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Bioregionalism: Belonging in Practice through Placemaking


white woman sits on the edge of a large boulder overlooking a river in early fall as the leaves are changing green to yellow. Title: Bioregional Placemaking in 7 easy steps

Bioregionalism is a grassroots movement that aims to bring about social change by supporting people to care for, protect and restore relationships with local ecosystems. It is grounded in an eco-centric worldview which holds that earth’s ecology and ecosystems (including its atmosphere, water, land, and all life forms) have intrinsic value. This article explores bioregionalism as a method of practice for developing the muscle of belonging.


Overview:

  1. 7 Steps to Bioregional Placemaking

    1. Learn about your bioregion

    2. Support Indigenous land back efforts - and why it matters

    3. Learn your hardiness zone and grow your own food

    4. Track and study the native plant species of your area

    5. Attune to the seasons & moon tides

    6. Engage in local environmental justice issues

    7. Observe the living world around you



Introduction


home (n.) Old English ham "dwelling place, house, abode, village; region, country," from Proto-Germanic haimaz "home" (source also of Old Frisian hem "home, village," Old Norse heimr "residence, world," heima "home," Danish hjem, Middle Dutch heem, German heim "home," Gothic haims "village"), from PIE (t)koimo-, suffixed form of root *tkei- "to settle, dwell, be home."

Belonging is the practice of making home in the world, and home is as much about place as it is about the relationships that make up a place. In this context, place is a term I use to describe a web or network of relationships that form an interdependent ecological community of beings who rely upon one another for mutual thriving. Place encompasses land and all the more-than-human relations that make up a place, such as animals, spirits, memories, seas and people.


The quality of connection and reciprocity between participants within a place determines the strength of the community and so there is an inherent responsibility that each participant carries on behalf of the community. The needs of the community give definition to each participants purpose as it relates to their specific gifts and skills.


Therefore, belonging is not a destination that one eventually arrives at. Rather it is an emergent process rooted in relational accountability that gives rise to a kind of dance of reciprocity that deepens trust / intimacy over time which allows a place to thrive. This sense of belonging to and responsibility for a place (the local region in which we live) is not only important in helping us to define our individual, community, and cultural identities, it is also at the very heart of climate resilience and species survival.


Intimate knowledge of natural cycles and patterns, reciprocal relationships with flora and fauna, ancestral skills of tracking, mapping and relating, and the sensitivity to subtle changes and disturbances in the bioregional landscape used to be (and in many places still is) foundational to child-rearing and is necessary for becoming a mature, attuned and empowered adult. Transmission of such ancestral knowledge systems and lifeways are delivered through cultural stories, myths, legends, practices, rituals and ceremonies.


To belong to a place is to be embedded in it. Its struggles are your contentions, its harvests your wealth, its needs your purpose. Your place’s history is the story of your own becoming. If the cloud gods move in, your own mood is grey. If the year suffers with drought, you feel the desperation of thirst in your own skin. There is no separation from the place where we live, except for the one made by our own forgetting. It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days... If we are made of the same stuff as our place, then we are expressions of that place, but the reverse is also true. What we bring, or don’t bring, to the tending of a place is also part of how that place is shaped. - Toko-pa Turner


What is Bioregionalism?


Bioregionalism is a grassroots movement that aims to bring about social change by supporting people to care for, protect and restore relationships with local ecosystems.  It is grounded in an eco-centric worldview which holds that earth’s ecology and ecosystems (including its atmosphere, water, land, and all life forms) have intrinsic value. Simply put, bioregionalism is the practice of belonging to place. In the words of Judith Plant, bioregionalism is…


...remembering and reclaiming the ways of our species where people and place are delicately interwoven in a web of life -human community finding its particular place within the living and dying that marks the interdependence of life in an integrated ecosystem…It is the practice of coming to terms with our ecological home. [1]





Bioregionalism is all about coming back into relationship with the more-than-human world and involves reclaiming ancestral ways of being that once were practiced the world over; things like knowing the names of birds by the songs they sing, or the medicinal uses of plants growing in your backyard, or knowing the migration patterns of certain animals throughout the seasons. Being attuned to such things brings us into a deeper relationship with the places we call home and expands our awareness and sense of self to include the more-than-human world.


It’s like getting to know your ecological neighborhood. It's important to learn the names of your neighbors, take the time to listen to their stories, extend a helping hand, and recognize their struggle as your own. These are all ways that naturally strengthen a sense of community and belonging. It’s the same thing with your relationship to the natural world.



