Indigenous Peoples

Siletz-Takelma elder  "Grandma Aggie" Baker at Willamette River blessing

Siletz-Takelma elder
“Grandma Aggie” Baker at Willamette River blessing

By Madronna Holden

From the UN’s statement of support for the native protestors at Standing Rock:  “For indigenous peoples the environment is a living entity that contains our life sources as well as our sacred sites and heritage. The environment is an important part of our lives and any threat to it impacts our families, ancestors and future generations.” (August 25, 2016)

Note:  the following essay appears in  Green Politics, An A to Z Guide, ed. Dustin R. Mulvaney (Sage Publications) and is copyright by Madronna Holden and Sage Publications, with the exception of the update edit as noted at the end.


This essay presents an overview of the environmental values, knowledge, and subsistence strategies of indigenous peoples both in their traditional contexts and in the contexts of colonialism and globalization. It discusses the current status of indigenous peoples in line with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  It outlines indigenous environmental activism and precedent-setting legal cases. Finally, it discusses the model of biocultural diversity illustrated in Indigenous Conservation Areas which indigenous peoples manage and protect in line with traditional human-nature partnerships.

Historical Placement of Indigenous Peoples in the Human Timeline

The Industrial Revolution took place approximately seven generations ago.  By contrast, the tenure on earth of non-industrialized peoples represented by today’s indigenous cultures is an estimated 36,000 generations. Indigenous hunting and gathering peoples represent 99 per cent of historic human cultures; in 2009 indigenous peoples still represent 90 per cent of global cultural diversity.

Indigenous cultures are intimately tied to their geographic homelands. Whatever the archeological evidence for the length of continuous residence for some on their lands-up to 100,000 years- indigenous peoples characteristically see themselves, their ways of life, and their lands as created in concert with one another.

Many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Australia, and Africa were hunters and gatherers. Others were farmers, like the dry land farmers of the American Southwest who still live in villages thousands of years old, or the rice farmers of Asia. Others were fisherman like the Coast Salish of Puget Sound who lived in multi-family cedar longhouses that might cover an acre of ground. Still others practiced shifting horticulture like the Kayapó of Brazil who took more than one generation to move over their traditional territory, seeding wild gardens as they went. And some lived as island fisherman and yam gardeners in the Pacific or nomadic herders in the Middle East and Africa. Altogether, subsistence strategies of indigenous peoples entail some combination of hunting, gathering, fishing, herding, agriculture and shifting horticulture in a context of ongoing flexibility and adaptation.

Today many indigenous peoples are bi-cultural as they both adhere to their ancient values and ways of life and respond to the pressures of the modern world.

Colonialism, Development, and Indigenous Subsistence Strategies

The 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples defines indigenous peoples as cultural communities having prior residence on lands within modern nation states. It affirms the rights of these peoples both to cultural self-determination and to control their traditional lands and natural resources. It also points out the current marginalization of these peoples, resulting from a colonial legacy of disease, poverty, violence, starvation, slavery, and forced sterilization. Though indigenous peoples traditionally stabilized their populations by various child spacing methods, many have a higher birth rate today as they attempt to replace populations stressed to the brink of extinction. To set the re-population of indigenous communities in the context of environmental impact, on a daily basis a person living in a modern industrialized nation uses as much as two dozen times the natural resources as does an individual living in an indigenous community.

Colonialism propagated stereotypes that continue to hamper the entry of indigenous peoples into the modern global arena as equal partners. According to the colonial paradigm, higher placement on the ladder of progress gave nation states the right to take over the lands of others-and homogenize the cultures they encountered to their own. However, the predominant distinction between industrial and indigenous technologies lies not in their comparative placement on an evolutionary scale, but in the fact that indigenous technologies adapt human activities to particular lands in a framework of dynamic mutualism, whereas industrial technologies adapt lands to human activities in a hierarchical framework of human control.

Botanist M. Kat Anderson’s research with diverse peoples of native California reveals the sophisticated botanical methods used to increase particular plants and catalyze the diversity and abundance of traditional landscapes.  A recent UNESCO report on indigenous knowledge uses the parallel co-development of human cultures and ecological systems in the Amazon to counter the misperception that either indigenous peoples ravaged their lands-or had no effect on them whatsoever.

Both of these misperceptions are linked to the faulty assumption that indigenous peoples lack the technical knowledge with which to make key subsistence choices.  However, hunting and gathering populations depend for their survival on detailed environmental knowledge that gives them the option of practicing agriculture-though they may choose not to do so.  Danish agro-economist Ester Boserup’s research into the institution of intensive agriculture exposes a reason for the choice not to take up this subsistence strategy: whereas it may increase the carrying capacity of the land, it is also likely to raise the workload of local populations.

Further, intensive agriculture that colonial authorities see as a sign of advanced societies is not suitable to all landscapes, as indicated by the failure of the “green revolution” that imposed modern farming techniques on third world lands in a generalized fashion. Tens of thousands of families in the New Agricultural Movement in Bangladesh are currently reclaiming their lands in the wake of the devastation caused by the “green revolution”, using traditional methods combining diverse wild cropping, multi-cropping and animal husbandry. In Oaxaca, indigenous Mixteca farmer Jesus Leon Santos won the Goldman Prize for his use of pre-Hispanic farming techniques to restore farmlands left barren by industrial farming.  As in the case of the New Agricultural Movement, Santos’ methods have not only restored the fertility of local lands but spurred the recovery of local water tables.

Vandana Shiva documents the mismatch between generalized technologies and particular lands-and the impoverishment of local populations through the extraction of material and cultural resources in development projects. Along with Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, Shiva proposes a model of development that follows the “subsistence perspective” of indigenous peoples to counter what she terms “mal-development”.

Climate change is another serious threat to indigenous peoples posed by the activities of industrialized nations.  This especially affects island nations (some of whom have already begun to evacuate their homelands as ocean waters rise and salinate their water tables); those living on polluted mountaintops and in circumpolar regions where permafrost is melting and game animals and reindeer herds are under stress; and those in drought-ravaged areas around the globe.

Indigenous knowledge and modern science

Though indigenous populations are among the poorest of the world’s poor, this is not an artifact of their traditional lifestyles. Richard Lee quantifies the results of the subsistence strategies of the San people of the Kalahari Desert in a seminal study that indicates their longevity, health, and nutritional well-being-as well as the minimal labor required to sustain their way of life. Such well being is reliant on environmental knowledge kept in oral tradition in narrative form. Modern studies have compared indigenous knowledge with that of modern science, indicating their comparable validity-even though their methods and emphases differ.

The predictive efficacy of indigenous knowledge is illustrated by the case of  the Moken in the Surin Islands, Thailand; the Ong and Jarawa in the Andaman Islands, India; and the Simeulue Island peoples in Indonesia, who forecast  the massive 2004 tsunami-and prepared accordingly. They survived unscathed as that tsunami took hundreds of thousands of lives in neighboring developed nations. Though they went unheeded, fishermen in south India tried to warn local authorities of the coming tsunami a few days before it struck.

Problems arise in the patenting of aspects of traditional knowledge-pharmaceuticals, for instance. Patents are problematic not only when they fail to fairly compensate communities of origin, but also when they assume private ownership of community knowledge, which by cultural tradition belongs to future as well as current generations.

Indigenous Worldviews and Values

Indigenous cultures exhibit striking diversity not only between peoples living in distinct landscapes, but between peoples who share the same lands-as in the case of the Mapuche who resisted incorporation into the Incan Empire and the San peoples of the Kalahari who shared their lands with Bantu pastoralists while maintaining a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Yet for all their diversity, communities living in intimate connection with the natural world share similar worldviews along the following dimensions:

— The sense of the intrinsic value and spiritual authority of natural life and the systems that sustain it.

— The sense of nature as teacher:  the idea that humans become human by means of their embededness in the natural world, as expressed in the quote with which Deborah Rose titles her book on Australian Aborigines: “Dingo makes us human”.

— The sense of the unique value of individual persons, other natural life, and particular lands such that none of these can be replaced by or exchanged for any another.

— The sense of the fundamental interdependence of natural life in the earthly family in which all life is kin.

— The sense of responsibility for one’s actions flowing from honoring the unique value of others in an interdependent world.

Connected with this worldview, indigenous cultures characteristically maintain these values:

Gratitude and reverence






These worldviews and values have substantial environmental impact. The fishing practices of the Columbia River peoples in the US Pacific Northwest derived from their respect for salmon nations as equal spiritual partners with humans.  During their thousands of years on the Columbia River, those with this stance harvested an annual salmon take seven times the modern one without harming the sustainability of the runs.  Their worldview also led them to careful preservation of salmon habitat-as expressed to an Indian Agent in an 1851 protest of the denigration of salmon habitat created by sawmills at the mouth of the Columbia.

The Bemidji Statement of Seventh Generation Guardianship, drawn up jointly by the Indigenous Environmental Network and The Science and Environmental Health Network, is a model of the responsibility entailed in values that make those who hold them, “Guardians of the Future”.

Detailed contrasts between indigenous and industrial worldviews and values can be found here.

Indigenous environmental activism

Though the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has no provisions for enforcement, it lends moral weight to struggles to protect indigenous lands from encroachment and destruction, such as the Igorot  (Philippines) battle against giant dams, the battle against drilling in the Arctic National Refuge to which the Gwich’in have contributed substantial leadership, the indigenous campaigns in Ecuador and Nigeria against oil drilling by Chevron, and the struggle that reversed the forced removal of the San from their ancestral Kalahari Desert, where they opposed diamond mining.

In South America indigenous peoples have fought the ravages of globalization-and protected their biotically rich lands in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In Mesoamerica the Mayangna and Mistiko have protected their rainforest against illegal logging through successful land claims and peaceful patrol of the boundaries of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve.

Native American legal battles have set important precedents in protecting the environmental commons, as in water rights cases pressed by several tribes in the American West beginning in the 1970s, which resulted in the adoption of cumulative assessment in setting water quality standards for the Colorado River. A suit pressed by the Onondaga Nation of central New York excludes re-possession of traditional property now held by non-Indians. Instead it pursues the Onondaga Nation’s right to assume environmental trusteeship over traditional lands and thus set standards for the cleanup of toxins deposited by industrial activity.

In Ecuador, Pachamama is an indigenous term for the sacred life-giving qualities of nature. This is also a key term in the Ecuadorian Constitution, which asserts the legal rights of Pachamama-and gives legal standing to those who sue in her behalf.  The “Pachamama” organization formed at the request of indigenous elders lobbied for the inclusion of the rights of Pachamama in the Ecuadoran constitution.

In that indigenous stewardship of traditional lands challenges corrupt governmental regimes,  as well as multinational timber and oil companies; uranium, gold, coal and diamond mining companies; endangered species black markets; and drug cartels;  indigenous environmental leaders have been subject to considerable violence. In the early stages of founding the Greenbelt Movement which won her the Nobel Prize, Wangari Maathai suffered persecution by the Kenyan government which included being arrested and beaten.  In the Sierra de Petatlán of Mexico, Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, his wife Celsa Valdovinos Rios and Albertano Peñaloza, whose work earned them the Chico Mendes award for environmental heroism, have endured imprisonment, family murders and continual threats in retaliation for their work protecting local forests. In the Amazon, violence inherited from the colonial period prevails against indigenous peoples like the Suri who work to protect their traditional forests against illegal logging.  Organizations such as Survival International and Amnesty International seek to protect indigenous environmentalists through global publicity on their behalf.

Biocultural diversity

Over 95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas overlap with lands claimed by indigenous peoples, partly because biodiversity is central to indigenous subsistence and ecological management strategies, and partly because indigenous lands have not been subject to the intensive development and industrialization that has destroyed biodiversity elsewhere.  As a result, today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.

In this context, the UN Programme on the Environment stresses the importance of biocultural diversity, recognizing the co-evolution of human cultures and ecological systems. The Willamette Valley in Oregon, which European explorers nicknamed the “gourmand’s paradise” for the diversity and abundance of its natural food resources, was a prime example of biocultural diversity. It evolved in concert with thousands of years of indigenous activity geared to increasing local plant and animal habitat.

Given the co-evolution of human cultures and natural landscapes, the “Convention on Biological Diversity” has a stated goal of preserving indigenous knowledge in order to preserve global biodiversity. This model is an alternative to contention between indigenous populations and conservation agencies that prioritized their goals over human rights-or wilderness and national park set asides that cut off indigenous access to traditional areas.  The cooperative model is taken up today by agencies which work to protect biodiversity on indigenous lands by enlisting indigenous leadership and designing ways to relieve crushing poverty that subjects local peoples to pressure to participate in black markets for endangered species. In Northern California and Washington, indigenous peoples who initiated or joined legal battles to protect roadless areas retain access to these areas for the purposes of ceremony and the collection of materials necessary to cultural practices. This is a distinct change from policies that formerly excluded peoples from areas that co-evolved in concert with the activities of their ancestors.

Indigenous Community Conserved Areas

In their recent Resurgence article, Ashish Kothari and Neema Pathak detail the importance of “Indigenous Community Conservation Areas” (ICCAs) that replicate traditional human-nature partnerships in the Amazon and Australia, in the lands of the Qashqai in Iran and the Borana in Ethiopia and Kenya, in thousands of sacred groves in India and sacred crocodile ponds in Mali; in managed community forests in Africa, South Asia, and North America; in critical habitats of wild animals in southern India; and  in ecosystems overseen by farming or mixed rural-urban communities, such as the Potato Park in the Andean highlands of Peru and the rice terraces in the Philippines.

ICCAs cover an estimated 12 per cent of earth’s surface and provide connectivity across areas crucial for migration of people, wildlife, and gene pools of both plants and animals.  In an era of climate change ICAAs protect natural areas such as rainforests which sequester carbon and harbor reservoirs of biological and cultural diversity to help sustain the resilience of living systems that face the challenge of climate change.

This article is protected by copyright. Feel free to link here or contract me if you want to reproduce it in some other form.

For  further reading:

Alcorn, Janis. “Beauty and the Beast”, in Resurgence 250 (2008).

Anderson M. Kat, Tending the Wild. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika and Mies, Maria, The Subsistence Perspective. London: Zed Books, 1999.

Boserup, Ester. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth.(Chicago, Aldine: 1965.

Boserup. Ester. Economic and Demographic Relationships in Development, essays ed. T. Paul Schultz. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Davis, Shelton H.  Victims of the Miracle, Development and the Indians of Brazil. London: Cambridge University Press, 1977 .

Diamond, Stanley.  In Search of the Primitive. New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Books: 1974.

Holden, Madronna, “Re-storying the World: Reviving the Language of Life”, Australian Humanities Review, no. 47 (2009).

Hove, Chenjerai, and Trojanow, Ilija. Guardians of the Soil.Munich, Germany: Frederking & Thaler Verlag:  1996.

Kothari, Ashish, and Neema Pathak. “Defenders of Diversity”, in Resurgence no 250 (2008).

Keller, Robert H. and Michael F. Turek. American Indians and National Parks. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1998.

Kimmerer, Robin. “The Rights of the Land”, in Orion (November-December 2008).

Lee, Richard, and Irven DeVore, eds. Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine: 1968.

Maffi, Luisa. “Cultural Vitality”, in Resurgence 250 (2008).

Mander, Jerry.  “Declaration of Dignity”, in Resurgence 250 (2008).

Martin, Gary. “Restoring Resilience”, in Resurgence 250 (2008).

Mathaai, Wangari. Unbowed. New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Mathaai, Wangari.  Replenishing the Earth. New York:  Douibleday, 2010.

Mander, Jerry, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds. Paradigm Wars, Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Globalization. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006

Rose, Deborah Bird. Dingo Makes us Human. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Salick, Jan and Anja Byg, eds. Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change. Oxford: Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research: 2007.

Schaefer, Carol.  Grandmothers Counsel the World. Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2006.

Shiva, Vandana, Biodiversity: Social & Ecological Perspectives. London; Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Zed Books, 1991.

Vandana Shiva. Biopiracy : The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Boston, MA : South End Press: 1997.

Suzuki, David and Knudtson, Peter, eds. Wisdom of the Elders. New York: Bantam, 1992.

Turner, Nancy J. “Lessons of the Birch”, in Resurgence no. 250 (2008).

Turner, Nancy J. The Earth’s Blanket: Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living. Seattle: University of Washington Press: 2005.

UNESCO LINKS Programme, “Indigenous Knowledge and Changing Environments”, International Experts Meeting, Cairns, Australia (2007).

Wilson, Ken.  “Guides and Gatherers”, in Resurgence no. 250 (2008).

Update:  This essay as published in Green Politics listed the work of the World Wildlife Fund as an example of cooperation between conservation groups and indigenous peoples.  However, recent news has brought to light some putative WWF  abuses in this regard. WWF’s situation indicates the problems with the strategies of partnership with large corporations who have only economic interests at heart.  Recent WWF support for selective ivory harvest in Africa indicates that organizations with corporate partnerships are liable to have problems prioritizing interests not only of indigenous peoples but of wildlife. (The issue concerning ivory is brought up in the National Geographic Magazine essay, “Vanishing Elephants”).

The “suggested readings” section was updated 10.22.2013.

425 Responses

  1. Hello again Professor Holden,

    You give many examples here of many worldviews which DO hold those same values. It’s obvious that many people are not only recognizing the need for biodiversity but also cultural diversity. I found it particularly interesting (it made me smile), that the Onondaga were basically seeking for environmental responsibility without seeking possession of it. That is fitting, isn’t it?

    It speaks of our conversation that we like to lean towards what we relate to in our environment and culture. The attributes you list here please me probably because they are values which I have been raised with: balance, reciprocity, humility, gratitude, cooperation and sharing. Although, obviously, I fall short much of the time.

    I was especially impressed upon by the six generations since the Industrial Revolution when compared with humanity on earth of 36,000 generations. What about the seventh generation as the Bemidji Statement on the Seventh Genereation Guardianship.

    I was a bit confused by this statement and wonder if you might elaborate. ” As a result, today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” Are you simply saying that Indigenous peoples today comprise 90% of the worlds biocultural diversity?

    Thank you for your insight.

    • Hi Tina, thanks for your thoughtful reply here. The eighty per cent biodiversity refers to a calculation of all species (as far as we know); that is, the lands which are currently managed by indigenous peoples globally hold 80 per cent of global land’s plant and animal biodiversity–an amazing statistic when you count the small percentage of the population that indigenous peoples comprise and the acreage they currently control. This result is grounded in substantial part in the fact that indigenous peoples classically managed their lands for biodiversity. So, for instance, the peoples of the Northwest have often been termed “salmon people”– but they were not ONLY salmon people– they had many alternatives for subsistence among both plant and animal species whose habitats they fostered. This was obviously pragmatic on one level- one cannot have too many safety nets in terms of survival. But I think it was also partly the result of what I would call the eco-spiritual stance– or the values you list above, which led to sharing the land with so many other lives. In fact, I think one of the things indigenous choices can teach us is the way in which ethics are connected to pragmatics.
      The ninety per cent relates to biocultural diversity– a combination of cultural and biological diversity. Since modern industrial society is spreading cultural and biological homogeneity, the remaining indigenous peoples represent the vast reserve of human cultural diversity (ninety-five per cent).
      Great questions for clarification int his comment. Let me know if you have any remaining ones.
      Very interesting point about the seventh generation since industrialization–and I think the Onondaga approach is fitting indeed!

  2. Thank you for clarifying this point, Professor Holden. It will take me some time to get that in my head correctly. It really is amazing when one stops to consider the statistics of the biodiversity, cultural diversity and what they make up concerning acreage. When factoring in war, disease, emotional tragedy, and decreasing sources–it becomes even more mind boggling.
    Goodness. My daughter, then, is the 7th generation. This serves to REALLY heighten my awareness.


    • This certainly is striking-and indicates how different a place on earth humans might have than the one we have now. There is a recent Resurgence issue on Indigenous Knowledge where I got some of these stats. Here is one of the articles there
      And your comment made me think about clarifying where the six generations start: I think that you are part of the seventh. Mine is the sixth–since it is still around I am counting from there.
      It is no less powerful, I think, to think that your daughter inherits from the seventh generation. I had not thought of looking at it this way, but your offer a profound perspective here.

  3. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this article and The Wisdom of the Elders by Suzuki and Knudtson. How the “indigenous peoples characteristically see themselves, their ways of life, and their lands as created in concert with one another,” as stated above, is comparative with Suzuki and Knudtson and how Native Minds live with nature, as part of a whole, totalizing. Both thoughts are that they are living harmoniously and are part of a circle. In schools now, we are taught to think of things more like on a vertical line. Something is always higher or lower than another on a food chain. Indigenous people don’t see a line. They see a cycle where everything in connected and works together to make the whole.
    A misconception that was addressed was “indigenous peoples lack the technical knowledge with which to make key subsistence choices,” as stated above. I think this comes to mean something similar to Manifest Destiny, which is how some people still think. If someone isn’t using their land or resources to the utmost of our technology, we are one of the first to “educate” them on what the “proper” use should be. So much for free choice.

    • Thanks for your comment. Some astute comparison here, Jennifer. A very important observation on Manifest Destiny and the ways in which it sees us from honestly assessing indigenous subsistence strategies.
      Your point about free choice is a key one in this era of globalization. This is one of the key points that motivate the UN study of indigenous knowledge.

  4. ‘Advanced’ societies could learn so much from their local indigenous populations, and I think as more people realize the importance of being ecologically mindful they will start to realize the value of the indigenous’ knowledge.

    A fine example was the ‘green revolution’ in Bangladesh, which turned out to be a failure, and had the indigenous people been consulted with what grows locally they may have diverted the problem. This reminds me of the Columbians in the book Gaviotas. The group in Gaviotas was trying to create a society that didn’t have to rely on outside help and technologies. They were creating a society that could function with the tools that nature gave them in that particular harsh environment. They reasoned that if they could make a society at Gaviotas work, they could do it anywhere, because it wasn’t not an easy place to live.

    It is comforting to know that indigenous cultures are trying to increase there birth rates so they might repopulate their communities. I also think that they need to really educate there children on their particular culture, so that it doesn’t die out that way too. I had teenage foster children that were from the Hopi, Navajo tribes and they didn’t seem to have much knowledge in the way of their culture; if anything they seemed embarrassed by it. I know that doesn’t represent all of them, and these were girls that came from tough backgrounds, so I hope that they were a minority.

    • Hi Sandy, thanks for your thoughtful and caring comment. I also am heartened by the trend toward honoring (at long last) both indigenous knowledge of place and indigenous leadership.
      Is it amazing that as many indigenous people have retained their traditions as have– after the concerted effort to wipe out indigenous cultures on the part of dominant societies for the last few hundred years. Especially tragic was the forced boarding schools in the US that separated children from their elders for several generations.
      Still, indigenous people are asserting their leadership in caring for the earth we share– as in the examples you give–and in other instances in the Columbia River Intertribal Fishing Commission– or the Anchorage Declaration which came out of the indigenous global summit on climate change. It is as stringent and well-thought a response to climate change as we are likely to find anywhere. And the last resolution is an offer to share indigenous traditions related to the respecting of particular places and sustainable practices in those places– contingent on the respect of the larger culture for these traditions.
      Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Professor Holden:
    This essay presents a vivid picture of the indigenous worldview, particularly in contrast with a western perspective. What strikes me most is the role the indigenous peoples perceive themselves to fill as one part of a much grander whole, using the resources of the natural world to their advantage and adapting their practices and values to the natural order of the environment they find themselves in. The industrialized world seems rather to adapt the environment to its needs, thereby over-exploiting natural resources with too little regard for the ability of that resource to renew itself. An indigenous view would rather modify lifestyle arrangements when a resource is threatened in order to allow a dynamic system to find new balance.
    I also find the concept of biocultural diversity which the UN Programme for the Environment refers to as a co-evolution of human and habitat as an essential consideration when the global population has exploded to such levels. Just as diversity is an important element within society, it is also in terms of environmental practices and the long history of culture that has benefited from it. The knowledge gained through observation of biocultural diversity can grow and evolve as life on earth does without being replaced or removed through the somewhat contradicting ideals of the traditionally western worldview.

    • Hi Kirsten, thank your for your astute response here. It is a key point that indigenous peoples did what modern industrial cultures need to learn–and learn quickly– to adapt themselves to the place in the natural order in which they find themselves, rather than attempting to remake nature to fill their own needs. I like the way you have put this in terms of adaptation to a “dynamic system”– biocultural diversity, as you also point out, is itself a dynamic system– a reminder that we cannot hold the natural world steady to exact of it what we want. Or, if we can do such a thing, we would not like the result–since the character of a living world is to change. And if we managed to keep the world from changing to bring about our will on it, we will have killed it– and the sources of our own life as well.
      Thoughtful analysis in your comment, Kirsten!

  6. I find it encouraging the UN is making headway in bring the indigenous people some sort of recognition of status. It is encouraging to see there are more organizations willing to stand up for the indigenous people. What makes these strides so difficult to understand are why has it taken so long and why is this even necessary? These are the two points that most bothers me. In the “enlightened” world we live in (I use this in sarcasm), the indigenous people still have no rights and get no respect. This article brought these positives and negatives to light, at least to me. Today’s world still doesn’t respect the indigenous peoples beliefs and history as we should. Many times a place isn’t “settled” just because there are no “white” houses on the property. It happens all over the world, not just in the US.

    I applaud the people who are living bi-culturally. This includes the indigenous and the transplanted peoples. Instead of being bullied into accepting the status quo, they live and straddle both cultures. I applaud you!!!

    • Thank you for your gracious reply, Christy. As your comment indicates, we need to closely define “enlightenment”–and then live up to it. And we need to define “settlement” by living in a long-term and mutual relationship with the land and its creatures.

