In this special bonus episode of the Seedcast podcast, Executive Producer Tracy Rector talks with Nia Tero CEO and co-founder Peter Seligmann about why he dedicated his life to being an ally to all beings on the Earth and how that led to founding Nia Tero. Tracy also gives us a glimpse into who makes up the Seedcast team. Produced and edited by Jenny Asarnow; hosted by Tracy Rector.
Tracy Rector: [00:00:00] [laughs], All right. I'm Tracy Rector here on Coast Salish territory. And I'm the executive producer of Seedcast brought to you by Nia Tero. Jessica Ramirez is out of the office this week, and so I'm here with you and a special bonus episode. Today we're gonna take a peek behind the curtain of Seedcast and Nia Tero. And hear my conversation with Nia Tero's founder and CEO, Peter Seligmann. Join me in learning about our organization and how it came to be. To know who we are and what we stand for.
[00:01:09] Here at Seedcast. We support the rights and traditional ways of Indigenous peoples. We do this by sharing stories from around the world, so that you can get to know Indigenous knowledge systems and understand traditional practices of caring for the earth. We honor the land guardians, those who have lived and continue to live in a relationship with their traditional territories since time immemorial. At the core of what we do as reciprocity, which means to be in relationship to all beings. Seen and unseen, past, present, and future.
[00:01:49] My identity is a mixed race creative, often drives the way I carry myself in the world. For me as someone with black and Choctaw descent, work-life and art are often interwoven. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be in service to my community and all my ancestors. I've been fortunate enough to find myself rooted in filmmaking arts, curation, education, activism, and community organizing. Which allows me to walk this interconnected path. And so after 20 years as a creative freelancer, I decided to join the Nia Tero family to continue my service to Indigenous peoples. I love our work and our mission. The path is life affirming, and that allows me to embody greater purpose. As someone with Indigenous heritage, I feel very grateful.
[00:02:44] Nia Tero is a Seattle based foundation. We're both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with the mission to secure Indigenous guardianship of all vital ecosystems. And that essentially means that we provide support to Indigenous peoples globally, who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for humans and other species for generations to come. Nia Tero was founded in 2017. And the person more than anyone who is responsible for creating our organization is Peter Seligmann, my boss and the CEO of Nia Tero. I got to sit down with Peter and have a conversation about how Nia Tero came to be, and what Peter's vision is for our impact in the world. Peter, thanks for joining me today on Seedcast.
[00:03:48]Peter Seligmann: [00:03:48] Thank you Tracy. I feel very lucky to work with you.
[00:03:51]Tracy Rector: [00:03:51] Well, I feel lucky to work with you too. So Peter, could you introduce yourself in the homelands that you are currently on?
[00:04:02]Peter Seligmann: [00:04:02] I am currently on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people. Uh, today referred to as Seattle. I am a, uh, a father and I am a grandfather. I am a brother and a nephew, and I am a person that has grown up in love with the forests and oceans, and all the wild beings that li-live in the soil and the air and, and surround us. And, um, I've spent my life trying to be a very good ally to all those beings.
[00:04:38]Tracy Rector: [00:04:38] Well, that's a wonderful way to be in relationship to all beings in the earth Peter. I really appreciate that about you. I'm wondering, um, if you could share with us how you came to found Nia Tero in 2017 and why?
[00:04:55]Peter Seligmann: [00:04:55] Um, I'm really happy to do that. I had spent 30 years prior to 2017 leading an organization that was focusing on the protection of nature for the wellbeing of people. The group called conservation international. And as I, you know, realized that it was important to turn that organization over to others. Um, I began to focus in on that truth, that, that so much of the earth that has remained healthy is healthy because the guardians of those territories are Indigenous peoples.
[00:05:35] And I began to talk to friends who are Indigenous leaders to try to understand the challenges that they had faced and the challenges that they continue to face in the security of their homelands. And my belief was that if I could be an effective ally, that, that would be good both for peoples, but it would be good for all humanity. And so I left conservation international. I took a day off and then, uh, with my friends, we launched a new organization, Nia Tero.
