Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science

A powerful wake-up call for environmentalists and all those who are concerned about the future of our planet. 

Too often, the environmental discourse has failed to include and uplift the very communities on the frontlines of environmental justice movements. 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. 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.

Too often, the environmental discourse has failed to include and uplift the very communities on the frontlines of environmental justice movements. 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. 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.

Praise for Fresh Banana Leaves

“What Fresh Banana Leaves offers are seeds, as Dr. Hernandez incisively highlights, through the form of lived experiences and historic practices that come from her own ancestors and relatives. We are invited to take heed in order to be part of re-building a world that is more dignified and is responsive to our environment and non-human living relations. Our collective futures hinge upon us abiding.”

— Allejandro Villapando, PhD, Professor Central American Studies and Central American Diaspora

“Fresh Banana Leaves is a groundbreaking book that not only busts genres but also existing frameworks about how we think about Indigeneity, science, and environmental policy. Through poignant reflections on her family narrative and her own grounding in Indigenous science, Hernandez offers brave critiques of Latinidad and ‘Western’ modes of ecological science that underscore the radical connections inherent to Indigenous methodologies. Beyond her trenchant critiques, she also offers the generative constructs of eco-colonialism and ecological grief as new ways of thinking through the current climate crisis. Fresh Banana Leaves will soon be a vanguard text in the burgeoning fi eld of Indigenous science, a must-read for practitioners and theorists alike.”

—Sandy Grande, PhD, author of Red Pedagogy

About the Author

Dr. Jessica Hernandez (Binnizá & Maya Ch’orti’) is a transnational Indigenous scholar, scientist, and community advocate based in the Pacific Northwest. She has an interdisciplinary academic background ranging from marine sciences to environmental physics. Her work is grounded in her Indigenous cultures and ways of knowing. She advocates for climate, energy, and environmental justice through her scientific and community work and strongly believes that Indigenous sciences can heal our Indigenous lands. She primarily focuses on Indigenous-led & community-based environmental and climate research projects. These projects center Indigenous knowledges and science in natural resource management and science curriculum. 

Her book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science (2022) 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.​ She is in the process of writing her second book, Growing Papaya Trees: Nurturing Roots of Indigenous Displacement. 

She currently holds appointments at Sustainable Seattle (Board Member), City of Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission, and the International Mayan League (Climate Justice Policy Strategist).