  7. I don’t know why I had it in my own worldview that the days of indigenous land management were obselete with the population explosion. The giant industrial corporations had me convinced that the mega-agriculture was the was to sustain the current human population. Its very eye-opening to me that looking into our ancestors’ past practices may be the answer to many conservation problems.

    • Hi Coral, thanks for your comment. It is not that we should ignore what the best science tells us– we need all the knowledge we can get–and thus the tribes employ so many natural resource scientists. My sense is that we need to be even more careful of our environment and its long term sustainability as populations rise. You will see more examples of indigenous management practices and values being put into practice throughout this site. I find this very hopeful.
      If we cannot go back to the past, we can–and must– learn from our own mistakes.

  8. It is indeed interesting to see that a great percentage of the world’s biodiversity and indigenous cultures are so closely linked across the globe. And that the efforts at preserving biodiversity and non-development are so fiercely pursued. Thank goodness!

    However, it begs the question of just how the rest of the world’s populations can be turned around to live in reciprocal respect and reverence as familial kin. Do we look to messages from our religious leaders in our weekly visits? Do we fine an industry for de-facing the land? How might that work realistically? How do we put the brake on the huge machine of six generations of destruction? There is too much population currently to sustain with the Earth’s limited resources. Scientific statistics abound of the great slide toward non-diversity if the industrialized world keeps its current pace.

    Yes, the worldviews, values, and practices of indigenous peoples are to be celebrated, but just how can these worldviews and values be translated to tangible action in a short time-window for the insensitive rest of humanity? Choices to slow global warming, for instance, need to be made now, but it takes a much longer time than overnight to change and evolve attitudes and values. This is indeed a great challenge facing humanity.

    • I don’t think that the environmental successes of native peoples begs the question of what we need to do today with our burgeoning population. I think it instead shows us that humans are capable of better. And it motivates some (sometimes under indigenous leadership, as in the case of the Columbia Intertribal Fishing Commission) to work for change in every way possible. In this pressing time, I think it is all the more necessary to care for the limited natural world upon which we depend on for survival.
      It is true that value changes do not come overnight– I have seen immense changes in my own lifetime with things like Civil Rights legislation. If we understand the imperative, we are capable of change.
      You ask very important questions about putting the brake on the “huge machine of destruction”– I feel personal grief with you at the statistics that are coming out in this regard (as if our own ears and eyes do not tell us enough about what is being lost).
      It would be tragic indeed if the vision that change is so imperative kept up from making that change in every way possible! I like Paul Hawkens’ recent statement in this regard:
      “Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.”
      Paul Hawken (2009 University of Portland commencement address )
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      • Please pardon the misunderstanding of my wording. I was not talking of burgeoning populations, but of how people not tied to indigenous traditions can be brought to realize that kinship with nature is a value worthy of adoption. My concern is just how to accomplish this in a protracted time scale given the tools at hand — existing religious institutions and economic incentives, for instance. Response to climate changes and mass extinctions is immediate; change in societal and individual behaviors takes much longer. Yes, I agree that if we continue to try, progress will likely occur, and we should not give up. However, it is the mismatch in time scales of problem magnification and actual societal change in its relief that is frightening. We no longer have our “lifetimes” to change our personal philosophies to implement change — it is less than decades … if that.

        • You have some excellent perspective here–and I also think that we cannot let our analysis of the gravity of our situation inhibit us from working in every way we can to meet the imperatives we face. My years of teaching have brought me the sense that many hold–or would like to hold– values inherent in indigenous society such as respect and reciprocity. And I have seen some substantial change come about from persons supporting these values in one another.
          I think this is actually the fastest–and safest– way to the change we need. We need as many creative ways to act stemming from looking at things with this perspective that we can possibly get.
          I know that some would say actions are more important (and separate from?) ideas. But I don’t agree. I think that they are inextricably intertwined–and we won’t even know HOW to act unless we change our way of seeing things.
          Thanks for the thoughtful follow up.

  9. Having been reading through the book Wisdom Of The Elders I find myself intrigued by the indigenous perspectives of not just living but living within a partnership with all of nature. This article is also very similar in the ideas of dual partnership with all things. We as a society have been educated and somewhat trained to exist on the idea that survival of the fittest or get what you can get, rather than a shared equality and perspective that allows for all things to prosper. The considerations that are given by these perspectives being gratitude, sharing, balance and more are all a basis that we as people should not only be giving all other peoples but also our environments. As shown in the above article substantial rewards both economically and individually can be obtained by taking on this equal minded perspective.

    • Thanks for your observation on the modern worldview which does indeed train us that we need to think of bettering others in order to take their place in a hierarchy, Emily. If we assumed the values of gratitude, balance and sharing you list here, we would indeed have a different world–and a more vital earth for our children to inherit– as history has shown us.

  10. I feel for the indigenous peoples of the world that would like to live as their ancestors did. It is easy to romanticize when your peoples are still telling the stories of the ancestors. When I think of the plight of the American Indians on the east coast I’m sure the natives wish, in hind sight, that they could have brokered a better deal with the colonists. It is such a shame that the original peoples of our nation have to go to a judicial system of not their making in order to get back just a little of what they deserve. The lands of these original peoples have been stripped of their resources and don’t resemble what they once were. I hope the people that need justice will be able to get justice from the current system.

  11. It is often that the Western worldview of having more knowledge than the people it conqueres, colonizes or removes from their land comes out even in the peoples who think they are doing good. Such as the “green revolution” which imposed modern farming methods to “help” those in developing nations. Instead of recognizing that the land is unique and that the peoples dwelling on it may have insight into how the land needs to be nurtured, the Western attitude was to show them how to progress and develop, to catch up to the rest of the world. This arrogance lead to devastation of the local landscape, but also showed that through traditional practices the land can flourish. For all of the “advances” made in Western society, something integral has been missed. Something that indigenous societies have been trying to show us about interconnectedness with the land and with all living things. This article really shows me that for all the modern knowledge the West has, we are far behind that of the indigenous and have much to learn from them. It is ignorant for the Western world to think that it has what is needed to fix the world when in essence what is needed most is to stop and listen and heed the wisdom of the stewards of the earth, those who have been listening for far longer.

    Thanks for this essay, it was most insightful and thought provoking.

    • Hi Jessica, thanks for this comment. I think we have so little unbiased overviews of indigenous ecological practices available because these are veiled by the history of colonialism with its stereotypes about “advancement” (which is a largely unevaluated notion assumed to belong to modern industrial culture).
      You have some profound points in this response; I especially like your statement about respect for those “who have been listening longer”, since we ourselves are just in the process of learning how to listen.

  12. This article is fascinating. It covers a great amount of material including some concepts and facts that are new to me. I particularly like the protection of Pachamama in the Ecudorian constitution. The idea of sacred crocodile pits is adorable for lack of a better word. The problem that indigenous people sometimes do not have access to wilderness areas or can only use them for specific purposes is sad; if one is responsible in ones dealings with nature, why should they not be allowed access? Places in the United States where human access is not allowed because it is a wildnerness area is understandable but again if one is responsible in their dealings with nature, they should be allowed. Personally, I leave the wilderness better than before I came by picking up trash/recycling or sometimes helping to fix creeks that have been dammed by an irresponsible camper. How can the government differentiate between irresponsible persons and ecological advocates? I suppose they cannot and I am thusly prohibited from multiple wilderness conservation areas in my town and am forced to enjoy, in their stead, walks in a nearby park barren of nature but full of cameras ands dog excrement. Or I could visit Stone Mountain which is privately owned and highly developed and almost taste nature. Wilderness areas should be accessible to those who have responsible practices and indigenous people generally do therefore assuming that there is not a major problem with poaching or the like in a given area, they should have access (also assuming they do not negatively alter it). Back to another aspect of the article, farming methods should have never been widely applied since every ecolgical area is unique. It is good that some natives are using more sense and going back to ancient practices. As for fisherman warning local authorities about the oncoming tsunami, governments are often too uncaring or disbelieving to act; no surprise there.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sky. How can we differentiate between responsible and irresponsible wilderness use? Well, I do think that wilderness use ought certainly to be allocated for ceremonial purposes to those whose ancestors helped create such landscapes in the first place. On the other hand, human overuse of wilderness areas can be harmful–there are certain things we must care enough about to love from afar. Even the Hadze people of Africa still living a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle that was arguably the cradle of human life have particular vision areas that seem so holy that humans go there only under very special circumstances. In the Pacific Northwest, particular areas were thought to have spirits that just did not want humans around–and thus those became conservation areas for natural life.
      Thanks for your remarks on indigenous knowledge and the necessity to respect it, as well as the landscape-specific application of agriculture. There are some great examples of honoring these ideas among indigenous Hawaiians in a link Kathleen MacGuire offered here:

  13. This article reminded me of a commercial when I was growing up. The commercial showed a Native American slowly starting a tear drop that rolled down his cheek while in the background you saw a multitude of pollution created by modern life. (OK, I’m dating myself here, but anyone who can remember this commercial knows what I’m talking about). Indigenous people are a wealth of knowledge and have a great respect toward the land they live. They are people who usually see their way of life, and their land, in connection with one another. The commercial I am referring to identified how modern life was destroying the land they have respected for thousands of years.

    I found it interesting how the modern world discounts the knowledge of indigenous people. There is a wrong perception that they lack technical knowledge allowing them to make important choices about the land. The article points out the reality that indigenous people are actually in concert with the land. They can understand how the land operates and respect it rather than dominate the land. One of the examples that was cited is that “fishermen in south India tried to warn local authorities of the coming tsunami a few days before it struck.” Our modern technology could not even accomplish a proper warning, and yet the indigenous people knew exactly what was happening.

    It is sad to think that many indigenous environmental leaders are subject to violence. Even though they are pressured with modern world influences, they work hard to keep their values of the environment intact. This value system they apply is subject to violent responses from others wanting to dominate the land. I look hard at this because anyone willing to put their safety at risk to benefit the environment, and ultimately their people, has a strong belief system that should be revered.

    • Thanks for your comment, Marla. The discounting of indigenous knowledge isn’t recent–it goes back as far as colonialism and is linked to the motivation of taking over indigenous lands. Understanding the land is certainly linked to caring for it in a sustainable fashion, but it is hard to understand–even to see-that which we try to dominate. It is sad that this domination continues a legacy of violence toward the land and its peoples. I am heartened by the growing support for indigenous peoples as well as recognition of their knowledge as links in this essay–including the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the UNESCO projects on indigenous knowledge– indicate. We can no longer continue to ignore such knowledge, nor the lessons we should learn from our own history.

    • How funny, the other day I too was thinking about that commercial. It definitely had an impact if we both remembered it (I’m sure others do too, if not just look for the youtube video).

  14. Madronna,
    For me this essay highlighted many of the areas of indigenous life which may be often underestimated, such as the degree of knowledge and expertise necessary which allows a group of people to thrive in what are sometimes very inhospitable areas. You mention a study done of the Sol people who are able to thrive in a desert, I can imagine few areas less encouraging to human habitation than a desert yet they are able to survive and thrive due to knowledge accumulated through many generations. Other areas, such as agriculture are perhaps equally underestimated. You mention the failure of the “green revolution” which sought to increase crop yields by introducing western farming methods simply to have this methods fail. The indigenous peoples have the knowledge, gained through countless generations, of the agricultural methods which work best not only for their environment but with the people and how they want to work and live in their environment. Yes, you may be able to till much more soil quicker with a tractor than with an Ox and plow but is the tractor or the Ox better suited to the culture, established infrastructure, and geography?

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment-and that is the San people (the Hadze speak a related language and live well in another very difficult area of
      Africa. It is interesting to me that DNA evidence suggests that these people represent the cradle of humanity– all the peoples of the earth share DNA with them.
      You have a key point about assessment of the particularities of place. We can also use a tractor to do contour plowing, which causes less topsoil to be lost: and there is mixed agriculture, aquaculture and animal husbandry in diverse agriculture throughout the world–as in the links to the information on traditional Hawaiian ecological practices in the most recent forum on this site.
      I agree that we have underestimated this knowledge in the past– though I find it heartening that many scientists seem finally to be getting the message that there might be something worthwhile to learn here!

  15. I was amazed to read that indigenous peoples of the Columbia River harvested “an annual salmon take seven times the modern one without harming the sustainability of the runs.” How did they do this? Why are we now obtaining one-seventh of the salmon and still harming their runs? I know that dams are a big part of the problem, but there has to me to it than that.

    I think it is cool that “over 95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas overlap with lands claimed by indigenous peoples.” That means that they hold the secrets to living in balance with all of our respective geographic areas, all over the world. Since much of this knowledge is passed down orally from generation to generation, it seems that we have the responsibility to save as much of it as we can. We may not use the information in this generation, or the next, but someday we absolutely will need it. 36,000 generations of indigenous knowledge versus the 7 generations of post-industrial knowledge? Both have their strengths, and both are necessary to insure the survival of humans.

    • Thanks for your comment, Morgan. The folks on the Columbia Intertribal Fishing Commission are sharing some of these ideas with us. Part of the issue is one of habitat, and maintaining habitat is linked to honoring all species– not just humans– in a partnership framework. This certainly indicates the positive feedback loop between ourselves and the natural world in this context.
      There is also the overfishing in the ocean, the warming of waters and toxic chemicals. We have much to repair!
      In terms of saving indigenous knowledge, though much has been lost, I am heartened by the organizations out to save it– as some of the links on this page indicate. We certainly cannot afford to throw any knowledge away at this point in human history (if indeed we ever could afford that!)

  16. The work that Jesus Leon Santos, cofounder of CEDICAM, does is inspiring. Land that was ravaged by poor farming practices are being restored using pre-Hispanic techniques. It is a poignant reminder of what we can do if we shift from viewing nature as ‘what it can do for us’, to ‘what can we accomplish if we work with nature’. It is also a reminder of what we can learn from indigenous societies and a prime example of what we can accomplish if we work with each other.
    In stark contrast, seed companies are not only exploiting the environment, they are also exploiting people. Hybrid seeds have to be bought every year which is good for the seed companies but bad for farmers. Often times, the farmers that plant and harvest crops starve because they have to pay back the loans they get to buy the seeds.
    Still, people will always rise up and help their fellow human. Vandana Shiva, a doctor of physics, is helping to spread awareness of many of the problems people are facing in India. Problems like soft drink facilities that divert much needed water from local populations, poor working conditions, low wages, and pesticide toxicity in the local environment. She has also started a seed coop that helps to disperse seeds to farmers so that they don’t have to rely on foreign companies for their livelihood.

    • Jesus Leon Santos’ model is the kind we need to hold up to ourselves, Lance. Vandana Shiva’s work also reminds us how difference we might be if our priorities were carrying for the land (and one another) rather than making a quick buck. Thanks for your comment!

  17. This is certainly a high density reading, with many ideas to think about. Perhaps because I just saw “Avatar” win Best Picture at the Golden Globes this evening, the section on Colonialism, Development, and Indigenous Subsistence Strategies stood out. The movie is about the same colonial paradigm as discussed in this reading, where “higher placement on the ladder of progress” gives the “right to take over the lands of others.” The colonial regime does not accept indigenous peoples into the “modern global arena as equal partners.” My favorite quotation is, ” the predominant distinction between industrial and indigenous technologies lies not in their comparative placement on an evolutionary scale, but in the fact that indigenous technologies adapt human activities to particular lands in a framework of dynamic mutualism, whereas industrial technologies adapt lands to human activities in a hierarchical framework of human control.”:

    • I have not yet seen Avatar, Taylor, but it is great that the audiences seem to appreciate the message as well as the special effects.Thanks for taking on this essay: it was written as an peer-reviewed encyclopedia piece with a word limit– so it was necessary “dense”, given the info it had to pack into this space.

  18. “According to the colonial paradigm, higher placement on the ladder of progress gave nation states the right to take over the lands of others-and homogenize the cultures they encountered to their own.” This is the reason we find ourselves in an ecologically dire situation more and more. From the first day of settlement we automatically assumed that native peoples were not only inferior, but also ignorant in their ability to “successfully” use nature. I find it extremely interesting that indigenous people were able to harvest seven times more Salmon from the Columbia River than in modern times. What we failed to see was that although we could increase the harvest by ten-fold momentarily, the long term harvests would be much lower. Another problem we face in modern times is referring to these indigenous people as the poorest in the world. The question that must be posed is what do we define as poor? Surely these people have little to no money, but in my definition a culture that is self-sustaining in their ability to provide shelter and food to its inhabitants while still maintaining leisure time is very wealthy indeed. How many Americans are unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter to their families and have practically no leisure time at all? We couldn’t even reference the term poor until colonialism, industrialization, and globalization of the World began and gave us a point of reference for rich and poor. The theory in economic circles is that if everyone acts in a manner that best benefits themselves, the market as a whole will also progress forward in the best possible way. The problem we are facing is that no one believes environmental issues to be in any way important to their own long term financial benefit. If we begin to make decisions about what would be the best course of action in providing our children and grand-children with a good life, rather than selfishly focusing on what will happen during our own existence, we might just begin to see positive change. I personally don’t want my children growing up in a world without plants, clean water, or clean air, but I honestly wonder how many people even consider such things in their day to day decisions.

    • You make some very apt points about the need to critically define such words as “progress” (a point you also made in your last essay) and “poverty”. Some great historical perspective here, Damien in what it takes for a society to even “reference the term ‘poor'”. And lack of quality of life, including leisure and economic security, as you point out, are sure signs of poverty. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis and you passion on behalf of the quality of life of your children–and thus all of ours.

  19. I sometimes wonder how much information we lost when an entire tribe was eliminated and their language lost forever? I bet the cure for cancer may have died with one of them or the cure of many disease would be gone due to someone wanting to control their land or even their person. It’s sad to know that we’ll never know what we lost.
    I had read about a modern day tribe in Africa who live or lived as hunter/gatherers and didn’t have to work too hard to support themselves. They had plenty of time to socialize, play or do whatever they wanted to do in their spare time. Their work load equaled less then 20 hours a week to support themselves and their families. That’s if you don’t mind not having any debt or even money, living simply and just not having any value for particular possessions. But since we like our TVs, cable, phones and computers, the rest of us are stuck working or finding work to pay for rent/mortgage and all the items that we crave on a daily basis. We are a very spoiled society that could never survive the way we were meant to survive. I hate to admit that I am one of them, but it would be interesting to spend some time as a hunter/gatherer. What an interesting perspective that would be.

    • It would indeed, Judilyn. At the very least, I think this kind of perspective should lend us the impetus to evaluate our own choices–what we really need and what might satisfy us or not. Thanks for yoru comment.

  20. Let me start off by apologizing for my post on “Partnering with the natural world”. If I had read this essay before the other, my posting would have been somewhat (by a lot) different. I stand corrected that the peoples of such damaged areas as India and Africa can’t be save to a point of being able to live a partnership worldview. With the examples you list in this essay, it is clear that where there is a will there is a way. I found your example of the farmer Jesus Leon Santos especially heartening. It gives me hope that the world doesn’t have to be doomed as my reading has so far lead me to despair. I am confused about the problem with patents, though. How is it that they effect the indigenous peoples? Do they have to stop practicing a specific medicinal procedure if it gets patented? I enjoyed this essay much more that the other one in that it was more positive in what is being done to correct the problem of human domination vs a partnership worldview. I would like to believe that if given the opportunity that even someone like me could help towards saving the planet vs destroying it.

    • No need to apologize for any thoughtful question, Cendi. That is what learning is all about. I know it is easy to feel depressed when are facing so many contemporary problems; I hope you will see that you are not alone in your desire to help. You are not alone! We need your care and energy.
      On the issue of patents: there are two classes of problems here. One is that patents radically violate indigenous values relating to such knowledge. The other is economic: corporations with patents have indeed either assumed they have a right to the resources of others as they patent local plants and/or they have worked to protect their patents by stopping indigenous peoples from using these same products according to community values of sharing.

  21. It is utmost to me that in some way we take the world views of the indigenous peoples this essay speaks of and use it. I’m not saying to forget science, but the indigenous people really had and still have a way for making the world a better place. We don’t seem to use their ideas because we see them as antiquated, and would never work in present time. With the ideas of the indigenous peoples we can prevent loss of forests, reverse the lowering of water tables, and maybe even erase global warming. As the essay states, these worldviews and values have substantial environmental impact. I think that seeing the world as a whole and not a sum of its parts, we will have a world our children can enjoy. How can 36,000 generations be wrong?

    • Great point, Scott. If science is knowledge of nature, indigenous peoples certainly had that. I would agree that we need to make a bridge between the values of indigenous peoples and the values that currently drive our science and technology. Western industrial society is so young on this land compared to the staying power exhibited by indigenous peoples.

  22. This essay is uplifting. I love to see so many examples of indigenous wisdom and the reintegration thereof. I was shocked to learn of the island people that knew the 2004 tsunami was coming. Many lives could have been saved if only this wisdom was validated.
    I’ve been trying to think of any possible reasons why we wouldn’t heed indigenous wisdom and the only thing I can think of is we fear we’d be missing out on something. Has the human race become so addicted to “progress” that we can afford to lose this knowledge? I say no! The fact that indigenous cultures foster 80% of the earth’s biodiversity and 90% of its cultural diversity is something that needs to be preserved, and fast. Otherwise, we surely will miss out.

  23. This essay is an extremely interesting look at the diversity of the world. When put in perspective that the Industrial Revolution happened only seven generations ago and that these were preceded by 36,000 generations of historic human cultures, it really makes one analyze what modernity and “progress” have done. When thinking of the Industrial Revolution we often think of it as a generally good thing, and though I fully support the idea that it has led to some impressive improvements in human lives, the few centuries we have lived since its occurence are dwarved by the ancient knowledge of indigenous humans. As a modern day citizen of the United States I often wonder how people could have made comfortable lives without the technology we now enjoy. Yet indigenous African hunter gatherers worked an average of thirty hours a week, and in the case of the above mentioned San people it could be much less than that. This article also points out that indigenous people in South America avoided agriculture because it was much more labor intensive than their existing life styles. These facts help us to keep perspective on the choices we make and really help us realize that we don’t have to rush to advance and consume all the resources we can obtain. Instead we should slow down and focus on adapting some of the ideas of sustainability our ancestors lived on.

    • The San people worked more like 10-15 hours a week, Spencer. And it was parts of Africa where indigenous peoples avoided wholesale plow agriculture–though other peoples of Africa did farm. In South America, there were many groups of indigenous farmers in the Andes and horticulturalists in the Amazon–hard to keep all these details straight, I know!
      I agree with you about our need to emphasize sustainability–and conscious environmental choices in any event– choices such as those many humans have made in the long span of human history.
      I appreciate your comment.

  24. I keep coming back to how well do our worldviews serve us. In the article you mention that poverty was ‘not an artifact of their traditional lifestyles’ when talking about indigenous populations. Their values had to have a direct correlation to that fact. Can some be poor and go hungry in a population that truly values sharing, cooperation, reverence, reciprocity and balance, while others thrive and get richer? What do we gain in this society by subscribing to a worldview that ignores such values? Are we really happy? The older I get the more I realize that this society is blindly flailing around trying to find happiness in things when it’s really right in front of us. When reading about the values of indigenous societies I see the intense wisdom of them. Remember when we were children and the all consuming joy of swimming in a lake, or chasing butterflies or laying in the shade of a tree on a hot day or playing mindlessly in the snow until almost frozen? It seems to me that the values our culture holds most dear tends to banish that joy from our lives as adults. When reading the values in the article I can help but feel that people who embrace them throughout their lives would know joy and happiness intimately. Isn’t that what we are searching for? New car joy wears off after a few thousand miles, house payments can take the shine off of homeownership, monthly payments made on a vacation taken two years ago dims the memories somewhat. But what if every morning we woke with the feeling of gratitude for this earth? What if we remembered to feel gratitude for the sun, snow, rain, for birds singing long after the initial joy at their Springtime return, for clean water, for untouched forests and wilderness that goes on for miles and miles. What if we found joy in what we already have around us and in how we can improve and heal what has been damaged? Isn’t that a worldview worth adopting? One that brings joy and happiness and hope. One that teaches us consistently. We are at a point now where we can reevaluate what happiness is. We can choose to drop the anger and fear we have been guided to feel on a daily basis and live with the sense of cooperation and sharing (your article on the propagation fair proves that, not to mention the entire book on Gaviotas). I think we need to redefine poverty and see living more simply as a positive not as defective or lacking motivation or whatever. As a person who was raised in a family who valued consumerism and disposability above all else and also one who was young in the ’70’s when so much environmental knowledge was being disseminated, I understand the difficulty in making personal choices and living them. It is hard not to want the newest this and that, not to want what others have. But are they really happy? No more than I am when I watch the bears eating our plums, or when I eat the best broccoli I’ve grown or when my mind is stretched by these classes. I am redefining what happiness means and I keep coming back to the values embraced by indigenous cultures.

    The point made about indigenous cultures being tied to their geographic homelands is an extremely important one in my mind. If one is tied to the lands that their communities have been on for generations then there would be a commitment to care for them. It would breed an interconnectedness that would result in deep respect if one wanted to survive on those lands. This is a big divergence, as I see it from our cultural values. Many of us move frequently thoughout our lives. We no longer have land on which generations of us have lived and counted on for survival. There is no tie. We can’t relate to the thinking of interconnectedness in the same way because we don’t experience it typically. But that doesn’t ultimately mean that we can’t respect what others know.