Turn Off to Turn On


In our technologically oriented culture, we have become so reliant on (and even addicted to) things like social media that it takes a certain kind of discipline and conscious effort to unplug and step away from what has become the new normal - living behind screens. Taking the time to turn off is really an opportunity to TURN ON all of your senses, and awakens parts of the brain that turn off when we are constantly engaging with screens.


Reconnecting with earth is a deeply centering practice that recalibrates the nervous system and is a necessary part of our collective journey toward collective liberation and planetary resilience. Grounding in your WHY will keep you motivated to stick with the practice of coming back to nature again and again, and soon enough, you’ll wonder how you ever existed without it!


Now is the time to participate in a healthy, regenerative way of relating to people and the planet. Your presence, engagement, and awareness is critical for the health of our only home: Earth. Bioregional Placemaking invites you to be more intentional about how you relate to place, to be conscious of the relationships that make up your life-place, and to be a participant within the communities and ecosystems where you live in a way that restores and regenerates networks of care and mutual thriving.


Empire thrives when we are disconnected from the source of life, when we are isolated from nurturing connections, and when we are cut off from traditional ways of being that teach us how to be in relationship with the land that is reciprocal and regenerative. We are disconnected from our roots, to place, and to the soils beneath us. We have been conditioned to ignore, extract, consume, and capitalize on Earth's limited, precious gifts for the sake of individual greed and political power.


Creating space in your life to engage with earth in meaningful ways is an active pathway toward a regenerative future, climate resilience, and establishing a true sense home in the place that feeds, nurtures, and loves you unconditionally. Your ecological home is waiting for your return with arms open wide.




7 Steps to Bioregional Placemaking


Step 1: Know Your Bioregion


As you begin to orient yourself to the natural community that surrounds you, you’ll begin to notice that there are general similarities in the many different ecosystems that you find yourself occupying within a given area. Common characteristics will include things like the types of trees, native plant species, soils, wildlife, flora, fauna, and other cycles and patterns that are unique to the region.


These ecosystems and groupings of organisms that share a common evolutionary history are known as bioregions and can be further subdivided into smaller ecoregions. Bioregionalism invites us to see the places we inhabit as part of living systems nested within even larger systems.


A bioregion can be seen as a special body of earth who carries and expresses unique shapes, features, personalities, textures, and miraculous networks of intelligence - kind of like YOU! You can learn more about your bioregion by researching the characteristics that make it so unique.


You can start by exploring One Earth which features bioregional maps spanning the globe.


Bioregionalism at a glance:


In general, bioregional maps outline spatial patterns and the composition of biotic and abiotic phenomena that affect or reflect differences in ecosystem quality and integrity. This includes geology, physiography, vegetation, climate, soils, land use, wildlife, and hydrology.


In the so-called "USA," the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines four different bioregional levels highlighting variation in greater detail.

  • Level I is the broadest level, dividing North America into 15 ecological regions.

  • Level II divides the continent into 50 regions intended to provide a more detailed description of the large ecological areas nested within the level I regions

  • Level III highlights 105 bioregions, which are smaller ecological areas nested within level II regions.

  • Level IV consists of 867 ecoregions, which are smaller ecological areas within level III regions.

For Canadian comrades, this website offers a lot of amazing information pertaining to the marine bioregions across the nation.




As you begin to study your Bioregion through these different maps, you will begin to orient yourself to the natural area in which you walk, breath, play, sleep and work. This will allow you to learn, sense, and feel into the personality and characteristics of the body of Earth that you are touch everyday.



Step 2: Support Indigenous Organizing Efforts - and why it matters.


“When we talk about land, land is part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future. We carry our ancestors in us, and they’re around us.” - Mary Lyons (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)


Taking the time to learn about the Indigenous Territories that you reside within and occupy is a first step toward situating yourself within a historical context of settler colonialism and acknowledges (makes visible) Indigenous presence and their ongoing struggle against settler occupation.


This is important because western education strategically frames history from the vantage point of white supremacy which justifies imperialism, settler colonialism while erasing and making invisible the voices and histories of Indigenous peoples, Black and Brown people, as well as immigrants and refugees. Unlearning the history we were spoon-fed in colonial education as children is a part of becoming a mature adult today. Knowing and accepting the truth of our history calls us into greater integrity and relational accountability.



