section’ of approaches, differences, concerns and sensitivities to these issues to work in their own terms, but also to contribute to the collective document of a poetics of rights.
One of the complexities in asking for poems that convey a sensitivity for First Nations cultures is that we inevitably received poems that seemed to position as First Nations voices without First Nations knowledge. It’s always tough to make decisions about such poems in an anonymous call-out, but where we doubted we chose not to include poems that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as appropriating cultural knowledge. This doesn’t mean every decision we made was the best one, but we made such decisions in the most informed way we could, using the words and spirit of the pieces as our guides. Intersectionality is not a permission or exemption, it is a complex set of responsibilities that might in part align and in part shift and even digress, almost deflecting off each other.
So, in the end, what we have here is a set of commissioned poems from First Nations poets from different lands and cultures, and a few dozen poems selected from anonymous submissions. Together they form a temporary community of ‘nearness’, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily affirm or validate each other, rather than they are their own voices, and possibly those of their particular communities, but they all share a common intent in contributing to a poetics of rights — the rights of peoples to self-determination, rights over their cultural and spiritual beliefs, rights over country, and shared rights of life and biosphere.
So, we hope readers enjoy this issue, and that it prompts thoughts about a poetics of rights.