Eriel Deranger + Bill Plotkin

This week on Sea Change Radio, we dig into the archives to hear from someone who works to amplify first people’s voices in the fight for climate justice. We speak with the Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, Eriel Deranger. We discuss the intersection of the indigenous people’s and the Black Lives Matter movements, take a look at her organization’s climate report, and get an update on the Keystone XL pipeline. Then, we take a breath to learn a bit about ourselves from Bill Plotkin, an author, psychologist and spiritual ecologist. We dive into Plotkin’s teachings, outlined in his book, “The Journey of Soul Initiation,” about moving from adolescence into adulthood (both metaphorically and figuratively), and how we can all evolve as individuals to become better stewards of the planet.

Narrator | 00:02 – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

Eriel Deranger (ED) | 00:22 – Biden, who was elected in one of his first executive orders, was to cancel the Keystone XL because he acknowledged its implications to the climate crisis, but also to the fact that these projects were abrogating and violating the rights of indigenous communities.

Narrator | 00:40 – This week on Sea Change Radio, we dig into the archives to hear from someone who works to amplify first people’s voices in the fight for climate justice, we speak with the Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, Eriel Deranger. We discuss the intersection of the indigenous peoples and the Black Lives Matter movements, take a look at her organization’s climate report and get an update on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Then we take a breath to learn a bit about ourselves from Bill Plotkin, an author, psychologist, and spiritual ecologist. We dive into Plotkin teachings outlined in his book, “The Journey of Soul Initiation,” about moving from adolescence into adulthood (both metaphorically and figuratively), and how we can all evolve as individuals to become better stewards of the planet.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:45 – I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by Eriel Deranger. She is the Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action. Eriel, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

Eriel Deranger (ED) | 01:56 – Thank you for having me.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:57 – Why don’t you first tell us the mission of your organization?

ED | 02:02 – Well, we’re Canada’s premier and only indigenous led climate justice organization, and our organization was really founded out of a need for indigenous communities to have a central organization that focused on indigenous led climate justice. And our main mandate is to create resources and tools and training for indigenous communities to be leaders in driving indigenous led climate solutions and addressing Canada’s climate crisis.

AW | 02:33 – And you have a new indigenous climate policy white paper out that maybe you can summarize and then talk about what you’re hoping it turns into?

ED | 02:44 – Yeah, so, you know, some of the, the biggest challenges are is why do we need indigenous led climate solutions? It’s a big question. You know, Canada constantly states that the relationship with indigenous communities is one of their highest priorities in the country, yet we’re still developing policy and particularly climate policy without the participation of indigenous peoples. And some of the questions sort of from the larger ENGO and government world is, well, what’s wrong with the policy? Like, what’s wrong with the actual policy that we’re creating? And so this critique looks at a how the processes for the development of the Pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change and a healthy environment and healthy economy. The two primary climate policies and plans of the Canadian government excluded, well really investigates whether these plans aim at the root causes of climate change, while also respecting and meaningfully including indigenous peoples and our rights knowledges and approaches to climate action. And it also examines the efficiency of the PCF or the plan Canadian framework and the healthy economy’s healthy environment reports in driving meaningful action towards stopping catastrophic climate change. So are these reports actually going to get us to the line of stopping climate change and do they actually address root causes and include indigenous peoples in the development and approaches to climate action in the country? And so that was kind of the main aim of this report. And, you know, lo and behold, we found out that <laugh>, the, the, the pol, the policy development and the frameworks for the development of policy structurally excluded indigenous peoples from the development of these, you know, very broad based policies for addressing climate change. And in fact, violated the rights of indigenous peoples and conflicted with federal commitments to nation to nation Inuit crown government to government relationships. And in, in addition to the many calls to action from federal inquiries and reports like the TRC, the National Inquiry, and so on and so forth. So just really highlighting some serious deficiencies and how policies are developed. But, and the last piece is that a lot of the proposed, so solutions ignored realities, uh, faced by indigenous peoples in Canada who are in fact some of the most adversely and, um, the first to be hit by the impacts of climate change in the country. And it didn’t, it overlooked the structural in inequities reproduced by colonialism and other oppressive structures that have gotten us into the climate crisis we’re in.

AW | 05:26 – So can you walk us through sort of the logistics of how the latter stages of this report could and hopefully will evolve from your organization? Are you hoping for it to be read in parliament? Are you interfacing with politicians? Maybe you can kind of expand on that.