Sure, it might feel uncomfortable for white folks at first, but staying comfortable doesn't get us anywhere. In fact, staying in our comfort zone creates stagnancy and complacency. Learning how to be with and appreciate the growth that comes from discomfort is a critical aspect of becoming a mature adult. Finding spaces to do develop this capacity with other folks is an important part of our individual and collective healing journey. We encourage you to find a community where you can do this work with others. If you're interested in this, check out the Sacred Grove. B


As you work to cultivate your relationship to place, to Land and Waters, it is important for you to connect to the memories, stories, and imprints that the land carries within the roots, rocks, soils, and waters. Your personal relationship to land will deepen as you contemplate the cultural narratives that have shaped you and unearth the longstanding history that has brought you to reside on the land you find yourself as you seek to understand your place within that history.


Coming into sacred relationship with place is inherently connected to the work of unsettling whiteness and decolonization since Indigenous presence, culture, and histories are tied to Land and Waters. Land theft and violence against ecosystems was (and is) interwoven with ongoing violence against Indigenous Peoples across the world. They cannot be separated. Knowing your personal identity within culture and the impacts that your cultural identity carries allows you to be more ecologically attuned.


Start by learning the names of the Indigenous lands that you occupy by visiting Native Land. Consider integrating this practice when you travel. The more you do this, overtime you will begin to develop a critical consciousness about place and your relationship to it. Keep in mind that this map is only a starting place.


Get to know and become involved with local Indigenous LANDBACK efforts which is described as "a movement that has existed for generations with a long legacy of organizing and sacrifice to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands." Currently, there are landback battles being fought all across Turtle Island, to the North and the South. Contact local tribal nations where you live / are visiting; ask questions about the lands you occupy.


Financially support Indigenous land taxes. The Shuumi Land Tax is a great example and directly supports Sogorea Te’s work of rematriation, returning Indigenous land to Indigenous people, and building urban gardens, community centers, and ceremonial spaces so current and future generations of Indigenous people can thrive in the Bay Area. Shuumi means gift in the Ohlone language Chochenyo. If this is not available, consider financially supporting other landback efforts or local indigenous mobilization efforts in your area.



Step 3: Learn Your Hardiness Zone & Grow Your Own Food


Another amazing way to begin establishing a relationship with your place is to start planting - anything! There are so many wonderful plant friends to fall in love with... maybe you are a big foodie - grow food! Perhaps you love the smell of flowers - grow flowers! Have you always wanted to learn the names of trees? Starting planting them! The possibilities are truly endless.


Growing plants not only gets you outside, but it requires that you become attuned to the needs of your plants which takes patience and time. Caring for plant life invites you to slow down, listen deeply, and learn to pay attention to the subtleties of plant life and all of the factors that contribute to making them either flourish or perish.



To start, take some time to research what hardiness or growing/planting zone you’re in. This is the geographic area that defines the range of climate conditions in order for plants to survive and grow. The term hardiness refers to a plant's likeliness to survive the coldest time of year. For example, if a plant is said to be "hardy to zone 5," it means it can likely survive in temperatures down to -20 degrees F, the minimum annual temperature in zone -5 climates. Your hardiness is based on a temperature scale from the average lowest recorded temperature in the winter months to the average highest temperature in the summer months.


Keep in mind that hardiness zones are intended to be taken as advice since what matters most is the precise microclimate where a plant lives. Just because your area may exist within zone 5, doesn't mean that your microclimate produces variation. In fact, there may be areas within your microclimate that stay warmer than the average temperatures, allowing for the possibility of zone 6 plants to exist there. It all comes down to getting to know your land and listening to your plants and what they need.


You can find your hardiness zone labeled on the seed packets for the vegetables, flowers, bushes, and trees that you want to plant. Knowing what growing zones you’re in will guide you to becoming an attuned earth tender.


Check out this website to learn about hardiness zones around the world. For American readers, you can go directly here, for Canadians, check out this website.



Step 4: Track and Study the Native Plant Species in Your Area


In the same way that you begin to learn about Indigenous history and the nations of people that originally occupied the lands before invasive people stole it, you can also learn to identify and actively restore the native (or Indigenous) plant species who are home to your area.


Native species are plants and animals who are intimate to your bioregion or ecosystem as a result of natural processes, without any human intervention. The biggest part of considering whether or not a species is native is considering how it fits into the natural community and food web. Native species that have been in a place or ecosystem for thousands of years have evolved with and against their “allies” and “enemies.” There is a circle of long lasting relationships between native species that make up your particular ecozone.


Native species, especially native plants can be tricky to identify. You can begin by exploring what native species occupy your area through your zip code by visiting these sites:

  1. Native Fauna: Google search native fauna or wildlife or animals in your state.

    1. For example, here is the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Under the "Conserving" tab, you’ll find a list of species.



