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Front. Commun., 09 July 2019
Sec. Science and Environmental Communication
Volume 4 - 2019 |

Emplacing Climate Change: Civic Action at the Margins

  • Fundación Ser Ambiente, Quito, Ecuador

In this paper, I use my work with the Gran Familia Awá Binacional (GFAB), an indigenous transboundary organization located at the border between Ecuador and Colombia, to redirect attention to ways organizations at-the-margins perform civic action. I understand at-the-margin organizations as those that (1) are not located in urban spaces; (2) have limited access to technology; and, (3) use non-dominant languages as a central element of their collective identity and struggle. Due to the increasing urban bio- and geo-graphy of the world, it seems that the literature on civic action has taken an expected shift in focus to reserve the attribution of civic action to movements taking place in cities; further, the influence attributed to technology in fostering collective action appears to divert attention away from organizations or movements whose practices are not dependent on, started from, and enhanced by technological innovations. I use Lichterman and Eliasoph (2014) definition of civic action—a kind of coordination that entails actions and relationships rather than beliefs, values, or a predefined social sector—to argue that as a communication practice and historicist inquiry (Briziarelli and Martínez-Guillem, 2016), translation is an epistemological device used by at-the-margin organizations to create spaces for civic action via the constant process of disturbing the language and rethinking the meaning embedded in hegemonic global environmental discourses such as climate change. I illustrate how members of the GFAB emplace the meaning of climate change, which I argue, is a rhetorical move that suggests a phenomenological place-based conceptualization of climate change that could function as both, a decolonial strategy and a pragmatic environmental communication that constitutes spaces for civic action to thrive.


“We need to speak the language of the donors,” a friend of mine always says when we are crafting a new environmental project proposal. In environment-related projects, what “speaking the language of the donors” usually means is using terms such as “sustainable development” to frame top-down initiatives brought by facilitators often funded by agencies of international aid. One of the debates within the NGO community has to do with the lack of time and space for conducting previous consultation to the communities about their needs, which could inform a stronger collaboration to advance and improve communities' living conditions. Recently, institutions and organizations have incorporated climate change as the new term that must be referred to as the broader framework of any environmental projects. These concepts—development, sustainability, and climate change—shape these initiatives, but the formulation of these concepts is not the dilemma. What is problematic, though, is the uncritical use of these terms based on assumptions seen as translatable across contexts and whose meanings are unequivocal regardless of specific situations and languages. Like other terms, however, environmental concepts are the product of competing paradigms that have become dominant in a field of specialized knowledge and structures of governance in regard to our ecological condition.

Climate change is not only a scientific issue, but also a social, political, cultural, and ecological phenomenon that exceeds the individual responsibility as it requires a collective effort to face not only the impacts but also the causes of the unprecedented ecological disruptions that are shaping human life (Priest, 2016). Increasingly, scholarship is focusing on place-based understandings of climate change (Cox, 2010; Groulx et al., 2014; Devine-Wright et al., 2015; Döring and Ratter, 2017). Moreover, scholars are turning to traditional ecological knowledge (TEK1) to postulate not only solutions to the effects of climate change but also ways of understanding the concept itself (Figeroa, 2011; Cochrane, 2014). Building and sustaining a group with particular skills to address what its members deem as a common goal compel efforts to generate or take advantage of a momentum that potentially turns individuals' will into engaged collective action.

In this paper, I aim to redirect attention to ways organizations at-the-margins perform civic action. The increasing urban bio- and geo-graphy of the world seems to have shaped the literature on civic action. Analyses have taken an expected shift in focus to reserve the attribution of civic action to dynamics happening in cities; further, the increasing influence scholars attribute to technology in fostering collective action appears to divert attention away from organizations or movements whose practices are not necessarily dependent on, started from, and enhanced by technological innovations. The shift and diversion may solidify the configuration of a “center of action” at the expense of creating a “marginal space of action,” which is either undermined or just falls out of the radar of an urban- and technology-based understanding of civic action. I use Lichterman and Eliasoph (2014) definition of civic action—“a kind of coordination” (p. 802) that entails “actions and relationships rather than beliefs, values, or a predefined social sector” (p. 809)—to argue for conceiving translation as an epistemological device with the potential of fostering the constitution of spaces for civic action to thrive. By disturbing the predominant language of science and rethinking the assumptions embedded in hegemonic global environmental discourses such as climate change, the performance of translation enshrines the power to carve out what Santos (2011) refers to as a “new social grammar” particularly strategic for at-the-margin organizations. I understand at-the-margin organizations as those that (1) are not located in urban spaces; (2) have limited access to technology; and (3) use non-dominant languages as a central element of their collective identity and action. I focus on the third point and use translation as communication practice and historicist inquiry (Briziarelli and Martínez-Guillem, 2016) to critically approach climate change as a global environmental discourse that reproduces Western assumptions that may limit our understanding of our ecological disrupted condition.

Based on my work with the Gran Familia Awá Binacional (GFAB), an indigenous transboundary organization located at the border between Ecuador and Colombia, I investigate ways organizations perform civic action at-the-margins. In the following sections, I present the methods I use to conduct this study and emphasize the intricacies of performing in-depth interviews with bilingual speakers as well as the intersubjective space engendered by the act of translation. Then, I very briefly describe the current situation of Awá communities and present territoriality as environmental communication. Territoriality is the framework within which Awá emplace climate change, that is, the discursive and symbolic communication purveyed through Awa's “public statements, visual imagery, and embodied forms of activism that emphasize the physical, lived world of earthly existence, and the numinous experience many persons gain from substantive connections to nature” (Gorsevski, 2012, p. 293–294). After outlining some of the key assumptions that make of climate change a global environmental discourse, I delve into the construction of the meaning of climate change in relation to Awá's territory, katza su, to illustrate how members of the GFAB emplace climate change by constructing its meaning from the embodied experiences Awá live within the places they dwell. Emplacing climate change is a rhetorical move that suggests a phenomenological place-based conceptualization of climate change that complements, while questioning, its space-based conceptualization featured in and supported by Western scientific definitions of climate change (Taddei, 2012)—. Finally, translation engages with the ostensible universal meaning of global environmental discourses and elucidates the ambiguities of hegemonic concepts. By looking at how members of the GFAB understand the global environmental discourse of climate change, I argue that translation is an unavoidable mechanism among communities of non-dominant languages that potentially helps to coordinate action toward decolonizing participatory processes and spaces of environmental decision- and policy-making, both currently framed by the global environmental discourse of climate change.