[00:06:13]Tracy Rector: [00:06:13] That's pretty astounding. Can you Peter, tell me a little bit about the name Nia Tero and where that came from.
[00:06:21]Peter Seligmann: [00:06:21] Yes. Uh, my great-grandfather who was a German worked with a Polish ophthalmologist to create a language called Esperanto, for the purpose of being a language that could be shared throughout all of Europe. So the people could understand each other. And so I started thinking about my own heritage. I thought well, I wonder what I could get from Esperanto. And so the name our earth in Esperanto is Nia Tero.
[00:06:52]Tracy Rector: [00:06:52] So, uh, in your heritage Peter, I find it interesting you have a visionary streak. What led your family to the US?
[00:07:04]Peter Seligmann: [00:07:04] My mother and my father both fled as teenagers from Nazi Germany, uh, in order to survive. Many of our family members did not. And that's why, uh, I've always felt that it's really right and just to fight for one's heritage, and for one's Homeland. I'm sure that had a lot to do with why I'm doing what I'm doing.
[00:07:31]Tracy Rector: [00:07:31] Thank you for sharing that. Um, it does lead me to ask, um, and you just gave us some insight to this question, but why you as a non-Indigenous person, have you chosen to work in such close solidarity with Indigenous peoples?
[00:07:52]Peter Seligmann: [00:07:52] I feel a deep alignment and convergence with the relationships that Indigenous peoples have with their place. With the way that, uh, they shaped their lands, and are shaped by their lands, with the sense of reciprocity. And it's something that for whatever reason has always been inside of me, and I can't explain it. It just is one of those things that always has been there. And so, um, as I have learned about the ways and means of Indigenous cultures, I've been struck by this simple truth that so many Indigenous cultures, all of the ones that I know of, share this reciprocal relationship with the earth and with their place.
[00:08:54] And I feel very, very close to that. I also was struck when we, when I began to talk to Indigenous leaders about the idea of Nia Tero that, um, uh, there has been such extraordinary pressure and an assault on Indigenous peoples by colonial forces where, where the struggle for Indigenous peoples is actually a survival struggle. And I feel in the kinship to that too, as I said, you know. Many people, my family did not survive. So when you put those together, um, I feel like I'm very fortunate to have lived the life that has put me in a place, uh, where I can be, uh, a committed, strong ally to peoples whom I have deep respect for and whom I learned from,
[00:09:48]Tracy Rector: [00:09:48] I mean, that's a, it takes a sense of selflessness and, uh, uh, drive to be in service to, to a greater good.
[00:10:03]Peter Seligmann: [00:10:03] You know, all of us go through our journeys in our life. And, and, and I, wasn't always as selfless as I've become, [laughs].
[00:10:13]Tracy Rector: [00:10:13] [Laughs].
[00:10:15]Peter Seligmann: [00:10:15] But it's part of the benefit of becoming an elder.
[00:10:18]Tracy Rector: [00:10:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative], I love that, we are all on a journey. Um, so Peter, can you please share why Indigenous land guardianship and why is the central to Nia Tero's mission?
[00:10:34]Peter Seligmann: [00:10:34] This is a very poignant and powerful moment in human history. We have the capacity as a human species to just destroy this place, which is our home and our mother. And we need to be as open-minded and as wise as we possibly can be not to do that. And to be open-minded and wise, you have to learn to listen. And you have to search for who are the teachers, who are the people that actually know about this earth and understand how to live on the earth in a way that will be good, not just for today, but good for tomorrow and future generations.
[00:11:20] And if we don't learn that, all of our families, all of our children, all of the beings on this earth are going to be harmed by our ignorance. So that really has accelerated in me, the, this intensified me. This urgency of what can we do, what can I do? There's a massive envy and interest in accessing, taking mining, farming, logging, Indigenous territories. And it was really important for us to see if we can create a force of people that would be guided by Indigenous peoples to make certain that the efforts of Indigenous peoples to secure their wisdom and their homelands, uh, would be successful. So that was why we launched the organization.
