Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Wisdom Weavers


Ilarion Kuuyux Merculieff


by Nancy Corson Carter

Ilarion Larry” Merculieff was a notable leader when the Yukon Presbytery hosted Presbyterians for Earth Care for a Regional conference, Seeing the Signs of the Times: A Practical Theology on Climate Change” in 2014.

Larry brought a wise and thoughtful energy that we learned had its roots in his traditional Unangan (Aleut) upbringing on the remote Pribilof Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea. He had learned there to attune to the web of life in its amazing diversity—from sea lions to kittiwakes, all in great numbers then. When he was four he received his Unangan name Kuuyux.” This name is given to one person in each lifetime among his people. Kuuyux” means an arm extending out from the body, a carrier of ancient knowledge into modern times, a messenger.

He was from the last Unangan (Aleut) generation that had a fully intact traditional upbringing, where the entire village participated in raising its children. In his adolescence, he was sent by the government to boarding schools to get proper” western modern education. There,” he writes, in high-school, university and on, I climbed up the modern-world ladder, while learning its ways and harnessing them to help my tribe, the fish, wildlife and land, other Native peoples around me, and people in general.” 1

As Kuuyux, the messenger, he received a vision of gathering a multicultural council of elders and earth activists to share indigenous wisdom and sacred teachings to respond to the suffering of Mother Earth. So in 2017, Kuuyux gathered a council of thirteen Elders from around the world to meet in Hawaii on the island of Kauai. For four days, they considered Mother Earths plight, to pray and discuss what humans should do now. The Elders agreed for the occasion to be filmed—including councils and ceremonies, which is unprecedented. The site Wisdom Weavers of the World shows a 14-minute video of highlights, translated by volunteers into fifteen different languages. It was shared globally by Reuters News Agency for Earth Days 50th anniversary in April 22, 2020.     

Mother Earth is crying for her human children,” Kuuyux says in the documentary. She has lived for billions of years. Shell live for more. Its a question of whether or not we human beings are going to live.”

 The film names some of the widely diverse participants, including Zhaparkul Raimbekov, a snow leopard shaman from Kyrgyzstan, Lorenzo Izquierdo, a Mamo spiritual priest from Colombias Arhuacopeople, and Mona Ann Polacca, a Hopi-Havasupai-Tewa elder and founding member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. 2   Along with the others, their deliberations led to a unified message:

Rather than giving way to a constant striving after purely political or technological fixes, we must shift our consciousness.  If we will listen to our hearts, they said, we will know what to do.

An ancient prophecy that guides the Wisdom Weavers speaks of the necessity of balancing the masculine and the feminine. Since an imbalance favoring the masculine persists in our time, the elders say that the women must lead us now; they are the keepers of life. If women, with mens support, open their hearts and share what they know, in ceremony, in their sacred ways, the balance may be restored. 3     

On behalf of their Heart-Council Team, Kuuyux” Ilarion Merculieff encourages us: 

Today, the world is focused on the use of ones mind as the source of all intelligence, when we know that the intelligence lies not only in the head, but the entire body, which is informed by ones heart.

Trust completely, not with the mind, but with the heart (it is connected to the divine). If you are present in this moment, in your heart, and trust, all will take care of itself. This is part of what nature has taught Indigenous peoples.” 4



Global Center for Indigenous Leadership & Lifeways (Kuuyux is founder and president) is the

source of much of the information in this article.


2 Reuters,


3, The Prophecy”  (28 September 2022); gives bios

 and contact info.They plan another council.


4 Email: A Message of Wisdom from the Elders in the Time of Pandemic,” Tues. April 7, 2020

 from WWW, Aang waan: Hello, my other self.”


Nancy Corson Carter, professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College, has published two poetry books, Dragon Poems and The Sourdough Dream Kit, and three poetry chapbooks. Some of her poems, drawings, and photos appear in her nonfiction book, Martha, Mary, and Jesus: Weaving Action and Contemplation in Daily Life and in her memoir, The Never-Quite-Ending War: a WWII GI Daughter's Stories.



LAND: The Bedrock of Civilization, Foundation for Fecundity, Axis of Earth Care, and Basis of Freedom

By Andrew Kang Bartlett 

It would be hard to understate the importance of land. How we use it is an existential proposition for all forms of life from the tiny to the immense. And as Malcolm X said, Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice and equality.”


As the climate crisis intensifies, stopping land grabs and defending the land and territory rights of Indigenous, Black and African-descended peoples, family farmers, and traditional communities are core to protecting peoples and ecosystems.


