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Amongst the Bioneers

It’s been a week since the Bioneers conference (both at its mother location in San Rafael, CA and the one that Chelsea Green helps to sponsor in Marion, MA), and it’s taken me that long to seriously absorb the amount of information and emotion flowing through the three-day event.

I was lucky enough to be assigned, along with our West Coast sales rep Michael Weaver, to attend the Bioneers conference in California.

There, attendees were treated to a wide array of plenary speakers and workshops. Three Chelsea Green authors took to the stage as plenary speakers—Judy Wicks, John Abrams, and Winona LaDuke.

Wicks is the owner of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia and author of the forthcoming book Good Morning, Beautiful Business (which references a placard that hangs in her closet and which greets her each morning). The café is noted not only for incredible food, but for treating its employees, and suppliers, well. She spoke on Friday.

Following her to the podium was Abrams, author of The Company We Keep and the founder of South Mountain Company, a model employee-owned business on Martha’s Vineyard. Abrams, in a tough spot after Judy’s energizing speech, delivered his keynote on how to think like “cathedral builders” with equal parts humor, storytelling, and personal advice.

On Sunday, LaDuke (who is working on a book for Chelsea Green entitled Seeds the Creator Gave Us) was one of the few speakers who received a standing ovation before she started. She delivered, too. She reminded us all that it is “possible to have a worldview that it not related to empire.” She also noted that the term “Bioneers” made her somewhat uncomfortable given that it sounds an awful lot like “pioneers.” And, well, we all know how it went with the pioneers.

For me, one of the most inspiring speakers was Evon Peter, chairman of Native Movement and former chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in from Arctic Village in northern Alaska, who put into sharp context our ongoing relationship with the indigenous people we supplanted upon our “discovery” of this land. When he welcomed us as “visitors” he meant it. It was not meant to appease, or to enflame, simply to make us all realize our (as in white folks’) place in the world.

In a day and age when inviting native leaders “to the table” still seems to be more about liberal guilt and some perverse form of appropriation/atonement than truly listening and understanding, Evon’s approach was particularly refreshing.

At the Marion, MA conference CGP authors Naomi Wolf, Diane Wilson, Simran Sethi, Will Allen, and Dean Cycon duly impressed the crowds as plenary speakers, while a handful of other authors—Lynn Margulis, Mark Schapiro, and Sandor Ellix Katz specifically—lit up the workshops.

In California, some of the best-attended workshops were on environmental health, using Web 2.0 tools to share information among activists, the debate over whether nuclear power is “green” (no, not awash in government subsidies but the dearth of carbon emissions), food and agriculture issues, and First People perspecitves.

While the San Rafael conference remains the largest draw, there were 17 satellite conference sites where attendees could tap into the plenary speakers from the mother ship. Check out the Bioneers website and see if there is a conference site near you and start planning for next year.


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