Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering

Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering:

“Interspiritual Contributions to Social And Ecological Sustainability” – October 20-22, 2017

The Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering took place in the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish an Tsleil-Waututh peoples, at the place now known as Vancouver, BC, in October 2017.

Who came together:

With the active support of the United Religions Initiative (URI), Vancouver School of Theology Interreligious Studies, the First Nations House of Learning, the Multifaith Action Society and the Vancouver Unitarians, the ISC brought together sixty spiritually-and-environmentally interested peacebuilders with interfaith delegates from the Salish Sea bioregion. The intention of this meeting was to strengthen the connection between ecological leadership and interspiritual community in places from Campbell River at the north end of Vancouver Island to Seattle and surrounding areas in the south.

Why we met:

The Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering focused on turning the negative climate change narrative into a story of public hope and commitment. The task of the meeting was to re-imagine how to live in this bioregion in a carbon-constrained future, and in harmonious and just relationships with other peoples, other species, and the life-support processes of Earth. We aimed to root climate solutions in our common humanity and our intrinsic connection with the natural world, and to colour-in a practical picture of the benefits that lie in store when we’ve re-tooled our communities for authentic partnerships with the peoples and natural ecosystems of this place.

We were blessed by this opportunity to connect with one another and engage with a possible future that’s both ecological and kind. Working together on the bases of scientific analyses and shared interspiritual principles, we believe that we can build on past strengths to incorporate new insights and identify useful tools for a new reality. We wanted to bring to light a hopeful vision that honours ecological balance, benefits everyone equitably, and does no harm. To make this future real, we began with this gathering to strengthen human community that is motivated by and fosters mutual empathy and compassion.

We know people are capable of tremendous generosity and brilliant creative shifts, especially in emergencies when reflection and caring conduct are needed urgently. Through the course of human history, courageous leaders and peoples have worked across boundaries to model moral leadership, consider the big picture, and share innovative solutions that serve the common good more effectively. This is our time to be courageous.

There are urgent reasons to do this, because we’re living in a pivotal moment for peoples, places and a planet we love. The prosperity in certain sectors of Western societies has been gained at grave cost to the most vulnerable human communities, as well as to other species and the life-supportive systems of the Earth. With the atmosphere warming, oceans acidifying, and weather intensification actively in process, natural ecosystems must be protected for the benefit of all and to moderate present and future impacts.

We have also been guided by regional concerns. The ecosystems of this bioregion are specifically vulnerable to the pressures of carbon-burning growth economies. Crucial decisions are being made about pipelines and tankers to intensify the production, transport and combustion of fossil fuels, with destructive impacts both close to home and worldwide — and without the consent of Indigenous peoples whose lands and cultures are directly affected. The Salish Sea Bioregion is in a social and ecological emergency. We trust, nonetheless, that this emergency can be the beginning of a climate change story that’s about public hope and commitment. Human-caused climate change gives us feedback on our conduct that opens up opportunities to reflect and to learn, and grow into our capacities more fully.

The interspiritual community can support this crucial work by linking scientific knowledge to time-tested human wisdom. By unifying mind and heart in the climate change conversation – so social and ecological sustainability are addressed together — we can enter holistically into a fresh epoch in human history. It is also our hope that showcasing options for social and ecological sustainability, and documenting the unfolding of this process, can illuminate principles and practices that can also benefit collaborations in other bioregions across the continent.

Principles, Peoples and Practices

First Principles

The interspiritual organizers of this gathering are committed to an ecological future vision for the Salish Sea Bioregion that values the sacred oneness and interdependence of all existence.

(Nuts a maht = “we are one” in Coast Salish language), is lived by the “Golden Rule” of treating Earth and all living beings with the respect and compassion with wish to be treated, and is grounded in both scientific and experiential ways of knowing. We believe that climate change is a moral/ethical issue that calls for a moral/ethical response.

The founding principles of this meeting reflected our shared conviction that mutual empathy and compassion are essential moral/ethical responses to climate change, and fundamental to the sustainability of civilization. As the atmosphere heats up, we see around us the same patterns of social inequality, injustice, concentrated wealth and power, and persistent exploitation of the natural processes of Earth, that led earlier civilizations to collapse when climate circumstances shifted. We understand that the converse is also true. Cultures that encouraged cooperation for the common good were also most likely to adapt successfully to new climate conditions.

First Peoples

The Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering reflected foundational commitments to authentic, just, and respectful relationships with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Some of the multicultural organizers of this meeting were Indigenous; others among us lived here as settlers. All of us are grateful for the moral wisdom and ethical commitment with which the Coast Salish peoples have cared for these lands and waters through millennia.

We brought to this work our shared humility for harms done to the Indigenous peoples of this place, and for harms that continue today. And we brought the shared conviction that authentically honouring the sovereignty of Coast Salish peoples over their traditional territories and teachings is fundamental to redress for cultural and geographical colonization. We continue to stand in accord with the Coast Salish peoples in their commitment to healing and protecting the ecosystems that support all life in the bioregion.

First Practices

Each of us in our way has the power to contribute to an ecologically responsible and compassionate world. We start by cultivating within ourselves a moral, ethical and spiritual framework that supports health and happiness for more than just our self, kind and group. Each of us can practice “the golden rule” of treating others as we wish to be treated. As spiritually engaged people, we can also share wisdom insights and practices with those who seek them so that community by community we are as ready as possible to face climate-related challenges with strength and grace. In addition, we can respond to climate challenges together to limit present and future harms to the Earth, including humans.

In all of this, the leadership of interspiritual networks is upheld by underlying streams of shared wisdom practices and teaching. These underlying wisdom streams flow beneath the diversity of interfaith cultures and beliefs, and emerge from human experience of the oneness and interdependence of all things. Regular practices of stillness and inner attention, drawn from religious, Indigenous and philosophical wisdom sources, cultivate direct awareness of a sacred unity that connects us with the whole natural world and with each other.

The Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering meant to honour the powerful role that wisdom practices can play in enhancing human capacity to release fear and ego and centre our conduct in goodness. Participants were invited to “sit” together morning and evening, each of us centred in a familiar practice from our own path or tradition. There were also numerous opportunities to experience and appreciate the presence-based practices of others.

Further and related readings on the Salish Sea Bioregional Gathering can be found in the Blog section of this website, accessible through the Front Page.