ED | 05:47 – Yeah. So the approach that we’re taking is a little different. You know, we we’re a little different in our approach just generally. Um, we really feel that communities, uh, indigenous communities across the country have the right to sovereignty, self-determination, and the autonomy on determining how to address and participate in the, in the development of climate policy in the country. And so we don’t want to act on behalf of indigenous communities. And this is a critique and analysis of the fact that yes, indigenous peoples were structurally excluded from the development of these policies. And we want to engage and invite indigenous communities to understand these policies are being created without your participation. In addition, these policies, in fact, in in some instances are in direct violation and contravention with our rights as indigenous peoples. And we see this like that example largely in the fact that the policies became policies largely look at reduction of emissions but also maintaining status quo or business as usual in the oil and gas sector through the development of offset programs and how those actually don’t address some of the root causes of the structural inequities, uh, of access to power. Um, and the continuation of our culture as indigenous peoples, our lands and territories, as well as the fact that fossil fuels are one of the main contributors to catastrophic climate change. And so we believe that knowledge is power for our communities, and we want, we want both governments, the environmental and non-government, governmental sector and the public to recognize that, acknowledge that these deficiencies exist in our current report and that we we should and could do better. And we have a phase two that involves the development of an advisory committee or council, which we already have in formation and another research phase on what would decolonial climate policies in Canada look like, uh, through the creation of an indigenous LED advisory committee in relation to interviews and community engagement strategies over the next year to present and table some actual recommendations.

AW | 08:01 – It’s a real challenge because climate change is such a vast template to work from, and so is the climate justice movement. So you’re trying to kind of carve out the piece of climate change and, and fossil fuel companies, uh, actions and how they impact specifically the indigenous communities in Canada. But a lot of the policies that you set forth would actually help all Canadians, wouldn’t it?

ED | 08:34 – Yes, that’s exactly it. So the, the reality is, is we, we don’t wanna say that nothing in the report or the policies and plans that Canada has created is, is worth anything. Um, there is important work that’s being done and there are obvious signs of improvements between the relationships of indigenous peoples in Canada with the colonial structures and governments. However, there are still serious problems that still need to be addressed if climate policy in Canada is to be just and effective. So it’s both. So it’s not just about like ensuring that indigenous peoples have access to lands and territories. It’s about that and creating real targets, real frameworks that address the inequities, but also get us closer to those targets of meeting our commitments to the Paris Agreement as well as, uh, achieving climate stabilization. And it’s not just about fossil fuels as well, like, I mean, we have to talk about the suite, literally the suite of false solutions that are being proposed as a way to achieve targets, uh, in, for emissions reductions that don’t actually acknowledge the inequities and the systems that have oppression that continue to play out. Like we can’t, we can’t consider mega hydro, you know, projects like Muskrat Falls or Site Sea, which have been contested by indigenous communities as sustainable energy systems. We have to like really think about how do we create a just future that is much more sustainable and takes into consideration the original peoples of this country and works towards truth and reconciliation, which we talk about all the time, but we aren’t, we’re still lacking ways to implement it and, and put it into action

Music Break | 10:29

AW | 11:27 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action Eriel Deranger. One issue that we’ve covered for close to a decade running now here on Sea Change Radio has been the Keystone XL Pipeline. And it, I know it was a very important topic with the tar sands element in Canada. Maybe you can kind of update our listeners with what’s going on with Keystone XL and, and how this fight has energized a a lot of your work.