    Last comment because I know I’m writing too much yet again. This article brings me another dose of hope. So many brave indigenous environmental leaders are doing incredible things. I have had my head buried in the sand apparently. What they are doing and what they have endured to make the differences in our world is heartening and extends to me a sense of my own power to make a difference. Thank you for extending another ray of hope. It is true that hope brings personal power and thus change can continue. I’m so excited about the spiritual learning to be had. As in the Thomas Berry article, I see that there is a chance for neverending learning when spiritualism is tied to natural life. Nature is the teacher!

    • Hi think we each need to evaluate ways in which we can be satisfied with the true joy that is both spontaneous and satisfying that you talk about here, Sue. Interconnectedness with the land is certainly linked to long residence upon it-and those of us who are newcomers to particular lands would do well to respect the knowledge of those who have been there so much longer than ourselves.
      Nature is a great teacher, indeed.

      • I reread what I wrote and understand your comment. This makes me look at my behavior which is tied to my values which is tied to my worldview. Interestingly enough, I just personified one of the values or behaviors that I’m trying to change! I can’t determine what makes others happy and in trying to do so am exerting domination. So much to learn! I do think that we need to move away from consumerism and the expectation that it provides true happiness or maybe I should be using the term ‘meaning’ in one’s life. (I will definately amend the comment about homes because I think, on retrospect, that homes bring people a great deal of security and are often the place where great memories are made! Mortgages aren’t fun but homes are good investments in a variety of ways.) There was a program on PBS recently about emotions that said humans are hardwired to adjust to new things and situations and that is why new purchases only bring joy for a limited amount of time. That is why emotional buying is dangerous. I see now that I need to rethink and be careful about my overgeneralizing, acknowledging that some purchases carry great import while others are motivated by a consumerist driven society. Mostly what I’ve learned here is that what may be important to me may not be to someone else and vice versa. Imposing my values on someone else is exactly what I’m trying to get away from. I apologize to you and others who read my haughty first posting. This learning process is humbling. Oh awesome! I’m learning humility which is an indigenous value! Whoohoo!


  25. I think this essay is a perfect example of how incredibly important it is to protect, encourage, and conserve indigenous cultures. The rapid globalization and capitalism that is occurring will only result in not only the dilution and reduction of the world’s various and rich cultures, but also a switch from a natural biosphere to an unnatural homogosphere, where only a few resilient, adaptive species, such as rats, cockroaches, and starlings will coexist with humans. This reminds me of the concept that simpler ecosystems are much more unstable than more complex ecosystems. Because of their simplicity, one effect can have dramatic consequences. This concept not only applies to ecosystem structure, but to human culture as well. Our huge, intensive agricultural mono-crops leave us massively vulnerable to crop failure and drought, tightly packed towns and cities encourage the spread of disease, and the forcing of intense interaction encourages political turmoil and war. Ahh, how connected everything is! The concepts of a healthy environment and its ecosystems can be applied to every facet of life on earth.

    The essay states: “Today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” It is detrimental for our continued existence on this planet not to honor and encourage indigenous ways of life. Another biological concept comes to mind: an umbrella species, which is one that when protected indirectly protects all of the other organisms that live in its habitat. Except that indigenous societies DIRECTLY protect the biotic and abiotic aspects of their environment . If we honor these peoples way of life and their great reverence for the land that they partner with, we can learn so much about how to save ourselves before it is too late.

    • Thanks for your comment. As you points out, biodiversity and cultural diversity are key ingredients in natural resiliency– something we will surely need in the days to come. I also like your application of the concept of “umbrella species” here. I think we can phrase it like this, Laida: “If we wish to care for the land, we should care for the people who care for that land.”

  26. Considering that the industrial revolution is only approximately seven generations old and that the non industrialized peoples represented by the indigenous peoples of today are thirty six thousand generations, one would think that they would have a better understsanding of the past and a more clear vision of the future of the earth.

    “Indigenous cultures are intimately tied to their geographic homelands. They see themselves, their ways of life, and their lands as created in concert with one another.” (indigenous peoples) As contrasted with the Europeans who are not tied to their land and often change places of residence several times during their lives.

    It is truly unfortunate that many indigenous peoples have become bi-cultural. They try to keep their ancient values while responding to the pressures of the modern world. The colonial paradigm had the Europeans believing that they were more civilized and that gave them the right to take the lands of the native peoples and try to convert the savages to Christianity and therefore make them more civilized.

    They hated the fact that the indigenous technologies adapted human activity to a particular land. The Europeans thought that the land should adapt to human activities. For the most part, they have not discovered that working in harmony with nature actually makes things better.

    Of course, as an indigenous person myself, I often find myself in direct contrast to the European worldview. As a native person, I agree with the indigenous worldviews of: “Nature’s intrinsic value and spiritual authority, the sense of nature as a teacher, its unique value, the fundamental interdependence and finally, the sense of responsibility for our actions that flow from honoring the unique value of others in an interdependent world.” (indigenous peoples)

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeff. If experience, not to mention, staying power, means anything, all those generations of being on the land should indeed count for something– something we could all learn from, even as generations of indigenous peoples learned from their own elders, we might say that indigenous peoples are our own human elders on this earth.
      Whereas I see all forms of colonialism and some forms of globalization that seek to erode indigenous culture as a tragedy, I don’t think that becoming bi-cultural is a tragedy. Is it better that the assimilation that the US government sought to impress on native peoples in the US in the nineteenth century–hoping to erase their culture entirely. It is certainly also tragic that so many are caught between cultures.
      I do think we can indeed grieve over the lost knowledge of place that has been replaced by modern industrial society anywhere. Nor am I fond of missionaries–economic or otherwise. It seems to me that if a religion is really worth practicing, others should be able to choose it because of the example of those who live it. It may interest you to know that the Archdiocese of Seattle recently issued a public apology for the harm done local indigenous peoples through frontier missionary activity.
      I appreciate your comment-and the values you assert. I think we could all use a bit more of this.

  27. I was wondering just what information an article titled nothing more than “Indigenous Peoples” would contain – certainly no small task considering the vast array of Native peoples in this world! However, I love that this piece of work drew attention to both the similarities and differences that tie all indigenous people together.

    I especially enjoyed the distinction that what works best for one culture does not work for all. This may seem like “common sense,” but in our western culture, it is not how we commonly live. Our own western, industrialized society makes sense to us when we do not examine other world views, but cross-cultural comparisons illuminate how absurd our assumptions about land “management” can truly be! It is amusing (albeit sad) that the immigrants from one culture/landscape to another would assume that they could treat all land the same. As it was noted in the article, indigenous populations would either hunt & gather, participate in agriculture, fish, or a combination of all methods as well as incorporate other ways of making a livelihood for themselves. Unlike the industrialized notion that many native cultures just didn’t know *how* to do what western cultures had found works “best” for them (agriculture), it’s important that we realize these cultures *did* know how to perform these methods of goods production but knew enough to choose more reliable, environmentally sound methods based on their personal locations. I think that this is often left out of popular discourse about colonization (especially when discussing the US and Canada, which is what I’m most familiar with), when it appears to be a crucial explanatory fact of the success of native peoples and of the failure to achieve an environmentally sound lifestyle by foreigners/non-indigenous populations.

    • That’s what happens in an encyclopedia article, Lauren– even an article for a peer-reviewed “green” encyclopedia. You get a word limit to present a general overview of a very large topic: thanks for the feedback on the various concepts juggled here. Diversity is a key issue both in viewing ecosystems and in viewing the humans who successfully adapted to those ecosystems.
      And one of my major goals in this piece was to correct the stereotype that indigenous peoples had little technical subsistence knowledge and/or were not making conscious decisions in this regard. A convenient stereotype from the perspective of colonizers who used it to justify taking over the lands and resources of these supposedly “backward” peoples.

  28. I really enjoyed this essay. It is important to face these misconceptions head on. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the ideas that we are learning about in this class, but glad to be learning more about them as well.
    One idea I find intersting, and I feel that I am guilty of thinking this way–has to do with natural environment/wilderness. the idea that when the colonist came to North America, or go to any traditional lands, they believe that the land was not being used. Instead tyhe land was being used respectfully, and through this respect it is perserved and nurtured. This concept is not common in our culture. Seeing land as something to be “used” and exploited without regard for the others that rely on it is something we need to un-condition ourselves from.
    The other idea that ties together with that is that we see the knowledge of plants, land and animals that the native cultures have as not as valid, because it does not match our own. This shows a narrow viewpoint. The land and other species are all suffering, because of the dismissal of the Native American knowledge. the worldview of the native cultures is one that not only is respectful, but more respectable.

    • Hi Erin, I very much like your distinction between the land’s being used respectfully and exploited. It would immensely change our current world if we changed our usury attitude toward human and more than human life.

  29. The effects of colonialism are felt in every aspect of the developing world. I had never before thought of it as it pertained to indigenous peoples and the cultures they support.

    The efficiency with which indigenous people use their land is astounding. Imagine if instead of being overwritten by colonialism, these culture were allowed to develop alongside European influences.

    This more equal mixing of culture may have had the opportunity to change how the western world would view the use of resources all together.

    A blend of western technology and ancient sustainability knowledge would empower our society and allow us to support the earth instead of slowly choking the life out of it.

    • A Chehalis elder put it very much like you have Rick. She said that there are things her people could learn from us-but what she would also like to see acknowledged is that there are things we could learn from her people as well.
      Colonialism has done us all a good deal of harm by cutting off the bridges between cultures.

  30. It’s amazing how much modern societies ignore the knowledge of the Indigenous peoples. Their wealth of knowledge IS scientific knowledge. It’s based on facts and truths. The only difference is oral and it isn’t written down. Our ignorance amazes me sometimes. If the 2004 tsunami victims had any respect for the knowledge from various indigenous peoples, and yielded their warnings they’d still be here today. The indigenous may look unintelligent in our eyes but, in the case of the tsunami’s, they can come out alive when we can’t. Some of our pharmaceuticals have native origins. Who would have thought that this insignificant people play a significant part in our health system! The list goes on about their contributions. It’s a shame that they aren’t recognized in modern cultures. The “Guradians of the Future” are the Indigenous in my eyes. Though not novel, they have the ability to share, cooperate, reciprocate, and balance their cultures. These values, among others, are present in modern society but the Indigenous know how to use them better.

    • I absolutely agree that the knowledge of indigenous peoples IS scientific knowledge. I like your definition of “indigenous” based on the values communities and individuals express.

  31. It’s amazing to me how native people have held on to their values and lifestyles for centuries. It’s humbling to see how by following their traditions they not only survive but thrive. They have found a way to hold on to their ways of life and still make a place for themselves in the modern world. They have learned over time to police their population in a way that prevents placing a strain on their natural resources. It makes me wonder how we have not adopted some of their methods when they so obviously work. Instead, oftentimes society tries to enforce “new, better” ways of doing things on indigenous people and they only seem to fail. They’ve been doing something right. The essay gives so many examples, medications we are only just discovering come from plants they’ve been using for generations, surviving the tsunami that killed so many people, and the preservation of the salmon on the Columbia River. After reading this essay it makes me feel as if we should adopt some of their methods instead of trying to change them.

  32. There are such radically different ways in which human beings perceive the world, the place of humans in that world, and the interrelationships between human beings, other creatures and the land itself. It’s pretty evident when modern technological societies confront indigenous groups in an attempt to ‘develop’ land that has been their home there is a clash of values. The ‘developer’ sees the land as unexploited and in need of human initiative in order for the power of the land to be realized. There are often religious and moral undertones about it- it is the duty of human beings to tame the wilderness and help the people that live on it out of their bondage.
    Indigenous cultures tend to affirm gaining deep knowledge of and rapport with the land and the non human beings that dwell within it. They believe it is alive and full of spirits. Their wisdom and emphasis is more on living harmoniously with the land and learn one’s place in it. They are aware of the complexities and rhythms so as to live in ways that do not disrupt or disturb the land.
    It seems like Colonialism believes that modern technology can now subdue and master nature, while indigenous cultures know that to live in the land successfully it is necessary to know, relate to, and honor the earth.

  33. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I found it amazing that all of these statistics exist showing that the ways of the indigenous people had such a positive impact on the environment, yet we continue along with our complacent, selfish ways, ignoring the facts. If 95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas exist where the indigenous people live, then you would think that the people would take notice. But I guess it does go back to those world views and values. Our present American culture does not hold those same values (Gratitude and reverence, Sharing, Cooperation, Reciprocity, Humility and Balance) in as high regard. Instead, we embrace competition, instant gratification and wealth as values to be obtained to earn the ever-coveted “American Dream.”

  34. I’d like to start out by saying that this article deeply touched me. I grew up in the midwest very close to multiple impoverished native american communities and have always felt their pain of being thrown into an industrial society and stripped from their land and thus their way of life. Its astounding to me the blatant disregard for the environment that industrialization has caused and how we have the option of at least incorporating native techniques to better our environment but often times this is ignored for the profits of few. I feel like we as humans are going through a period in which it would be beneficial if not imperative to our survival to develop a deeper connection with our earth. This article had some really good examples of injustices and problems that arising and helped solidify some of my feelings about naturalism.

  35. I really enjoyed reading this essay and it made me look back on my life and to think about my experiences with different native populations in the places I have lived. I think one that comes to mind was when I lived in Kodiak, Ak for a few years and observing how even though the native population which I believe were Alutiiq were apart of the Kodiak society, they also very much practiced there own cultural practices lived in their own village and thrived very much off of traditional fishing. I found this rather amazing that they were still so traditional especially when you consider the different influences that have come through Alaska. In the article it mentions that many native groups make a conscious choice to live their lifestyle despite the fact that they have knowledge to live differently from traditional ways because they understand their environment so well and I think that getting an opportunity to travel much of the Alaskan Coast for work and seeing groups live traditionally only reinforces that point for me.

  36. There is a Seminole Indian reservation near my house. Even though modernization and globalization has brought many of the customs and practices of modern America into the lives of these people you can still visit this area to learn about the customs, dress, food etc of the Seminoles. Just as the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples defines them, these people are members of a cultural communtity that is located within a modern society. This Seminole reservation is located right outside of the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is evident that they have a lot closer relationship with nature than we do. Unfortunately it is also evident that they are becoming more and more influenced by the culture around them.

  37. I am frequently finding myself jealous of indigenous peoples around the world. Their love and respect for nature and understanding of the value held within it is inspirational. They understand that in order to retain their lifestyles and rituals, they must protect and properly use the land. I think that is one of the many downfalls of our current society. We do not see where products come from. We simply go to the store and purchase whatever we need. Indigenous people grow, harvest, collect, or gather what they need so they have a deep-rooted respect for the land. If today’s society could grasp only a small portion of that respect, maybe we could turn around our natural resources and make our society more sustainable. As you mentioned in this essay, many affluent cultures view indigenous people as poor but as I see it, they are more advanced than we are; maybe not technologically, but emotionally. Thank you for the wonderful essay to help remind us of how to respect what is given to us.

    • You are welcome, Megan, thanks for your thoughtful and obviously caring comment. It is inspirational to me that so many humans have lived in partnership with their environments over the last tens of thousands of years–and that many continue to treasure the land that sustains us all in spite of the many changes inflicted on their cultures by colonialism and globalization. We who use so large a portion of the world’s resources to sustain our lifestyles might have a significant effect on addressing our current environmental crises if we took to heart some of values with respect to nature that indigenous peoples continue to express. The fact that so many are making changes in our lives to help sustain the natural systems that sustain us is a hopeful prospect to me.

  38. The beginning of this post outlines very nicely the history of indigenous peoples and their effects upon the environment. I had no idea that cultures who survived by hunting and gathering make up 99% of historic human cultures. It is amazing to reflect over the fact that most of the destruction that has occurred on the environment has only taken place in the last one percent of the history of human culture. The rapidity of this type of destruction means that we much act fast to change the way we treat the environment before there isn’t much left. I have grown up under the idea that anything called a “green movement” or “green” anything was good for the environment and should be supported. However, the post documents the catastrophic consequences of the “green revolution” in Bangladesh. I do believe that American society feels that any idea we have of being “green” or respecting the environment is the only way that works. In fact this post brings to light that we might not even be close to having the right ideas or connection about or to the environment as we may currently think. I really liked the list of Indigenous Wordlviews and Values, yet really encounter these ideas in my everyday activities. These are definitely guidelines that people would benefit from adopting and practicing.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Ashley. The word “green” has indeed been misused: when Monsanto applies it to genetically engineered foods, there is a serious problem. The Green Revolution in the 1970s (maybe you weren’t around for this) was supposed to bring the technology of development to “backward” global cultures and make them produce as we do. We have seen that this did not quite work out as forecast– one reason to beware of easy-technological fix answers in the present day.
      Your comment brings up the idea of sharing — in the environmental crises we face today. Surely we cannot afford to throw away ideas that worked and might still work for us today. A recent UN study indicates that organic food production yields at least 76 per cent more than traditional chemically intensive methods and protects the land besides.

  39. It is somewhat heartening that ICCAs exist, especially as they provide an important example of how people can live in harmony with their environments, as they (people in general) used to do, as opposed to trying to dominate them. I’d heard of such, but didn’t realize that they covered as much area as they do. While it’s great that UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People lends “moral weight” to the struggles of indigenous people to protect their lands, it’s extremely disappointing (to say the least) that that weight doesn’t protect indigenous activists from being subject to violence in the process of such struggles. Even if one puts aside the fact that people are persecuted in these endeavors (enough of an issue in itself), there’s still the consideration of the loss of biodiversity that is/will be lost in these areas should they undergo ‘development.’ Humans haven’t ‘discovered’ all the species in the world, and considering how many of our medicines are derived from beneficial plant life, the loss of these beneficial species could be devastating for the human race–heck, maybe there’s a cure for cancer in one of those. That’s aside from the fact that losing one species will, of course, affect others, and so on. I think the Ecuadorians are onto something with including constitutional provisions for the legal rights and protection of Pachamama.

    • Great comment, Crystal. I think you are absolutely right that there is no reasonable argument AGAINST our protecting the human rights of those whose ancient traditions protect their lands. We could also use a strong dose of the precautionary principle that says we should be able to take care of what might possibly go wrong before we utilize any technology like oil drilling.
      It is heartening to me that there are a number of examples that express the “legal rights of nature”– I think the commons upon which all life depends needs protection more than does money– which was given the first amendment right of free speech in the recent Supreme Court decision asserting that corporations could spend as much money as they wish on political ads.

  40. Really, I think this article pointed out that the earth itself is still teaching us things even as indigenous people start to lose more and more of their land from the modern nation-state. It points out the mistakes we have made since basically taking over, and labeling ourselves rulers of the world.

    On another note, the article reminded me of an article I read on the Seto people in Estonia and Russia. Really the article showed how recently Russia is officially recognizing the Seto people as a ethnic group while Estonia, where many of the Seto live have not done so as of yet. I mention the Seto people because they are like similar indigenous people across the world in that they have to constantly fight for what they believe and had originally worked together as communities and respected the world around them.

    Overall, I wanted to note my favorite section which pointed out indigenous environmental activism in a world that often disagrees, because you start to notice how some other people view world values. For instance, Wangari Maathai, not only fought for others but she had to fight for herself constantly because she was a woman in a society that often felt she was far too outspoken. Her view therefore unlike many politicians before her is not hypocritical in the slightest. She fought for peace when others wanted to quarrel, and really to me this article points out we must respect where the world has been and hope for good changes.

    Finally, I must quote the article in stating “in 2009 indigenous peoples still represent 90 per cent of global cultural diversity.” This ultimately means we have seen vast changes in the world and these vast changes are destroying years of respect for the earth and its surroundings. World views can’t simply change so quickly without dire consequences. The article shows how indigenous people have had respect for others while modern humans are fighting instead of finding common ground. To me it shows how the indigenous people have had the world teach them ethics in a way.

    • Thanks for your comment on the learning we are and might continue to do, Christopher. My sense is that learning from the past (including past mistakes) is what has allowed humans to flourish so far– that is the basis of culture itself. We are facing many situations in need of immediate addressing, and learning from our mistakes gives us the possibility to do so.
      I like your examples of true leaders and their courage– how much we need them–and how much hope they create– is indicated by the fact that they are able to inspire so many others to change their ways of doing things. Though, as you point out, this is not easy in the face of such persecution as they often face for taking a stand.
      I also like your phrase of “finding common ground” — that is a key to what I think we should be doing, both in our relationships to one another and to the earth we share.

  41. One of the very first paragraphs had a statistic that really stood out to me. That indiginous cultures represent over 99 percent of historic human cultures. It seems insane to me how in just seven short generations since the industrial revoultion that everything that indiginous cultures believed or how they lived has completely changed, and is hard to find in todays world. It is weird to think in such a short amount of time, we could wipe out so much of what was our past. The paragraph detailing the global impacts on indiginous cultures is eye-opening. For thousands of years these people had their whole lives, their way of being set in the surrounding environment. But in the short time since the industrial revoultion they are being forced out of a place they have called home for hundreds of years.
    Developed regions may think they have plenty more to offer, and may look down on indigenous cultures, but i believe the more developed regions of the world can learn a great deal from these cultures. Their ideas, and values are so pure, and not only do they have great values for person-person relationships, but they respect nature, and for that reason they have been able to stay on this plant for thousands of years, and since only seven generations ago, the more developed regions are already starting to run into problems.

    • Excellent perspective, Brandon– in terms of both time and practical results. It is a great loss indeed to ignore a long past that made us human–and gave us our place in the natural world. Well said!

  42. Ostensibly the greatest rift between industrialized and indigenous cultures are value differences. It would be hard to try and accurately sum up these two poles, if they actually are so different as to call them poles, but one way to describe it would be in terms of reverence. Reverence for material goods, which can be created through beautifully complex human processes, and reverence for the sublimity of human interactions with each other and interactions with nature. In some ways these seem similar, except in the case of the industrialized world we haven’t quite come to a point where we realize the the manifestation of a material good tends not to bring us the same amount of happiness as we expect or that we draw from the anticipation of having such a good. On the other hand both ‘poles’ can experience happiness through the appreciation of natural beauty or the powerful interactions between humans.

    Pragmatically I wonder, if we were to determine that this very general statement I have made about the differences between the industrialized and indigenous worlds were true, how can we get back some of the mindset that 99% of human history worked with. Certainly we aren’t giving back information technology or advanced western medicine anytime soon, but how could we, collectively, find beauty in the complexity of nature and in our interactions with each other without feeling the need to compare toys so often?

    • The value differences (perhaps we could say industrial and indigenous peoples tend to be on different ends of the spectrum of human values outlined in the “contrasting worldviews” chart here– the same one you have for class). We might see these as tendencies, rather than absolutes, since there is considerable complexity in every human society, and we cannot lump all indigenous societies in some “pure” value category. What we can say is that particular values lead to or go with particular societies, such that societies that live a particular way have a particular constellation of values they emphasize and enact.
      Thoughtful discussion of the contrast of notions of the “material” here- it is my sense that many of the destructive values any society or individual holds is due to a kind of “wrong turn”. That is, the impulse and need underlying this value might be positive, but it gets twisted somewhere along the line. Thus I think that the adherence to a specificity of place and culture is a positive thing– until it gets turned into a sense that my way is legitimate and yours isn’t. In fact, those societies with the deepest grounding in terms of their own sense of home are the most likely to accept “others”– and their values, as I wrote about in terms of the Chehalis in my essay in Dialectical Anthropology (I mention this because I know you are interested in these ideas).
      Reverence, as your example indicates, is reverence for something– and we tend to have reverence for things like corporations (at least in our political structure) as indicated by the recent Supreme Court decision securing the rights of free speech for these economic entities. Seeing these human constructions as legal “persons” and securing them the same rights we allot humans under the Bill of Rights is certainly different from the indigenous view that sees the living world as composed of “persons” (include more than human ones).
      I think that your question is a complex one- -to which there are perhaps as many answers as there are each of us, but there are a number of models to follow, as we will see in other essays here. And it is also my sense, that there is in us, since we “came up” as humans so thoroughly embedded in the natural world that given half a chance, many will turn this way.
      About “comparing toys”- a good point. You might be interested in the work of Alfie Kohn, whose work indicates that cooperation ALWAYS creates more achievement than does competition. Some alternative businesses and community movements (urban gardens is a big one) take this into account. In the end, it doesn’t pay in survival terms to foster competition in a natural world that is interdependent.

      • Wow, there’s a lot there for me to unpack, and certainly some places for further investigation. One thing I found particularly interesting is the notion that cooperation ALWAYS creates more achievement than does competition. I will certainly check this out because at least contemporary American society, and the political momentum now, argues that the opposite is true. I would tend to agree with Alfie Kohn and your suggestion most of the time but always is an intriguing thought. We seem to think that whoever dies with the most stuff is the winner and that in our collective desire to win that stupid game everyone will magically be better off. That doesn’t sit well with me.

        Even anarchic philosophy suggests that cooperation is the best way to have a successful society, so it is not just a socialist/marxist/indigenous thought that cooperation is superior to competition. I wonder if capitalism, or the ways of thinking which spur capitalism on, simply deny that the natural world is interdependent and finite or if this notion is not widely spread enough.

