Tampa, FL

Native Americans and environmental activists to host “Earth Day Healing Event” in Tampa

Justin Garcia

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Earth Day Healing Event flyer/Sustainable Souls of Tampa Bay

On Friday, environmental activists will gather in downtown Tampa to honor Earth Day with an event focused on healing.

The occasion will be hosted by Sustainable Souls of Tampa Bay, along with several other groups, including Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality (FIREE). Their aim is to show the Tampa community that they are ready to continue the healing process from several decades of environmental degradation and social inequity. The event is set to take place from 4 pm to 7pm at Curtis Hixon Park in Downtown Tampa.

Sheridan Murphy, FIREE co-founder, has been involved in the struggle for environmental justice and the rights of his Native American people for over 40 years.

“In most Native languages, there’s some variation of the words ‘Mother Earth’. It’s not a metaphor,” he says. “Everything we eat, everything we drink, everything we wear comes from the Earth. Our entire existence depends on the Earth.”

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Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality logo/FIREE

Murphy says that to acknowledge Earth Day is to remember that Mother Earth is sick with an illness caused by people who don’t respect the health of the planet.

You can see evidence of the effects everywhere, Murphy says, from stronger hurricanes to other extreme weather events. But especially in the Tampa Bay area, which is surrounded by water and abundant wildlife, Murphy believes that people need to pay close attention to environmental issues.

He points out that the recent Piney Point Phosphate Mine environmental disaster was the result of both companies and the citizens of Florida not standing up for the environment enough to prevent the disaster.

“And now that stuff has entered the bay, polluting our water, killing plant life, fish, manatees, dolphins and all those other creatures because of our negligence as human beings,” Murphy says. “This is all because we didn’t hold to account those who ignored protecting the environment. We as human beings have an obligation to stand up and protect Mother Earth.”

Mary-Elizabeth Estrada initially created Sustainable Souls of Tampa Bay two years ago as a project to focus on the carbon footprint of individuals on the environment, but quickly realized that the issue of climate change is also linked to broader systemic social issues.

“War and corporations have contributed significantly to the climate crisis,” Estrada says. “Reducing your own use of plastic and your waste is good, but the problem of our ongoing environmental crisis is much broader than that.”

According to Estrada, Sustainable Souls works to address the effects of climate change on anything from people having to migrate due to the effects of climate catastrophe on their environment, to how climate change affects BIPOC populations.

“We decided that we wanted to make this event focused on healing because, especially after the past year of COVID-19, we see that marginalized populations are often affected the most by disaster,” Estrada says. “The same is true of disaster brought on by climate change. So people need healing, but they also need local leaders to care about the environment.”

Both Estrada and Murphy say that there is some tension in organizing the event, because Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial “anti-riot” law was passed on Monday. While their Earth Day event is planned to be completely peaceful and will concentrate on healing, critics of the DeSantis bill say that it tramples on rights and stifles free speech about political issues through criminalizing certain types of gatherings. Nevertheless, the organizers of the event are still looking forward to the day of healing and they hope they will not be interfered with while honoring the Earth.

The event will commence with a traditional Lakota prayer, followed by a water blessing led by members of FIREE. The youth-led initiative is asking local leadership to be better stewards of the land. They are also hosting the event to say “Mni Wiconi” which means “water is life” in Lakota. There will be a traditional Lakota water blessing, prayer and dancing. Co-hosts from The CLEO Institute, People’s Safety Coalition, For Our Future Florida, The Sierra Club, Tampa Bay Climate Alliance and the Sunrise Movement, as well as other local leaders will be weighing in on local environmental issues.

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I write stories about Florida politics, environmental issues, interesting people and music. I strive to shine a light on issues that are still in the dark, as well as help to give voice to the voiceless.

Tampa, FL
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