Conducting Research at the Margins

In this study I look at the politics of nature embedded in environmental globalization. Informed by a decolonial option (Mignolo and Escobar, 2010), I used a critical and interpretive qualitative approach to investigate how the global environmental discourse of climate change circulate among the Gran Familia Awá Binacional (GFAB), one of few transboundary Indigenous organizations located at the border between Ecuador and Colombia.2 Out of the four organizations conforming the GFAB, I collaborated with the Federación de Centro Awá del Ecuador (FCAE) and Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá (UNIPA) from Colombia,3 whose communities are located at the binational border. This border zone remains a militarized “hot spot” despite the recent peace agreement signed by the Colombian government with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-FARC in November 2017, and the peace negotiations initiated at the beginning of 2018 with the National Liberations Army-ELN. These circumstances demanded special ethical sensitivities as Awá people are considered a “vulnerable population” by both the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments. Therefore, I obtained special IRB approval to conduct this research.4 All participants provided written informed consent for the publication of their identifiable data (names, position, and organization). Participants filled out an information sheet in which confidentiality options regarding names and organizational affiliation were given. Participants decided not to select a pseudonym, and all stated that their names and affiliation could be used for publication. I decided to offer these options based on my previous experiences working with similar communities in which their members used spaces of public participation as a platform to denounce governments' negligence and sometimes NGOs' initiatives. Besides, apart from the specific information about the translation process, the criticisms to political entities and the description of groups or institutions affecting Awá territories have been made public via Awá organizations' community-based reports and diagnoses (CAMAWARI et al., 2012; FCAE et al., 2016). As one interviewee professed off record, “everything is transparent, no?” Accordingly, in presenting my findings, I use interviewees' real names and positions within their organizations.

I conducted in-depth interviews in Spanish to bilingual—Spanish and Awapit5—Awá community leaders who fell into the category of elite. I define elite as a person who has significant influence in the organizations and whose source of authority is not necessarily only political or economic, but also cultural or traditional. This distinction is vital but also problematic among Awá people insofar as Awá's organizational history shows a separation between the traditional authority (e.g., the elder) and the “formal” authority (e.g., president of the organization) (Pineda, 2011). For instance, elders speak Awapit, and therefore, Awá communities and their organizations position them as those who hold and keep Awá stories and traditional practices. However, this cultural status does not always translate into positions of power within the organizational structures, as elders usually lack formal education, most of them do not speak Spanish, and live deep into the territory, making their contact with non-Awá communities very limited (CAMAWARI et al., 2012). Accordingly, during my fieldwork, I used a snowball sample starting from the president of each organization who was located in the urban centers—Ibarra in Ecuador, and Pasto in Colombia—. They introduced or directed me to other members in several places of their territories.

The fieldwork took place during the month of April 2017. Originally, I scheduled twelve interviews, distributed equally among the four organizations forming the GFAB. Unfortunately, an ecological disaster made impossible to conduct these interviews. Approximately 2 weeks before my field trip, I read in the news that a terrible flood had devastated the city of Mocoa, capital of the department of Putumayo, Colombia. The Colombian Awá organizations, Association of Indigenous Councils of the Awá People of the Putumayo (ACIPAP) and Main Council Awá of Ricaurte (CAMAWARI), are located around this geographical area. I contacted Rider Paí, president of UNIPA, to know about the situation of these Awá communities. His reply was one of despair and concern as he described the extreme dire situation of the disaster zone6 Needless to say, I could not go to Mocoa to conduct the interviews. By the time I am writing this section, the conditions in Mocoa are harsh and inhabitants of the zone are still in need of assistance. Assuming that the flooding is directly connected to an abrupt change in the ecology of the place, this event makes me wonder, to what extent climate disruption is affecting research, specifically environmentally related research, in locations that are impacted by and are vulnerable to the effects of ecological unbalance. In the end, I conducted seven in-depth interviews ranging from 45 min to 1 h and 45 min. According to McCracken (1988), the number of participants is not the issue at hand in interviewing research techniques; what is important is that the interviews allow the research-practitioner to reach exhaustion.

Exhaustion, here, is a recurrent linguistic reference present in all or the majority of the interviews. In conducting this study, I was interested also in investigating the translation of development and sustainability. All the interviewees, whether bilingual or not, were able to identify the Awapit words used to translate development and sustainability—wat mɨlna7—but there are not one or two Awapit words used to translate the Western notion of climate change. Instead, in translating climate change, five out of seven interviewees compounded several Awapit words. The implications of the absence of concise terms to translate climate change go beyond the linguistic realm; this non-existence could be read as showing the narrowness of the dominant discourse of climate change to understand a phenomenon that, in Awá's interpretations of climate change, encompasses ethical ontologies (e.g., respect). The reappearance of similar Awapit terms in each interview was revealing, though, not only because the recurrence was evidence of saturation, but more importantly due to the web of meanings that the identification of these terms illustrated.

Interviewers' Ecocultural Engagements

I approached Awá organizations as sites of contestation, conflicts, and multiple interests, as well as sites of resistance, creativity, and hope. The interviews are the main discursive data of this study, and as such, I took them as “pieces of interactions in their own right” (Nikander, 2012, p. 398). Furthermore, interviewing is not only a “tool” to gather data, it is also a “site for the production of meaning” as interviews elicit social actors' ways of language-use in stories, accounts, or explanations (Gubrium and Holstein, 2002, p. 14). Interview texts help to understand social actors' unique experiences, knowledges, worldviews, and cosmovisions. As interviewers, therefore, researchers cannot tell (not with absolute certainty at least) who is speaking, and whose voice has been recorded because interviewees' responses are “informed by voices of other subjectivities” (Gubrium and Holstein, 2002, p. 24). Accordingly, my interaction with Awá people cannot be reduced to the “evaluation of meaning and truth to a simple identification of the speaker's location” (Alcoff, 1991, p. 17). This means that while the organizational position held by the interviewees is important for understanding some of their statements, “multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” inform their interpretations (McCall, 2005, p. 1771). Therefore, when analyzing the data, I considered this methodological uncertainty emerging from the multiple voices that possibly manifested during the interviews.

In translating interviewees' voices, researchers should assume insurmountable blind spots springing from the knowledges that are in competition to fix meaning. Hence, to translate entails the evocation of different histories and experiences that collide and bend, turning translation into one of many ways to make-meaning in intersubjective encounters that are both cultural and ecological. A critical appraisal of the intercultural relations between interviewee and interviewer renders interviews as a political relational process of negotiation of multiple cultural identities (Dunbar et al., 2002; Fontana, 2002). At the beginning of the interview, for instance, I tried to position myself primarily as “researcher” and “student” (this research was part of my doctorate dissertation), and then as “Mestizo.” However, giving emphasis to these identities was no guarantee for those identifications to be the salient ones in my interactions with Awá elites, neither they prevented Awá from ascribing me identities that exceeded my introductory avowed identities. Further, as part of an academic institution, to Awá people I was always-already an “external actor” associated to “economic interests of capitalist nature” (FCAE, 2017, p. 25). Therefore, I was compelled to revisit some of the questions of my interview guide to incorporate key terms that emerged from my initial interactions. For instance, after the third interview, I replaced the Spanish word “Mestizo” with the equivalent Awapit word wisha, since interviewees used this term to refer to members of peasant neighboring communities or non-Indigenous organizations. I started using the word wisha as an avowed identity during the interviews because I was positioned as such in several moments during the interview's dialectical process. An example of the reinterpretation of the questions is: “How would you explain the Awá notion of climate change to a wisha like me?” This dialectical performative move was an attempt to recognize myself as “a proper object of narration” (Gubrium and Holstein, 2002, p. 10), as well as to reflect about how the self and the social are weaved in a web of knowledge systems, paradigms, and vocabularies we employ to make meaning (Collier, 2014).

