An introduction to the Heartbeat Prophecy and (allegedly) an Indigenous people’s version of climate denial theory.
Ross River was established with the discovery of a smaller lead-zinc mine like the Faro mine. Ross River is located on Kaska Dena First Nations territory. Ross River School is known for its slowly collapsing school building as the permafrost underneath it is melting. Some say it’s because of poor construction, not climate change. Some parts of the road to Ross River also became “wobbly” as the permafrost underneath it is melting. Again, some say it’s because of poor construction, not climate change.
Ross River School is closed during lunch, so I walked to a nearby Yukon College campus to pass the time. The administrator and an instructor at the campus asked what I was planning to talk about at the school. Considering that Whitehorse and Faro, Yukon were very supportive of climate action, I told them that I was there to talk about sustainability and climate change.
In response, they told me that climate change was a political subject with many viewpoints and that the definitions of climate change were ever-changing. I asked what they meant. Sure enough, they said that the local elders’ explanation was that climate is always changing and it has been changing for thousands and thousands of years. It depends on how different solar systems and galaxies line up together — some destructively, some creatively — and we’re a part of that heartbeat. The forest fires, hurricanes, and others are a part of the thousands of years old “Heartbeat Prophecy” being fulfilled, and that’s that, implying there is nothing humans can do about it.
I was in complete shock. I had never heard of an Indigenous people’s narrative of the climate denial theory. I was fascinated because this is exactly what an Indigenous people’s climate denial theory would sound like. It had all the components of a climate denial narrative identified by climate psychology: climate change affected area, small remote community, the grandeur of surrounding nature, the hubris of thinking mere humans could change the entire climate, the inevitability of the changing climate, and how humans ought to submit to the will of nature. But I still had a job to do, so I went into the school to deliver my presentation, utterly bemused.
When I walked into the school, the offices of the principal and the secretary were empty; they were vacant at that moment, due to lack of funding. A teacher found me wandering and welcomed me, and went to present to 13 students of grade 7-12, almost all of whom are Indigenous. I did my presentation as usual and the response was as usual.
After the presentation, I asked a teacher in the classroom how the topic of climate change has been accepted in the community and immediately, the teacher went “shhhhh” and said that it was a contentious topic in the area. The teacher, who is a white person as well, said that a lot of uneducated, white people in the community don’t believe in climate change. They talk about climate change being a fake issue and how the leftist city teachers from Whitehorse will come and brainwash their children. Communities that are directly impacted by climate change almost always go out of their way to deny it. This holds to be true, even here in the Yukon.
I asked about the “Heartbeat Prophecy” to an Education Assistant who is a young Indigenous man dressed in traditional clothes. He said that he knows about the Heartbeat Prophecy, but that he’s never heard that version of it. “The Heartbeat Prophecy has nothing to do with climate change,” he said. “This is hard for us to understand here with the lack of education in the community. It’s complicated and I don’t even really understand it either. It’s not taught to us, it’s not easy to understand, so we come up with different stories to explain what’s happening around us, and we need more people like you coming here talking about this subject. But we all know it’s happening.” I also asked a local elder, who echoed his explanation: “that’s not my story.”
The young man continued, “I’m working as a conservation officer to measure caribou population and its movements. Since 2015, the caribou population has been declining and their migratory paths have been moving up north. There’s significantly less moose now too. We’re a hunting and trapping community and it’s becoming harder and harder to find food. We’re now seeing weird animals we’ve never seen here before like coyotes, cougars, deer, elk, animals that don’t come up here because it’s supposed to be too cold for them. We don’t really understand the full climate change, but we definitely see it happening.”
I want to leave the first part of this article with his words: “The Heartbeat Prophecy has nothing to do with climate change and I’ve never heard of that. And Heartbeat Prophecy doesn’t mean it’s inevitable and humans shouldn’t get in the way of the Prophecy.
We fulfill the Prophecy.”