The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything about our lives and how we navigate them. Some cherished annual events have been cancelled altogether, and others have adopted a new format. Fortunately, the Gila River Festival falls into the latter category. Yes, it’s still happening, on Sept. 18 and 19, and it’s all online.
This year we’ll be exploring how we cultivate resilience in our communities and ecological systems as we address the crises of climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism. What lessons have we learned from the pandemic that can inform our response to the climate emergency? How can we create a more just and equitable society and emerge stronger and better from these existential challenges? How do we create a secure water future for everyone in southwest New Mexico?
But the festival won’t be just another video conference. It will take place on a virtual conference platform that allows for multiple presentations to happen concurrently and provides opportunities for attendees to engage with others. If a decision on which presentation to attend is a dilemma – not to worry. Each presentation will be recorded and available to registrants for 30 days after the event, so you can watch at your convenience. Attendees can connect with others via virtual coffee breaks, meet and greet sessions and a virtual sponsor expo.
Here are a few highlights from the festival lineup.
Ethnobotanist, writer, and agroecologist Gary Paul Nabhan will give the keynote address on “Restoring Land Health and Community Health in the Borderlands through a ‘Slow Agriculture.’”
Senator Tom Udall will kick off the festival with a talk about his “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature,” an initiative to save 30 percent of the land and water in the United States by 2030. He’ll also discuss the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River legislation to designate the Gila River and major tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers, thus affording them special protections.
The Justice and Equity track includes presentations by activist and actress Casey Camp-Horinek, who will discuss the spirit of resilience in Indigenous communities and her Ponca Nation’s Rights of Nature statute. Writer and poet Camille Dungy will speak to social, racial, and environmental justice, as well as the resilience of people of color.
In the Community Resilience track, Stacey Cox will talk about how individual and community resilience are equally important and mutually reinforcing. Sharman Apt Russell, who won the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for nature writing in 2016, will talk about the importance of humor in getting through tough times – such as climate change or a pandemic.
The Ecological Resilience track includes accessible presentations by ecologists and other scientists describing our region’s vulnerability to climate change and how we can build community and ecological resilience to adapt to these changes.
This year, the annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival is combined with the Gila River Festival, on the evening of Saturday, September 19. You can expect thought-provoking stories and gorgeous cinematography as part of the lineup of 15 films.
This is just a small sampling of the festival’s 40+ presentations. Virtual field trips, workshops, and Happy Hours round out the festival, inspiring us to stay strong, revel in the Gila’s beauty, and work to ensure that its majesty flourishes for eternity.
For more information and to register for the Gila River Festival, visit gilariverfestival.org.