Pension funds are targeting farmland for speculation and expansion of agribusiness, driving the destruction of ecosystems, displacing Indigenous and traditional communities in the Brazilian Cerrado, and family farmers in the United States - particularly farmers of color. Workers and retirees whose pension funds are invested in farmland speculation also face risks to their future stability from the unsound nature of these investments.


In response to this multi-pronged threat, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and a transnational collaboration of old and new partners joined forces to initiate the Stop Land Grabs campaign. We began slowly in 2016 and have been gaining steam ever since. Our strategy connects Brazilian and U.S.-based organizations to raise public awareness, hold financial actors accountable, stop farmland speculation, strengthen community-to-community solidarity, and defend land, food, water and other resource rights.

Financializing Land


Following the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the U.S. housing market, financial corporations began to speculate on farmland, promoting the expansion of corporate agribusiness in the Brazilian Cerrado. The Brazilian Cerrado is the most biodiverse savanna in the world. Its intricate root system plays a crucial role in Brazils water system. Much of the agribusiness expansion is for plantation agriculture” – the monocrop production of soybeans, primarily exported for feed in factory animal farms in the U.S. and elsewhere.  This rush to buy land has led to illegal land seizures and sales, uprooting and violating the land rights of Indigenous, Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian), and peasant communities with ancestral ties to the land. Tactics of intimidation, violence, and fraud have been used against these communities, resulting in human rights violations and destruction of community food systems, water sources, biodiversity, and livelihoods.


Research by our partner coalition member, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos / Network for Social Justice & Human Rights, exposed retirement fund manager TIAA (via subsidiary Nuveen) and Harvard University as the main funding sources driving these land grabs.

In the U.S., financial corporations like TIAA have spent billions of dollars to acquire hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland across the country. In Mississippi, these acquisitions have taken place in predominantly Black counties, exacerbating the effects of land theft from Black farmers. This land is rented primarily to large-scale farms for commodity crop production, especially of soybeans for animal feed.


This model of corporate land ownership, contract agriculture, and agribusiness monocultures threatens the rights of farmers and communities, the health of local food systems, and the diversity and resilience of rural economies.


Stop Land Grabs Coalition


Together, our work connects Brazil-based organizing and advocacy for Indigenous, Quilombola, peasant and traditional peoplesland rights with U.S.-based organizing and advocacy efforts led by farmers, students and faculty, and environmental, social justice and human rights NGOs and activists, connecting as well with Canada and Europe-based organizing. Other coordinating members include: ActionAid USA, Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), FIAN International, Friends of the Earth US, GRAIN, Grassroots International, National Family Farm Coalition, Maryknoll, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Rural Coalition, and Uprooted & Rising.


Our Strategy and Where You Fit In

        I.   Expose financial actors and hold them accountable for their role in land grabs

        II.  Secure Land Rights for communities on the frontlines

        III. Support communities in building alternatives


Some accomplishments of the Stop Land Grabs Campaign/Coalition (SLGC) on these strategies:

I.  Exposing financial actors and holding them accountable for their role in land grabs

        SLGC has held teach-ins and webinars around the country to raise public awareness about the issue of land grabs and connections to social, economic, and environmental injustices, and weve inspired action among hundreds of participants.

        Advocacy based on our research led to a decline in new farmland investments in Brazil. For example, a new global farmland fund launched by Nuveen/TIAA has raised less than 25% of its $2.4 billion target as of July 2020, and exposing Harvard Endowment Fund for its land grabbing led to it slashing its natural resources portfolio by more than half.

        Meetings with the World Bank resulted in amendments to their land regularization program in the Brazilian state of Piauí to recognize community land rights and stewardship.

        Organizing on college campuses has birthed five successful faculty resolutions that call on TIAA to provide transparency and accountability in its land grabbing and deforestation investments. The State University of NY system passed a rash of faculty senate resolutions.


II.  Securing Land Rights by accompanying communities on the frontlines

        We provided documentation critical to annulling over 124,000 hectares of illegal land titles, demarcating 400 hectares of land belonging to traditional communities, and winning legal recognition of land rights for three Indigenous and traditional communities in the state of Piauí in 2020-21.

        Working with farmers organizations and educational institutions, we analyzed policy and collected narrative-based data on the impact of corporate land grabs on farmers of color in the Mississippi Delta region.


III.  Supporting communities in building alternatives

        Collective land rights secured for rural communities in Brazil have made it possible to protect ecological food production, water sources, local knowledge, culture, and biodiversity.