        • That’s what happens when I pack so much into such a small word limit. You always (!) have a point to question an “always”– what I had in mind was Kohn’s article, “How to Succeed without even Vying”– a popular article summarizes his research results, in which he (claims to have) looked up every experiment he could find (including ones geared to predicting the benefits of competition) and found that in every single case, it was cooperation rather than competition that spurred achievement. Kohn’s thesis is that competitive situations siphon off our energy in watching out for the other guy, whereas cooperation boosts our potential without this liability.
          That does not, I think, mean to diminish the idea of challenging ourselves– only doing it with a stick by which we are constantly judging ourselves by and trying to outdo the other guy. If Kohn is right (and I think he is), we have wasted an tragic amount of energy and created a good deal of destruction to no point. The thing about the capitalist view is that it favors a few people at the top–and those at the bottom are told they can also make it when it is their turn (if they only try hard enough), so they don’t want to blow their own chances by disrupting the system. This rather self-defeating point of view changes (according to Michael Lerner’s book, Surplus Powerlessness), when people get together and share their experience. He documents the ways in which oppressively run corporations keep workers separated from one another for precisely this reason. On the other end of the spectrum are CEOs like Max DePree and folks like David Korten, Jeffrey Hollender and Hazel Henderson (see

  43. I think that what is pointed out in this article is one of the most important things that we in the west need to understand about ourselves. While we industrial cultures use our new knowledge for short term gains – concerning how best to USE the land- we miss out on the benefits of the indigenous people whose knowledge predates ours by many millenniums and is concerned with long term goals – concerned with how to work WITH of FOR the land. We industrials have also learned how to create and respond to massive changes in the environment with our dam buildings and disaster response efforts, but we have lost the ability to live in relative sustainable harmony with the land. The answer is then to adopt to our own ways the ethics and sense of responsibility that most humans have had.

    It is strange how counter productive our ways are. It is as if indigenous cultures have learned to live within the cycle of life, and industrial cultures are always in constant renewal. I suppose we hasten our own end.

    • Great points about working with and for the land — and long term results — as opposed to “using” the land (and thus using it up). We can’t continue to use up the land and survive. It is strange indeed (when we take an objective look at this) just how counter-productive our ways are. My hope is that we are not foolish enough to continue this once we actually see it (when we stop the use it up and move on attitude that blinds us to the results of our actions). Thanks for your comment, Christopher.

  44. The most important thing I took from this essay is that we as industrialized nations need to learn from the ways of the indigenous peoples. Our industrial nations was said to be about seven generations long while the indigenous cultures had about 36,000 generations. This means they have extremely detailed knowledge of the land and life that surrounds them, and they live in perfect harmony with their giver, the earth. If we could learn to apply these indigenous methods to our industrialized technology, we could ultimately be living along side of nature instead of off nature. For example, Jesus Leon Santos was mentioned being an indigenous Mixteca farmer who restored farmlands that were left barren by industrial farming. Formulating hybrid methods that mix indigenous practices with modern industrialized techniques could potentially revolutionize the world.
    I got a reassuring feeling to know indigenous peoples birth rates are rising to repopulate their diminishing communities, and that they have been lobbying to incorporate their practices into the governments of developed nations. The only way to truly advance our society is to treat the environment with the respect that the indigenous peoples have done for thousands of years.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful post, Kyle. I find hope in the potential to find a balance or “hybrid” in which we are able to combine our knowledge with indigenous values and knowledge. We can hardly afford to throw away the knowledge of 36000 generations.

  45. This article is fascinating. I was really glad to hear about the Indigenous people. I grew up with parents who did not really care all that much about the environment and ways to protect it, and most of the people I live with don’t care all that much either. It is nice hearing about the indigenous people and how they control their traditional lands and natural resources. It’s nice to see that organizations are starting to stand up for the indigenous people. However more people need to start caring and standing up for them. The world needs more places in it that allow the biodiversity to grow and nature to do its own thing without humans messing it up. The world needs more Indigenous people or just people who care about the environment and the animals living in it. In general the article was very educational and I really enjoyed learning about the indigenous people, and how they are trying to take care of their little part of the world and its creatures.

    • I am glad you like this, Ayla. We can feel very much alone when surrounded with people who don’t have any care for the environment– and perhaps are even implying our own views are realistic. The lives of our human ancestors (since we are all related to these ways of life if you go far enough back in history) testify both as to our human possibilities-and give us hope to stand on values of caring for the sake of those who share our planet, today and tomorrow. Thanks for your comment.

  46. Reading this article reminded me of 2010 Engineers Without Borders (EWB) international conference in Denver,CO. As a member of EWB-OSU, I participated in the conference for three days, and I learned a lot about what it means to work with indigenous people. EWB’s projects deal with all sorts of environmental issues that can be solved by professional engineers, public health professionals, and college students with various majors. The projects are not just within the U.S, but also in South America, Central America, Central Asia, South Asia, Africa and every where else where some help can be used.
    The most important message that I learned from the conference was the mind set and the attitude I need to have as a volunteer from a non-indigenous country. The attitude of an arrogant westerner- “Let me tell you what is the right way. Stop whatever you are doing right now, because it is wrong” or the common misconception mentioned in the article- “indigenous peoples lack the technical knowledge with which to make key subsistence choices” wouldn’t work.
    The projects needs to be done within the indigenous people’s worldviews and values or the local people’s worldviews and values, such as the idea of sharing, cooperation, reciprocity and balance, as the essay mentioned. I agree with the article that we have a lot to learn from them, and there are reasons why we need to preserve them. Making efforts to help indigenous people is for our own good as well as the benefits of indigenous people, because of the biocultural diversity and justice in this world.

  47. The entire time I was reading this article, all that was going through my mind was how right you are. Our natural world can be preserved beautifully if we listen to the indigenous people and take to heart what they are trying to tell us. Once instance kept creeping back into my head. The island of Ni’ihau, in the Hawaiian island chain is the smallest island here, but it is also referred to as the “forbidden isle” because you must be personally invited and escorted to the island by a relative who permanently lives on the island, and the population of Ni’ihau is only around 130 people. Ni’ihau is largely self-sufficient , and only import what few outside goods that are necessity. There are no automobiles of any kind and the only aircraft are the one or two helicopters used for a very rare tour. zthe primary mode of transportation is horseback, and no one on the island, nor are any outsiders allowed to own televisions, radios, phones or other electronics of the sort. All electricity is solar power, there are no overhead power lines, and all water is obtained through water catchments. And people only speak speak the native Hawaiian language. This is a perfect example of how the indigenous people have survived for so long on so little, and have kept their home is beautiful pristine condition.

    • This is a wonderful example that I had not heard of, Imada. Thanks for sharing the information about it. Let’s hope these people who so protect their land and the precious inheritance of their tradition flourish without interference. They are not only protecting their environment but a human “library” of knowledge that is priceless. I am touched by the existence of this island and its caretakers.

  48. I think it is such a shame that Western society still fails to credit indigenous peoples for their contributions to our knowledge of nature. While the world is beginning to wake up to the important lessons we can learn from these cultures, it is in many places too late to retrieve what has likely been lost forever. In one of my other classes, we spent a great deal of time learning about the basket weaving culture of Native Americans in California. Now there are only a few tribal elders who are passing along what was almost a lost art to new generations. The art of basket weaving has both a practical purpose and deep spiritual meaning to those who do it, bringing together nature and humanity in a beautiful way. Now, not only has the practice become less and less common, it is also much more difficult to do because of the lack of access to the necessary plants and grasses traditionally used. Many are now on private property that is inaccessible and often they are covered in hazardous pesticides and herbicides that make using them dangerous to basket weavers. It is a shame that we have made these simple, beautiful traditions so difficult to carry on and pass down to future generations.

    • All of the points in this example indicate why indigenous knowledge is so precious. As Scott Mamaday once put it, oral tradition is as powerful as it is fragile– since it is always one generation away from extinction. Thanks for sharing this example and analysis here.

  49. I find this essay to be very moving for me personally in two ways. Through my heritage I have ties to various Native American tribes, mostly the Cherokee. In growing up I have been exposed heavily to the ideals listed above and even today I have many of the items from the list playing in the background of my mind on a day to day basis. Especially in these times of environmentalism, they are brought to the forefront of my mind when deciding how I interact with my world. Now as ironic as my choice in life may seem, I have always been extremely interested and have perused a greater knowledge of the sciences. My college education has left me on the other end of fours years with a degree in engineering. Now does this tromp my background that has made up the foundation I now build my life upon? There have been difficult instances for myself when I see my choice made through scientific reasoning and completely overruling a more native approach to the world. However, I can say there has been many other moments where my education in the respect and security of the environment have made me unable to make a decision regardless of how scientifically logical it may be. I greatly enjoyed reading this post and found it insightful while at the same time not too surprising because of the similar conflicts I find myself with now.

  50. I think the key to sustainable living, with as small a carbon footprint in the natural world as possible, is hybridizing modern nature- friendly technologies with native (indigenous) values and practices. I think if we could adopt indigenous values like all life being kin and to value the uniqueness and irreplacability of all natural others, we can properly focus future industrial, and social practices to meet in some sort of middle ground with indigenous practices. We should treat the natural world with the golden rule. Treat it as we would like to be treated.

    • I would add a small water footprint as well, Jessika. I think we need the complementary or “hybrid” approach you mention, Jessika. We cannot afford to throw away anything in our toolbox that allows us to address our current environmental issues in a way that honors nature’s resilience and human justice. Applying indigenous values and environmental standards to the technology we develop and use is a great way to go.

  51. I found this statement to be very compelling: The sense of nature as teacher: the idea that humans become human by means of their embededness in the natural world.

    After giving some serious thought to it, I have to agree. I have been pretty lucky in being able to travel quite a bit of Europe and Asia, and seeing quite a few of the famous man made structures of our time, such as the Pyramid and the Sistine Chapel as two quick examples. However, the most vivid image I have is of a trek I went on through Northern Thailand. We followed a small river for about two days, and at the end of the river, it turned into a waterfall that fell into a natural chasm. At the bottom of the chasm was a huge pool/lagoon, and the water had caused erosion, allowing you to swim under the waterfall, literally into the earth, to another chasm about 150 feet away. It was totally surreal, and is still the coolest thing I have ever seen or done, and is purely that of nature.

  52. My heart is always saddened when I see or hear about the continued destruction of the indigenous lands any where in the world. Human greed for illusory possessions is a form of mass suicide. But it is not surprising since modern society is largely dead to the life all around it.

    The struggles of the indigenous people whether it be in Nigeria against the big oil companies or in Canada against the fishing and logging industries are brave efforts to help save our beloved mother earth. I pray that this effort is not wasted as the encroaching destruction creeps further and further across the earth.

    The attempts of Industrial society to destroy the people and the lands of the indigenous world has left a great scar in the heart of the planet. Why can they not see that we are all part of this one great system of life. We are not separate from each other or the rest of life that makes up this planet. When one sits in stillness in the absence of industrial chaos one can see the web of light that ties the life of all things together. One can see the ballet of life exchanges between plant and animal, between the wind and the airborne seeds as they are carried to a new resting place. These are things that have always been seen and known by the true peoples of the earth.

    When one lives in the community of the people one knows the humility and wisdom that they carry. One knows to listen and smell and to see the life that is all around. One does not wish to dominate, only to share. There is much to learn from our indigenous relatives. We must honor them as we would all other elements of life on this planetary home.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Dean. There is good reason to be saddened at the loss of indigenous ways and their lands. I do think that some of this results from sheer thoughtlessness and greed rather than the direct goal of destroying native lands. After all, in an interdependent world such as the one all life on earth shares, harming others and their lands is ultimately harming ourselves. It takes a good deal of blindness to act so self-destructively.
      Being present to our world is being present to the “ballet of life” you describe and to our place within it. It is a great loss to miss this- thus we must both respect this gift and work for the justice that allows all to experience their lives in this way.

  53. This essay made me recall a class I took last year called, Water: policy, technology and culture in Latin America. We talked substantially about indigenous technologies to use and manipulate water. Many of the indigenous practices seemed to be extremely effective. In Brazil for example, many villages had inefficient dams to keep water out of their crops during the wet season. However, the native peoples in the past found ways to raise areas of ground slightly above the water line, allowing for natural irrigation. Villages were beginning to use this method again and only grow crops that could naturally survive in such an environment. This sort of method makes a lot of sense to me.
    It also shows that indigenous people also manipulated the landscape and available resources. However, they were able to do this without compromising the ecosystem like many modern practices do. It is interesting to me that the misconception that indigenous people are “less evolved” and their ideas are less effective has been so perpetuated. Obviously the indigenous method works, and is much more sustainable than most of our agricultural and industrial practices today. To me, the indigenous methods show their greater understanding of the world as a whole. It seems that many indigenous tribes can see the entire picture, and therefore were able to survive for so long before the industrial revolution. I worry about what will happen during my generation, and how long the earth will be able to support the United States’ consumerism lifestyle. Climate change is already beginning and who knows what sort of change it will be.

    • I am sorry that your generation has burdens like climate change to address, Allison. It is certainly time for those of us in industrialized cultures to see the whole picture as well. Indigenous peoples did not develop their effective methods on a one trial basis. Having a long term perspective allows humans to learn from their mistakes. And if indigenous peoples could do this in the past, I find it hopeful that we could learn to successfully interact with our shared earth today. We need the humility as well as the wisdom to begin to learn from our own mistakes–and to respect the knowledge and needs of those who have cared for the land for so many generations. Thanks for your comment: I hope you will find that you are not alone in your concerns in this class.

  54. It seems unthinkable that people can be so thoughtless when it comes to respecting others relationship to the land. I was glad to see that this is gradually changing and that indigenous peoples are slowly gaining access to land and resources that are so vital to their way of life and also the life of the the land. Though there still is a struggle.

    A large theme that came out of this reading for me is one of learning from our mistakes. Industrialization in a way peaked with globalization and, though its destructive ways are still very active, it also helped us reach this point where we make contact with so much of the world that we can no longer live in our own limited cultural views without reassessing them. It’s unfortunate that it took us so long to come to this point and that it is at times painfully slow in progressing further. But it is hopeful that there are still people who feel a strong enough connection to their land, such as the Mayangna and Mistiko who protected the rain forest from logging, to make a stand.

    • Your point that about learning from our mistakes is an excellent one, Andy. It is my contention that the ability to do that is what made us human in the first place (as we passed on cultural knowledge from one generation to the next). It is fortunate that we have models of such learning in the lifeways of many indigenous peoples–and sad that it takes so much destruction for us to begin to learn from our own mistakes. I hope we do it quickly. Thanks for your comment.

    • Good point about learning from our mistakes; it seems that, by ignoring indigenous environmental knowledge, we have had to “reinvent the wheel”. Caring for this earth has a long learning curve and we have wasted valuable time in ignoring the knowledge that was there all along. I agree that it is depressing how slow progress comes, but I think that we are coming around. Back when there was a frontier, all we had to do was move farther west – we didn’t have to live with the consequences of our actions. As you said, we are at the point where we can no longer ignore the consequences. It seems like people will hem and haw until our backs are against the wall, at which point I like to believe we will do what is necessary.

      • And by “re-inventing the wheel”, we subvert the very thing that made our ability to adapt successful as a species– the passing on of cultural knowledge which allows us to learn from our mistakes. I am with you on hoping that when we finally stop using up resources form elsewhere and moving on, we will behave differently– since we will have to live with the consequences of our actions– within our ecological budget if you will. Nice points, Brenda!

  55. It is definitely perspective-altering to consider that the industrial revolution is only 7 generations old out of the past 36,000, and that 99% of human history is some variation on the hunter-gatherer model. We like to think that our advanced technological society is superior to what came before, but that depends on how you define things such as “wealth”. Richard Lee’s study of the San people points out that, on measures such as health, longevity, and minimal required labor, these “poor” people are indeed wealthy.

    The concept of Pachamama, espoused as a legal right in the Ecuadorian constitution, led me to think about the U.S. constitution. Everything in our constitution is about the rights of the individual, but there is nothing about the rights of nature or the responsibilities of citizens. It is difficult to imagine our framers including such a notion – it didn’t happen because it wasn’t in their worldview to consider that nature ought to have rights as people do. Consequently, we have treated this land as a vast resource to be plundered – and later generations are and will be paying for it. It is good that the concept of “biocultural diversity” is becoming institutionalized in nonprofit and governmental programs such as the WWF and the UN. This recognizes that people are an integral part of the natural landscape and the knowledge of indigenous people can be harnessed to work on environmental problems.

    • I like your balance in this response, Brenda– your analysis supports the idea that we should look at things in terms of their context and meaning–not the labels we presume to give them. In a society in which there is such growing distinction between rich and poor, it is especially important to define what we mean by really wealth– or that which we really value, for that matter. It is a hopeful point indeed that we are beginning to understand that we are an integral part of the natural world–this gives us both humility and responsibility–and a different kind of power than we may be used to seeing in our interdependent connection with all earth’s others. Thanks for your comment!

  56. Hello Professor Holden,

    Amazing read! I find it amazing that as of in 2009 indigenous peoples still represent 90 per cent of global cultural diversity. Yet, the indigenous lands are still being threatened to be taken away and the consideration of them is not even being taken into.

    Your points are valid. Yet, because of higher placement on this “ladder” It gives the nation the right to take over what is rightfully theirs- and what they have sought for from the beginning and something they truly value rather than something we just want, or need.

    The controversy of whether indigenous people “lack” technical knowledge is sad. It fails to mention what we should learn from them and that we are all different. We should learn from each others different values and cultures. They appreciate their ancient values and don’t know to adapt to our forever changing world today.

    I really appreciate this and look forward to reading more from you. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Tayler. I appreciate your thoughtful reading and response in the dialogue over these issues. Makes it worth the work in writing these essays!
      It is indeed sad as well as foolish to disregard those cultures who have had such successful strategies for surviving on their lands.

  57. The United States is in many ways an island unto itself, in that we are isolated by the media’s disregard of many of the newsworthy events occurring around the globe. The problem with this approach is that although we have tremendous influence throughout the world, most of our citizens go through their days in blissful ignorance of the havoc we’re wreaking. With power should come responsibility but as far as most people are concerned, “it’s all good”.

    In my experience, the best thing about returning to school has been finding out how much I don’t know, and then being given the opportunity to learn. I experienced that feeling again while reading your essay on indigenous peoples throughout the world. In one of my biology classes, we learned about how scientists are genetically modifying all kinds of things to produce higher yield, pest resistant vegetables but at the same time, the instructor stressed that genetically modified food can produce some nasty side effects. It was marvelous to learn that the indigenous people of the Columbia River “harvested an annual salmon take seven times the modern one without harming the sustainability of the runs” (and without poisoning their people in the process). I wonder if we’ll ever ask for their help. We did it once before – we ended up with a spiffy holiday and their civilization was destroyed. Maybe things would be different now.

    There are many good reasons to get a college education but unlike what many people think, getting a “better job” is not necessarily at the top of the list. In my opinion, going to college forces you to see what’s really going on in the world and once you know that, you have the choice to make a difference.

    • It is ironic that we are “an island onto ourselves”, given the variety of habitats and cultures that once existed here, Barbara. It is a potentially dangerous situation, as you point out, to have power over other nations– and yet be largely ignorant of them (and/or feel ourselves removed from them). It is too likely too likely that we will act without understanding the consequences of our actions. This certainly does not bode well for our leadership in the global arena.
      Thanks for your open-minded learning stance. I think that having information is an essential part of being a democratic citizen-and as much as I second the positive things you say about your college education, I am hoping that all US citizens take the opportunity to learn more about their world and the implications of their choices.
      Thanks for your comment!

  58. An interesting article. I am almost ashamed to admit that I did not realize the UN made their Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples in 2007. I guess I just don’t pay enough attention to the UN and their business.

    It amazes me that an International body should have the need to “grant” people the rights that they were already born with. But then I suppose that we see examples of this need every day in our modern society.

    One group of people, who feel they have the right to move in to an area and take it over, regardless of who is already living there. And another group of people who feel they have the right to be there, because they and their ancestors were “always” there.

    These two groups of people clash due to their cultural/philosophical differences and the winner systematically eliminates the cultural heritage of the looser. Colonialism – what a concept.

    So Europeans come to America. They settle on coastal regions and gain a foot hold. Before long, in to the nineteenth century our colonies have grown strong and were driven on by the philosophy of Manifest Destiny. They swept across North America and nearly wiped out many of the tribes and nations of indigenous peoples who were living and thriving on this continent for thousands of years before most of their European ancestors could even be considered “civilized”.

    Imagine all of the knowledge that was lost by this colonization, this wholesale elimination and dilution of the indigenous cultures who had intimate knowledge of this land and how to best survive in this environment. But “time marches on.”

    Fast forward to the present. Here we are in the twenty first century. Our great modern civilization stands arguably at the forefront of technological and social achievement. We see ourselves as a shining beacon for the rest of the world to follow into the future. We are the “land of plenty” and the “land of opportunity”. But all is not well in our modern paradise.

    For all of our technology and all of our abilities, we are faced with ecological and environmental problems that, if not remedied, may well be the fall of this great society.
    We (heirs) to the European Colonial Legacy, with all of our money and power and technology can’t figure out how to do one simple, but absolutely necessary thing. That thing being “living with nature”. We can’t figure out how to live as part of the environment because it is our heritage to conquer control and change nature. And if we don’t particularly like a certain part of nature, we just eliminate it.

    So here we are, living in a world that appears to be in a downward spiral (environmentally speaking). We are using our “best” minds and our most advanced technology in order to try to solve this huge (world wide) environmental mess that we find ourselves in. And we are not able to do nearly enough to reverse the damage that has already been done. What do we do? Where do we go? Who do we turn to?

    Ironically, we begin to realize that the indigenous folk where here before us, the same ones that our ancestors road roughshawed over back in the nineteenth century, they might just have the answer that we are looking for.

    And things come “full circle”. We find ourselves trying to learn their ancient sacred methods of living “with” the land. We realize that our technology alone isn’t going to save us, so we struggle to adopt a more environmentally friendly way of life. We begin to take on a more “indigenous” worldview with values that emphasize reverence for all of nature, sharing, cooperation reciprocity, humility and balance with the “others” who are also a part of the environment in which we “must” live.

    As we, descendants of the early European settlers and heirs of the “Colonial Legacy” struggle to come to terms with the dark side of our inheritance, we must also keep in mind that we are not alone in nature. If we take the time and make the effort to listen to what our “indigenous” brothers and sisters have to teach us about our world, I think we might just make it as a civilization. But if we can not do this, then I fear that we are lost.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Ronald. If we had not inherited its legacy, we should indeed be taken aback by the whole idea of colonialism (as you put it, “colonialism, what a concept”).
      The UN declaration took many years to (decades) to pass– so it is hardly surprising that many of us might not know of the declaration that, as you also point out, grants people rights they already have– if, of course, we were treating them with fairness and decency. And if we were treating the cultures that have so much to teach us with respect.
      I think your point about learning from indigenous peoples is not only important because of the pragmatic worth of that ecological knowledge as we struggle to repair our world. It is also important in that if we don’t learn to survive together, we may not survive, if history is any gauge of the self-destruction of any human culture based on violence toward others.

  59. What I thought was most interesting about this essay was the emphasis on diversity in people and the environment plays in indigenous values and actions. It is very sad that much of western culture wants to prescribe one-size-fits-all mentality to interacting with other people as well as our environment. Like the “green revolution gone wrong” in Bangladesh where western agricultural practices were promoted for use in Bangladesh. While the US touts our advanced technological farming techniques involving pesticides, GE crop, and large industrial farming operations, it is interesting that as we have a resurgence of sustainable crop production, many of the sustainable farming techniques were previously used by indigenous peoples, such as crop rotation, cover crops, terracing, and maintaining a natural balance of organisms on the land.

    I have long hoped to have a more community centered way of life incorporating many of the values listed as those of indigenous peoples above. It is likely that these values were part of indigenous culture because many indigenous peoples were very centered around small communities. Growing up in a small town in rural Oregon, I think that many small communities also have many of these values such as sharing, reverence and gratitude, cooperation, maintaining balance on the land, etc.

    • Thanks for another thoughtful contribution to our discussion, Darcy. I think you are pointing out the outlines of successful human communities– when true community is at their heart. The development of such values also have something to do with having a direct experience of the effects of our actions on others.
      I also think that the effective agricultural strategies you mention are created in concert with close observation of the natural world. We could do worse than following models we inherit in ecosystems that took millions of years to evolve.

  60. This is not a subject that many people think about on a daily basis, or even a yearly basis, but infringement on indigenous people’s land is an issue that should be a concern even in America where we tend to believe that everyone lives our technologically saturated lifestyle. Native Americans have struggled with the rights they have on their own reservations for years. They face issues such as who controls the natural resources on their land and the land they “own” is shrinking. Reservations have very high poverty rates and very little funding for education. This essay introduces awareness of indigenous people and the importance of their communities to our society, which is definitely much needed.

    • Thanks for your comment, Emily– thoughtful point that most of us who live a “technologically saturate lifestyle” tend to think others do the same. Can you say a bit more about why this essay indicates more thinking about the indigenous situation is needed?

      • There are many benefits for a general awareness of indigenous people. This essay brings up the point that most people see indigenous peoples lack of technological progress as a deficiency of knowledge (which is untrue). Awareness about the lifestyles of indigenous peoples will give others a broader world view, will eliminate stereotypes and give others a better understanding of our own lives. These benefits can increase communication between our worlds and decrease some of indigenous peoples isolation from the rest of the world which in turn can provide them with resources they may need. An understanding and awareness of their way of life is first needed to prevent others from trying to force their views upon indigenous people.

        • Thanks for the thoughtful follow up, Emily.

        • It is very important for all Canadians, North Americans (and South Americans) to be aware of the historical indigenous human beings and how they lived in balance with nature to what happened to them after European colonization to what modern day indigenous peoples of the last century to present day have had to cope with and strive towards amidst modern day societies and amidst reservation existence.

          Perhaps all modern society needs to allow more learning about how best to create and respect balance in nature while reaping industry from nature. Perhaps all modern day society needs to live more simpler life expectations and devote significant funding to preservation of ecosystems and protected lands for animals only since human encroachment destroys habitats and hastens widespread extinctions of plant, animal and organisms of other kingdoms. We can relate most to large ocean and land animals that are endangered and soon to become extinct. All humans owe nature and future generations to responsibly reap nature and replace it for continuity not extinction.

