Natayo lugs 40 pounds of water on her back across miles of Kenyan desert to wash laundry, cook, and provide drinking water for her children. Henry, a Ulithian village elder, stands in front of what remains of his home after Typhoon Maysak hit Asor in Micronesia. Ana Maria stands on a pile of rubble—formerly the house she was illegally occupying, which she found reduced to a charred heap after being released from detention.
These people are all fighting for their homes, their communities and their way of life, says Mara Milam, one of three female photojournalists in Santa Cruz who is presenting these stories as part of the Shifting Lands exhibit at Corralitos Brewery through July 31.
“It’s kind of an experiment in an unassuming public place. Instead of pictures of the beach or forests of Santa Cruz, we’re making a bolder statement in a setting where people are taking time to enjoy themselves and each other,” says Kelsey Doyle, the exhibit organizer. “Even though it is depressing that these people are going through various climate issues and cultural struggles over land, they’re still pulling through it.”
Milam, Doyle and Katie Sugarman offer a lens into universal stories of strife across three continents—here is just a snippet of what they learned from the communities they visited.
Kelsey Doyle, 26
Two years ago, the category 5 Typhoon Maysak—the most powerful pre-April tropical cyclone recorded in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean—ravaged the islands of Micronesia. It destroyed the reefs, the primary food source for the local Ulithian population. Doyle travelled to the islands in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon with the organization One People One Reef, which trains scientists to educate locals in scientific methods for sustainable ocean management.
“It’s revitalizing the community and trailblazing the way that we approach disasters—not just sending in U.S. aid with powdered sunscreen or boxes of sandals—sustaining the way they live in the most traditional way possible, with modern tools and science,” says Doyle.
This is the only way that the population can adapt to the reality of rising sea levels and the certainty of more, larger typhoons in the future, says Doyle.
Doyle’s photos are of the Ulithians amid their makeshift homes fashioned from the typhoon wreckage. Hopefully brewery =goers can connect these faces with the dire situation in Micronesia, she says.
“Maybe when they hear about some disaster happening in the world because of climate change, they now have a catalogue of that recollection to pull up and say, ‘Oh yeah that happened, that’s real.’ People need to see to believe.”
Katie Sugarman, 30
For Maasai women living in the Olgulului, Kenya, an already grueling existence has been exacerbated by the country’s worsening drought conditions. “A lot of Maasai all over Kenya and Tanzania have been displaced from traditional tribal lands, and their tribal land is centered around having a reliable water source,” says Sugarman. “I want people to have an idea of what drought means in their context versus our context, just by the virtue of carrying your own water for a day.”
Between the drought and being forcibly moved away from areas where their cattle can graze, it’s generally up to the Maasai women to pick up the daily slack.
“All they can do is carry the water on their backs. To support 10 kids, you need to go multiple times a day.”
Sugarman has visited Olgulului three times over the years, most recently in February with the Biocultural Conservation Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to educate and empower Maasai women and girls.
“It’s a very traditional culture, very male-dominated, and they still practice female circumcision and arranged marriage at unthinkably young ages,” says Sugarman.
With an education, says Sugarman, girls can at least wait until they’re a bit older to decide if they want to live as traditional Maasai women or choose a different life.
Mara Milam, 25
Sonia Villobos was in tears, screaming when Milam and the team, on assignment for Seeker media network, stepped on Villobos’s land in the AraucanÃa region of Chile: she did not want them there. The Mapuche had been terrorizing Villobos’s family, she told Milam, sneaking onto her property at night. They fired shots, and threatened their animals and her 90-year-old father—methods that aren’t uncommon for the indigenous Mapuche in their fight for ancestral lands, which have received a forceful reaction from the Chilean government.
“When we first arrived in this tiny town, four Mapuche men were on trial for occupying a building, and there were armored vehicles all around the courthouse. The government has been accused by the U.N. of using extremely excessive force to put the Mapuche in line, but certain people in Chile refer to [the Mapuche] as terrorists.”
There’s a brewing civil war in AraucanÃa, says Milam. The conflict is rooted in the Chilean government’s brutal seizure of Mapuche lands in the 1800s, which left thousands of indigenous people dead, and was exacerbated by U.S.-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet giving land to lumber companies, in addition to countless atrocities, torture and disappearances of indigenous people under his rule.
The Mapuche want their ancestral land back, the farmers don’t want to sell the land they’ve now lived on for generations, and the government has been slow to respond. In June, president Michelle Bachelet formally apologized to the Mapuche for state “errors and horrors” against their communities, proposing a plan to transfer land and increase Mapuche representation in government. But the Mapuche want concrete action—like demilitarization of their communities.
“I don’t want to condone behavior on either side. Everyone is a victim on both sides of this situation,” says Milam. “But they want to be seen and have their communities be safe.”
For more information on the Mapuche, watch the free short documentary “500-year Secret Conflict In Chile”.
Info: Tuesday-Friday, 4-8 p.m., Saturday & Sunday Noon-8 p.m. Corralitos Brewing Co., 2536 Freedom Boulevard, Watsonville.