Tangled Roots: Dialogues exploring ecological justice, healing, and decolonization

Reviewed by: Anna Bowen
Tangled Roots book review A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Tangled Roots \ Matt Soltys

It would be easy for a writer to bite off more than they can chew by addressing subjects as far-reaching as colonialism, genocide and the guiding magnetic orientation of bees. But in Matt Soltys’ first book, he not only addresses these diverse, complex topics, he weaves them into a thundering call to action. This personal and accessible book by the well-known activist from Guelph, Ontario, demonstrates what he calls the tangled roots of ecological, social and economic injustice, encouraging alliances and solidarity between their advocates.

“We are in a state of emergency,” Soltys writes, acknowledging that the way forward is not simple. We rely on the very system we seek to undo. He stops short of endorsing full-fledged revolt to overthrow industrial civilization, recommending instead that we engage in “a critical analysis of infrastructure” that maximizes the impact of our actions. Soltys warns us not to focus on simple lifestyle changes that are akin to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” – taking shorter showers, for example, or using energy efficient light bulbs. Instead, he encourages us to make change at the root level. “The solutions to our ecological crisis lie not in the marketplace or the halls of government,” he writes, “but in decolonization.”

Tangled Roots draws on interviews from Soltys’ Healing the Earth radio program, which aired from 2005 to 2010 on Guelph’s CFRU FM community radio station. Standout interviews include Ramona Africa’s poignant retelling of the story of the MOVE bombing of 1985. Primarily an African-American organization, MOVE was a radical activist community in Philadelphia that was allowed to burn as police and firefighters stood idly by. All of the community’s members (five children and six adults) were killed, save Africa herself and one child.

“Ramona’s interview helps to ‘de-whiten’ and radicalize the mainstream conception of environmentalism,” Soltys notes. At the dawn of the environmental movement, this intentional community was living off the grid, rejecting modern technology—including running water and electricity—all in the name of respect for the earth and its creatures.

In another remarkable interview, Soltys speaks with Kanahus Pellkey, a spokesperson for the Native Youth Movement. A Secwepemc and Ktnuxa mother, warrior and community organizer,Pellkey promotes living off the land, Indigenous sovereignty and decolonization. She recalls Indigenous blockades at the Sun Peaks ski resort in British Columbia, which has been expanding into Seecwepemc territory, as well as her run from police after being falsely accused of assault while she was pregnant. Pellkey wants to “never feel comfort in everyday living” because of the urgent call to know and protect the land.

For environmentalists who feel helpless in the face of a crisis of such enormous scale, or for those who are appeased by the supposedly green alternatives that our economy provides (solar panels, vegan shoes, reclaimed wooden furniture), this book shines a light on why environmental struggles need to be addressed on a deeper level, and how they are inextricably linked to colonization, conquest and capitalism. Those on the more traditional left might find elements of the book hard to digest, in particular the apocalyptic undercurrents in its final section. Still, Tangled Roots serves both as a wake-up call for the would-be activist and a challenging but necessary selection of interviews for any seasoned environmentalist who has yet to fully understand the strong links that exist between oppression, social inequality and environmental degradation.

Tangled Roots, Matt Soltys, Guelph, Ontario: Healing the Earth Press, 2012, 215 pages

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Reviewer Information

Anna Bowen is a freelance writer and editor based in Guelph, Ontario. More of her writing can be found at annabowen.org.

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