ED | 12:02 – Yeah. You know, the Keystone and the Tars sands is such an interesting, um, I guess story to really sort of demonstrate the power of indigenous campaigning and indigenous rights as a way to, to change the course of climate policy, really <laugh>. Um, so the, the, the Keystone Pipeline was this massive proposed Pipeline, it, it was referred, it’s been referred to as the zombie Pipeline. It’s, it’s kind of a wild story. Um, so it’s, what makes it so interesting is it’s a binational project that obviously starts in Alberta, in my people’s territory in Treaty eight. So I’m a member of the Athabasca Chippewa First Nation. And this Pipeline for the last, for like over 10 years has been at the, the core or the center of a bunch of, uh, descent over what it means to expand dirty, dirty fossil fuels or bottom of the barrel fossil fuels like the tar sands. And we, we use tar sands as an example because it’s not your sweet conventional crude oil. This is like a dirty <laugh>, heavy fossil fuel that needs to be refined multiple times to be considered a synthetic, uh, crude oil that is, is it’s just highly energy intensive, highly water intensive and highly destructive to ecosystems that exists in Canada as boreal forests or the lands and the territories of the Dene, the Cree and the Metis peoples of those regions. And that these pipelines are then carrying these massive, um, you know, dirty fossil fuels across and traversing other indigenous people’s territories and river systems and waterways that are critical for the survival of those communities. Even further to that, and the protests around this were largely around like these pipelines when they burst because it’s not about, if they will, it’s when they burst, what will the implications be? And it’s not just about, oh, we can just clean it up. because you, we found out through the Kalamazoo spills that cleaning up tar sands is next to impossible, um, because of the, the diluent or the solvents they have to add. And the fact that it’s a heavy oil that sinks to the bottom. And within this context, it raised questions not just about land and, and the rights of indigenous peoples to protect their lands or say no to projects that traverse it. But it raises the question of like, why are we even developing dirty bottom of the barrel fossil fuels in a climate crisis? And why is it that it’s indigenous peoples that are advocating at the forefront or the front lines of these projects speaking out to protect their lands and territories in relation to their identities. Our identities are intrinsically tied to our lands and territories. And so the Keystone XL is protested. Um, and the really beautiful thing is, is that these protestors were not just led by indigenous folks, but you know, there was the Cowboy Indian Alliance in the United States that was ranchers and rural folks. And these we started to see were the values of, you know, settler colonial society and indigenous peoples were meeting. And the conversation wasn’t just about having our rights respected as indigenous peoples, but how having our rights respected were critical to us also meeting our commitments to addressing the climate crisis. And this was acknowledged when Biden was elected and one of his first executive orders was to cancel the Keystone XL because he acknowledged its implications to the climate crisis, but also to the fact that these projects were abating and violating the rights of indigenous communities. And we can start to see those direct ties between how the Keystone XL and the rights of indigenous peoples are directly tied to climate solutions.

AW | 15:55 – Eriel Deranger, thank you so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

ED | 15:59 – Thank you for having me.

AW | 16:15 – I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by Bill Plotkin. He’s a soul initiation guide and an author, and his new book is called The Journey of Soul Initiation. Bill, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

Bill Plotkin (BP) | 16:26 – Thanks, Alex. Great to be here.

AW | 16:29 – So you are a soul initiation guide, I believe you are perhaps the first soul initiation guide we’ve had on Sea Change Radio. Tell us what a soul initiation guide does. And it’s right there in the title of your book. Why don’t you fold that answer into why your book is entitled The Journey of Soul Initiation?

Bill Plotkin (BP) | 16:47 – A Soul initiation guide guides the journey of soul initiation, and that journey is the process which, uh, leads to true adulthood. And the, the problem in understanding that right away is that what I mean by true adulthood is something that isn’t at all on the map of, uh, western culture. And it’s relatively rare to have true adults in the contemporary western world. Uh, not to mention elders. And the absence of true adults or soul initiated adults is, I believe, at the root of every single crisis we have in the world today. So the absence of that process, that journey of soul initiation is a serious problem. It’s a journey that we find in healthy cultures all over the world, although there aren’t too many left because of the unhealthy cultures. But to get to a sustainable, livable future, that’s one of the things we’re gonna need is to rediscover and re-envision the journey of soul initiation.

AW | 18:00 – So can you define the idea of soul in your work?

BP | 18:05 – Yeah, that’s a really important question because like so many of, uh, the primary concepts I use, I mean something radically different than what we have in the western world. So, for example, it took me a few decades to realize that the psychological and spiritual and religious definitions of soul weren’t particularly useful to me at all. And they weren’t relevant to the process that I was learning how to, to guide for myself and others. In particular, I discovered that soul to make sense of that word, that concept we really have to understand it ecologically. So for me, it’s, it’s soul is an ecological concept. And what I mean by it is a things unique ecological niche. The, the particular singular place that an individual of any species was born to take in its in its ecosystem in a niche, of course, is the full set of relationships that an individual has with everything else in its environment. So, the idea, Alex, is that, um, everything is born to take a particular place in the world. Um, and, uh, that’s the way everything contributes to life. because uh, life is not meant to be merely sustainable. It’s meant to be, uh, enhancement of life. Everything. When we look in the world today and we look at all the other, um, species, um, we’re aware that every other species contributes to life in such a way that it enhances, uh, the life on the planet. Um, but we look at our species and we realize, wait a minute, something’s going very wrong. We’re not only not life enhancing, we’re not even life sustaining, and we’re quickly on this road to destroying much of the life on this planet. And I believe that’s again, because we’ve lost this journey of soul initiation. We’ve lost most of the true adults and elders and psycho spiritually and socially. There’s been a great decay in our contemporary cultures, even while we advance magnificently in other ways, like in the sciences, technology and the arts

Music Break| 20:38

AW | 21:18 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to author Bill Plotkin. His latest book is called “The Journey of Soul Initiation: A Field Guide for Visionaries, Evolutionaries and Revolutionaries.” So you talk about the role of humans on earth as, as our place in a community, on the earth community, and that’s, uh, and you differentiate that from ecological perspective. Why don’t you kind expand on that idea if you can?

