On Thursday, Marquetta L. Goodwine, better known as Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, spoke about the importance of working together to address water pollution during a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.

The St. Helena Island native was introduced by newly-elected Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, a former ocean engineer. Queen Quet spoke about the importance of the ocean to her culture.

“For us as Gullah/Geechees, the land is our family and the waterways are our bloodline, so it’s a great concern — and grave concern — to us when we find that pollutants, poisons, overbuilding, acidification, erosion, and all of these things are now compounding as elements within the water that’s changing the ecology of the water,” she testified.

Thursday’s hearing was the second in a month-long series of hearings on the impacts of climate change titled “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Economies: The State of Our Oceans In the 21st Century,” according to the Committee on Natural Resources.

Among those seated alongside Queen Quet was Carol Browner, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration, and Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank.

Queen Quet brought up the sea island communities that make a living from the sea through businesses like fisheries, and that “have lived in harmony and balance with them for all these generations.”

“We know this is a whale of a number of issues, but I’m sure we can navigate this together in such a way that those whales will follow our boat the way our dolphins and porpoises do on a beautiful sea island day,” she said.

The chieftess emphasized the importance of listening to locals, who have survived and thrived in their communities for centuries, to learn from them about preservation.

The Gullah-Geechee culture derives from enslaved people of African descent who lived in isolated barrier islands on the East Coast. The nation’s population stretches from North Carolina to Florida.

“The isolation of these communities from European culture and influence was vital to the survival of Gullah culture,” reads the website for the forthcoming International African American Museum in Charleston. “With time the geographic isolation of the Gullah became one of choice.”

“We knew Gullah/Geechee culture would not continue to thrive or survive if we get displaced from the Sea Islands,” Queen Quet said during a Q&A session. “There are things that we know from over 400 years in the Sea Islands that nobody else knows, and now everybody in the scientific world is looking at us and saying, ‘Hey, maybe they had something that we need to know, because they’re still there and they don’t leave when we say evacuate.”

You can read her formal address to the subcommittee online and watch her speak in the video above. Her introduction begins at the 1:33:00 mark.

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