          The indigenous peoples must be allowed to voice their beliefs and their lands must be protected from the effluent of pollution from industries. They must be allowed to grow and prosper with responsible and competent outside help and become autonomous as well as able to effectively integrate as needed into general populations.

          As a non indigenous Canadian citizen born outside of Canada but having lived most of my life here, I sincerely believe that we all must be fair and respectful of native cultures and allow indigenous cultures to continue with dignity.
          Sincerely and Respectfully,

  61. I was very interested in the part about how the people of Simeulue Island survived the 2004 tsunami when so many in other countries died. I found this article with more information on that.

    It seems that a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the island in 1907 and the story of that tsunami’s devastation has been passed down through the generations. This is why many people knew what was coming when the water around the island’s coasts began receding. It was these people’s tradition of story-telling that helped save so many lives.

    However, the 1907 tsunami did kill thousands of indigenous people on the island, so it wasn’t that the people there had some sort of mystical knowledge of how earthquakes and tsunamis worked. It was more their sense of community with each other and their connection to their past in this case. Only 7 people died out of 75,000 inhabitants on the island. Amazing…

    • Thanks for sharing more information and perspective on this, Roman. As for fishermen in the Indian Ocean who tried to warn the Indian government, they suddenly saw different kinds of fish– deep sea fish driven up by volcanic disturbances in their nets. Other peoples noted the behavior of animals. All very scientific, as you indicate here.

    • This is amazing to hear also. Thanks for sharing the link. It was an interesting read. I find that people these days are so cocky that only their words matter. Especially politicians. They may say one thing, then do another. Listen to others, but react under their own terms to benefit themselves. If only we would hear everyone out, new ideas may come up.
      In the case of the tsunami, I believe that people should believe these indigenous people more and not just brush them off. They could have saved many lives.

      • Indeed this could have saved lives, Will. Another instance of the self-destructive results of racism/colonialism (that causes Western civilization to think it and only it has all the answers.

  62. Interesting article. There is no doubt that Indigenous peoples have a very long and rich history. The facts that Indigenous cultures are estimated to be 36,000 generations old, that Indigenous hunters and gathers cultures make up 99% of the historical human cultures are strongly supportive. In addition, when coupled with the understanding that modern studies say Indigenous knowledge when compared with modern science indicates a comparable validity, that Indigenous peoples’ influence can be seen in the landscape and diversity of California and furthermore traced to the ecological development of the Amazon, it would be hard to argue Indigenous peoples do not represent a strong sense of stewardship with the environment. Their ability to predict events like the 2004 tsunami efficiently and, in the case of Jesus Santos, restore soil fertility and the local water tables of an area previously used for industrialized farming is a clear sign, and perhaps an indication, that Indigenous peoples are very much aware of the environment and are more than capable to help teach us a thing or two!

    What disheartens me, is the fact that Indigenous peoples have been marginalized for so long for economic development and exploitation. The fact that Indigenous peoples make up 90% of the global cultural diversity in 2009, however, displays two things. First, the modern world has grown smaller with globalization and, unfortunately, ‘McDonaldization’ has resulted in the loss of and/or the homogenization of most of the global world cultures. Second, at 90% and a dwindling population, Indigenous peoples have portray a strong commitment to their ancient traditions and way of life.

    Unfortunately, Indigenous peoples, much like much of the world population living at or around ‘absolute poverty’ are now increasingly becoming the target to international and multinational resource exploitation/ extraction abuse. The fact the WTO allows international companies to exploit a populations resources and, furthermore, the UNEP and UN can not, or does not want to, help protect the Indigenous peoples in their fight against poachers, oil, mining, and logging companies. Passing a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is useless, unless you make it hard law, aka legally binding, aka has an amendment or provides funding for enforcement. Yes, it is encouraging to see groups like Survival International, Amnesty International, the World Wildlife Fund, and other small, local, micro-loaning banks listen to the plight of the poor and help them alleviate poverty, but equal in weight are the discouraging non-action by the developed world, ENGOs, NGOs, and largely Western Society.

    In conclusion, Indigenous people have proven to be strong environmental stewards historically and even today are still fighting to preserve and protect not only their land and resources, but ‘our’, as human, land and water. Hopefully, increased international publicity covering the troubles Indigenous peoples are encountering and increased access to a legal system and terminology like ‘Pachamama ” will help the recovering Indigenous populations of the world to help protect their land and preserve their culture and their particular lands.

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, James. You have a great perspective and balance in this response, in terms of the historical stance of indigenous peoples with respect to their lands, to the ways in which they have worked for all of us in protecting the land and water that is a legacy of an interdependent earth– and the need to honor their lifeways and survival today. The WTO policies are inexcusable: any time economic policy is legislated by a tribunal behind closed doors mandating that no state or nation can “interfere” with money making, you have some ethical dilemmas. I am thinking of the WTOs negating of the Massachusetts boycott on products from Myranmar as long their genocidal policies were in place as an example. The US and the international community certainly need an approach that applies rationality in protecting the human and natural rights that will sustain our species (see “attending to the whole” here) rather than holding international corporations to a minimal human rights and environmental standards.
      An important thing Indigenous peoples do for is modeling how humans have and still can do better.
      Thanks again for your comment.

      • “An important thing Indigenous peoples do for is modeling how humans have and still can do better.”

        This statement was really, really poignant to me, Professor Holden.

        Indigenous peoples’ alignment with nature is something so profound and transcends the normal lives of westerners, governed by our televisions, work schedules, and RSS feeds. I am one of these people, taking orders from my work schedules, trying to fit in Law & Order on Wednesday nights, buying an increased battery case for my iPhone because I have to make so many daily calls for work and my other obligations. I want to be liberated from these things, one day. I am so busy, between work, school, family, etc., that I do not get to enjoy nature the way I would dream to. Not these days, anyway.

        Reciprocity seems to be a common theme amongst indigenous peoples and this is a view that I think should be more widely held. I say this as my little four-week-old fuzzy baby Milton sits on my lap and purrs to his heart’s content. I know that by taking care of Milton, he’s helping take care of me. Purring is one of his methods of helping take care of his caretakers, and I love him for giving me that effort ( They symbiotic relationship many indigenous people have with their environment is astounding to me and something I would love to incorporate into my own life further.

        • Thanks for your comment, Crystal. Reciprocity is a central values among many indigenous peoples, indeed, among all world religious tenets as well. Think how much we lose out on if we never give to other lives.

  63. This is a very interesting article. The first piece of information that really stood out to me was the fact that indigenous people must take a “bi-cultural” stance; the key word being must. Even though the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides some factual support to today’s indigenous populations the fact remains that the pure lifestyle that their ancestors created and flourished with is no more. Unfortunately, financial resources have a clear correlation to power in the world we live in. As noted in the essay, indigenous communities have financial resources equal to or even less than Third World nations puts them at a severe disadvantage in terms of acquiring sufficient rights. Dr. Holden’s comparison of the environment impact between a member of an indigenous community and a member of an industrialized nation (two dozen times) was staggering. This is a clear indication that the lifestyle in an indigenous community, with the lack most modern technologies, is simply much more efficient than the way life we as industrialized citizens know. Just because there is an easier way, doesn’t make it a better way. Simply going over the list of characteristics common in an indigenous society, such as “sharing, cooperation and reciprocity”; it’s hard to refute the fact that the world would be a much better place if all societies practiced the same standards.

    • Hi Khurram, thanks for your comment. Though indigenous peoples have been pressured to undergo considerable change, I would not go so far as to say that “there lifestyle is no more”. Certainly, their own cultures are maintained in their bi-cultural stances. And sometimes, that bi-culturalism has led to a critique of modern society–and a return to an alternative. You have an essential point in the efficiency of indigenous lives in the “cost” to earth’s resources. And I think your last point about values is especially well taken.
      Shows some very careful reading and thoughtful response here.

  64. This was a nice article to read over. It really gave me perspective on indigenous people and how much they are worth. And from what I read, they are valuable. Not only in knowledge but as people. They hold such valuable information in science and medicine that I believe we should hear them out more often and not just brush them away. I am asian, and my parents are firm believers in Eastern herbal medicines. Sometimes I would call it crazy, but we have been seeing an herbal doctor for my sister for 3 years now and I can truly say I have seen improvement to her health. It may take long, and it may be expensive. But I feel if your going to do it quick fix. It is eventually going to break down.
    What you said about patents and claiming knowledge and information that belongs rightfully to these people is wrong. Using others for your own self gain in wealth is wrong and should be cracked down upon.
    When greed and money hungry people do things, most of the time things turn out bad for someone. The clear example is the salmon run. Living in the Northwest, I have a fond connection to the salmon who I find strong spirits. The determination and will power these fishes have are amazing. So when power hungry people come and hunt these fishes, or build dams and other things on the river that harm these fishes I find is wrong. We should respect these animals habitats and not just run in there and build things. I am sure there are other places to build things. If the indigenous people can hurt the salmon several times a season and still maintain a healthy population of the fish, I feel that these people should be in charge of our hunting regulations.

    • Hi Will, I am glad you liked this. Thanks for sharing your example about Asian herbal medicine. It is true indeed that a quick fix often “breaks down” (or causes dangerous side effects); interesting point that our worldview looks for such instant fixes in medicine as well as economics.
      Important point about using others for our own gain. I love your image of the strong spirits– determination and will power– of the salmon. This is something many indigenous peoples saw traditionally– and still see today. In terms of having indigenous peoples exert leadership roles in protecting the salmon, that is exactly what they are doing in the very successful Columbia River Intertribal Fishing Commission. (You can check out their website from our “links” page).
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment; I appreciate your comparisons with your own cultural background.

  65. I have always been interested in learning more about the indigeous people. This article showed me how much these people through and how they are still fighting today to keep what is rightfully theirs. I hope to one day experince life they way do and help in any way I can. Their vast knowledge of life itself inspires. We can so much for them, but our leaders always seem to push it aside. I used to work with a holistic veternarian. She used chinese herbal medicine to help the pets with the healing process. I was amazed at how effective it really was. Believe it or not, she also preformed acupuntuncture on some of her patients. It just goes to show yopu how much aborginal people truely know.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kimberly. Since acupuncture is an approved practice accepted by many modern insurers, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on animals as well as humans. In fact, it efficacy is a good test, since it does away with the placebo effect in experiments (people’s minds making them better because they think they will get better– though there is certainly nothing wrong with this effect– no side effects, for instance).
      It is about time we worked with more earth-friendly (not to mention), human friendly medicine. It sounds like you had a very interesting experience with the vet.

  66. I found this essay to be very interesting because i am in Australia at the moment and i recently visited the Northern Territory. Northern Territory has a very high indigenous population. I found the essay talked about indigenous people not having a lot of material items and money, however in this region in my personal experience, they will rob anyone they can for money. Clearly this is not indicative of all aboriginal australians, however, in this area it seems they may have been forced into this lifestyle. As you drive along the roads they inhabit the tree areas called “Bush” on the sides of the road, and the weather there is unbearable, and is getting worse due to global warming. I agree that they are environmentally active, they run many conservation parks and wildlife areas that are considered the outback. It was a very interesting wake up call for me to be reading this and visiting an area with an indigenous people at the same time and I found that this particular population was suffering because of technology.

    • Thanks for your comment Sarah. Pioneer writings in the area where I worked emphasized that one could leave anything out without the local native peoples touching it. Cultures are different, but I would consider not only the pressure from without here, but the fact that to honor property rights might take some cultural adjustment on the part of people who traditionally share everything.
      It sounds like there is much to see there; I know that Grandma Aggie (Takelma Siletz chair of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers) was struck with the growing lack of water in the places she traveled– as in the outback. A bit of an irony that what we call “private property” entails such things as the water and air we all need to survive.

    • Hi Sarah,
      It is interesting that you commented: “in this region in my personal experience, they will rob anyone they can for money. Clearly this is not indicative of all aboriginal australians, however, in this area it seems they may have been forced into this lifestyle.” I agree with you that they may have been forced into this lifestyle. We, as developed nations, have drawn so many under privileged nations to our capitalistic world. For example, El Salvador, Ecuador, Marshall Islands and many other nations use U.S. dollar as their main currency (some are official). I cannot imagine how much of confusion(inflation, cost of living and etc.) this change may have caused to the people who are not interested in investing money to the stock market, harvesting interests and stocking up gold when the price goes down.

      • Very thoughtful perspective: shows much sensitivity to cultural differences, YunJi. The combination of this type of sensitivity with your engineering background should make you capable of some very important work in your chosen area of care for water resources!

  67. A part of this essay that interested me the most was the discussion of stereotypes that hinder indigenous people from being recognized as being part of a society as intelligent as modern day societies. The knowledge that indigenous cultures possess represent what is important for their survival and cannot be compared to our societies technological advancements at face value. I was also intrigued by the comparison of hunter-gather cultures to agriculturally centralized cultures. It is an assumption that societies that use agricultural practices are more advanced than cultures that do not. The fact that these indigenous cultures have been around for so many generations should be proof of their intellectual worth.

    • Thanks for sharing this very thoughtful perspective on these points, Emily. As you indicate, it is very important to look at actual human interactions (and staying power) with respect to environmental choices– as opposed to sticking to a stereotype of “progress” that is only defined as what we ourselves do.

    • Emily, I agree with you. Could you imagine if you were to go and live with an indigenous group? I think it would be rather eye-opening for the rest of the world. I also think that it would be a good thing to learn. I believe that we would have excellent values and better outlooks on other cultures if we were to live in these groups.

      • There is an interesting (and popularized) article in the latest National Geographic written by a man who spent a very short time with a hunter-gatherer people in Africa for the sake of writing about them (since they have one of the only remaining lifestyles of this type left). It points out some of the things both you and Emily bring up: the solid values like sharing in that society– none of the people he spent time with can see any point at all in entering our culture and/or becoming developed (in fact, they argue they would lose the inherent freedom in their way of life). Further, the author does not do very well being dropped in the middle of their lifeway, as he finds it very difficult to adapt to the life (just from a physical point of view) that he has not been raised in– which others are good at, like finding trails, for instance.
        And I have read a full book from another man who has spent years with these same people that indicates how shallow a view developed from a short stay can be.
        Thanks for your comments.

        • What book was it? I can see how he can say that actually. It is almost like saying, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I hope to travel to a country that is mostly of Hispanic Culture so that I can soak in everything they have to offer someday as Spanish is my second language.

        • It is James Stephenson, The Language of the Land, about living with the Hadzabe people.

      • Agreed Jennifer, living with an indigenous group would be a worthy experience. I found it intriguing, in the article, to learn that the indigenous people of Ecuador have a term “pachamama”, which related to the sacred life-giving qualities of nature. This sounds similar to the “waq’adyswit” term used by the Sahaptin-speaking people, of the mid-Columbia River (who we learned about in the “Biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest” article). This goes to show, that while cultures might have different exterior appearances and/or customs, some of their intrinsic environmental values can be very similar.

        • Hello Leah, there are many similar values among indigenous peoples, as sketched in the “worldviews” there: though the cultures of indigenous peoples are as diverse as peoples on earth, humans living in unstratified earth-centered societies (the majority of them since we have been human), all tend to form partnerships with the natural world if they have survived for any length of time (thousands of years rather than the few hundred that is the maximum for “civilized” societies).

  68. I feel that the indigenous people should have rights. These tribes should also have a hand in management of resources if it is feasible. Where I live the tribes are buying back the land that was once theirs with salmon mitigation funds. They still have hunting rights on federal managed lands. They are consulted when land management activities are being done on federal land. I know it is not like that everywhere. The exploitation of natural resources around the world shows that. The balance these people have with nature is from years and generations of trial and error. These are passed on from generation to generation. That’s where the customs of the indigenous people come from.
    I think biocultural diversity starts with understanding nature. . Understanding other cultures to yours can help you learn from other cultures. Understanding nature and how it affects you can help you understand how you can help nature. This has been shown by indigenous people all over the world. They can read nature and take action to help nature or move to greener fields. In the case of the Indian tribes in Indonesia and the fishermen in India they could tell of impending doom of the tsunami before it even happened, just by watching nature.

    • I find it heartening that tribes are using their funds to buy land that their ancestors cared for, I agree that we still have much to learn from observing the natural world–and from those who learned to live in concert with it in thousands of years of “trial and error”– many of the lessons learned this way can be found in traditional native stories. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Hi Robert I agree that to have bicultural diversity we need to learn from the indigenous people in their cultures and how they respect nature. They have by trial and error found ways to survive and prosper with nature. Although I think it would be hard for our society today to adapt to their culture we defiantly can learn from it. I think it is very sad that the indigenous people have to buy back their land that has been their ancestors for thousands of years.

      • There is some great sadness, indeed, Christi, in the treatment that native peoples have had to face in the wake of colonialism–and substantial hope in the ability of all of us to learn from one another.

  69. This reminds me of the documentary called “Babies”. It is about a few different cultures and their babies and raising them and how they do it. All cultures do things differently. Some preserve and for most that is how they have to do it because they don’t know any other way and don’t have the money or technology to do it the way us in America do. I also remember another movie about these indigenous people in Australia that were taken from their land, what they are used to. The men were taken away to work hard labor and the children were taken away from the mothers and put in camps where they had to learn the white way. The kids would always try and escape. The women didn’t have a say in anything and were basically left on the land to die because there wasn’t any use for them. If I find out the movie, I highly recommend watching it as it is quite interesting. Before taking classes such as this I had no idea really how bad things are around the world because it is mostly kept off the local news stations. I think that news everywhere is important and should be broadcasted. We need to do what we can to preserve and help in any way we can. It is very heartwarming to hear that people will do what they can to preserve their culture no matter what they have to do. I’m swedish and I know this doesn’t say for much but my family keeps getting passed down the land back in Sweden where our ancestors came from. I have yet to go and visit there and hope to before I die.

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. Are you missing something here– I can’t tell what is “preserved”?
      I did wish this essay to document ways that native have sophisticated technologies of their own. They are making choices instead of doing things because they have to and have no other way (the essay meant to counter this stereotype about peoples who do not share modern technology). Can you see this here?
      Boarding schools, as well as “removal” policies in general are certainly tragedies everywhere. It is sad that the idea that land is for our use parallels the idea that indigenous peoples are also for our use–as in the case of slave labor you give here.
      Preserving your people’s culture (as in your own case) means preserving your family and community–and also being able to learn from your past. Thanks for your comment.

  70. Perhaps “preserved” wasn’t the right word I was looking for.

  71. This article was an insightful description of many of the facts that surround indigenous peoples living in our world today. Much of what was presented was entirely new for me. I am not sure that I really realized just how amazing these people are. This point is made movingly by providing a framework that shows; not only how (pre-industrial) indigenous populations have been surviving on our planet far longer than their industrialized counterparts, I think the fact was 36,000 generations as opposed to seven, but also by the preponderance of examples that sight native populations’ abilities to provide sustenance, but also in their abilities to flourish. I think that this point is clearly made when the author cites the statistic about the percentage of biodiversity Indigenous peoples are responsible for maintaining, “Today Indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” Seeing that this is fact, shows that Native People are having no problems when it comes to maintaining our Earth’s health. Also, the second part of this quote leads me to a second point that I wanted to make.

    This point stems from the development of the vision of Western culture as being very: Brutal, Harsh, Stubborn, Stiff, Rigid, and One Way. This is evident in our landscapes and machinery. It has only taken us 7 generations to “Beat” our Earth into submission. She has said mercy, and that’s the only way it can be done according to our Mantra. The Earth is a “wildness” that has to be tamed. And under this framework it is easy to see why people would believe that if equipment and lifestyles are not immediately invasive on the Natural Environment, or loud and obstructive…then they Must Not be effective. Naturally, by standards invented to combat, why would you be able to believe in working in harmony with nature? Here in lies the problem with this type thinking. There are many roads to the same point, and not allowing the evidence to represent itself is a failure by the decision maker. Facts don’t lie and Indigenous peoples “do it” better. What do we want? Instead of fighting it… and allowing our failed logic to lead us even further into environmental and spiritual degradation, we need to make a better choice and abandon our failing ideologies. Rise to the occasion of a new day.

    That is why I enjoyed the last section of this article that detailed the different movements that International Organizations, as well as the Indigenous populations, have begun. This is important to note because often too much is the result that problems surfacing as low as “ideology” often seem gargantuan in size, and there undertaking of particular difficulty; however, from reading the many examples the Author provided…it is easy to see that something should, and is, being done. And if you want to help…get involved! Indigenous peoples rock, and they can show us how to roll!

    • Thanks for expressing your personal passion and care as well as insight in this response, Shana. As you point out, “beating” the sources of our own survival is not a very effective strategy if we want to remain around as a species for long. Though we think to conquer, in fact, we are in the end only beating up ourselves.
      I too find inspiration in the change being created by so many: there is much grief in the environmental losses and violence in our contemporary world– we truly need one those who commit themselves to change in this way.

  72. One thing that really struck me in this article was the paragraph that talked about science and indigenous peoples. The native people predicted the 2004 tsunami and prepared for it? That is amazing to me. With all our technology and science, it is those who know the land well and appreciate it that really can listen and understand the patterns and natural flows of the area.

    • There is much local knowledge that is sometimes discounted because it cannot be quantified (see the essay that talks of the Nova Scotia cod fishery here: “standing in front of speeding trains…” But there are also many contemporary scientists who are beginning to take holistic approaches such as the listening and appreciation of nature you express here.

    • Hi Samantha,
      Once I was at a conference in Denver, CO. I met a peace core volunteer who had been in a village somewhere in Kenya for ten years at that time (I am not sure if he is still there or transfered). He told me a story of a particular type of crop his village members loved. One year, a team of researchers from one of the state universities came to the town to experiment on different types of crops that will suit the best for the village soil condition and its surrounding areas as well. They wanted to do a very complicated type of experiment where they wanted a nursery for the crops and they wanted to monitor it everyday also. Of course, they failed after a year, they had to go home. The following year, a local farmer who participated in the research as the grower of several kinds of crops, planted the leftover seeds from the previous year’s research. He continued to grow the ones survived each year. Nine years later, 80% crop farming area in that region were growing this particular type of crop the farmer provided to his village members. Over the years, he gave a little to his neighbors, friends, family members and people from other towns. Amazing? I feel that we are missing out a lot as a result of rapid development.

  73. This essay is a great example of how much I don’t know about the world! I found the discussion on indigenous populations very interesting and sad at the same time. The article points out how indigenous populations have been doing the ‘environmentalism’ thing right for thousands of years, and things such as the industrial revolution have screwed it all up in a short time frame! Our ‘modern’ society seems to paint a picture that these populations are primitive and poor, but in reality, they possess more knowledge, wealth, and health then we could hope to have. Examples such as the Salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest really stand out to me. Our ‘modern’ fishing fleets are rapidly depleting the populations of salmon, killing the ecosystem, and not even catching a SEVENTH of the fish that the indigenous populations were catching for thousands of years!!! These facts really annoy me because if our society would only listen and even model the knowledge of the indigenous populations once and a while, the world would be a better place. The essay points out that our modern technology attempts to control the environment instead of working with the environment and for the environment. This hits the nail on the head for me because as I think about our hydroelectric dams, farming methods, soil use, natural mineral extraction, and many other examples, I think about how we use technology to control instead of work with the earth. The essay focuses on how indigenous populations focus their efforts on reciprocity, and how we could use a little humility in our dealings with the natural world…so true.

    • Very thoughtful response, Brad. It is time that we looked at the real facts here instead of holding to our stereotype of “progress” as a license to ravage the environment that support us for the (short-term) benefit of a few. I concur that we could use a little humility in the modern world– perhaps it might help us to open our eyes before the environmental crises we are creating do so for us. Thanks for your comment.

  74. I find it amazing how far we have come in such a small amount of time. That only 7 out of 36,000 generation have lived in what we now call civilization. Along with the pace that our high-tech society and technology flows comes a greater responsibility to ensure that we don’t loose ourselves or anything else in this whirlwind of our own making. I think it is easy to for people to get wrapped up in the new and in what we call progress that we seldom take a step back and ask ourselves if we are better because of it. Sure, I like having my high-speed internet and my wife loves her Facebook app but I don’t think either of us can remember the names of the people that live to the left and right of us. Although I have nobody to blame but my wife for this the concept of it is commonplace in this new and improved civilization.I’m not saying that I would prefer to live in the multi-family ceder longhouse as the Salish. I must admit though, they would know if they had a terrorist living next to them before I would. In comparison with the closeness that they had compared with to what most people have today I think they were safer and more cohesive that I can imagine us being.Unfortunately, I believe a large portion of people look down on indigenous people seeing them as nonconformists or ignorant due to lack of education. The examples of the early warning of the 2004 tsunami and the work done by Jesus Leon Santos shed light on the idea that they don’t get the credit they deserve and that maybe our methods aren’t always the best. In the very least examples such as these should tell us the value of preserving the indigenous population’s way of life and seeing how we can learn from it.

    • I like your descriptive term concerning modern technology, “whirlwind of our own making”– and the balance in your comment, Phillip. I think it impossible to return to a past way of life–and inappropriate to try to assume another people’s culture. But I also think that it is important to build bridges– and to modify our values to allow us to learn from human knowledge that may not be exactly like ours, but has been successful. And to build such bridges we will not only need respect for other human ways of life-and other species, but we will need to understand how interdependent we all are. Thanks for your comment.