Formations of identity should not be understood only within economic, social or political systems, but also within material and ecological systems (Castro-Sotomayor, 2020). The reciprocal constitutive effects between text and context demands both describing and understanding the dialectics between everyday practices and political/cultural projects within—and in inextricable relation to—ecological conditions (Code, 2006). Therefore, the ecologies that influenced these encounters also are fundamental to my interpretation of the texts supporting this study. The movement across national borders and different geographical spaces complicated my engagements with the sites I visited during my fieldwork. Transporting my body from the New Mexican high-desert, to the Pasto highlands in the Colombian Andean mountains, to the cloud forest in Lita, Predio El Verde, in the Ecuadorian Tropical Andes, and back, involved an ecological translation that influenced my positionality in relation to both the interviewees and the ecology of the places where I conducted the interviews. For instance, surrounded by the cloud forest and overwhelmed by an enveloping rain, I caught myself ascribing a “romantic gaze” over the mountain, the heart of Awá's territory. Hence, I risked “sanctifying nature as sublime”—that is, seeing “Nature [as] the reflection of [my] own unexamined longings and desires” (Cronon, in Takach, 2013, p. 220). The transformative potential of critical qualitative research lies in being evocative, reflexive, embodied, partial and partisan, and material (Pelias, 2011). Becoming aware of this corporeal ecological translation allowed me to keep the ecology political, as well as my communication critical, and also to realize the task I have imposed to myself as a male Ecuadorian Mestizo whose native language is Spanish and knew very few words of Awapit.

Analyzing In-depth Interviews With Emphasis on Translation

I conducted the interviews in Spanish to bilingual speakers (Awapit, Spanish), but I wrote the analysis in English. This double bilingualism—Awapit-Spanish and Spanish-English—shaped the way in which I approached the interview texts. First, bilingual participants spoke Spanish using a grammar structure different from the one I learned during my formal education in Ecuador. Thus, while the transcription is literal, I sometimes needed to add or subtract specific words to form a grammatically structured sentence to clarify some of the interviewees' statements. I consider these grammatical arrangements the first stage in the process of interpretation of the interviewees' (re)definitions of climate change. Second, the linguistic level is more prominent in the translation from Spanish to English, which also presented challenges because the process of translation may have altered the meaning of some statements. Fairclough (1992) avows that the use of translated data is one source of difficulty for textual analysis. He states, “discourse analysis papers should reproduce and analyse textual samples in the original language, despite the added difficulty for the readers” (p. 196; emphasis added). Although I agree with his statement, to ease the reading of the analysis, I decided only to present the English translation of the quotes used to present this study8.

Translation here is not limited to a reproduction of meaning across different languages nor it is narrowed to the linguistic structure of the languages involved in the translation from Awapit to Spanish (e.g., wantus kamta wamapas to cambio climático) and from Spanish to English (e.g., cambio climático to climate change). Nor was I focused on the ethnophysical nomenclature9 of places used by Awá people to describe and interpret their territory. Although linguistic and interpretive cues of the process of translation are implicit, I considered them to be too limiting to adequately explore and unravel the works of colonialism in its discursive forms. Accordingly, in line with some scholars who have called attention to monolingualism and how it entails for differential coalitional politics and the construction of alternative frames for activism (e.g., de Onís, 2015), I approach the normative aspect of language from both a functional and political point of view. Thus, I conceive language as “a mechanism of disciplinization and oppression of linguistic communities/groups/classes over others, but also an essential aspect of social organization that coordinates, organizes, and can even, to a certain extent, emancipate” (Briziarelli and Martínez-Guillem, 2016, p. 49). Therefore, similarly to Briziarelli and Martínez-Guillem (2016), I understand translation as (1) an historicist inquiry of sociopolitical, economic, and environmental structures; and (2) as a communication practice that has the potential to motivate subaltern political strategies and techniques. As a non-dominant language, the use of Awapit in the translation of global environmental discourses entails an epistemological and ontological challenge. Epistemologically, Awá's construction-via-translation of the meanings of climate change evokes histories of colonization, acculturation, and knowledge oppression that exceed the human realm as discourses, perceptions, and practices includes the more-than-human realm. Regarding ontology, translations performed by Awá organization members elucidate the formation of ecological subjectivities and environmental identities that mediate Awá's “humanature alignments10” as identity is not only formed by human/human relations but also by human/more-than-human relationships (Milstein, 2011).

By looking at the communication practice of translation performed by the GFAB, I attempt to understand how the discourse of climate change (re)produces ideological systems of meaning that sustain or question larger structures of economic, social, and political power configuring global environmental governance. I approach Awá's translation of climate change as a way to illustrate how at-the-margins organizations work through the ideological forces of modernity and the structures of environmental governance to create alternatives meanings/discourses aligned or not to their Indigenous cosmovision and ecocultural identities. To do so, first is imperative to identify the discursive field within which Awá organizations fix the meanings of climate change while simultaneously open possibilities for change via a resignification that challenges the closure implicit in the use of this concept. We need to understand, therefore, Awá's territoriality.

Understanding Translation Within Awá's Territoriality

The history of Inkal Awá, gente de la montaña/people of the mountain, is the history of their territory katza su (casa grande/big house). Awá's narrations register the disappearance, shifts, and reconstitutions of the boundaries of their ancestral territories as manifestations of colonization, displacement, evictions, invasions, recoveries, and legalizations (CAMAWARI, 2002; CAMAWARI et al., 2012; FCAE et al., 2016). The power of remembering engenders possibilities of creating an evocative aura that isolates moments from our existence in the present; albeit momentarily, this isolation may enliven emotions of ecologies that instill in us deep and meaningful connections to particular places (Milstein et al., 2011; Carbaugh and Cerulli, 2013). Yet, environments also are interested spaces and places and a material manifestation of histories of resistance, colonization, and drastic transformations. The ecologies and environments in which Awá interact along with Mestizos and Afro communities are no different.

Inkal Awá's history is a reprehensible testimony to injustice, inequality, and exclusion, which are perverse patterns throughout the history of Indigenous and other minorities populations around colonized regions. The displacement across national borders, as well as the intra-displacement, mark Awá's history. To Awá people, forced displacements—first, after the Spanish arrival (XVI century); then, as a corollary of Colombia's Thousand Days' War (1899–1902); finally, as the ongoing effect of the internal Civil War in Colombia that started in the early 1950s—were and continued to be life-or-death survival decisions, in particular for Awá communities on the Colombian side. In addition, the contemporary confinement and intra-displacement, that is, Awá communities who lived deep into the forest are unable to dwell due to minefields surrounding their lands or forced to move toward the boundaries of their own territory and closer to roads or urban centers (CAMAWARI, 2002), are the most recent crude manifestations of an internal conflict that has disbanded Awá population. This situation has led the Colombian government to consider these Indigenous people in the path to physical and cultural extinction (Chernela, 2001; CAMAWARI et al., 2012).

