reflections on Indigenous sustainability talk

Last night I went to a talk about Indigenous sustainability practices and processes. The highlight for me was listening to David Kind, a Gundungurra man, share his stories of reconnecting with the landscape of his family line and relearning how to live sustainably. Using what grows locally, not leaving any waste and humbly working alongside the seasons and organic cycles of nature. Stewardship of the utmost integrity and foresight for the future of the peoples and life community the land will support.


It felt odd to be sitting inside a university lecture hall, a built environment reliant on energy and materials that harm the earth. Acknowledging and agreeing alongside many other people that indigenous cultures, practices and processes which are sustainable, hold indispensable keys for how to reorganize ourselves in ways that take care of each other and our environment. It felt odd because the lifestyle we were celebrating is simply not compatible with dense urbanization and industrial living. These people lived in synergy with Country and had a huge degree of self-responsibility which meant that they were not dependent on long supply chains and slaves (if you want the challenge me that we don’t have slaves anymore- do the slave calculator and get back to me).


The focus went to topics like not using plastic straws and bringing your own Tupperware, and yes these daily things are important but they are not actually going to help restore soil biology (which we all need to live), sequester carbon or ensure our food is grown locally and ecologically. It doesn’t help restore old growth forests or cleanup our rivers. They don’t help to revive the connection between a human and their ecosystem, a connection intrinsic to all indigenous cultures. Just because humans are a part of nature, not everything we create is a part of nature or natural. Some enterprises destroy nature and therefor do not reflect the self-sustaining, life supporting qualities inherent to natural systems. We should be building more like the beaver who creates its home whilst enhancing the environment not paving it over with toxic materials, cutting down the vegetation and destroying the habitat of other life forms.


We also need to move beyond green washing and consuming ourselves out of this mess. Glendinning (1994) suggests that humans became arrested in their development with the invention of large-scale agriculture which resulted in a rift of our symbiosis with the natural world. All of a sudden we could occupy our time with materialist pursuits because this large-scale industry was replacing a part of lifestyle that otherwise encouraged us to relate with nature and the animating forces of the universe. She went even further with the concept of original trauma, claiming this separation from nature has resulted in collective trauma. My personal assessment of the situation we find ourselves in attests to this. In particular Glendenning’s point that it was large-scale systems that caused the rift is something to pay attention to.


Often I hear in eco-minded circles that agriculture is the cause of all our current troubles. It is pinned as the time when we started to implement more harmful social structures and destructive lifestyles – most literature is highly emotive with relatively recent Eurocentric, anthropological evidence to support these claims. Agriculture was also practiced by communitarian and sustainable cultures the world over. Our First Nation people, whom many of the people that claim agriculture started all our ills seek to copy, had agriculture. Some nations cultivated crops and domesticated seeds, had villages and built stores of native grain that surprised many of the first settlers. My indigenous pagan ancestors in Europe also lived in small villages, cultivated food crops without destroying their land and once upon a time live in harmony with nature without feudal lords or empires to pay taxes to.


For me personally, small-scale regenerative natural farming using permaculture principles and agroecology as a guide, combined with wild foraging, is the ideal way to meet my own food, fiber and medicine needs whilst creating a lifestyle that is local, has love embedded into the physical place and the wisdom of the ancestors present. The Family Homestead Movement in Russia is a wonderful example of how people can take abandoned, degraded land and create spaces of heart-centered living, health, eco-production, creativity, connected families, intimacy with nature and community-sufficiency whilst creating more biomass, building soil carbon, increasing vegetatong for habit and supporting the hydrological balance of Earth. There are ways to live upon our planet that create meaningful change but it requires holistic action. Stay tuned for my next rant about what I think that looks like!

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