  75. Last Fall, I took a class called “Sustainable Engineering.” In this class, we talked about societies in different development stages and the common problems accruing in the process of development. During the discussion I encountered the engineering stand point of view towards the “developing nations.” The concerns for engineers in the process of sustainable development are mainly focused on indigenous countries and their population growth which will pick in the year 2050. A lot of times we talked about feeding the population and building the infrastructure that will serve 9 billion people in 40 years. We reached the conclusion that we are going to have the challenge our life style dramatically in the next a few decades otherwise we will not be able to exist as happy human beings, which I agreed. However, I was frustrated the fact that the engineers (including myself) look at this world as a problem to be solved without care to consider each individual’s and nation’s uniqueness’ and their rights to exist as who they are.
    Wouldn’t this be the modern day “colonialism and globalization” as you mentioned in the essay? We often ask these indigenous nations to join the green movement with us. If not, we consider them as if they are in capable of demonstrating their respect for the mother nature and they lack the technology and education to develop sustainably. In fact, they have been living the life of green movement all this time, and the educated people like us are the ones who have not been able to join the club till today. It is great that there are organizations like UN and ICCA who are speaking up for indigenous societies.

    • Thanks for sharing the insightful perspective, YunJi. I agree with you: do you know about “engineers without borders”? You might well find some like minded folks there. When development takes place in ignorance of native cultures– and sometimes becomes exploitative (often unconsciously) causing unemployment and hunger, Vandana Shiva calls it “maldevelopment”. The main point is that changing others to our way is not an automatic good: we need to analyze what that development means and creates in each context. As the essay here, the Green Revolution– Whoops! on Bangladesh, technology is not always “one size fits all”–and in fact, much damage is done by overlooking place specific characteristics–and knowledge of these held by native peoples.
      You have a very important point indeed here, YunJi.

  76. In grade school we learn about “colonialism”, about the Native Americans and the Pilgrims and their happy Thanksgiving. And this idea of colonialism only gets more complicated as the years go on. However, I feel that most Americans, and most of western society for that matter, feel more secure, or better about themselves, perceiving colonialism as a long-departed evil, as a closed chapter in history that has no concern with current events. But this essay is proof that sociopolitical, cultural and environmental manifestations of “colonialism”, injustice and stereotyping continue to shape relations between native peoples and others. Western society tends to illustrate indigenous populations as simple and primitive. But in reality, the fast paced society that rules the western world just does not understand the indigenous way of life; internet, cable, iPads, iPhones, cell phones and Kinnect have not left any room for the enjoyment of natural beauty. But mostly, for the concern for the environment and mother nature. This may be a gross generalization, but for now, it is my opinion.

    • Hi Katie, thanks for your response. Good point about the continuation of the legacy of colonialism. And for a sense of the relationships between native Americans and pioneers in the Pacific Northwest that acknowledges the contributions of the former to the survival of the latter, see this post here.

  77. What I see as central in the problem of bridigng the gap and reuniting indigigenous cultures with the land they co-evolved with, is in getting the Western mind and its management strategies to accept non-linear, non-scientific approaches to interacting with environments that are equally valid. Particularly if we are attempting to manage for loss of biodiversity, it would be best to look to those who had an impat on the landscape historically. Having recently spent time in Hawai’i, and in exploring its history, I realized that the paleological record shows that while Polynesians as well as Europeans induced reductions in biodiversity, increased diversity among particular species in the indigenous agricultural cultivation of various fruits and vegetables.

    • Hi Amanda, thanks for your comment. You will interested to take a look at the essay documenting biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest, which addresses the biodiversity you bring up here. With respect to the case in particular areas of Polynesia, time frames are important to consider. At least two native American authors and many, many folktales of indigenous peoples indicate that when they were “newcomers” to an area, they made mistakes they had rather not repeat.
      Note that there are other Pacific Islands indigenous traditions that worked to increase diversity. I wonder how your own work in Hawaii relates to the essay here on “Partnership and its Contrasts in Hawaii”–and the research being done on indigenous agriculture there. Jared Diamond documents the striking success of farming in New Guinea in this regard in his Collapse (the indigenous peoples in New Guinea being a counter example to other stratified “civilizations” more like our modern one than those long term residents of particular areas termed “indigenous” by the UN protocol).
      On the important issue of bridging the gap between indigenous and scientific worldviews, I will be looking for your response to Suzuki and Knudtson on this point. I find it hopeful that much modern science (especially in ecology) is changing its “management” strategies- or at least there are critiques developed by these that offer alternatives– as a number of reading on this site indicate. You might especially be interested in seeing the interview with Dean Bavington on the CBC’s “How to think about science series”.

  78. Professor Holden,

    It is always humbling to see how far those of us in the Industrialized world have gotten from our environment. sure we can visit parks, and countries with vast expanses, but I wonder if that truly impacts our decision make. How many people living in our modern world understand where their food comes from and the environmental impact of processing and shipping the food so that we can conveniently snatch them off the shelves. I wonder when I over hear folks discussing environmental issues at a restaurant, coffee shop, or in line somewhere if they truly want to protect and preserve these natural resources, the indigenous people who inhabit these areas, and the biodiversity that thrives in these places, or do they just want to save the polar bears.

    You mentioned the San and Bantu co-exisiting and thriving on the plains of Africa, while all the while holding strong values of preserving and conserving this place they have called home for thousands of years. I was searching but couldn’t find if there is any help by way of an ICCA helping the Massai as they try to cling to their indigenous grazing lands. The Massai are great example to other cattle growers of responsible grazing, only letting their cattle graze at certain times of the day and year, rotating pastures, and thinning of their herds when there is not enough resources to be found.

    I also wonder about displaced indigenous people, the most evident being Native Americans. I wonder while they still are connected to the earth, and believe they are truly a part of the earth, do they still feel the connection and sense of conservation and responsible utilization of their reservations even if it is not their original indigenous lands?

    I have seen some examples of it being so here in Northern Arizona with the Navajo Nation and Uranium mining. The Navajo had no say in the mining of uranium on their reservation (which is not where they originate from). However, I don’t believe it was until local residents near these mines, and the subsequent run off, began getting sick that they fought the mines. I wonder if this is because they felt as though they had no voice.

    While the Navajo Nation is not the Navajo peoples indigenous land, simply having this land made into a reservation has for the most part preserved and protect the land and all of it’s biodiversity. To this day many Navajo, Gila, and Pima Native Americans still live in homes that mirror their ancestors. While some now are appointed with modern amenities, it is the shape and positioning of the home that keeps a close tie to tradition, in tern to the land itself.

    People such as Jesus Leon Santos are a modern example of using ‘indigenous technologies’ to repair what ‘industrial technologies’ have done to the environment. It appears that he has done this with great success, and it would be amazing if many others could learn by his example.

    • Thank you for your comment, Carrie. This is obviously a topic to which you have given some thought. You give excellent reminders that if we truly feel we are a part of the natural world, then this should lead to our responsibility to the rest of nature– including other humans.
      The history of native peoples in the US is very complex (as you likely know already).

      One might look at the issue of uranium mining in several dimensions: first, the Navajo share the problems of environmental racism with poor communities or those of people of color, who have little opportunity to battle such toxic sitings with political and economic clout– or even, if this case, information. There are still a number of areas on the Navajo reservation where Navajo is the first and major language.

      Secondly, during the first gas and oil crises (remember the gas shortage that went on a few decades back), geographical locations of potential energy sources were designated by the (Republican) presidential administration as “national sacrifice areas”. This meant national need trumped local choice– and tragically, but not surprisingly, most of these designation “sacrifice areas” were on Indian Reservations.

      To add to the mix, there was the placement of natural resources on reservations into BIA “trusts” over which local residents had little say. I have previously mentioned the problems with logging under BIA auspices at Quinault. In Oklahoma, the federal government trustees “lost” millions of dollars for oil lease monies on local reservations–and still claim they just can’t find the money for drilling processes that ravaged the local environment and tribal communities. A powerful fictionalized account of this process is Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirits.

      If that isn’t enough, there is the governmental structures on reservations– by which tribes agreed to develop “democratic” processes (representative governments) with which to deal with the US. The problem was that representative governments did not fit with traditional consensual governments of tribal peoples and often (though not always) caused considerable dissension within tribes as those on the outskirts of their cultures (most likely to be in touch with mainstream culture) “led”– sometimes with graft and bribery involved. There were such problems in at least one incarnation of the Navajo tribal council that sold oil and uranium leases– a good proportion of traditionalists and elders boycotted the council altogether and had nothing to do with it.

      Add to this problems like extreme poverty and three generations of forced attendance at boarding schools (the federal government’s attempt to assimilate younger natives by breaking their links with their elders), it is amazing that native peoples have any community or cultural solidarity left.

      This, of course, only touches the surface: there is also the lack of research on the dangers of uranium in the US scientific community until relatively recently.

      As for the Massai: I thought I saw something in a UN program that related to them. You might check our links for UN indigenous peoples program.

  79. It seems that the indigenous societies had it right from the beginning, and we have been deteriorating nature slowly with our technological advances since the industrial revolution. The manner in which indigenous people conduct their life should be respected and honored. Without these indigenous populations speaking up for their environment, there would be a lot more damage to many bio diverse areas. Many points were stated that emphasized the fact that indigenous techniques are just as knowledgeable as modern techniques. I think there is a strong stigma associated with indigenous societies and their tools and skills being much less intelligent than that of modern techniques. Yet the article points out that modern techniques cannot work on any type of environment, and has actually caused damage to multiple indigenous populations. My concern is that the reason we are so fond of technological advantages is because of the efficiency associated with them. I’m wondering if we can live in a modern society and still be able to maintain a sustainable environment, or must we all live as the indigenous societies do in order to reach our overall goal?
    I am proud that the ICCA is protecting many of our bio diverse lands, and even more proud of the people that occupy those areas. “Nature as a teacher” is something I pulled out of this article and will hold with me when making decisions regarding the environment, and my personal impact upon it. The worldview of these people is something that is hard for many westerners to fathom, myself included. Yet, I think with a little education and understanding, we can all respect and appreciate the amount of value that the indigenous populations place on their environment, and strive toward treating the land as we treat ourselves.

    • Thoughtful points here, Melinda. I think we need to define what “advanced” (or “intelligent”) and backward really mean–and develop respect for ancestral humans. Surely, we cannot afford to lose any knowledge of our environment that will allow us to navigate the crises we now face. I would very much like to see indigenous values such as partnership guiding our technological choices, for instance.

  80. Certainly the ability of Native people to have survived and lived off the land for thousands of years has been over-looked by our modern Western culture. But in order to learn from them, we have to respect them. Our recent past tells of all the atrocities we have committed towards indigenous people. If you follow people like John Trudell and his fight with his people to just gain equality; it’s an eye opener to how much lack of respect and consideration our society gives these people.

    And yet there are clear differences in how successful their sustainable practices are succeeding, compared with our society’s consumption practices. For instance, in Northern Wisconsin, the Menominee people own and manage a large timber area that is surrounded by National Forest. Both log the land but the Menominee cut selectively, while the company the Forest Service leases too will cut whole parcels of land. You can see the difference just by using Google Maps as the green forest line defines Menominee land from the bare and brown Forest Service land.

    • Nice points, Dawn: I do think that learning from others and respecting them are interwoven, as you indicate. I think feeling that we need to learn from someone also engenders respect for them as well.
      Interesting perspective on the mapping– something our technology allows us to see. In fact, the Menominee are pioneers in sustainable hardwood logging. They have managed their forests in this way for over a century–and there is now more total board feet of lumber in that forest than there was when they began a hundred years ago.
      I find hope in the sustainable logging that local independent loggers are pioneering in Oregon as well– though we need more of this, just like we need more diverse small scale farms instead of “factory farms”.

  81. As someone who values indigenous knowledge (if for no other reason than to show us what we as industrialized people are doing wrong), I sincerely hope that those people in danger of losing their identity to the extinction of their people are indeed doing all things possible to re-populate. I like to think of it this way: We, as modern industrial humans have been responsible for the extinction or decline of numerous species of plants and animals around the world. I believe this was due in large part to the ignoring of indigenous warnings and outcries against the detrimental practices of my immediate ancestors. So, who is to stop the further decimation of natural spaces and species if those with the inherited knowledge [that what we are doing is wrong] also disappear?

    Also, I think that if people could better understand their impacts on the world like indigenous people do, it would be a great step in someday valuing more what the Earth can provide over time and less how much money can be made immediately by unchecked over harvest/overuse.

    You mentioned the indigenous people of Nigeria fighting oil exploitation by Chevron. I recently had this topic expounded upon by a local tribesman in Lagos. He said something like this, “The land [there] has been abused for so long that it no longer can sustain its people. Nigeria’s citizens are emigrating rapidly, looking for new land that can still provide. To that effect, the people who cannot afford to move are reliant upon the governments of other nations (including the U.S.) to provide support because there are only two classes left in Nigeria–those with connections to the oil industry (and therefor money), and those without.” [paraphrased] He went on to say that the people are so used to handouts that when they see a Caucasian, they automatically assume that person has something to give them.

    It was sad, but true. I wonder what the indigenous people of past generations would think of their people now, living in a fruitless land on the handouts of the same people who helped destroy it.

    • Thanks for sharing some excellent perspective here, Gabe. I appreciate your seconding the point on population replacement here– especially given the knowledge that we might well share with those who have had such longstanding sustainable relationships with their land. A sad and ironic story you paint indeed of the situation in Nigeria. I am heartened by Wangari Maathai’s work in Kenya–her organization is responsible for replanting millions of trees to reclaim the land. One step at a time, it seems that there is always a way to reclaim the land, though perhaps not quickly enough to feed those who much subsist on denuded land.

    • Hi Gabriel,
      You asked, “So, who is to stop the further decimation of natural spaces and species if those with the inherited knowledge [that what we are doing is wrong] also disappear?”

      I would have to say it’s up to all of us. As codified in 1964, designated wilderness would be managed to preserve its “natural conditions.” Visionary moves such as the Wilderness Act are obtainable elsewhere. These islands of wilderness need to expand as does the appreciation for them.

  82. I feel there is so much that we as Western society can learn from indigenous people all over. I learned a lot from this essay. I had no idea that the Simeulue Island peoples in Indonesia forecasted the tsunami in 2004. I found this so amazing. It is hard to imagine all of the lives that could have been saved if knowing before was common knowledge. It is hard to believe that people such as Wangari Maathai and Felipe Arreaga Sanchez were imprisoned and beaten for doing something as simple as protecting forests. Should we really be punishing people like the Suri who had to face violence because they were protecting forests from illegal logging? Weren’t they just doing the right thing and following the law? I found it interesting and almost amusing that the UNESCO report offered two explanations either the indigenous cultures completely destroyed the land or they had no effect at all. I think this might come down to lack of knowledge or lack of interest in learning about this type of lifestyle. Stereotypes are created through society and are usually a result of little knowledge on the topic. As the essay pointed out – being able to obtain the skills needed to hunt and gather takes a significant understand of the land and the ecosystem. Considering indigenous people have lived successfully on the land for so many years, without taking more than necessary; and our current environmental issues we as society face, isn’t it time to look at other solutions possibly including altering our Western lifestyles?

    • I agree that there is so much to learn from indigenous peoples. Not only did the Simeulue Island peoples in Indonesia forecast the tsunami they WARNED authorites that it was coming. Maybe it’s time for many of us to practice some humility. For some reason it is hard for us to listen to or learn from our mistakes. This is a good example. Much of our culture is rooted in greed and personal interest. It is discomforting and tragic to hear what people will do to desperately hold on to materialistic values.

      • It is discomforting to see people holding on to such materialistic values– especially when they are acting so destructively in terms of others, Emily. I have the great fortune to be able to have students like yourself and Ellie and others in this class who not only see things differently, but put those differences into action.

    • Hi Ellie, thanks for your careful reading and thoughtful comments. Just one small correction: the UNESCO report only stated these stereotypes in order to counter them. Obviously, as you indicate, something is radically wrong with social and economic systems that punish those who care for the land and reward those who punish these for the sake of short term profits. I think there is something to be said for lack of interest in understanding that fosters stereotypes of indigenous lifestyles: unfortunately, there is too often something more negative here: the licensing of exploitation of these lands and their peoples.
      I think we need to not only alter our Western lifestyle (getting rid of greed and consumerism would be a start), but think about the values that would allow both our society and our technology to be more sustainable.
      I appreciate your thoughtfulness here.

  83. Professor Holden,
    What really stood out to me was the legalities of the indigenous people, or lack of. With all the modern efforts by various groups to protect the environment, very little seems to be done to protect humans. I feel this is an extremely western mindset where humans are removed from being apart of nature. As expressed in the worldviews, nature allows us to be human in the mindset of indigenous people. I do admire the Ecuadorians in including Pachamama in their constitution, although i wonder just how much power it ultimately holds. The patent situation seems counter intuitive, trying to patent knowledge that belongs to all, present and future. It seems to me that the disconnect between humans and nature is also manifested in a disconnect between human cultures as well.

    Of course having the data of indigenous compared to modern cultures shows the benefits of these cultures both environmentally and economically. The resource use (daily 24:1) and the Columbia salmon harvest (7:1) were striking. In addition, the indigenous systems have lasted for 36,000 generations while after a mere seven of the industrial revolution humans have already found themselves needing to drastically change their methods of survival.

    The largest differences between the two culture groups is, as was pointed out, the ability of indigenous to be flexible and dynamic, changing their practices to fit the earth in that moment, while modern practices are fixed and seek to change the earth to fit their needs. This basic mindset also demonstrates a possibility as to why the indigenous communities were able to live on the same land with peoples of other cultures and practices. Modern technologies require constant expansion and are unable to change without failing.

    It seems to me that to sustain humans (currently) changes in operations are inevitable, in both the interactions with multiple cultures and the land. These indigenous practices of increasing biodiversity, restoring land and increasing yield, all while lowering labor, will be vital for the future. To loose the precious remaining cultural diversity would be a devastating loss to all human kind.

    • I absolutely agree with you that their is a dual disconnect in modern industrial society: of humans from one another and of humans from the natural environment. This can only flow from an impoverishment view of history and an ignorance of how the world really works (that is, how we derive our lives). These statistics give us something to ponder, indeed– and your analysis of the importance of flexibility in our current environment is an important one. To lose our precious heritage of cultural diversity would indeed be a “devastating loss to all humankind”.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment here, Anna.

    • It is most deffinitely questionable how much power indigenous peoples hold within the Pachama constitutuion. Massive deforestation by hundreds of acres or more still has a presence in Ecuador. You made an excellent point in that modern Western technologies require constant expansion and are unchanging. This could be based in trying to take control in a temporal sense, not realizing that the environment changes and that to adapt you must listen to those changes. I thinking for many of us raised within Western culture could start practicing indigenous values primarily with other human cultures, not categorizing people within groups or sterotypes. Thank you Anna! I really enjoyed your post.

      • ‘Thoughtful, Emily. You may well have heard that some of the indigenous people of Ecuador recently won a substantial settlement against Chevron, which they had been fighting for years because of the ways in which the company had polluted their land.

  84. This essay was very enlightening. Here in Argentina I regularly hear about prejudices and misconceptions of indigenous people in South America. Because my arguments in defense were few, I wasn’t always able to fully articulate why many of their beliefs seemed irrational and usually only mentioned a few points when I could. I feel equipped now with good points. I won’t be left with the nodding,’ hmmm’ face while listening to something I disagree, and will be able to reply with a fair argument.

    One way of the most important and comprehendible arguments –especially for Euro-Western cultures highly based on abstract thought and notions of frameworks- was the one about the difference of industrial and indigenous technologies. All humans are capable of technology. It is a very important survival tool when adapting to different environments. There are no superior or inferior technologies and they are adaptations to different cultural wants and necessities. We must not forget that indigenous peoples hold deep wisdom, intimate knowledge, and mutual respect for their surrounding environment, and implement careful control and responsibility in their actions, as mentioned in the essay “Partnering with the Natural World”. Of course indigenous technologies reflect this way of life to provide needs without harming the environment. The explanation of technologies developing within different frameworks of dynamic mutualism, pertinent to indigenous cultures, and a hierarchal format of human control, pertinent to industrial cultures, could not have resumed these thoughts and arguments in a better way.

    Ester Boserup mentions that while some hunter gatherer communities may have enough knowledge to practice intensive agriculture, they don’t want to raise their workload. I enjoyed this point about ways of life being a choice, and for natives a wise choice, and not question of one’s capabilities.

    The fact that indigenous Mixteca farmer Jesus Leon Santos could return fertility to local lands and help towards the recovery of water tables only proves the point that in environmental debates, the wisdom of local indigenous people should hold the forefront. This is why I would also like to focus my path in helping indigenous populations gain political decision making power. To me, if we want to give something back to our Mother Earth, the best place to start is with those who know have the wisdom to heal it.

    It is comforting to know that there is a growing awareness of biocultural diversity and the importance of preserving indigenous knowledge, but it is also time to learn from the natives and learn to think more from their perspective. Although it would be difficult to obtain or even come close to the knowledge and wisdom the indigenous have for the natural environment, we can start practicing values of gratitude and reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility, and balance not only with our community but also with our natural environment and its members.

    • I am glad there are points here you can use in such discussions, Emily! I am touched by the heart as well as intelligence in this response! Great points.

    • Wow, Emily, great response! I especially liked your comment, “if we want to give something back to our Mother Earth, the best place to start is with those who know have the wisdom to heal it. ” I wholeheartedly agree. I feel a particular connection with the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. mainly because of it’s natural beauty and opportunity for escape. Many of Dr. Holden’s essays implicitly or explicitly tell us that not listening to those who can heal the land has been a major cause of so many wrongs done to t both the land and the people.

      Good luck with your ambitious goals in Argentina!

      • Thanks for the supportive response to your classmate, to me–and to the land that sustains us, Gabe. I have been especially fortunate to have been honored with the rich words and wisdom of indigenous elders.

  85. This essay reinforced the point that local knowledge is more valuable than technical knowledge for sustainability. An example of this is the failure of the Green Revolution in Bangladesh. Indigenous peoples have adapted their lifestyles to a landscape, while modern technology tries to adapt landscapes to lifestyles. We are now coming to the realization that this approach to to resource management is not working. The downsides of this approach can even be seen in the United States where huge agribusiness farms are having extremely negative impacts on soils, biodiversity, and quality of life for farmers. Working with the land is the only way agriculture can be sustainable. However, as the article mentions, stereotypes about indigenous peoples keeps them from being called upon as authorities on sustainability.

    • Excellent points, Melissa. Might we not also say that local knowledge is “technical” knowledge of a different kind than that which attempts to adapt landscapes to human purposes rather than vice versa?

  86. New to me was the fact that Indigeneous people of the islands were able to forecast the 2004 tsunami based on their observance of nature and knowledge of what the signs meant. It was because of their oral history that had been passed through generations that they understood the signs and acted upon them. These signs were available for all to hear and see yet most people are so disconnected with nature that they were ignored. How many lives could have been saved? There are so many invaluable lessons to learn from Indigeneous people and nature – if we could only be quiet long enough to listen.

    Although as the article states, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not hold any muscle and is a symbolic gesture, I feel that it carries great weight. In a world where they have been virtually ignored, recognition of their existence and importance is a step forward. Some of the values that are intrinsic to the Indigeneous worldview were shown in this step- in particular humility and reverence. For Indigeoneous people to stand before leaders of the world and advise them without being mocked or humored but rather revered is a hopeful moment to me.

    • Thank you for both a thoughtful and compassionate comment, Valerie. You make an excellent observation about what we don’t see in our disconnection from the natural world-and the potential benefits that healing that disconnection has for both that world and ourselves. I agree with your sense of hope in indigenous peoples standing with modern ones as equals in the dialogue that might well save us.

  87. During this reading, when I reviewed the section on Jesus Leon Santos, who used traditional methods of cropping to reduce the affects left in the wake of the “green revolution,” I was reminded of a reading that I had done in a rangeland management course on Allen Savory’s short duration grazing and how this mimicked traditional grazing of large herds in grassland areas. While many people do not agree with Savory’s method, it did produce beneficial environmental results when traditional methods of continual grazing failed. I’m not advocating any particular method of agricultural use. I am suggesting, that in these post industrial times, it is necessary even for non indigenous cultures to attempt to find methods of land use that more closely mimic the natural order. It seems that working in concert with the environment is more successful, more productive, and less economically demanding than changing the environment to suit the needs of our growing population.

    • I heard Allan Savory speak at an international permaculture conference in the mid-1980s. I think he has a most interesting approach–and one that has allowed land to recover, especially grazing lands in ecosystems that evolved with large herds of animals as an essential part of them.
      I think you are absolutely right that we need those with innovative approaches– especially if they are linked to the historical resilience of natural systems. Thanks for bringing this up, Raquel.

  88. After reading this article and realizing how much knowledge indigenous people have about the earth, the plants and animals, the local ecosystems in which these various indigenous cultures reside, and the cycles of nature, I am struck by how much knowledge we, in this industrialized society, have lost. We have all kinds of technology allowing us to forecast the weather, and yet indigenous peoples knew about the 2004 tsunami before we did and were prepared for it. Not only did they know about it, but some of them, as the article states, (fishermen in south india) tried to warn authorities without success and it seems like perhaps one reason no one listened is because westerners think that we are so much more advanced than indigenous cultures, and that they have nothing of value to offer us. A look at the condition of our planet, however, would seem to indicate otherwise. It has taken only a couple of centuries for us to inflict a large amount of damage on the North American continent, while indigenous people lived here for a lot longer with little or no ill effects. The other idea in this article that stood out to me was the idea that “indigenous technologies adapt human activities to particular lands in a framework of dynamic mutualism, whereas industrial technologies adapt lands to human activities in a hierarchical framework of human control.” I think that was really well stated and the first thing that it made me think of was of the American southwest. The Colorado river trickles into Mexico at a fraction of it’s initial volume and loaded with chemicals, fertilizers and pollutants, and meanwhile you can find acres of lush green grass on golf courses in the middle of the desert in Nevada. Driving by those, I am always amazed at how out of place they look, yet another example of us trying to adapt the land to our activities.