The site, Denzin and Lincoln (2011) state, “is not a given formation; rather it is constituted through the researcher's interpretative practices” (p. 16, note 10). In the worlds into which I translate myself—the Ecuadorian Mestizo world, the educated abroad world, the urban world, the Spanish-speaking and Anglophone worlds, and other worlds in which I fragmentarily exist—I have not experienced the intense injustices Awá people have lived as racialized others, ethnic minorities, and casualties of a war that is not theirs. Neither the immediate ecologies on which I depend have been shattered by the extraction of natural resources nor I have experienced the effects of ecological disruption in-my-backyard11. This is my environmental privilege12 that allows me to think from a healthy ecology about the sickness of another. This privilege adds up to the others I navigated in my interactions with Awá elites within the transboundary site where this research took place and that informs my interpretation of processes of translation Awá performed within their disturbed territories.

To understand Awá processes of translation, I use an analytical concept from the Global South, territoriality. This concept helps situating and analyzing how Indigenous communities translate environmental global discourses—a set of statements that produces symbolic and material conditions of human and non-human existence within institutional structures that constitute and are constituted by systems of knowledge and social practices that often times are anthropocentric and colonializing (Peet et al., 2011; Scott and Dingo, 2012)—. As environmental communication, territoriality is pragmatic and constitutive. In its pragmatic mode, territoriality helps to illuminate ways indigenous organizations articulate sacred, lineage, and land relationships to their cosmological principles. The constitutive power of territoriality lies on the fact that territory not only frames the way organizations translate global discourses but also creates the order of discourse in which these translations are plausible. In its pragmatic and constitutive modes, territoriality illuminates how body, territory, and nationality intertwine and mutually influence each other sometimes configuring sui generis relationships, which may engender ways of resisting external logics by reframing and reworking them in communal and dialogical spaces (Castro-Sotomayor, 2018)—such as the Awapit terms used to signify climate change, as I illustrate later—. Here, I use part of my work with Awá people and focus on the discourse of climate change to show how within territoriality translation elucidates the epistemological ruptures away from Western ways of living, thinking, and feeling climate change.

Within territoriality, the more-than-human world becomes explicit in the enunciation of the territory as an actor whose presence and living existence must be considered to understand communities' political praxis. For instance, in correspondence to their cosmovision, Awá understand “territory and nature as autonomous, living and active subjects of the decisions that affect them” (CAMAWARI et al., 2012, p. 113). As such, territory is the political interlocutor of Awá people in their interactions with the state, NGOs, neighboring populations, and other institutions. The agentic character attributed to the more-than-human world reaffirms how fundamental territory is to the operationalization of territoriality (Castro-Sotomayor, 2018). A closer look at the dynamics implicated in Awá organizations' ways of exerting political and symbolic control of the territory katza su, highlights the possibility and the need for broadening conceptualizations of climate change by revisiting certain scientific posture that may affect working with communities on the ground about climate change issues. Before showing how territoriality problematizes while furthering Western global environmental discourses, I highlight some assumptions about the global environmental discourse of climate change.

Climate Change as Global Environmental Discourse

The global character of contemporary environmental discourses such as development, sustainability, and climate change, parallels the configuration of a global environmental governance—“the process of formulating and contesting images and designs, and implementing procedures and practices that shape the access, control, and use of natural resources among different actors” (de Castro et al., 2016, p. 6)—whose structures and organizations prominently respond to neoliberal economic logics that shape the current historical moment labeled globalization (Mitchell, 2003; Arrifin, 2007). Within the institutional structure of environmental governance, the socialization of climate change seems to reproduce a top-down dynamic of knowledge dissemination (in a cybernetic fashion). In the same way as with other overarching concepts, such as development and sustainability, the deployment of an hegemonic/scientific notion of climate change reveals how expertise can be “exercised as a rhetorical device and affect interpretations of what could and should be done on behalf of extrahuman nature” (Bernacchi and Peterson, 2016, p. 76–77). A critical approach understands global governance as a hegemonic discourse that articulates means of production, social group identities within specific geographic locations, multi-layered spatial and temporal scales, and different fields of force implicated in the reproduction of histories, geographies, ideologies, and discourses (Peet et al., 2011). Discourse is a regime that encapsulates “the heterogeneous assemblage of techniques, mechanism, and knowledges aimed at ‘conducting people's conduct,' as well as ‘to shape the field of possible actions of others”'(Foucault, quoted by Lövbrand and Stripple, 2014, p. 112). As meta-narratives, global environmental discourses reveal neocolonial dynamics insofar as they construct nature as Other, facilitating the positioning of nature as a singular strategic asset, investment, and/or entity of management (Scott and Dingo, 2012).

As a discourse, climate change is relatively new13 in the environmental vernacular, but it is currently circulating within the structures of global environmental governance and shaping the politics of the Earth. Climate change, in tandem with development and sustainability, index the common environmental problems of the world. While contested deliberations have tainted climate change definitions, the global status of these ideas results from an assumed universality of the tenets that support them. Moreover, diverse groups privilege discourses that circulate seemingly uncontested in different institutional instances of the global environmental structures.14 The discourses' applicability across multiple localities functions as proof of a kind of perspective that favors the global over other scales of analysis (Escobar, 2001). This emphasis taps into transnational networks to generate an agreement on the global nature of environmental destruction, which usually fails to recognize and reconcile the differentiated environmental responsibility members of the international system have (Anshelm and Hultman, 2015). However, at the core of the debate, and often unquestioned, remains a value system that reproduces a kind of human hubris that complicates, even shuns, the possibilities of thinking otherwise.

As global environmental discourse, climate change enables epistemic domination and the silencing of local voices. Paradoxically, this creates the conditions to foster the “reactivations of relational ontologies and the redefinition of political autonomy” (Escobar, 2012, p. xxv). The global, a.k.a., international character of the discussion on climate change, evolves in tandem with a scientific jargon that seems to alienate populations on the ground, where climate disruptions are experienced firsthand. The politics of nature deploys climate change as a discursive formation, and to understand it, we need to look at the sort of subjectivities and practices produced at the intersection of neoliberal capitalism and unequal transnational relations informed by colonial histories. The furthering of new ways to understand global discourses, whether environmental, political, economic, or cultural, must focus on investigating peoples' local responses to the modern processes fostered by these global discourses. In terms of civic action, translation is one of the forms of resistance that “disarticulates subaltern discourses not through direct confrontation or physical action, but through the reorganization of the symbolic environment in which the acts of resistance will be interpreted and understood” (Taddei, 2012, p. 78). The processes of translation performed by representatives of Awá organizations shed light on the treacherous circulation of global environmental discourses among at-the-margin organizations, but also a focus on translation illuminates the works of the discourse of climate change as part of the hegemonic project of modernity that frames the politics of nature.

In what follows, I investigate how the Gran Familia Awá Binacional (GFAB) translates the global environmental discourse of climate change at the level of the communities with which this organization works. I demonstrate ways Awá's translation of climate change emplaces this concept; thus, constructing a phenomenological place-based meaning of climate change that relocates power by recognizing and embracing Awá's traditional ecological knowledge as a legitimate source of climate knowledge.

