Clarene Yvonne Davis
Clarene Davis is my name, and I am 26 years old. I am an aspiring indigenous activist who is still in school and pursuing a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences. I'm collaborating with the Navajo Nation and Columbia University. On air quality, I've been collaborating with Mom Clean Air Force, Earth Gen, and Whiteswan Environmental. My main ambition in life is to be known for my activist work, which includes work with tribes.
Who has influenced your work, or continues to influence your work?
My artwork portrays my identity as a young Indigenous woman and my culture, traditions, and lifestyle. As a woman of Dine', I speak for the Navajo Nation and my family. Growing up, I was exposed to my language on a daily basis and educated about what it meant to be Navajo. My inspiration comes from participating in ceremonies, learning about my culture, and listening to my grandparents who teach me about their customs and help me understand mine.
What are the challenges faced in your country with regards to decolonization?
Yes, my homeland on the Navajo Nation is affected by contaminating water from arsenic and uranium by the abandoned mining on the Navajo Nation. I have been working with my internship and continue to be working with Columbia University and included two professional conference publications. This project was on the relationship between geology, water quality and public health. This work is personally important to me. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, we had to haul water from Gallup, Flagstaff, and Farmington every month. 15% of Navajo Nation residents do not have access to piped public water. Residents face elevated chronic exposure to metals such as arsenic and uranium by way of environmental contamination. The purpose of my project was to understand the geologic sources of this contamination. I am currently still working with Columbia University scientists on a communication project: including a website, newspaper op-ed, and radio program on the Navajo Nation. The purpose of this project is to involve communities in the planning of a scientific drilling project on the Navajo Nation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your familiar history? Do you feel connected to your heritage, ancestral lineage and traditions?
Yes, I have strong ties to my Dine' culture and traditions. I still have the old picture of my ancestors. Looking at these pictures serves as a constant reminder to me that I come from a long line of boarding school survivors, jewelry makers, rug wavers, medicine men and women, and sheep herders. Indigenous people are a form of resistance, and my family is the product of resiliency. We are the Genocide survivors.
Photo by Clarene Yvonne Davis
Photo by Clarene Yvonne Davis
Is decolonization and reclaiming your land back just territorial or mental too? (Western thoughts/concepts preceding the act of colonization and needing to be reinvented too)
Reclaiming what was taken and respecting what we still have are two key components of decolonization. This necessitates conscious effort. There is benefit in actively looking for what has been lost and in recalling what has been forgotten. Both as individuals and as a community, values are important to us. Many of our parents or grandparents would bless us. By creating a community, we respect that as well as our ties to extended families. We value and look out for one another. Before capitalism, our existence depended entirely on the earth and one another. We are still aware of that. No matter what others may think, we respect the sacredness in everyone and understand that no one succeeds on their own. We are still dealing with the effects of colonization generational trauma.
What are their thoughts on indigenous rights being indigenous rights instead of them being considered as part of human rights?
"MMIW is not a trend, and I am still missing, as I am not something to post or profit from." By Clarene Yvonne Davis
When we say we want environmental justice, what we really mean is that we want treaty rights to be upheld. Even though they were natives of this area, historically, indigenous people were not regarded as citizens. When the 14th amendment was enacted in 1868, it gave citizenship to all African Americans, but it was clear that native Americans were not included. Native Americans did not receive complete suffrage for more than 40 years. These blatant methods of voting suppression were not prohibited until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Native Americans were barred from voting through a variety of tactics, including poll taxes, literacy exams, linguistic barriers in the ballot, and more. Environmental problems, women's rights, and human rights overlap with social justice issues. Women suffer disproportionately as a result.
In the ‘Declaration of Indigenous People on Climate Change’ (2002), the following is stated “Earth is our Mother. Our special relationship with Earth as stewards, as holders of indigenous knowledge, cannot be set aside. (…) Therefore, in our philosophies, the Earth is not a commodity, but a sacred space that the Creator has entrusted to us to care for her, this home where all beings live.” In your opinion, how can indigenous communities contribute to fight climate change?
Tribes have historically played an important role in environmental issues including air quality and climate change. Tribal citizens are often disproportionately affected by air pollution. Tribes are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are taking steps to prepare for and become more resilient to these changes. Many Native American tribes across the United State are heavily impacted by environmental activity independent of their own communities.
These outside environmental activities include mining, fracking, and drilling. This exploitation can negatively impact the surrounding environment and the health of Native communities. There are 500 abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation and they need to be cleaned up. Arsenic and Uranium exposure can cause cancer and kidney disease. The EPA, U of A, ASU, UNM and other agencies are working to clean them up.
In your opinion, what is the best way to establish a contemporary dialogue with Western culture?
All my life my family has been telling me that school is very important and it will get you where you need to be in life but for me growing up and being a boarding school student and having the chance to change generational trauma by being able to work with my own tribe on water quality and working with Salt River Pima reservations on air quality and being able to work with different tribes on environmental issues and doing research. I attend to practice both western culture and indigenous perspective in my science research collaboration with non profit organizations, or internship, and universities. I also have to introduce myself at professional conferences and I am proud to be Dine’ and being from a small town called Many Farms, Arizona. Because it’s where my family lineage is from. I do bring both to my work and having my culture with me at all times.
What is your idea of contemporaneity?
I can only speak for myself, but I constantly consider indigenous perspectives. I'm excited to keep speaking up in a radical voice on behalf of my indigenous communities. I have to constantly be aware of my origins and my ancestors who came before me. Although I am quite happy with my efforts thus far, I still have a long way to go in terms of education and opportunities. I always have my grandparents' independent wisdom with me. For me, it's important to identify as Dine, which is Navajo for "the people." I am currently very appreciative of my work on air and water quality with my own tribe as well as with other tribes.
Activist and artist: Clarene Yvonne Davis
Based in Many Farms, Navajo Nation, United States
Culturally Arts Collective features:
"On Our Lands", August 29th - October 10th, 2022,
Milostka Center for Exhibitions