    • Very thoughtful response, Sarah, on two key points- our loss of knowledge in our neglect of indigenous knowledge and ravaging of indigenous cultures–and the ways in which we try to adapt the land to ourselves. I can’t think of a better (sadder?) example than the state of the Colorado River whose waters are used to irrigate golf courses.
      Our destruction of ancient wisdom and the natural world cannot be anything but self-destructive in the end.

    • That is a great point – that we have lost so much knowledge. We are so invested in and preoccupied by “advancing” our technologies and knowledge that we have lost sight of what we used to know and what used to be important. Things that used to sustain not only ourselves, but the environment. I think we have a lot to learn by looking backward and to where we came from, instead of forward and where we are striving to be.

      • Thus we need to revalue and re-assess what we refer to as worthy knowledge. We cannot always know this before we put it to use, but we can certainly say that losing the knowledge of those who lived with their lands for tens of thousands of years is something unconscionable.
        And let us hope we are not too arrogant to learn from the past, since it is passing on past knowledge as culture and oral tradition that made us human in the first place.

  89. Alright let me preface this with I really like this essay and I know my beginning criticisms make even me get ready to light the torches against me.
    I thought it was an interesting statement that “Today many indigenous peoples are bi-cultural as they both adhere to their ancient values and ways of life and respond to the pressures of the modern world” because I feel like it makes a false divide between indigenous people and other people. I may not be an indigenous person but I am “bicultural”, adhering to my families ancient values in some ways and responding to the pressures of the modern world. I think one of the first steps to taking away someones rights is to make them different from us. With that there is the concept of the “modern world”. The “modern world” makes the assumption that there are parts of the world that aren’t modern. Anything that exists now is modern. Indigenous cultures, like everything in this world, evolve. There is ancient indigenous culture but what exist now, if those people still exist, is a modern indigenous culture. There is no way that something can exist in a world and not be effected by that world. That doesn’t mean that all cultures should be forced into changing into a single culture as the world is globalized. First, people come from their own background and live in different environments so I am don’t think complete homogenizing of people can happen. With that said I do agree with the overriding idea of these points that I see as, cultures that have worked to preserve some of their own unique knowledge of everything through a low impact lifestyle with the environment should be aided in their decisions. Their unique knowledge should be used to better the general human coexistence with the rest of the world. Along with being used people’s knowledge should be protected as you said, through the complicated, and certainly imperfect, method of patenting. People that create something should be compensated fairly when they want it.

    • Thoughtful point, Caroline: this essay focuses on indigenous peoples as specific groups designated by the UN Declaration. There is nothing here that says that others cannot be bicultural because native people are: the contrast with modernity has to do with the worldviews maintained by many indigenous cultures that contrast radically with modern capitalism and industrialism. I think most of us in complex societies have various cultural backgrounds, but the contrasts between our different “cultures” is nothing like the contrast between, say, the indigenous Ecuadorian grandmother who just won a suit against Chevron for polluting her natal land and corporate Chevron that the US Supreme Court recently declared we must accept as “persons”– as are all corporations. You may be interested to know that in parts of South Africa (see a recent issue of National Geographic) there are still hunter-gatherers who have and want nothing to do with the “modern” world.
      It would be heartening to me if you were right on the idea that global homogenization of place and people cannot take place, but I see too many examples to the contrary. Specifically, I have reference to the ways in which globalization (and colonialism before that) works to de-culture others by imp9osting modern Western industrial culture (and economic systems) on them. And one size fits all development attempts to remake places everywhere according to one particular model. I certainly hope this is resisted and that it changes.

    • No torch lit here- but I do believe the homogenization of people, and their cultures, has already happened to a great portion of the population. With the internet, giant corporations and easy worldwide travel, people from thousands of miles apart are becoming more a “global community”. We are influenced by the same things. In some ways this new ability to communicate and share ideas across the world is wonderful, but I feel that there is a loss of the uniqueness and cultural tradition as well.

      • The important thing would be to foster conditions in which we interact with others in the global community without abandoning our own traditions, yes? Thoughtful point, Valerie.
        And hey, maybe we could light the torch of mutual learning rather than prosecution.

  90. I found this essay to be very interesting. Practices of indigenous people, and their relevance is a topic that I have never before considered. Growing up in today’s cities without exposure to much biodiversity, or to very many indigenous cultures, I think it is easy to assume that the answer to problems with the health of the land, and with sustaining life, are all solved using modern technology. I never would have guessed that Indigenous peoples had much more effective land/resource management than we do today. I also found it amazing that indigenous people still hold 80 per cent of global land’s plant and animal biodiversity. If that statistic were changed to just North America, I would imagine the percentage would be much lower. Is that assumption correct?

    • Interesting question, Caleb, to which I do not know the answer, though North America may be more “developed” and thus have fewer biodiversity “hotspots” left than do other areas of the globe. What I do know are that there are particular examples of indigenous peoples struggling for local biodiversity in legal cases, in Washington State, British Columbia, California, New York, and Inuit Alaska, for example. And peoples like the Nez Perce welcomed wolves back into their traditional territory when the struggle to accept them was much more tenuous in other parts of Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

  91. It’s interesting, because we must have all had that knowledge at some point in our history but then we lost it. Was it when we started settling down into permanent settlements? And I wonder why, out of all the different groups of people on the planet, only some of them settled down into those communities while the majority of them seem to live much the same as they always have. It’s an interesting thing to think about.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “permanent” settlements– in reference to indigenous peoples’ longstanding relationships to particular lands? Perhaps the most central contrast between indigenous societies and others is the irony of the use of “settler” for the others, since they tend to be colonial peoples constantly on the move. By “settlement” do you mean a particular type of agriculture. As this essay indicates, the stereotypical evolutionary divide between hunters and gatherers is an illusion when you look at the details. Are you speaking of cities or a certain population density?
      And yes, we were all at some point in our distant or not too distant past, “indigenous” to particular lands.

  92. The essay mentions in opening how indigenous people are forced to live biculturally, and then describes exactly how that happens. While many indigenous cultures are centered around a concept of communal property and shared responsibility, representatives of those cultures are forced to demand that the UN recognize their rights, and they negotiate treaties, file lawsuits and lobby for laws which establish a Western claim for personal property that makes no sense in some indigenous cultures. The establishment of these legal rights is no small feat, since they come at the expense of some of the wealthiest and most powerful Western companies. Because Western people with their particular worldview have the most powerful guns and the most money, indigenous people have to enter into that worldview to protect the things that are important to them, even if they seem to have little value from the Western perspective.

    • Excellent explanation of the forced bi-culturalism of indigenous people, Anders. Thank you.

    • I am always amazed when the “little guy” gets a win when going up against powerful Western companies. It seems as though more of the average Americans are becoming open to the idea of alternative viewpoints to the typical “Western” ideals – or maybe I’ve just surrounded myself with people of similar viewpoints by moving to Oregon and attending OSU! I’m hopeful it’s the former. I still get treated like “that crazy lady” when I try to talk to my friends, family, and/or coworkers about the environmental attrocities being committed by large Western companies in third world countries. For example, have you seen the movie “Crude”? It’s infuriating what we did to the indigenous peoples profiled in that movie. I think it was “Water Wars” which highlighted the practices of Coca-Cola? They moved a bottling plant into a rural farming community, used up the majority of the ground water, contaminated the local wells, and even distributed toxic waste byproduct from the bottling process to farmers and called it “fertilizer”. Many people are now suffering from strange new health problems and the local farmers can no longer farm the land. No one wants to believe these stories. Why? Because Coca-Cola has catchy tunes and pretty images on their commercials?

      (Sorry, I kind of went off on a tangent there.)

      I hope that more people will pay attention to major corporations’ practices in foreign countries and make a stand for indeginous peoples when their cultural practices are threatened by development.

      • I am with you on the need for more people’s paying attention to the actions of large corporations on a global scale.
        Since you mentioned “Crude”, have you heard that an Amazonian elder just won a massive settlement in her suit against Chevron? She noted, however, that no amount of dollars can compensate for the damage done to her homeland.

  93. I think preservation of indigenous cultures and land is extremely important. The countless cultures throughout the world are what have shaped society and provided variety in the land. Cultures have created entire nations and are part of what keeps the world interesting. Some peoples are extremely in touch with their lands and are able to read it like a book, like the fishermen of Andaman, India. The fishermen were able to identify a coming tsunami and warned others days before the event.

    A common misconception is that these underdeveloped nations lack precise knowledge. Yes, they may not have our modern technology, but they have something we do not: active connection with the land. They depend on the land to provide for them. They don’t have supermarkets down the street and mass manufacturing to sustain them. I think we all need to learn to be a little more connected with our surroundings in order to appreciate and extend our use of earth’s resources.

    • Excellent point about the connection to the environment–and knowledge that comes with it even without the “supermarket down the street”, Morgan. Our disconnect not only from our natural surroundings but from the results of our actions on others lives has many potential dangers.

    • I agree with you Morgan. Although they may not have the technology that we have, they still find ways to strive. I believe that all the technology we have may actually negatively affect us. Our economy and population is struggling recently, while the indigenous people are still surviving. Instead of depending on technology, they depend on knowledge that has been passed down for generations, and its working.

  94. This article hit the nail on the head regarding the comparison of indigenous subsistence strategies and industrial development technologies. I feel that practices used by indigenous peoples have too long been disregarded as outdated and considered ineffective, even with the vast knowledge we have today of their practices long ago. Particularly, I find the use of the word “technology” to reference their subsistence strategies is more accurate and, because of our common use of the word, pays more respect to the fact their success was directly correlated to their vast knowledge. The proof is in the pudding, as a recent conference in the UN indicated. Based on numerous projects comparing the biodiverse “ecological” agriculture once fostered by the indigenous people, to those of modern industrial agricultural practices, “ecological” agriculture is proving to be an average of 79 percent more effective. This is extremely important information for the world to be made fully aware of, especially considering industrial monocultures are not only destroying the landscapes they are forced upon, they are unreliable due to their tendency to become less resistant to the very pests and diseases they are supposed to be resistant to! I don’t want to stray too far, but to me, it is extremely refreshing to know that there are consortiums of proactive, educated people working toward legitimately discrediting genetically engineered monocultures.

    There of course are many other points made in the article that I fully embrace:
    1. We need to maintain the 6 characteristic (most likely not an all inclusive list) values of indigenous peoples.
    2. The worldviews of the indigenous people along the Columbia River helped them sustain their salmon runs and harvest an embarrassingly larger amount than we do present day.

    • Interesting point in making a connection between technology and knowledge– technology without knowledge is surely a situation that can only run amuk, Carol. It is important indeed to pass on this data about ecological agriculture: we need a win win outcome for both the land and ourselves, even if it takes more thought and care–and fitting agricultural techniques to specific places.
      I think that in maintaining the values/worldviews of sustainable cultures, we may just be able to become sustainable ourselves. Thanks for your comment, Carol.

  95. “However, the predominant distinction between industrial and indigenous technologies lies not in their comparative placement on an evolutionary scale, but in the fact that indigenous technologies adapt human activities to particular lands in a framework of dynamic mutualism, whereas industrial technologies adapt lands to human activities in a hierarchical framework of human control.”

    What an excellent explanation of the differences in technologies! I do feel like more people are starting to embrace that idea that we have to adjust our activities to preserve ecological diversity and a healthy planet, rather than continuing on our current path of trying to bend nature to our will. I really don’t understand where the arrogance comes from when it comes to industrial technologies.

    There are even some modern examples of “local knowledge” being lost here in the United States (again). I recently did a report on the loss of the family sheep ranches in Montana. During the course of my research, I learned that the smaller family farms were being bought up and consolidated into much larger farms managed by people unfamiliar with the area. They had some problems making correct management decisions because there were many little idiosyncrasies about the land that they were unaware of.

    I was amazed to learn about the Simeulue Island peoples in Indonesia, forecasting the 2004 tsunami! I wonder if the local authorities will have a different reaction should the indigenous peoples come to them again?

    As I said, I don’t understand technological arrogance. For all the technology we have, are we really better off? I’d say it’s extremely debatable.

    • Another example of local knowledge is that of Novia Scotia’s cod fishermen in Dean Bauvington’s study. Thanks for your feedback. I think the term “technological arrogance” says much! I certainly agree with you about the need to change our values with respect to the use and development of our technology.

  96. Gratitude and reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility, balance. These are values that are generally accepted by indigenous people. Although these seem like basic values every person should have, they are not. In non-indigenous cultures you see more people with characteristics such as greed and selfishness. Those values listed above helped ensure that indigenous people have survived for 36,000 generations, and make up more than 99% of our history. They take care of the environment and their families first, and put themselves second. They are more concerned about the group, than the individual. That is not a common trait of people in non-indigenous cultures. Today, the main threat to indigenous people is from change in environment. This change in environment is linked to global warming from the lifestyle of non-indigenous cultures. We could learn something from these indigenous peoples lifestyle, since they have been so successful and will continue to be successful unless we keep harming them.

    • We do have much to learn from these values and lifestyles, Troy– for our sake as well as theirs. Climate change is, as you indicate, a matter of environmental justice, since those who are doing the damage in this regard are not those suffering the most from this damage. Though there is not an emphasis on individualism in such societies, there is a caring for individual persons– a sense of interdependence between the well being of individual and society– rather than a hierarchy in which one is more important than the other.
      It is also important to remember that the partnership between humans and nature practiced by indigenous peoples is the heritage of all of us– though some of us have to go farther back in history to be in touch with that inheritance.

  97. Good evening – It is amazing to learn that the number of indigenous generations is numbered at around 36,000, and the number of generations since the industrial revolution is a mere 7. And land, more specifically ‘homeland’, is critical to the development of indigenous societies, as they are part of the land just as much as the land is part of them, and even though by Western standards, indigenous societies are among the poorest, it is incredible to learn that they often live the longest and enjoy high qualities of life.

  98. I see that someone else posted about this comment: “Connected with this worldview, indigenous cultures characteristically maintain these values: gratitude and reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility and balance.” I just had to mention it again though, as I look at those values and think how wonderful a society would be that embraced those ideas its main tenets.

    As I read this article, I realized something that I had never thought about before; previously, when I thought about indigenous peoples, for some reason I always mentally categorized Native Americans differently. When I would read or hear something about indigenous people, I always pictured aborigines, or small tribes in far off places – I really don’t know why I separated them so distinctly in my mind. With that said, as much as I knew about Native Americans being pushed off their lands from history classes in my youth, I somehow had the impression that ‘other’ indigenous peoples somehow had claims on their land. Maybe it was the thought that they were so deep into natural landscapes that they were somehow untouched by civilization; however, this article talks about people being ‘bi-cultural’, trying to salvage their ancestral culture while being forced to accept more modern amenities. It is certainly an eye-opening experience.

    • It never hurts to emphasize important values such as these in repeating them, Kim. Thanks for your obviously thoughtful considerations here: I especially appreciate your self-reflection.

  99. I didn’t realize that there were so many different indigenous peoples throughout the world still. And, I didn’t realize how closely and reverently they regard nature. I know that indigenous peoples live in very close contact with nature. It is interesting that most of the Earth’s biodiversity is now found on indigenous peoples land.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jen. These are important things for all of us to consider as we address current climate issues-and issues of justice as well. It is also important to remember that each of us is linked to indigenous traditions at some point in our history-and all of us are linked to the African San people, to which the genes of all current populations can be linked.

  100. Two points I found very interesting. The first is in regards to the suit by the Onondaga Nation. I found it interesting that they chose not to include repossession of the traditional lands but instead they chose to assume environmental trusteeship of the land. I think this is a unique way of looking at the situation at hand. Perhaps they also did not want to push those who are currently living on the land off, as they were most likely forced to do so many years ago. Or perhaps they figured they could get the area cleaned up faster and more efficiently?

    The second point I found interesting is in regards to the Ecuadoran constitution. The idea that nature has a legal right and than anyone can sue on her behalf is wonderful. Think of where Big Oil and other industries would be if we had something similar to that in our constitution.

    • Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Brandie. I think the Onondaga case shows astute tactics in many ways, as you indicate– and it also enacts traditional values of care for this land.
      You are quite right in your observation with respects to the rights of nature: Chevron is being sued for its denigration of the Amazon by certain indigenous peoples as I write this– one such suit has already been quite successful.– though the native “winners” have stated they would rather have their land restored to its health than any monetary compensation.

    • Brandie – The behaviour of the people in your examples show a real thoughtfulness beyond themselves. The land is not something merely to be consumed, but it should be looked after so that others may enjoy and be productive.

  101. This was an interesting article. I did not know that so many indigenous people/cultures were still prevalent on the earth. I think there is a lot to learn from a people and culture that have been able to survive on the earth for 36,000 generations as opposed to only seven generations post industrial revolution. I particularly liked this statement:

    “However, the predominant distinction between industrial and indigenous technologies lies not in their comparative placement on an evolutionary scale, but in the fact that indigenous technologies adapt human activities to particular lands in a framework of dynamic mutualism, whereas industrial technologies adapt lands to human activities in a hierarchical framework of human control.”

    How true this statement is today, people may alter lands to what they think they should be and to what will be their benefit. However, if we consider the capital and resources needed to alter a landscape, as opposed to working with and utilizing the natural conditions, we may realize that the benefits would be greater without alteration. I do not believe technology or industrialism are bad, indeed they have brought many good beneficial uses into the world, but these should be used in a mutual framework with our natural world and not in one of control.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brandie. The difference between attempting to adapt the land to ourselves instead of adapting ourselves is an important one: attempting to re-shape the land for short term needs has caused us much of our environmental problems.

  102. The statistics about diversity hit home the hardest for me. “95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas overlap with lands claimed by indigenous peoples… today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” Of course these extremely diverse cultures, who mostly subscribe to world views that respect nature, promote balance and interdependence, have a population that is so outnumbered by the dominant cultures of the world. As globalization has occurred, more and more cultures have begun to blend, lowering diversity just as the diversity of nature in much of the world has lessened. How truly boring this world will be as diversity continues to lessen, both culturally and in nature.

    • Indeed, Dale: a growing monoculture in the human sphere is as “boring” as it is ineffective in ensuring survival in the natural sphere. Whereas globalization is overtaking and homogenizing many indigenous cultures, I am heartened by the new roles and initiatives certain indigenous societies and leaders are assuming.

    • Dale,

      I agree about the world becoming boring. I look around and I see everyone living suburban lives, taking everything for granted and being scared of other modes of thought. I hope we turn around and do not become a “mono-culture” that Madronna mentioned about as well. Hopefully people listen to the leaders of indigenous cultures that are taking innitiative and trying to lead us.

    • Absolutely, Dale. Not only would it be boring, but natural cycles would be negatively impacted. Some natural areas depend on human interaction. An example of this is demonstrated by the Kayapo in the Amazon. The domesticated manioc plant needs both the Kayapo and the red ant to survive. The plant and the ant have coevolved to rely on each other. (Wisdom of the Elders, p. 65)

  103. This is an interesting article in that the indigenous people are using the legal system to protect their own lifestyle and natural habitat from the invasion of natural resource exploitation. Why it is interesting is that the indigenous people themselves probably ask, “Why should we even have to fight for this legal protection in the first place?” This gets to a cultural difference between those that are of the indigenous culture and those of the cultures of the western world and others that did not live amongst the land. The cultural traits of balance, Gratitude and reverence, Sharing, Cooperation, Reciprocity, and Humility are shared between nature and the indigenous people but not of those that exploit the natural resources. Those that exploit the resources are constantly thinking of how many more trees can I turn into lumber and how many more diamonds can I find where-as the indigenous people would think more in terms of how many trees does one need to use for themselves and how many diamonds might one wear at a given time. Unfortunately the global demand for natural resources increasing and the global population is continuing to grow. Thus the problem of natural resource exploitation would only get worse. The legal systems of various countries can put into place laws that protect areas and resources, however, without enforcement of those laws there really is no effect of having legal protection.

    I’m reading a case study on the logging industry in Palawan Island of the Philippines. In the study they show that years of corrupt government environmental policy have allowed timber producers to effectively eliminate the natural forests on the island, drive down the global price of timber, and put the island residents into poverty. A change in government has produced new laws against illegal logging, yet, the government does not have the resources to properly patrol the area and so the act still exists. However, the acts of illegal logging exist on this island by those individuals displaced when the timber company left the island. These individuals are extremely poor and are logging out of necessity to make a meager living. So there is both a social problem as well as a ecological problem on the island. The same problems would hold true in other ecological location where displaced mine workers, fisherman, etc would find that the only way to survive is to continue doing what they know how to do even if it is illegal.

    • Thoughtful considerations here, Jon. Indigenous peoples thought, further, about how many salmon or roots they could harvest or deer they could hunt in order to protect the salmon and roots and deer for the future. For instance, they concertedly disciplined their taking of the salmon based on the natural fluctuations of run numbers.
      You do have a good point that the industrial mindset does not have a functioning concept of “enough”– so that we continue to take and take and take. One problem is our abstract system of value as “money”- which is linked to unlimited growth. If we connect natural resources to profit rather than meeting needs, they tend to be exploited forever.
      Since you mention diamond mines, you might not know there is radical human justice and environmental issues with most current diamond mining– one of the reasons why San people opposed diamond mining on their lands, as mentioned in this article.
      As in your case study, colonialism leaves some wretched governmental legacies that upsets both the consistent democratic traditional indigenous institutions– and the values of environmental care. Note the list in this essay about the challenges that indigenous peoples who defend their lands currently face. You are very right that environmental and social problems are intertwined in this way.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Jon, I like the point you make about how those doing the exploitation are not thinking ahead, they are just thinking of how many more trees they can log. One thing you did not mention is timber waste. Growing up in a timber based city I saw many trees logged and left to rot where they fell. I also knew many loggers who hated this practice but it was cut down the trees or loose your job. The higher ups need heftier fines along with someone actually enforcing sustainable regulations.
      The problem of the poor is a harder one. I can see why someone who is just trying to live will do stuff that is illegal and destroys the earth for future generations. Desperation breeds desperate measures. If industrialized people had not come in and ruined their traditional way of life then this problem would not have occurred. Hind sight is 20/20.

      • Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Tamara. Timber waste is something I heard much about in collecting oral history in southwest Washington. Many pioneer journal point it out as well. Waste of salmon and deer are also pointed out in these sources.
        There is a very good book on conflicts of interest in those doing research to fight cancer (The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Nobel Prize winner Devra Davis) that begins with a quote stating that those who do not wish to repeat the past must study and understand it.
        It is indeed a problem that those who have no other way to meet basic physical needs for their family act in ways contrary to long term environmental interests: that is why programs that seek economic support for the poor are important in creating better environmental choices. I find it hopeful that many international environmental groups have taken this tact.

  104. Opposing worldviews, that of the Western and Indigenous people, are very clear in this essay. It is VERY frustrating to read about the stereotypes of the Indigenous people that were created as a result of colonialism. Those who colonized saw wealth in the form of an abundance of resources waiting to be turned into fortune. They believed Indigenous people lacked the “technological knowledge” to take advantage of the “wealth” that was right in front of them. In reality, Indigenous people were intentionally responsible for the abundance of resources because of their symbiotic relationship that they shared with nature. They CHOSE not to exploit the resources; they didn’t need to turn a profit because their relationship with nature was founded upon a partnership. Now, they are trying to uphold that partnership in a different way: by fighting for their rights to protect the land that is so sacred to them.

    • Excellent perspective, Sage. Key point that indigenous peoples did not lack the capacity to exploit their lands– they (at least a good many of them) chose not to exercise this capacity. Your comment indicates a serious need to develop a critical definition of what we should really mean by “wealth” and “profit”.

  105. I am very impressed with how these people have managed to adapt to the “modern world” while still hanging onto their traditions and traditional views. More people should learn from them. The idea that anyone could find Indigenous people lacking in technical knowledge only goes to show the ignorance of industrialized people. When someone does not wish to exploit their environment it does not show a lack of knowledge but an abundance of how the land works, what is effective and what is detrimental. They know how to use the tools available and to read the ways of the earth around them. They have knowledge that newcomers do not have. The Ong and Jarawa saw the approach of a Tsunami days before it happened and no one listened. This just shows how many of the industrialized people refuse to learn from those who have been in the area the longest. Those who know from experience and oral tradition what works and what does not are pushed aside like they are the ignorant ones. When will people learn to listen to others?

    • Thanks for your comment, Tamara– though I wouldn’t want to give the impression that indigenous peoples have always easily or harmoniously adapted to the industrial world.
      Learning to listen, as you indicate, is something that can only benefit all of us.

  106. “The sense of the intrinsic value and spiritual authority of natural life and the systems that sustain it.”

    Intrinsic value. In the modern world, value is placed on something. Value is not seen as something intrinsic to the object. The worldview discussed in this article is one that shows humility and respect for the natural world and for ourselves in relationship to that world. Value comes from every living plant and animal, and can even be found in all the inanimate objects.

    A good test to see if you have this worldview is to address things as if they were human. For example, you are having a bad day at work and in your anger you kick the filing cabinet. A self-aware individual with a humble worldview would stop, apologize to the filing cabinet and accept forgiveness. The forgiveness does not come from the filing cabinet. It comes from the spiritual connection an individual has to the universe. The filing cabinet is part of the universe. The individual is also a part of the universe.

    This relationship with all things is a reflection of oneself to the universe and of the universe itself. How we treat the land, animals, plants, and people also reflects the value we see in the other. We can find intrinsic value in all things. Or, we can assign an arbitrary value.