Climate Change Emplaced: A Phenomenological Construction of a Global Environmental Discourse

Climate change is a conceptual novelty in Awá's environmental language. According to Olindo Cantincus, former president of Federación de Centros Awá del Ecuador (FCAE), the first time the term “landed in” the Ecuadorian Awá communities was in 2009 when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) organized workshops to socialize the concept of climate change among Awá leaders. Since then, different institutions and organizations have arrived to Awá communities with climate change projects to map the risks at the level of their territories, or to implement adaptation, mitigation, and resilience actions15. Beyond the semantic interpretation, as a discursive practice, translation elucidates the epistemological and ethical dilemmas embedded in the politics of scale featuring space/place and local/global dialectics (e.g., Escobar, 2001). The Awá's processes of making the meaning of climate change bring in a global perspective that is absent, or it is not explicit, in translating development and sustainability. In performing the translation of development and sustainability, for instance, Awá refer to war, drug trafficking, and the extractivist activities piercing their territories, building the interpretations of these terms in direct relation with, and hence, circumscribed by their physical situation and transformation of katza su. When Awá translate climate change, however, a global perspective becomes explicit:

With respect to climate change, especially within what we can call the global context, there is a total change. The last 5 years, the climate has changed a lot because the soil is warmer, the temperature is stronger[.] There are seasons when it rains very strong and there are seasons when the water dries too fast. Then, it is seen that the climate change is totally changing the world[.] Because it is not only in Ecuador but everywhere else; climate change is seen in terms of climate change within the global context. (Florencio Cantincus, FCAE President)

Florencio's attempt to construe the concept of climate change enunciates the “global context” that is “seen” by an erased subject that experiences climate change “in Ecuador and everywhere.” The change in the phantasmagoric global space is elusive while the local place manifests through warmer soils, stronger rains, higher temperatures, and extended droughts as “the water dries too fast.” Florencio's translation exemplifies the oscillation of the meaning of climate change between place and space.

A space-based meaning of climate change builds its claims upon a detached definition deployed via the “perplexing genre” of scientific discourse (Taddei, 2012, p. 79) in which Awá's territory becomes a “zone” or “region” on which climate change affectations can be traced and registered in colorful maps and well-crafted models. This spatial view is legitimate and useful, but the problem is that this perspective presents itself as self-sufficient and relies on a (perceived) detached representation of what is happening on the ground, which might explain Olindo's discontent with how climate change is addressed in meetings with NGOs:

I can name lots of NGOs that are [talking about climate change]. So, I said <<Do you have territory? How are you going to say [to Awá], “you have to cultivate in this way and keep it that way?” You do not have territory! Those who have territory are the [Indigenous peoples and nationalities and Afro-descendant peoples].>>

This event also features the hierarchical understanding of scale16, which risks rendering the local as secondary in the search for strategies to face environmental global problems. Olindo's interpellation—“Do you have territory!”—locates Awá territory, katza su, as the locus of enunciation of Awá understanding of climate change. In Leff (2004) words, within katza su, “geography becomes verb” (p. 125); thus, for climate change to be understood it has to be emplaced.

A place-based meaning of climate change, or emplaced climate change, derives from a phenomenological appraisal of the effects of climate disruption on people's places and bodies, as well as on their ecocultural practices that nurture their relations-in-place (Milstein et al., 2011). To illustrate climate change emplacement, I focus on dwelling as an ecocultural practice that revives and recreates Awá's territoriality encompassing places, bodies, and human and non-human people17. To Olindo, Awá recreate

orality and history, through walking the ecological paths, and the jungle; all we have around our territory is life, as we have life; trees are life, trees are people; plants are people, leaves are people; and everything that exists in the ecosystem is life, it has life. And that is why we have to take care of it; we have to protect it.

Dwelling weaves reminiscences. But in translation something always becomes precarious. The strict translation of “caminar/walk” to describe Awá's roundabouts in their territories is misleading. For instance, the word “dwelling” is a more accurate description of what Awá's “walking” accomplishes in terms of their ecocultural communication. Dwelling is “thinking through places” (Carbaugh and Cerulli, 2013, p. 6), and as an ecocultural practice, it nurtures and awakes Awá's communicative senses that entangle the individual's mind and body with the territory18. Dwelling is an essential element in the rituals Awá elders—mayores/men and mayoras/women—perform to maintain the equilibrium of katza su. According to Rider Paí, Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá (UNIPA) President, “the elders are those who manage time19.” Elders are owners of an ecocultural science that allows them to understand the territory through their relations to the medicinal plants; they also tune in with the spirits of the mountain who communicate to them the changes in their ecologies (Bisbicús et al., 2010). Unfortunately, Awá elders have not been able to balance the territory as they cannot dwell it.

We have a traditional meeting here, traditional festivities where the grandparents will be able to harmonize [the territory]. And that's why we're wrong. We're not well because they [the grandparents] are not harmonizing the territory. Previously, all traditional doctors harmonized what is produced [in the territory.] [They harmonized] all produce and therefore nothing was lacking. (Florencio)

Despite Awá's diagnosis and analysis reports of the geopolitical context in which their communities are located, sometimes structural factors are backgrounded giving way to a framing that risks discredit traditional Indigenous knowledges by rendering Awá themselves—“the grandparents are not harmonizing the territory”—as those to blame for the changes occurring in the territory. Non-climate related factors affect the time/climate of katza su and are influential in the phenomenological construction of climate change insofar as they alter and hinder Awá's possibilities of dwelling to reconstitute their sacred and lineage relationships to their territories. Eduardo Cantincus, UNIPA Economic and Production Counselor, answered and responded: “What change has there been? There has been a change due to conflicts, violence, all of these [illegal] actors, antipersonnel mines; there have been death, all that.” Therefore, to understand the changes that have occurred in and continue to impact the territory in relation to climate, Rider Paí asserts:

We must do it through the research of the elders. They are the ones who have the final word in what is the factor of that problem [of climate change] that has been taking place [in the territory].

The incorporation of Awá's ecocultural knowledge about climate change rejoins body and place to explain its causes, and above all, to help in the understanding of the affectations attributed to climate change.

Awá's understanding of climate change, then, is articulated to or thought of in territorial terms. An emplaced climate change reveals a different world from where Awá make sense of global environmental discourses. In translating climate change, a phenomenological understanding of this global phenomenon emerges and reveals perspectival positions—“views from different worlds, rather than perspectives about the same world” (De la Cadena, 2015, p. 110)—which demand paying attention to the competing ways of knowing and valuing the more-than-human world. Communicating climate change, therefore, entails translation—a way into peoples' ecocultural imaginaries, identities, inter-generational knowledge, ecological practices, and nature-based memories and stories—whose locus of enunciation is territory. Emplaced conceptualizations of climate change potentially carve out spaces for civic action in environmental participatory processes, as I show in the next section.