Step 5: Attune to the Seasons & Moon Tides

Everywhere we look, we can see the patterns of nature reflected back to us. From the vast expanse of the whirling galaxies all the way down to the coils of our own DNA, life unfolds in a spiral motion. As gifted storyteller, Mara Freeman, puts it:


This simple patterns holds the secret to the whole universe, for within its forms lies the feminine circle and the masculine line. Without these two movements, there would be no motion and consequently no life in this world of opposites.


How we perceive time shapes our consciousness (aka how we move through the world), whether we are aware of it or not. All of life moves in a circular formation which is contrary to what we have learned under capitalism which likes to portray time in a linear fashion (with some arbitrary starting and ending point). When we perceive life in this way, much of how we live is end-oriented with a strong focus on striving for a certain goal, outcome or what we can gain. This can manifest in myriad ways but generally people who are oriented to linear time tend to live either in the past or the future, completely missing the juicy richness of the here and now. Under linear time, what we long for is always just out of reach. An inner narrative that reflects this way of thinking goes something like this, "I will be happy when..."



But it wasn't that long ago when our ancestors lived in closer in relationship to nature, and as such their inner orientation to time was circular. Nature reflected back to them life as a journey through seasons of polarity: from light to darkness, birth to death, ebbing and flowing. Life was constantly in a state of flux, change, and never staying the same. There was birth, growth, fruition, and finally death. These cycles were honored as sacred thresholds of consciousness, and mirrored the initiations of their own lives, which included a spectrum of experiences from great wonder and joy to deep pain and sorrow.



You too can deepen your relationship to place by reclaiming your own ancestral wisdom, uncovering the past and attuning to the cycles of the seasons and moon tides. A simple way to begin doing this is by checking out our self-guided monthly Moon Ritual guide found in our online shop. These monthly moon guides are a love offering from our heart to yours, designed to unlock and awaken the natural wisdom and wellspring already present within you. The more familiar you become with nature's seasons and cycles, the more you will come to know yourself. You are what the whole universe is doing... unfolding, unfurling, and becoming.



Step 6: Engage in Local Environmental Justice Issues


As you pursue your quests for greater ecological awareness, your eyes will open to the earthly impacts of living and engaging in a system that oppresses. Most of you are already experiencing eco-anxiety and fear for our planet’s health. Within your body, you carry transmitted traumas from learning racism, patriarchy, militarism, corporate greed, capitalism, violence and Earth degradation, and other causes of immense social and environmental harm.


Environmental Justice bridges anti-racism with environmentalism and is rooted in the principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection regardless of race, color, or national origin. It’s the right to live, work and play in a clean and healthy environment.


As Greenpeace states, “When we recognize who is most at risk, we find institutional harm is interwoven with the impact of the climate catastrophe. Understanding this, fighting oppression, and centering those most marginalized help us create an environmentally just future for all.”


Environmental Justice requires that you incorporate racial and socioeconomic justice into the steps you take to live an ecological aware life, and to center the voices of those most impacted by environmental harm in the stand for the protection of our planet.




WAYS TO ENGAGE:

  1. Research Environmental Justice issues in your area (and folks organizing around them):

  2. Educate

    1. Attend an anti-racist training (You are welcome to join our next Belonging in Practice)

    2. Start a book club, or join a caucus space

    3. Learn about whose traditional territories and lands you currently occupy and the colonial history of that place (see step 2)

    4. Identify local BIPOC-led organizations who are doing this work and see how you can support


Step 7: Observe the living world around you


The last and easiest way for you to cultivate ecological awareness by getting to know your place is to immerse yourself in nature and observe! This is as simple as it sounds. Begin by slowing down and creating more space in your life to sit, listen, watch, explore and JUST BE with nature. You will learn so much in a very short period of time if you create a consistent practice that gets you outside and engaging with the natural world.


Find yourself a cozy, quiet spot nestled within a nearby landscape that will inspire you to keep coming back for more. Simply observe, be in the moment, and marvel at the beauty of Earth! Perhaps most importantly, always pay close attention to how you feel afterward... nature truly does heal. If you feel inspired, try out our free Nature Connection Wellness Guide to begin tracking your experiences in nature!


NatureConnection-WellnessGuide
.pdf
Download PDF • 4.11MB


Conclusion

white woman sits on the edge of a large boulder overlooking a river in early fall as the leaves are changing green to yellow. Title: Bioregional Placemaking in 7 easy steps

Bioregional placemaking is all about becoming intimate with the place we call home, living into our Earthly belonging.


We invite you to make yourself at home. Get to know the place you live and make friends with your more-than-human relatives.


Sit and stay awhile... and let us know what you discover.



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