        Bringing together small farmers in the U.S. to develop alternatives has led to the formation of cooperatives, land trusts, community farms, mentor farms, food processing and distribution hubs, building alternatives to the dominant corporate consolidation and expansion approach.

        The development of farmer-led policy solutions by community leaders in the Rural Coalition have led to equity provisions in the Farm Bill that ensure assistance and access for young and beginning farmers, BIPOC farmers, and farmworkers transitioning to farming in shaping the future of agriculture.


Help Stop Land Grabs in Three Ways


We need your support to increase our impact and strengthen Stop Land Grabs!

1.      Stay abreast of the campaign with our enewsletter and sign the petition to TIAA.

2.      Check out and share the story map on land grabs developed for campus organizing  .

3.      Donate to the Presbyterian Hunger Fund so we can continue this work and to support partners in the Coalition.


Andrew Kang Bartlett has worked with the Presbyterian Church (USA) Hunger Program in Louisville, KY since 2001. The Hunger Program works to create healthy, sustainable and just local food economies globally. Andrew works to equip Presbyterians and others around initiatives, partnerships and campaigns that address the underlying causes of hunger, and he coordinates the U.S. grant-making program. In Louisville, he is active on the leadership teams for the Food in Neighborhoods Community Coalition

Building Bridges


Planting trees in Armenia

Amenia Tree Project Builds Bridges

By Eric Diekhans

Wedged between Turkey and Azerbaijan, many American wouldn’t be able to find the small, land-locked country of Armenia on the map. But Armenia Tree Project has become a model for environmental stewardship and international bridge building.

 Activist Carolyn Mugar was in Armenia during the very dark days of the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Society Union. It was a time of war and an energy crisis, as well as the aftermath of a terrible earthquake. There was no water, no heat, and no light, and people were denuding the landscape to heat their homes, even cutting down trees in city parks. Mugar saw that even if Armenia survived these crises, the mass deforestation would bring about an environmental catastrophe.

But Mugar had a vision of a better tomorrow, that led her to found Armenia Tree Project. “What Armenia needed was hope,” says Jeanmarie Papelian, Executive Director of ATP.

Mugar, believed planting trees was a very visible way to give hope to desperate people. In the 28 years since its founding, ATP has planted and seven million trees, serving the Armenian people, offering jobs and raising the standard of living, and protecting the global environment.

 ATP doesn’t just plant trees and move on. Its team in conjunction with local workers it hires, cares for the trees and makes sure they thrive.

 Education Builds Bridges

 Environmental education has become another major focus for ATP. “We felt that it was really important for the next generation of Armenians to be better stewards of the environment,” says Papelian. “We reach thousands of students every year, not only in Armenia, but in many parts of the diaspora.”

 The educational program is called Building Bridges, and engages youth in Armenian schools and churches. Youth groups even travel to Armenia, where they visit an ATP education center, where they are paired with students from a local school. They receive a lesson, do an educational activity, and then they all plant trees together.

 Churches are a central part of the Armenian Diaspora community, which is spread all over the world, and congregations have become deeply involved in this work. “Any Armenian you meet will tell you that Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion in the year 301,” says Papelian.  “We’ve had great success in spreading our message through churches. I’m always invited to speak at coffee hours and to Sunday school classes.”

 Papelian likes to share Gensis 1:29 with her audience. “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.”


 Armenia Tree Project has collaborated and been inspired by other environmental organizations around the world. One nonprofit they’ve worked with is the Jewish National Fund, which plants forests in Israel.

 In 2019, ATP co-hosted an international forest summit at the American University in Yerevan in connection with their 25th anniversary. “We talked about the challenge of reforesting Armenia,” says Papelian. “The country is currently at about ten percent forest cover. Ideally, experts say, it should be twenty percent.”

 During the summit, ATP brought in representatives from the Jewish National Fund, and from the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, to talk about their approaches.

 The three countries have very different climates but, according to Papelian, “there are still lessons to be learned about engaging the local community and how to take action on their own, because it has to be a bottom up approach.”

Armenia Tree Project is eager to share its vision beyond the Armenian community. “Invite us to come and talk about Armenia Tree Project,” says Papelian. “You don’t have to be Armenian to appreciate that anywhere in the world where people are planting forests will benefit all of us.”

 If you want to get even more involved, you can visit Armenia to explore ancient Christian monasteries and churches, eat delicious food, and visit an ATP site, where you can make a difference by planing your own tree.


Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, video producer and editor, and a passionate cyclist. He’s a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago, where he has served as an Elder and Deacon.