Civic Action at the Margins: Disturbing Language and Rethinking Meaning

The kind of coordination that civic action is and requires must attend to translation as a constitutive part of environmental participatory processes in which ecocultural identities are negotiated, environmental ideologies are implicated, and ecological practices are legitimized. If the goal of environmental participatory processes is to co-create spaces to foster democratic dialogue and deliberation, conflict resolution, and interspecies understanding, practitioners must address the geopolitics of language entangled with the pragmatism that these spaces of decision- and policy-making require. Translation is an always-already contested communication practice and a historicist inquiry that brings in the geopolitics informing the univocal use of scientific language and (re)directs attention to the politics of scale at play in the production and legitimation of Western scientific knowledge (WSK) over Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) (Figeroa, 2011; Maldonado et al., 2016). As environmental communication, translation could be used as a subaltern political strategy to confront the power/knowledge intricacies deployed in communicating climate change regarding questions of relocation of knowledge and power, perplexing discourses and linguistic alienation, and the more-than-human realm.

Relocating Climate Knowledge and Power

Awá people's translation of climate change is a matter of the geopolitics of environmental knowledge. Emplaced climate change is intimately connected to the identification and recognition of an alternative, but complementary, source of knowledge from which Awá define climate change. To Filiberto Pascal, Director of the Bilingual Intercultural Community Education Center (FCAE), the elders are those who

have realized that time has changed a lot. For example, the lack of rain, the arrival of summer; they have realized that. They have said that climate change is for those reasons or sometimes they do not know, but it is not because they do not know, because they know [what climate change is].

Olindo Cantincus, in a more assertive form, puts knowledge about climate change in historical and economic perspectives, but always builds its meaning in relation to katza su's well-being:

I think that we do understand climate change…or [Indigenous] peoples and nationalities they knew that. Because they already knew. That is why they did not want to… they do not want [companies] to destroy their katza su. That is why [the elders] did not want large companies to enter and cut the wood. They already knew that climate change was going to come about [if we were to do that].

The previous examples are representative of how power and knowledge are deployed in communicating climate change. As Priest (2016) suggests, “climate communicators should give thought of which leaders might be influential with particular groups” (p. 8). In the case of Awá communities, elders appear to be one essential source of knowledge and leadership; yet, despite their knowledge, elders are leaders who are losing their power of influence as disbelief on traditional knowledge is growing among younger Awá generations. As Eduardo sadly affirms,

young people did not take advantage of the elders [who] have already taken the wisdom and carried it and they already have it. If we do not believe in the elders' spiritual knowledge, [this knowledge] has already been lost. [The young Awá] have not been able to discover this knowledge.

The intergenerational disconnects are contributing to accelerate processes of acculturation—the “inappropriate approach to Western culture that terminates vital elements of [Awá] culture” (FCAE et al., 2016, p. 15)—. Here, culture is not a fixed, ahistorical, and apolitical concept that technically confines culture to material (e.g., art, food), behavioral (e.g., values, traditions), and functional (e.g., knowledge for problem-solving) manifestations (Telleria, 2015). Rather, culture is a term that evokes unbalanced power relations that often maintain unjust and oppressive social hierarchies and privileges (Halualani and Nakayama, 2010) that may “terminate” the uniqueness of Awá ways of being. In regard to climate change, the use and privilege of scientific language in understanding this global phenomenon furthers other gestures of exclusion and disempowerment pervading climate change communication.

Perplexing Discourses and Linguistic Alienation

A global or universal science is at the same time situated knowledge. Insisting on the situatedness of individual and collective efforts performed and enacted in-places has the potential to scale down climate change discussions and debates. One way is by challenging the perplexity of scientific language and “the ontological authority that derives from the scientific method” (Taddei, 2012, p. 80). Interviewees pointed out that one of the difficulties in communicating climate change comes from an (over)emphasis on what Awá perceived as technical jargon:

Olindo: As far as I have tried, and as I say, what technical words I have seen [being used], Awá people are not understanding what climate change is.

Me: Do you consider climate change a technical word?

Olindo: Yes, I do. Because they also talk about the ozone cape. If you go with this technical term, the Awá people are going to understand different. [But] if I tell them, “Look brother, it's going to rain less,” he is going to understand different than if I say ozone cape. For them [ozone cape] does not work. If I tell them “the river is going to dry,” maybe they will understand better.

This statement is not a critique of the science behind climate change—in fact, Indigenous cosmovisions and climate science support each other in their beliefs and claims regarding the current environmental crisis (e.g., Eisenstadt and West, 2017)—. Neither is the reference to climate change technical character a refusal or incapacity to learn how the science behind climate change works. Olindo's description denounces a linguistic alienation that both aggravates the uneven power relations in which public-expert relationships are embedded and reifies the authority of the experts' scientific knowledge and specialized language (Bernacchi and Peterson, 2016). Under these premises, participatory processes of climate change decision- and policy-making should be cautious about demanding non-scientific participants to make the effort to be informed or to have at least knowledge of the basic science behind climate change (e.g., Kinsella, 2004). This posture risks advocating for a unidirectional effort because it may not demand from scientists the same effort to be informed and get the basic knowledge about the communities with whom they are trying to communicate.

Linguistic alienation complicates even further the participation dilemma that pervades these processes and that assumes participation as “intrinsically a good thing” (Sprain et al., 2012, p. 84). This assertion resonates with a corporate way of efficiency and an administrative rationality to attain agreement and cooperation (Dukes, 2004; Ångman, 2013) and privileges technical-functionalist approaches of communication over more constitutive ones (Graham, 2004). Participation is never neutral insofar as the way participation is defined (and who defines it) establishes who participates and whose solutions are most likely to be operationalized. Although fostering access, respectfulness, and worthiness of the voices engaged in the process can counter the lack of legitimacy fraught by a managerial kind of participation (Senecah, 2004), this endeavor to inclusion is more difficult to achieve if in addition to a narrow notion of participation those who participate are alienated linguistically from the conversations happening around climate change. In the Awá case, the foreignness of scientific terms not only alienates participants linguistically—“For them ozone cape does not work”—but also, maybe inadvertently, the emphasis and use of scientific jargon positions Awá as less competent to deal with climate change—“Awá people are going to understand different”—. This perceived lack of understanding of the specialized language about climate change may explain a dangerous self-deprecation avowed by some interviewees. The linguistic alienation denounced by Awá interviewees is a call for interrogating the premises of participation supporting the design of participatory processes to communicate climate change, in particular when working with populations of non-dominant language.

The Non-human in the Construction of Meaning

Translation amplifies epistemological and ontological realms by, on the one hand, directly interrogating the predominant languages used to communicate climate change and, on the other hand, positioning the territory as the locus of enunciation. For instance, some translations of climate change to Awapit, such as anñia kanachi sukas maizhtɨt, “it is not like in past times, the territory has changed” (Eduardo), or su an iparɨmtu wantus, “global warming” (Filiberto), mainly refer to physical/geographical changes experienced by Awá communities across their territory—flooding, droughts, or excessive rain—. But also, and more relevant to comprehend Awá's translation of the term, climate change encompasses anñia kanachi sukas maizhtɨt minmukas maishtɨt, “changes in nature and changes in our thought” (Olindo). Focusing on translation brings to the fore that emplacing climate change into Awá's territoriality demands to dialectically integrate the physical transformations of the territory to ways of thinking, knowing, and valuing the world.