[00:12:11]Tracy Rector: [00:12:11] Yes, that inspires me Peter. I love that energy. The mission of Nia Tero is powerful. You have a lot of energy around this work. What is the impact that you hope Nia Tara will have in the world?
[00:12:31]Peter Seligmann: [00:12:31] Well, most importantly, I want the wisdom of Indigenous ways and means to become clearly understood and embraced by non-Indigenous peoples so that they actually can be followers of Indigenous ways and means. We need also to make certain that the territories that are controlled and under the guardianship of Indigenous peoples are secure for them. I think that it is essential that the policy frameworks of governments are shifted so that they recognized the right of self-governance. I think that it's essential, that forces that are concerned about climate, and environment, and ecosystems really understand that it is essential to be decolonized.
[00:13:26] I want every single person on the earth to hear the stories that you are enabling Indigenous storytellers to speak and to build a platform so they can be heard. I want Indigenous peoples to be inspired by the successes of their Indigenous brothers and sisters. I want the non-indigenous peoples to be inspired by hearing the wisdom of Indigenous knowledge. My ambitions are, are pretty big, [laughs].
[00:13:57]Tracy Rector: [00:13:57] [Laughs].
[00:13:57]Peter Seligmann: [00:13:57] You know, I don't believe in barriers. I think that our, our challenges to knock down those barriers and open up those hearts and minds.
[00:14:05]Tracy Rector: [00:14:05] I think we at a time where, uh, we have to be ambitious and we have to think seven generations forward because it's a critical moment.
[00:14:17]Peter Seligmann: [00:14:17] You're absolutely right.
[00:14:19]Tracy Rector: [00:14:19] There's just so many ways we could take this conversation and we only have a few more minutes. Do you have any last thoughts that you wanna share?
[00:14:28]Peter Seligmann: [00:14:28] Life is filled with choices. Every one of us makes our choices and we should make wise choices. If we acknowledged the fact that a third of this planet is under the guardianship of Indigenous peoples, and that one-third of the earth still remains healthy. Let's make certain that those territories are actually secure. We have to be allies, strong allies. And I think my last bit of advice is, make sure that every day you step outside and you close your eyes and you listen to the sound of the wind and the trees rustling and listen for the birds. And remember they are fellow beings. And what they're saying, you actually may be able to understand if you listen really carefully.
[00:15:19]Tracy Rector: [00:15:19] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well Peter I just wanna say thank you so much for taking the time to coach and mentor me as well as many others. And for sharing your wisdom, and it's an honor to walk along this path with you in this journey of life. And I just so appreciate you sharing your vision with us and your vision for Nia Tero, and being open to speaking on Seedcast today.
[00:15:50]Peter Seligmann: [00:15:50] Tracy, thank you. And thank you to all the people that make Seedcast possible.
[00:15:54]Tracy Rector: [00:15:54] It's a team, it's a team effort, [laughs].
[00:16:11] To learn more about this podcast and our work at Nia Tero, please visit our website, Nia tero.org, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This episode was produced by your senior producer, Jenny Asarnow with support from our marketing manager, Julie Keck and me. Our producer is FelipeContreras. Our fact checker is Romin Lee Johnson. Our social media manager is Hannah Panteleo. And I'm Seedcast executive producer, Tracy Rector. That's our beautiful team.
[00:16:46] We are Indigenous and non-Indigenous. We are black and Choctaw, Ashkenazi, Jewish and white, Indigenous Salvadorian and Puerto Rican. Mixed race Korean. We are descended from Swiss, French, German, Sicilian and Indigenous Mexican ancestors. Our team shares English as a first language, and we all currently live on turtle island with most of us residing on the lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, Puyallup
[00:17:25] Others on our team live on the traditional homelands of the Ojibwe, Ottawa, Miami, Pottawatomie, and Massachusetts peoples. We are Gen X, millennial and Gen Z's. We are across the spectrums of gender and sexuality. We are here in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and communities, and ultimately we believe in the interconnected shared liberation of all peoples through the practice of reciprocity. We'll be back with another new episode soon, take care and see you later.