BP | 21:45 – Yeah. This, this is part of, uh, one of the larger amounts we work with, which is a developmental wheel. Um, that, uh, is a description of the eight stages of human development. If we were to grow as nature and soul, um, would have it be. And that, um, that’s in my book, nature in the Human Soul, an earlier book. And in that book I explain that it looks like of the eight stages, eight soul centric stages of human life, we contemporary humans get stuck in the third stage and never grow past it. Too many of us, probably 80 or 90% get stuck in that third stage, which is early adolescence. I’m not talking about our early teen years. I’m talking about a psychological stage that starts at puberty and doesn’t necessarily end and doesn’t end if we get stuck in it. And in early adolescence, our life is all about our social relationships and our job and our, our identity in terms of our vocation, our creative projects or our social roles. And that’s a healthy thing for early adolescent to create a social presence that is both authentic, um, in terms of, you know, living out our values and our true emotions and so on, our interests and also socially acceptable. But too many people these days have trouble with that task and get stuck in that stage largely because of developmental problems in childhood, again, because of the kind of culture that EcoCenter culture we live in. So in early adolescence, um, we attend to identify ourselves and understand ourselves and experience ourselves in terms of our social roles and our jobs or careers. But when we go through the journey of soul initiation, which again is something that all healthy cultures have in one form or another, when we go through that and become initiated, then we understand ourselves, um, as having an identity that is defined within the, the more than human world, within the larger earth community, within the greater web of life. And that is our deepest loyalty to the unique way that we can enhance life. So when people these days tend to think about individual purpose or meaning, which there’s such a great longing for that, um, they tend to think about it in adolescent ways, which is not a criticism because most people are in that adolescent stage. But I’m hoping our listeners can begin to get this sense that there’s a deeper kind of meaning, I call it sole purpose, that cannot be defined in terms of a job or a social role, but only can be defined ecologically. And the way we experience that is not literally in ecological terms, but um, our human consciousness experiences our unique ecological niche in terms, uh, well metaphorically in terms of a symbol, um, or an image or an archetype, um, or like a poem or a dance. So what happens during the journey of soul initiation, if it’s successful, and in particular during one, uh, episode of the journey, which we call the Descent to Soul, during that journey, we have an experience called, uh, during the descent, we have an experience called the soul encounter. And during that experience, what we encounter is some metaphor. We call it a mytho-poetic image. And it communicates to us metaphorically what our ecological place is. I’ll give a quick example with me. There’s, it’s a, of course, a very long story how I ended up getting there. But it was at the, on the fourth day of my first vision fast. Not that a vision fast is at all necessary to have this kind of experience, but it’s how it worked out for me. I had a, on that fourth day of fasting high in the mountains of Colorado, I had a interaction with a spruce tree and a butterfly, which to some listeners that might sound kind of, kind of an odd kind of experience, but trust me, that after four days of fasting, and if you’re in the stage of life in which the journey of soul initiation happens, this is quite common. And during that interaction, the butterfly flew to me, brushed one of her wings against my side of my, uh, face as she went by, and I heard in English the word cocoon weaver, and I had no idea what that meant. But within a few seconds, something in me got it emotionally that I had just been, um, shown something about what my purpose in life would be. That, that it wasn’t to be a psychologist or, uh, a vision fast guide or an author or any of the other social roles or vocational roles I’ve inhabited. But whatever I was going to do, it was only successful if I was weaving cocoons, which is to say, to support others to create context for themselves within which they can go through this journey of soul initiation.

AW | 27:06 – So Bill, you mentioned the descent to soul. This concept, it sounds, uh, a little ominous, but it’s anything but that. Can you expand on it a little bit? I, I don’t quite understand the idea and I’d like to be able to explain it to others.

BP | 27:19 – Sure. The descent to soul is the core psychospiritual adventure that happens during the journey of soul initiation. Um, there’s many things that happened during the journey, but it’s the descent to soul experience that results in soul encounter and the metamorphosis of the ego that follows from that. And, um, a descent to soul can happen more than once during the journey, but it has to happen at least once, and it can happen one or more times after the journey, which is to say during adulthood.

AW | 27:52 – Well, the book is called “The Journey of Soul Initiation,” Bill Plotkin. Bill, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

BP | 28:00 – My pleasure. Thanks so much, Alex.

Narrator | 28:17 – You’ve been listening to See Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis. And our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Alex Wise, Xavier Rudd, and The Who. To read a transcript of this show, go to to stream, or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.