NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. — In late January, the newly created Nature’s Spirit Conference brought together scientists, activists, and spiritual leaders from various religious traditions to raise awareness for and address the critical water and environmental challenges facing South Florida.The goal of this day-long conference was twofold: to provide scientific information about the environmental challenges facing Florida and to explore interfaith and spiritual opportunities that will invigorate environmental activism.

Everglades National Park [Public Domain]

Everglades National Park [Public Domain]

The conference took place January 28 and was organized by the Pagan Environmental Alliance and the Justice Action Ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches, and it was held in the Congregation’s sanctuary. Under near perfect weather, activists and others gathered to strengthen their understanding of the connections between science and their various religious paths with the goal of helping Florida’s ailing environment.

The criticality of the moment was not lost on the morning panelists who focused on educating the forty or so conference attendees on the vital issues facing the state and her waters.

After a brief welcome and opening blessing by Rev C.J. McGregor of the UU Congregation, Marty Baum, the Indian Riverkeeper and member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, began the morning panel discussion by immediately raising the immediacy of action required to foster a sustainable relationship with the environment and the accessibility of fresh water.

Baum exhorted that “you have a right to clean water.”

In that talk, Baum said that, when a government fails to limit contamination of water, which he called “our most vital resource,” it is more than negligence or political expediency. “Half the state, in one direction of the other is drying for lack of water,” he asserted.

Baum added that we should understand water to be a national treasure not merely a national resource to be exploited.

Other panelists agreed. Mr. Drew Martin of the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group underscored the critical role that fresh, unpolluted water plays in sustaining the complex ecology of the Florida Everglades, where even small amounts of contaminants may have far-reaching consequences across both distance and time.

Each of the panelists noted the recent algal blooms in South Florida as indicative of the need for more activism, vigilance, and regulation.

Agal bloom around docks in Florida [Photo Credit: By John Moran / Public domain]

Agal bloom around docks in Florida [Photo Credit: By John Moran / Public domain]

However, the main thrust of the conference was on religion-based action. Citing the struggles of the Great Lakota Sioux Nation and their allies resisting the North Dakota Keystone pipeline project, more commonly known as DAPL, and the lessons of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, the conference’s book made clear that “faith is a potent mover for human action”.

Dayan Martinez, one of the conference founders and member of the Pagan Environmental Alliance, explained his personal motivation for wanting to create the Nature’s Spirit Conference.

“I organized the majority of the conference myself. I had some help from members of Palm Beach Pagans, our local social network of Pagan folks.I organized it to make two points. First spirituality has a role to play in environmental activism. And, secondly it is an integral part of Pagan spirituality to be an activist.”

The event’s afternoon panel honed in on those two issues.Participants from different religious traditions offered insights into how spirituality informs and helps each of them manifest their activism. The panel included Rev. Houston R. Cypress of the Otter Clan of the Miccosukee Tribe, who offered a benediction and addressed the relationship that Native Americans have with the land and the water of the Everglades.

Another panelist, Whale Maiden, is founder of the Earthways Shamanic Path. She noted how much she enjoyed the exchanges across the religions represented and found the panel interactions “thought-provoking.”

Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida noted that activism and spirituality are bound in the words we release to the universe. She explained how words create our path and how choosing the right words help us align ourselves with the natural environment and living in harmony with it.

Panelists at Nature's Spirit Conference. From let to right,

Panelists at Nature’s Spirit Conference. From let to right, Betty Osceola, Rev. Houston R. Cypress, Rev. Tom Norris, Whale Maiden, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Kristin Ixayacuauhtli Bauer, and Samuel Tommie. [Photo Credit: Kathy Lezon]

Participants of the conference were impressed with the intersections of religion and environmentalism. Kathy Lezon, the current Second Officer of Everglades Moon Local Council and former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, made it a point to attend the conference.  Lezon commented that she “was drawn to the combination of spirituality and environmentalism.”

“With all the loud political rhetoric swirling around us,” Lezon continued. “I thought that a day spent talking about Florida’s earth-issues would be (literally and energetically) grounding.”

Martinez also noted that he felt very fortunate “to have the involvement of a wide array of interesting people, representing various organizations from Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group to Audubon Society of the Everglades, to members of the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes of Florida. Everyone seemed to walk away inspired, uplifted, and asking for more on the topic.”

The conference also provided practical advice on leveraging religious belief and one’s relationship with the Earth to promote action and environmental awareness. “I really enjoyed the interfaith approach, along with hearing from experienced and working activists,” Lezon said, adding that she felt that the conference “helped [her] develop some ideas about what I could do to make a difference”.

As for next year, Martinez said, “I will absolutely hold it again … In the meantime, I will remain in contact with those contacts and alliances I made and continue to find ways to work together for Florida’s environment. There might also be a “reunion feast” in the works for the Fall.”