I was once talking to some of the elders of the Awá people [about climate change]… because they already knew that more sickness was coming and that is why they said, <<we have to take care of the forest.>> (Olindo)

Awá emplaced notion of climate change encompasses some of the symptoms of a broader cosmological unbalance that “sickens” land and rivers and is created by humans' disrespect to the territory and the human and non-human beings living in it. According to Awá's cosmology, a core principle guiding Awá's lifeways is respect. Respect has a prescriptive character as disrespect has life-or-death consequences for the spiritual and bodily dwellers of the territory because, as Eduardo warns,

if we do not respect nature, punishment comes, that is, drought; drought comes[.] That's why we cannot play with nature, we cannot play.

Awá's relationships with the mountain and the spirits, actants, and beings that exist in the katza su must be respectful. Contrary to the Western perspective that renders territory as solely landscape or inanimate stage for human actions, Indigenous territories are infused by the agency of the non-human. Within the human and more-than-human cosmo-environment of katza su, territory is an active participant in the construction of Awá's ecocultural identities, knowledges, and practices, which defy anthropocentrism.

Translation elucidates the anthropocentric inclination of climate change communication. By translating climate change into non-dominant languages, the absence of non-human actors' voices in environmental participatory processes becomes explicit. Anthropocentrism contributes to deepening the lack of multivocality, particularly in processes in which environmental communication models for participation privilege human-centered interpretations of environmental conflicts, collaboration, and benefits (Callister, 2013; Peterson et al., 2016). Awá's phenomenological understanding of climate change challenges anthropocentrism by situating humans within a larger web of humans and more-than-human relationality governed by the principle of respect.

Closing Remarks: Scaling-Down Climate Change

Research is a political act to generate knowledge to enhance “utopian politics of possibility that addresses social injustice and imagines a radical democracy that is not yet” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011, p. xiii). As such, this investigation sought to understand the complexity of the Awá situation in order to offer ways to unpack discursive conditions that may support injustice, deepen inequality, and perpetuate exclusion. Accordingly, by exploring Awá organizations' translation of climate change, I attempted to understand how global environmental discourses inform Awá's relationships with their territories, situated knowledges and meanings, and ecocultural identities, and offer some signposts to the design of less anthropocentric and more inclusive models of environmental communication.

The possibility and need of epistemological and ontological amplitude in the definition of climate change comes to the fore with translation. Translation, as communication practice and historicist inquiry, is one discursive entry point to the complex assemblage of market driven economic ideologies, political arrangement among state and non-state actors, colonial histories, and epistemic borders. As an epistemological device, translation relocates power insofar as it raises questions about whose knowledge is legitimized in our understanding of climate change. The invocation of a phenomenological knowledge in the place-based construction of meaning emplaces the global environmental discourse of climate change. By emplacing, Awá open possibilities to express and exert their dis-sensus, “to feel or sense differently” (Micarelli, 2015). To emplace, then, entails challenging the exclusionary deployment of specialized jargon that appears to unmoor the meaning of climate change from place, which possibly undermines Awá people's grounded/lived experiences of the effects of climate disruption.

Linguistic alienation aggravates this detachment and risks to reduce the level of actual participation by privileging a “scientific” over “non-scientific” language and knowledge. By entering the discursive complexity of climate change via interrogating Awá processes of translation of this global environmental discourse, I posed the need for (1) a more political understanding of culture; (2) a less functionalistic comprehension of communication; and (3) an ecocultural approach to participation that acknowledges and exposes the anthropocentrism permeating the discourses, ideologies, and subjectivities implicated in spaces of public participation in environmental decision- and policy-making. I am aware of that agency and potential for civic action created during translation can possibly be minimized for the people or organizations at-the-margins if, for example, their language is translated with minimal ecocultural awareness into the dominant language (Spanish or English) for Western audiences and back into terms such as “cambio climático/climate change.” This reverse translation may result in losing the place, identity, and understanding carved out in at-the-margin communities' initial translation. This scenario is easy to foresee as the normalization of environmental vernacular contributes to the anthropocentric inertia usually pervading environmental deliberations, to which translation cannot tackle alone. Hence, translation is one of several communication practices that can alter this inertia through rhetorical inventions (Pezzullo, 2001), alternative metaphors (Milstein, 2016), or reshaping participants' sense-of-place (Druschke, 2013). A focus on translation is another way to reveal that the effectiveness of communication practices is not limited to the instrumental capacity of facilitating interaction. On the contrary, communication has the potential to challenge, disrupt, and reshape our culturally informed assumptions of the (natural) world. Therefore, as an environmental communication practice toward civic action, translation should be directed to denounce, question, and resist the ideological representations of the global environmental crisis that obscure the anthropogenic causes of climate disruption; and thus, to present alternative paths to regenerative futures.

It could be that by now the alien feeling surrounding the idea of climate change had diminished to the majority of Awá communities. However, it was evident that the lack of attention to how climate change is understood by Awá people complicated collaborations. According to Rider Paí, “NGOs come from the outside and land [the idea of climate change] here, but in the Indigenous context is not the same.” The perceived foreignness and detachment of climate change—and development and sustainability for that matter—suggest a trembling rapprochement between Awá organizations and communities and their possible national and international partners, as Olindo's account illustrated via his interpellation to NGOs about not having a territory of their own. Thus, the collaboration among Awá organizations and external institutions converges into the territory and is conditioned to a more encompassing understanding of climate change. Translation as civic action is a powerful environmental communication practice that helps disturbing language, rethinking meaning, and interrogating and finding new ways of coordination among diverse, antagonists, and not only human actors. Therefore, as civic action, translation has the potential to carve out identity, relationships, place, and agency toward advancing nurturing radical inclusion models based on a replenished communication that positions the more-than-human world at the center of individual and collective environmental practices and actions.

Data Availability

The datasets analyzed for this study was gathered and created by the author and respond to IRB condition of information access.

Ethics Statement

This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the Institutional Research Board-IRB Office at the University of New Mexico with written informed consent from all subjects. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by the IRB Committee.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.


Several institutions granted me financial support at different stages of my studies. The scholarship I received from the Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación of Ecuador, supported the first 4 years of the Doctoral program. The 5th year, the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico granted me its Ph.D. Fellowship, which allowed me to dedicate most of my time to writing and finishing the dissertation from which this study derives. Lastly, the National Consortium of Environmental Rhetoric & Writer-in-Residence Summer Fellowship Program opened the inspirational space of Enchanted Rock in Hillsboro, NM, at a time when I most needed a retreat from everyday life to ground my ideas and emotions.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


What is written in the following pages is the result of my interactions and relationships with Awá people, their stories and histories, and their resilient force, which have sedimented my commitment to environmental and social justice. Awá also gave me the gift of humility, for which I will always be thankful.


