An Indigenous environmental scientist breaks down why western conservationism isn't working – and offers Indigenous models informed by case studies, personal stories, and family histories that center the voices of Latin American women and land protectors.
Despite the undeniable fact that Indigenous communities are among the most affected by climate devastation, Indigenous science is nowhere to be found in mainstream environmental policy or discourse. And while holistic land, water, and forest management practices born from millennia of Indigenous knowledge systems have much to teach all of us, Indigenous science has long been ignored, otherized, or perceived as soft – the product of a systematic, centuries-long campaign of racism, colonialism, extractive capitalism, and delegitimization.
Here, Jessica Hernandez – Maya Ch'orti' and Zapotec environmental scientist and founder of environmental agency Piña Soul – introduces and contextualizes Indigenous environmental knowledge and proposes a vision of land stewardship that heals rather than displaces, that generates rather than destroys. She breaks down the failures of western-defined conservatism and shares alternatives, citing the restoration work of urban Indigenous people in Seattle; her family's fight against ecoterrorism in Latin America; and holistic land management approaches of Indigenous groups across the continent.
Through case studies, historical overviews, and stories that center the voices and lived experiences of Indigenous Latin American women and land protectors, Hernandez makes the case that if we're to recover the health of our planet – for everyone – we need to stop the eco-colonialism ravaging Indigenous lands and restore our relationship with Earth to one of harmony and respect.
Jessica Hernandez, PhD, is an Indigenous scholar, scientist, and community advocate based in the Pacific Northwest. She has an interdisciplinary academic background ranging from marine sciences to forestry. Her work is grounded on her Indigenous cultures and ways of knowing that are rooted in El Salvador (Maya Ch'orti') and Oaxaca, Mexico (Zapotec). She advocates for food, climate, and environmental justice through her scientific and community work and strongly believes that Indigenous sciences can heal our Indigenous lands. She was raised in South Central Los Angeles and in 2020, she became the first alum from her high school to receive and complete a doctoral degree. She is the founder of Pina Soul, SPC, an environmental consulting and artesanias hybrid business that promotes and supports environmental sustainability and conservation among Black and Indigenous communities.
"Westerners, [Dr. Hernandez] writes, fall short on including Indigenous people in environmental dialogues and deny them the social and economic resources necessary to recover from 'land theft, cultural loss, and genocide' and to prepare for the future effects of climate change."
– Publishers Weekly
"In Fresh Banana Leaves, Jessica Hernandez weaves personal, historical, and environmental narratives to offer us a passionate and powerful call to increase our awareness and to take responsibility for caring for Mother Earth. A must-read for anyone interested in Indigenous environmental perspectives."
– Emil' Keme (K'iche'Maya Nation), member of the Ixbalamke Junajpu Winaq' Collective
"A groundbreaking book that busts existing frameworks about how we think about Indigeneity, science, and environmental policy. A must-read for practitioners and theorists alike."
– Sandy Grande, professor of political science and Native American and Indigenous studies, University of Connecticut
"Inspiring and sobering, philosophically powerful and practically grounded, this book weaves together storytelling, razor sharp critiques of oppression, and liberatory pathways for how we can achieve transformation in solidarity. Dr. Hernandez offers the instructions so many environmental protectors and conservationists need to know."
– Kyle Whyte, George Willis Pack Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
"Dr. Hernandez offers many gifts for us to learn, grow, and heal. She shares many details of how settler colonialism has impacted Indigenous people, specifically people of Mexico and Central America. Fresh Banana Leaves is a true validation of the Indigenous knowledge of community."
– Dr Michael Spencer, Presidential Term Professor of Social Work and director of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Oceania Affairs at the IndigenousWellness Research Institute (IWRI), University of Washington
"While ecological destruction has intensified, many of the approaches intended to minimize cataclysmic harm continue to emerge from the Global North. What has long been ignored are the practices and world views that Indigenous peoples have with our nonhuman relatives. Fresh Banana Leaves offers seeds – through the form of lived experiences and historic practices that come from the author's own ancestors and relatives. We are invited to take heed, to be part of rebuilding a world that is more dignified and responsive to our environment and nonhuman living relations. Our collective futures hinge upon us abiding."
– Dr Alejandro Villalpando, assistant professor of Latin American Studies, Cal State LA