By Annika Prom | Apr 28, 2020
Digital Earth Day Seminars flier

Gabrielle Coeuille and Pooja Kumar are bringing a new perspective to sustainability with their presentation as part of the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Coalition (WAHESC) Digital Earth Day Seminars. Both are currently interning with UW Recycling: Gabi is the Waste Diversion & Reduction Intern and Pooja is the Waste Diversion Assistant.

This pair will present together on environmental justice and education in local indigenous communities, topics they both researched for their senior projects. The Digital Earth Day Seminars start at 1 p.m. on Wednesday April 29, with Gabi and Pooja planned for 1:20 p.m.

Register for the event here

We spoke with Gabi and Pooja about their senior projects and what they will be addressing during their presentation.

Can you tell us about your presentation?

Gabi: We're talking about environmental justice in indigenous communities, and primarily about the partnerships with indigenous communities to address climate change. Indigenous groups are often on the frontlines of many environmental justice causes, specifically and particularly in the Pacific Northwest, but of course, all over the United States and the world. That's because, often, environmental justice causes directly affect their land, health and livelihoods. In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous groups have special positioning in power that make them powerful voices in the climate change movement. Basically, we're going to talk about why it's important to recognize that power, support indigenous causes, and create meaningful partnerships because it does impact the health of the entire population in Washington State, and then give the audience some ways that they can do that.

Pooja: I will be going into ways that we can do that with actionable findings, so I'll be bringing in my capstone research that I did with the Program of the Environment in 2019. For my capstone research, I interned with King County's Climate Action Team. I conducted research on how King County's developing their climate change communication materials, and how they are tailoring those messages towards specific communities. I got a lot of details about what they're doing with transcreation. We'll be going into depth about what transcreation is and how it's important to not only translate climate change communication and materials, but to transcreate it and make sure that the material is culturally relevant to a specific community. It's important that the work that King County is doing can still be replicated for student groups and universities to use those strategies, also.

What is “transcreation?”

Pooja: The King County Climate Action Team has a strategic Climate Action Plan that they developed where it outlines King County specific goals on targets they would like to reach, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and then increasing awareness about solid waste diversion. And with these materials, they have an English version and they have transcreated it into different languages that are the most commonly spoken in King County. Before, they used to just simply give the Climate Action Plan to a translator, and they'll translate it into the different languages. However, once community groups got their hands on these translated materials, some of the wording didn't really make sense. It's important to realize that just simply translating materials isn't going to be easy or understandable to some communities. So with transcreation, instead of working with work with community groups. 

What is an example of transcreation?

Pooja: For the Arabic Climate Action Plan, they worked with Mother Africa, which is a social and community advocacy service organization in Seattle that provides African refugees, immigrant women and families with resources in direct support. They would set up focus groups, and they would create a relationship first, and then come in and give them the materials and have it all laid out. Instead of having little booklets, they would have it blown out and into big Post-It notes and have everybody look at it together, and then provide their translations just by writing some notes. Then they'll go back, take all that information and then develop the translated version. And that's just with King County. 

Are there other transcreation methods?

Gabi: The city of Seattle did a lot of transcreation, specifically with recycling and trash guides. For example, like the English version might have what you would imagine is on a recycling guide. Then maybe they'll have a Korean version, and the Korean version would have examples of commonly seen trash items in a Korean household, and so that makes more sense to people who might have just moved here and or to older folks in the Korean community. The reason why this is relevant to our conversation is not necessarily in that capacity because lots of indigenous communities speak English, all of them do. It's more about language revitalization and recognizing the importance of their culture and including them in the conversation. 

How do you decide on this topic for your presentation and project?

Gabi: We gave them a list to choose from, and this is what they chose. I, myself, have taken many classes on environmental justice, and all of those classes are focused on indigenous activism and environmental activism in the Pacific Northwest. I was part of a class that would take field trips every other week to different tribes around the area. We went and visited the Puyallup tribe, the Tulalip tribe, and Lower Elwha tribe, to talk to elders and listen to their stories. We learned about how important they are in protecting the environment of Washington State, because often they're basically the first responders for environmental justice concerns. That really got me interested in how I can be a better ally to them, and how I can support indigenous causes. That’s where my interest in helping to encourage more people to be powerful allies comes from.

What did you do to prepare yourself for this presentation?

Gabi: Lots of classwork and research. Different court cases are really impactful on the standing of power that indigenous groups have in Washington State. For example, the Boldt Decision gives tribes in the Salish Sea a lot of power over different fishing regulations, which in turn has a huge impact on the health of our oceans in the Pacific Northwest. I also looked at scholarly readings, and read lots of work from indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest, because, of course, I don't speak for any indigenous group and I come as a non-indigenous person. My perspective is non-indigenous, and so it's important for me to represent actual indigenous voices in the presentation.

Pooja: And then on my part, my capstone work is what prepared me for this presentation. Thankfully, everything all my research in the project was already finished in the middle of 2019, so I'm just brushing up on all that.

And how does your capstone work weave into this project?
We'll also be touching on that and also on how King County also has an equity and social justice plan that they created themselves. With any climate-related materials that they end up making, they always refer back to this plan. That could be another tactic that I could propose to universities or student groups is to not only create some type of Climate Action Plan, but also an equity and social trust. To the people listening to our presentation, I could give them some pointers of, like, what the next steps that they could take when they communicate about climate change to others.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your presentation?

Gabi: I hope that they make more of an effort to support indigenous causes and make meaningful partnerships and think creatively about how they can acknowledge the presence of Native people within their communities and include them in important planning and communication efforts. 

Pooja: Basically the implication of the significance that King County has seen with their research and how there are successful ways to alter communication strategies to be more accessible for diverse communities is what I really hope people can take away from that presentation.

For those interested in getting involved with indigenous environmental justice, Gabi and Pooja recommend checking out local action groups. Some groups they suggest are Protectors of the Salish Sea and Front and Centered, both indigenous-led action networks that support climate change action. People who live in the Seattle area can also look into paying rent to the indigenous groups that held the land.