1. ^Indigenous people understand Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as “the process of participating (a verb) fully and responsibly in such relationships [between knowledge, people, and all Creation (the ‘natural' worlds as well as the spiritual)], rather than specifically as the knowledge gained from such experiences. For aboriginal people, TEK is not about understating relationships; it is the relationship with Creation… Equally fundamental from an aboriginal perspective is that TEK is inseparable from the people who hold it… This means that, at its most fundamental level, one cannot ever really ‘acquire' or ‘learn' TEK without having undergone experiences originally involved in doing so. This being the case, the only way for TEK to be utilized in environmental management is to involve the people, the TEK holders…Once separated from its original holders, TEK loses much of its original value and meaning” (McGregor, 2008, pp. 145–146. In Figeroa, 2011, p. 238). Anishanbe scholar, Deborah McGregor, developed this definition of TEK, which also can be considered an exercise in translation.

2. ^Other Indigenous people with binational organizations are Cofán and Éperas (SENPLADES and DNP, 2014).

3. ^The other two organizations are: Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Pueblo Awá del Putumayo (ACIPAP), and Cabildo Mayor Awá de Ricaurte (CAMAWARI) both located in Mocoa, Colombian territory.

4. ^The research was approved by the Ethics Committee of The University of New Mexico Institutional Review Board.

5. ^Awapit (Awá: people; Pit: mouth) is Awá's Native language. In the Awapit Pinkih Kammu Gramática Pedagógica del Awapit issued by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education (2009) reads: “Like many of the ancestral languages of America, [Awapit] is an agglutinating type, which means that it constructs its expressions and meanings by adding morphemes to a root. This characteristic makes Awapit very different from languages such as Spanish, which are more analytical in nature. The differences between these families of languages are not only formal, but respond to completely different logical schemes of thought, which come from worldviews related to specific social realities, differentiated from European cultures and languages by an enormous distance in time and space[.] This language, especially in its older speakers, still retains practically intact the characteristics of primary orality. Consequently, when we write texts that do not literally reproduce the oral discourse, we are transforming their normal models of expression to adapt them to the needs of schooling and literacy” (p. 11–12). (Translation by the author).

6. ^These are two of several news articles about the flooding in Mocoa: 1.; 2.

7. ^Phonetic note: the ł/ɨ signals a nasal sound in the pronunciation of the vowel.

8. ^I can provide the Spanish version of these quotes under request.

9. ^An ethnophysical nomenclature includes “verbal renderings of landscapes, water, plants, animals, and bodies” and its practices of “place-naming, verbal depictions of place, ‘spatial deixis' or the expressive references (e.g., through “here” and “that” and pointing) to immediate physical circumstances” (Carbaugh and Cerulli, 2013, p. 11).

10. ^Regarding the use of humanature, Milstein (2011) states: “I use the compound terms humanature and ecoculture throughout my writing as a way to reflexively engage human and nature, ecology and culture, in integral conversation in research as they are in life. These symbolic moves are turns away from binary constructs and notions of ‘the environment' and turns toward lexical reciprocal intertwining. These moves are in league with Haraway's (2008) use of ‘naturecultures' to encompass nature and culture as inter-related historical and contemporary entities.” (p. 21, note 1)

11. ^Environmental justice groups who work toward making visible the intersection of race and environmental hazards initiated the idea of not-in-my-backyard (NIMB). In challenging environmental racism, NIMB's first meaning stands for a place-based way of denouncing the environmental and health risks of industrial pollution (Vanderheiden, 2016).

12. ^Environmental privilege “is embodied in the fact that some groups can access spaces and resources, which are protected from the kinds of ecological harm that other groups are forced to contend with every day…. If environmental racism and injustice are abundant and we can readily observe them around the world, then surely the same can be said for environmental privilege. We cannot have one without the other; they are two sides of the same coin” (Park and Pellow, 2011, p. 4).

13. ^On June 23, 1988, in Washington D.C., in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, James E. Hansen, Chief Scientist NASA Godard Institute for Space Studies, coined the term “global warming.” During the administration of George W. Bush, however, Frank Luntz pushed the term “climate change” to win the political debate on the environment. Climate change, Luntz stated, “is less frightening than global warming.” According to Lakoff (2010), climate change “had a nice connotation—more swaying palm trees and less flooded out coastal cities. ‘Change' left out any human cause of the change. Climate just changed. No one to blame” (p. 71).

14. ^Drawing on risk society and post-colonial theory, Anshelm and Hultman (2015) identify four competing discourses present at the UN Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen in December 2009 (COP15): industrial fatalist, green Keynesianism, eco-socialist, and climate skepticism. The main difference among these discourses is their position on the extent to which capitalism is or not the main contributing factor to the environmental crises we are experiencing nowadays and how radical are their proposed solutions.

15. ^Among these organizations are World Wildlife Fund-Colombia, Fundación Altrópico, Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Awá have also received support from Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

16. ^Scale is one of the four analytic tendencies in spatiality theory — the other three are territory, place, and network (Williams, 2016).

17. ^The Awapit word Awá means people/gente; however, this definition encompasses human and nonhuman entities, as in Olindo's account.

18. ^Cepek (2011) account on the Cofán people in the Ecuadorian Amazonia exemplifies the subtle but meaningful distinction between dwellers and walkers. He noticed that the same individual would dwell or walk the territory depending on the kind of role s/he would perform. Individuals were dwellers of the place when performing ecocultural practices such as hunting, fishing, or cropping, which help Cofán to reproduce a sense of community as the result of those activities are enjoyed and shared by every member of the community. On the contrary, individuals walk the space when performing their role of “monitors” collecting data for a conservation project. The discourse of conservation mediates Cofán's subjectivity in relation to the territory and, thus, as denizens of the space of conservation they walk instead of dwelling the territory.

19. ^Another element that is lost in translation stems from the nuances in the term climate change itself. In English, for instance, “weather” and “climate” are two semantically different words that describe two distinct phenomena (although this distinction is also problematic in the English language, see Priest, 2016). In Spanish, however, this distinction does not exist. The word “climate” translates to “clima.” Clima in Spanish has two connotations, one related to weather patterns in long periods of time, as in climate change; the other connotation of “clima” is simply weather. Hence, the Spanish “clima” encapsulates these connotations and, in the process, blurs the distinction between weather and climate. Moreover, colloquially, weather also translates to “tiempo,” and the Spanish word “tiempo” is also “time” as in time-space relationship. It is within this realm of signification that Rider's assertion, “The elders are those who manage time,” must be understood.


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Keywords: emplacing, climate change, translation, civic action, territoriality, environmental communication, Awá

Citation: Castro-Sotomayor J (2019) Emplacing Climate Change: Civic Action at the Margins. Front. Commun. 4:33. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2019.00033

Received: 28 February 2019; Accepted: 24 June 2019;
Published: 09 July 2019.

Edited by:

Julie Doyle, University of Brighton, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Jennifer Peeples, Utah State University, United States
Karen M. Taylor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, United States

Copyright © 2019 Castro-Sotomayor. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: José Castro-Sotomayor,