    The choice is ours to make.

    • Hi Dwayne. I very much like your analysis of intrinsic value with respect to contrasting worldviews here. It seems to me that we re-empower ourselves by means of forgiveness: that is, we let go of the power being wronged (or our assumptions about this) have over us through forgiveness. And in the case of the indigenous worldviews, the intrinsic values of lives in nature flows from just that: the fact that they ARE lives. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  107. I am saddened by the conflicts that are going on between the indigenous peoples and the modern world. Some of these conflicts that I am saddened by are the ownership of land and the types of exploiting practices that should be performed on the land. I believe that the cause of these conflicts is the sense of pride among these two societies. If the two societies had a humble attitude to one another, then this world would be a better place. An example of how these two societies could become humble to each other is if they came together and combined each other’s values. Basically, teamwork would bring peace between the two societies.

    Also, there was a part of the essay that I found significant and this part was when the essay stated, “…spiritual authority of natural life and the systems that sustain it.” I find this statement significant because of my Christian background. I, too, have the same belief that humans have spiritual authority over nature. However, humans have abused this authority and I am saddened by it.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Maileen. I think you misunderstood the part about “spiritual authority”: this did not indicate human authority over nature, but the ways in which indigenous cultures derived their values and ethics from what they saw as the spiritual authority or guidance modeled by natural systems.
      Can you offer any ideas in the worldviews of industrial society that might make teamwork possible– the emphasis on competition rather than cooperation, perhaps?

  108. After reading this post I was struck by the irony of the systematic attempts of “civilized” people to destroy indigenous people across the globe. Many of their age-old practices such as sustainable farming, environmental stewardship, and a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of everything on earth, were seen as not productive enough, or not useful to the growth of nations. Yet here we are now and people are realizing that the modern way farming is poisoning people working in the fields, depleting and contaminating groundwater and surface water supplies,and unsustainable as the soil is depleted of nutrients. So we move towards a new way of doing things, being “sustainable” which s really a very old way. Examples of this can be seen in re-evaluation of indigenous medicines and the environmental value of places such as wetlands, but of course our society only accepts that they have made mistakes and attempts to change when the negative impacts of “development” are impossible to ignore.

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin. You are certainly right about the tragedy of these environmental decisions on the part of self-termed “civilized” societies– and I do find hope in the changing perceptions on this score. There is more irony (as you term it) in the arena of justice here: colonial peoples often moved to take over the lands of others (and justified this through racist ideas) because things were not going well at home. That is, after they used by resources at home, they went looking for someone else’s– hardly “civilized” if we want to define this word in moral terms.

  109. A sense of entitlement is what comes to mind. We have justified our reasons for displacing other societies as necessity for “freedom from oppression” yet we are the oppressors. Most of what we have done to build up our country stems from wanting money, and power over others

    • Sadly so, Erin. And when there are no more “others” out there from which to get additional resources, we will perhaps finally be forced to live within our means. Let us hope it is not too late– justice serves us all. Thanks for your follow up here.

  110. The phrase quoted from Deborah Rose, “The idea that humans become human by means of their embeddedness in the natural world”, stood out to me. We fill up our lives with things, the next best, biggest thing. Indigenous traditions are generally the most simple but most efficient way of working; living for more of a belief in life, as opposed to a belief in items that can fill up our lives.

    Technology sometimes causes us to disregard those around us, our friends, our family, etc. It can allow us to become consumed in a life we create that is not necessarily reality. An example is creating a profile on a social network, anyone can create themselves into an ideal without being committed to the day to day work; work that either physically or mentally shapes our true character. This is where I believe we lose some of our naturally instilled values: gratitude, sharing, humility, and reverence. The further we get away from humanities roots could be what is resulting in the great severance of respect for our resources. In close knit communities where people work together toward a common purpose there is respect for one another and a sense of accountability for every action.

    Perhaps letting our knowledge get in the way of our wisdom is contemporary mans greatest downfall.

    • All societies have technology– do you see that as a point expressed in this essay? Thoughtful point about the values we may have lost — though perhaps many of still search for deep down or unconsciously? It would certainly make us a very different society if we felt accountability for every action– our particular type of technology tends, as you indicate, all too often to separate us from the consequences of our actions and therefore the responsibilities for them. Thanks for your comment, Michael.

    • I agree with your comment that technology causes us to disregard those around us. It is amazing how easy it is too get home from a day of school and turn on the t.v. and veg. I would also state that technology allows us to disregard ourselves. Technology has changed everything in our daily lives from the food we eat, the way we spend our free time and the way we travel. It is much easier to prepare a microwave dinner than to prepare a wholesome meal. It is much easier to surf the internet or watch t.v. than it is to engage in mentally stimulating activities such as conversation or reading. We no longer go on long trips by primitive means (such as by foot or horseback) unless it is for pleasure not necessity. It is amazing how technology has made humans “lazy” and less in tune with the world and people around them.

      • A technology that causes us to “veg” rather than be present and alive is negative any way you look at– and it robs those who “veg out” of their very lives– of all those lost moments that they will never regain.
        My sense is that our lives are far too precious to throw away in this way. Thanks for your comment.

  111. Western industrial ideas about “progress” and stereotypes regarding indigenous capability are certainly getting in the way of real progress are they not? I often mention Lee’s study of the San to those who have been convinced by the dairy and meat lobbies that these are the ultimate sources of protein. Mongongo nuts provided a large percentage of protein in the San’s traditional diet.

    We definitely have much to consider and learn about indigenous subsistence strategies and technology. And this brings up a question about modern Western knowledge, “science”, and assumptions that I would like to share. My question is: what happens when Western fortress conservation–conservation that is responsible for the establishment of many national parks, and derives its methods and ideology from dualism, romantization and the idea that indigenous populations are simpletons incapable of handling their own environmental conservation– runs counter to proven indigenous methods of conservation and the needs of indigenous people?

    The Maasai, pastoralists, who for hundreds of years were able to balance their subsistence strategy with the health of the land and animals in their ecosystem, were suddenly cut off from their usual grazing patches and forced to overgraze the tiny ones they had left when Western fortress conservation came in to play with the establishment of Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. In a twist of irony, they were accused by NGOs of reckless abandon and lack of concern for their environment and conservation in general after having been cordoned off to such a small area by the park’s boundaries that they were forced to overgraze. Most of what I have mentioned about the Maasai and Tarangire was drawn from what I learned reading Jim Igoe’s Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota. I would highly recommend a read if anyone is interested in learning more about the ideological and philosophical underpinnings of national parks and their effect on indigenous populations. My point is that Western “stewardship” sometimes borders on domination in more ways than one. I have mixed feelings about things like “cooperative models”. On the one hand, they have noble intentions. On the other, they are still sometimes being “guided” by an over-arching western paternalism. Finally, how do we feel dictating conservation methods when it is the “core” sapping the “periphery” that encourages pouching? I realize these are sticky subjects.

    • Good point about protein sources: indeed, vegetable protein sources were the stable in ancient human cultures, with the occasional meat feast. There is an excellent book on Native Americans and national parks: note that the historical abuse that set some of these up is changing as native peoples are gaining more control of such reserves around the world– a few examples of this are pointed out in this essay. There is a very good book on this history.
      I think one perspective against such patronizing and destructive abuses is the UN’s program on “biocultural diversity”– and the understanding of the intertwined history of humans and land rather than the dualism that says the only good land is without human influence, though it may very well be without Western industrial influence.
      Indeed, the Massai use of grazing is recently being studied as a model for sustainable keeping of cattle elsewhere.

  112. There are 4 quotes that really made me think.

    “During their thousands of years on the Columbia River, those with this stance harvested an annual salmon take seven times the modern one without harming the sustainability of the runs.” I cant began to comprehend how much salmon the natives had, and how “Modern Society” turned a blind eye and only thought about how much money they can make when it came to their replenishment. If it’s a scarce resource “Modern Society” can charge more money for it. Which is very sad because the lack of salmon not just affects humans but the whole ecosystem.

    “Further, intensive agriculture that colonial authorities see as a sign of advanced societies is not suitable to all landscapes, as indicated by the failure of the “green revolution” that imposed modern farming techniques on third world lands in a generalized fashion.” This quote shows that “Modern Society” does not have all the answers to the worlds problems (even though most people in “Modern Society” think we do). “Modern Society” should be listening and learning exactly what the natives are doing in these harsh landscapes because they know the land better then anybody.

    “Patents are problematic not only when they fail to fairly compensate communities of origin, but also when they assume private ownership of community knowledge, which by cultural tradition belongs to future as well as current generations.” This quote makes so much sense because I know that our drug companies are taking “Native” recipes for medications and patenting them. Which means the natives don’t own the right to use there medications that they have for thousands of years. This might just be me talking but I feel natives don’t care about the ownership of these medications all they care about is whether it solves the problem in need. I don’t think it is right for a “Modern Society” to take what natives have used a medication for thousands of years, think of a trendy name and sell it to the world.

    “As a result, today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” I am very happy and sad about this all at the same time. I wish “Modern Society” could take care of and had more biodiversity. On the other hand I am extremely happy that the “Natives” control so much of it because i know they understand sustainability and reciprocity. Meaning as long as “Modern Society” holds to their agreement with these “Natives” about there land boundaries we will have biodiversity on earth for a long time. It is very scary because the track record of “Modern Society” is not good because they have been known to go back on agreements with natives before.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful response to these quotes, Christopher. Just a minor point: it would be great to sum them in your own words, to make for less repetitive reading on the part of those who following these comments. You have some great responses here.
      Just one thing I would add: native people may not care so much about ownership (and making money from) drug patents– though Western culture is teaching them that when pharmaceuticals are making so much money from the traditional knowledge of those who live in such poverty. This does not mean that medicinal knowledge was not protected without particular families or communities– knowledge that paid homage to the natural plant lives, for instance, from which it was derived–and that sometimes those who used such remedies might have to go through disciplined initiation in order to gain the right to use them properly. This did, of course, differ from people to people. But by sense is that they did not have so sanguine an attitude about them.
      Thanks for your comment.

  113. I didn’t realize how much of the world’s biodiversity exists on Native lands. I know in the US, reservation land was often seen as barren and useless (otherwise the US would have kept it). It makes sense, because Native people do not utilize the land in the same way as industrialized culture. Good thing.

    • It also goes to the point of what is considered “rich” land– which changes over time as industrial society finds more ways to exploit resources. Thanks for your comment.

    • The amount of biodiversity of Native lands is amazing. The stewardship of Indigenous people towards nature is a lesson we should all take. Learn from the past to better the future. I only wish that there was a stronger influence of Indigenous people in the World today, it would help accelerate the values and belief that a prosperous world is not material industrialized things, but in fact all around us in nature.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful perspective, Nicholas. Each of us can work for such understanding–as your comment indicates, to create justice for indigenous peoples is also to aid ourselves as we discern other than the industrialized ways of thinking about the land that sustains us.

  114. I find it very unnerving to read about the stereotypes of the Indigenous people. Most of these stereotypes were created largely by Western civilizations as a result of colonialism and are perpetuated through our cultures even today. Colonialists saw wealth and prosperity in the form of such things as intensive agriculture, while most indigenous peoples choose to coexist with the flora and fauna and to not overuse the land. Western societies believed that the indigenous peoples of the lands they were colonizing didn’t possess the intellect or mental capacity to take appropriate use of the resources in front of them. It was not necessary however, for most Indigenous peoples to take any more from the land than what they needed to survive. Indigenous peoples didn’t need to “rape” the land because they could produce or trade for everything that they, as a society, needed. Indigenous people have a sense of intrinsic value of the land that they not only live on but coexist with.

    It also saddens me to think about all of the legal battles that Indigenous people around the world have had to fight against “land grabbers and profiteers” and how futile their efforts have been until recently. It excites me that laws such as the 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have been enacted around the world. I feel that awareness and education of profiteering that has been going on worldwide at the expense of Indigenous peoples is the only way that exploitation of these peoples is ever going to cease.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal responses here, Justin– it is refreshing to see your feelings seem to coincide with your ethics and compassion in these historical cases and the struggle we now face to restore and protect the nature that succors us.
      Obviously, colonizers had self-serving perspectives as they views native peoples, native lands and what they saw as native resources.
      I too am heartened by the UN Declaration– now we might put some legal teeth in it.

  115. My first reaction to the beginning of this piece was to feel like a very, very small piece of a long history. Seven generations of industrialized society compared to an estimated 36,000 generations of indigenous culture makes the industrial era seem rather insignificant as far as timelines are concerned. As far as impacts go, however, those seven generations have wreaked an extensive amount of havoc on the natural world and its inhabitants. Approximately .000019% of human history appears to have included industrial age technologies; it would be interesting to try to measure out impact percentages in comparison.

    A line in this piece read “Today many indigenous peoples are bi-cultural as they both adhere to their ancient values and ways of life and respond to the pressures of the modern world.” That resonates clearly with the reasoning behind massive areas of deforestation, unprecedented water pollutant levels, and other concerns in both developed and developing nations. Where before a culture may have taken only what was required to survive (even be comfortable), now they can obtain a bit of extra financial gain by cutting, catching, clearing or otherwise providing more of what people/nations with capital to offer are consuming.

    The idea that indigenous peoples lacked knowledge because they did not employ methods used by ‘civilized’ societies seems rather arrogant of the latter party. When new technologies were introduced to areas formerly maintained by indigenous practices (still a form of technology), it seems commonplace for those areas to later fail due to the employment of those same technologies (which may have been more expensive, more exhaustive, and more dangerous). After 36,000 generations of learning, adapting and perfecting methods, it seems to me that indigenous peoples probably had a pretty good handle on what they were doing- even if they didn’t yield the results that representatives from other societies had come to expect from their own lands. I personally like the saying “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” in this instance. It might be possible to raise outputs by increasing inputs in order to produce an excess, but is it necessary? Maybe a bit of extra for barter here and there, but until the more ‘advanced’ push towards large amounts of capital accumulation, it seems to me that indigenous societies were doing just fine with their tried and true methods.

    It stands out as important to me that indigenous peoples are potentially (particularly in the United States) allowed access to areas and resources that are otherwise restricted. It is also good, in my opinion, that native peoples have stewardship of so many of the Earth’s biologically diverse regions. Through generations of good stewardship, they certainly proved their ability to treat such assets with respect and manage them effectively to prevent their decline.

    • Thoughtful assessment of the comparative timespans here, Adrienne. I think the bi-cultural issue is a bit more complex: there is tremendous pressure on native peoples to use their resources in these destructive ways– and sometimes pressure related to their very existence. When “development” comes to their areas, native peoples lose considerable say in ecological choices. This is something the UN statement attempts to remedy by stating the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional resources.
      Bi-culturalism as I used the term was meant more to indicate that these are no longer (if they ever were, given their extensive trading networks) isolated peoples: many have managed to navigate the current age without ravaging their resources and still maintain their traditions. That does not, of course, mean that this process is without conflicts.
      “Progress” may be one of the most undefined and dangerous words “civilized society” uses– since it excuses all manner of horrors without explanation or moral assessment– and this underlies your astute discussion about the dismissal of indigenous knowledge.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  116. One of the greatest parts of this essay is when you talk about how organization like the WWF are now starting to write in indigenous people into their conservation plans. It has been sad to read about places that were set aside for protection, but yet the people that lived there for generations were forced out. This caused many problems for the people and the land. Now that they have no where to go they are forced to illegal harvest natural resources from this protected spot in order to feed their selves and their family. It is amazing to see that a lot of places are being considered with native people in mind, allowing them to stay or being paid to protect the area.

    I am also glad to read that they are starting to consider the indigenous knowledge of the land just as important. Like you said their knowledge of the environment was necessary in order for them to survive and what they know is incomparable to what we know. We have so much to learn and it nice to see that it is being listened to now. Colonial people and even people of modern age have always thought that we know best, and our way of living is the way all should live. Changing the way people think, talk, dress, and everything else. To me the damage that has already been done and all the information that we have lost from the native people is a sad reality, but it’s hopeful to read that we are finally starting to see. We are starting to see that their way of life worked for the land they lived on, and thrived. I just hope we can learn and apply some of that knowledge to our own way of living.

    • Thank you for your compassionate as well as thoughtful response, Laura. There is must that has been lost not only of indigenous knowledge, but, as you point out, cultural diversity in the historical ravages of colonialism. I think one way to gain a learning perspective is to understand that the way in which we treat other humans and the environment are intimately related.

  117. It is shocking that the indigenous people have been so stereotyped, most of which are completely ridiculous. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to have such claims against you. To be accused of “raping” a piece of land that has been in your familiy for generations. Land that supplies you and your kin with food and water, land that is sacred and holy to you and your people. The indigenous people have faced so much hardship from foreign settlers. If everyone had the co-exist mentality that the indigenous people have we would not be facing global warming, pollution, endangered species, poverty..etc.

    It breaks my heart to think of the thousands of indigenous people being forced to move from their land because of the things that we have done. To me it feels like they are fighting a losing battle. Plants and animals that they need for survival are being killed by pollution and destruction of habitat. They are being forced into modern civilization where they will lose all sense of who they are and what they believe in.

    • Thank you for your compassionate response, Kiley. I would say that indigenous peoples are facing overwhelming odds, but I would not like to say they are fighting a “losing” battle– since so many have done so much for their people, their land–and for the awareness of industrial society. You aptly outline the difficulties faced by these peoples, not the least of which is the ridiculous (apt word) stereotyping that colonial societies use to license their ravaging of these peoples and their lands. But if we call their struggles “losing”, we condemn them ahead of time– what I find heartening and a profound example of the power of human resilience and community is the fact that so many have not lost “all sense of who they are and what they believe in” in the face of such odds.
      I also think that our support for their struggles aids both us and them.

  118. Modern science could learn a hard and productive lesson from the past and present practices of Indigenous communities throughout the world. There are some scientists out there that take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the environment and probably are the closest to understanding the how and what of some of the natural functions of the Earth.
    The power and domination along with the perceived attitudes that the culture of colonial people had for Indigenous people is unfortunate and it is nice to read about the conservation of bio and cultural-diversity is mostly in the hands of those very people in this day and age.

    • I agree with your perspective on interdisciplinary (and therefore holistic) science offering us more of the knowledge we need in the current day. We certainly cannot afford to throw out any sources of wisdom in the face of our current environmental crises. I find it heartening as well when indigenous peoples assert and/or regain their control over their own lands and resources.

  119. I’m not too surprised that a large amount of the remaining biodiversity can be found in areas occupied by indigenous peoples. Modernized civilizations tend to dominate a landscape and shape it to the form that they deem most beneficial, often sacrificing the surrounding environment and wildlife in the process. For areas that have not already been touched by modern society, conservation practices learned from indigenous peoples can help to allow people to continue to live in harmony with the existing environment. My question is how can these sorts of practices be applied to places where the landscape is irreversibly altered or damaged? Are there any suggestions on how to apply these sorts of practices to a place like New York City?

    • Hi Aaron, you have essential questions here. The issue of New York City is a pointed one. One thing we might point out is the New Yorkers use a far lower carbon budget that the rest of the country; that is, living in New York contributes less to climate change than does living in the rest of the US– why? Because of the use of public transport by a large portion of the population.
      Obviously, we cannot raze New York to the ground and start over, but there are things being done in New York on a step by step basis that are hopeful; including urban gardens, tree planting (I understand there are now trees growing on the blocks where there were none a few years back) –and the reclaiming of areas (as they have done on a wholesale fashion in Detroit, where community gardens are growing where abandoned automotive plants once were) opened up by industry’s leaving. In New York, there are new natural “parks” in abandoned areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx (taken over and managed as natural parks by the borough governments), and one mixed use green area in lower Manhattan on the end of a former subway line (it is planted entirely on the second story above the ground where the former line dead ends.)
      It is a start incited by our own creativity when we begin to see the world differently.
      In Oregon, we have precious resources still here that we need to protect, as you indicate. Thanks for your comment.

  120. I found it very interesting that a person living in a modern industrialized nation uses two dozen times the natural resources compared to a person that lives in an indigenous community. I feel as though we are used to easy living and constant entertainment, all of which comes from a process. Food, computers, cars, tv’s, clothes all take a process to make, at their very roots are an accumulation of processed natural resources.

    • Good point, Wil. We are not only accustomed to all these luxuries, but we make them in often lazy ways that draw large amounts of energy and resources. Buying the “newest” whatever every year will indeed eventually crash our ecosystems– natural limits will not allow us to live beyond our resource budgets forever.

  121. What I find most gripping about this article is the incredible level of indigenous activism in environmental matters, both of local and national importance and those issues which are important abroad.

    What is even more striking is the degree to which the conclusions of science and indigenous knowledge (which is often ancient and ancestral in nature, going back very far chronologically yet having a surprising level of consistency in the knowledge base). This is quite remarkable! Whereas science labors for eons over some “fundamental” truth in the Western worldview, it appears that indigenous peoples had knowledge of the “fundamental truths” of nature and the universe long before any official scientific inquiry was underway anywhere in the known world, and they seem to have done it with markedly less skepticism and cultural upheaval (think Copernicus and Darwin with the Copernican Revolution and the Theory of Natural Selection).

    The concept of interdependence as explicated in this article is quite fascinating, as, according to the author the values of gratitude and reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility, and balance are the key to establishing healthy and lasting ecological relationships between living things. Evidently indigenous knowledge helps to preserve this noticeable dynamic mutualism, more so than does science of Western knowledge of the world. Not that the indigenous worldview cannot be involved on an international scale. I think it is a major step for social progress that indigenous cultures have had more involvement in recent years in the international sphere, such as with organizations as Amnesty International, but that this involvement has paradoxically freed many from the ravages of European colonialism and imperialism and modern-day 21st century globalization. It seems that by accepting prominence on the world stage, indigenous cultures have been able to accept from the larger world what is beneficial, such as legal protection and social distinction, while rejecting what does not fit their cultural constructs, such as copyrights and industrial farming methods.

    Is this not in itself an example of dynamic mutualism in a humanistic form?

    • Very thoughtful perspective in the examples of the ways in which indigenous choose what to accept and not to accept of the industrial world, Lara. I find it quite amazing (and an underscoring of the resiliency of some of these cultures) that they have been beset with so much destruction from without and many still maintain these values. That is not to say that ALL do– but I have been touched and heartened by many who do and who lead the way with the kind of environmental activism you note here.
      I think it is also true that if we wish to care for the land it is important to care for those who care for the land–or at least get them out from under colonialism–or “development” which is certainly the opposite of any decent human advancement. Thanks for your comment.

      • Hello Professor Holden,

        Thanks again for the comments.

        Yes, I definitely agree that the activism on behalf of the indigenous peoples of many countries is amazing. As you mentioned, the resiliency to be integrative yet selective is important for them.


    • You note “science labors for eons over some ‘fundamental’ truth in the Western World”. In this article there is a sentence that describes the Indigenous peoples ‘fundamental’ truth and knowledge of the world to be kept in “narrative form”, through oral stories and through storytelling. What an interesting, contrasting point to illustrate yet another of the differences between worldviews. One understands their knowledge through poking and prodding and constant experimentation that will gain: data, numbers and “solid facts”. This information they turn over and over and declare them as yet more “laws” – natural laws of how things are. Whereas, the other view expresses its knowledge through visual and emotional engagement, of telling a story and having a story told to you, through the relationship and trust that is built in the transmission of action, words, tones and emotions.

      After I read your comment I thought in greater depth about this sentence and loved the contrasting images that came to mind.

  122. I didn’t think the “Green Revolution” would be able work everywhere as it did not in Bangladesh. There is only so far modern farming practices can take the production of food. Also industrial practices leave lands so ravaged of nutrients I didn’t think it would be possible to rehabilitate those lands but knowing that Indigenous practices can rehabilitated them makes me think these should be adopted by industrial farms. Maybe a Indigenous consultant. The issue today is that most people have or want a post-modern lifestyle. China has in fact stated that they will take the same short-cuts that the U.S. took 40 years ago when building up our industry so they can compete on the same level. In doing so they have polluted most of their rivers, sky and deforested a large portion of the country. How can we make it so that people who live in post-modern countries lower their standards of living and take on some of the values and view of nature that indigenous populations have? Also would that work today? what I mean by that is many indigenous groups are small communities of families who are very familiar with each other. The world is now seen as more on more of an international level with all sorts of different cultures interacting and living together, could these values still hold for such a diverse community?
    Also you mention something about how indigenous people are not properly compensated when patenting traditional pharmaceuticals I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit?

    • I think perhaps we can begin to untangle the conundrum you present by defining what we mean by a raised standard of living, Kayli. It is certainly true as well as a matter of justice that we cannot expect others to accept poverty for the sake of protecting our lifestyle! But there are other alternatives, as indicated in another essay we will be looking at– which details the Bangladeshi situation a bit more–and the currently last essay on the idea of “progress” which indicates something of the high price paid for such “progress”- which argues against the idea that such progress raised anyone’s standard of living. There are devastating social and health effects that have come with Chinese industrialism– but obviously if we wish them to take a different course, we will need to model this ourselves and NOT be responsible for economic pressure that helps cause such disasters.
      And though many see the “most-modern” lifestyle as held up by modern media (with all the glitz and none of the drawbacks) as desirable, there are many others who are resisting this as well.
      On the issue of compensation for modern pharmaceutical use of indigenous knowledge, in a nutshell, many native peoples have been given a pittance (perhaps a few pennies in some Amazonian examples) and continue to live in poverty while their traditional remedies make huge profits for pharmaceuticals. In some cases, third world communities (women in India, for instance) have no longer been allowed to use their own traditional products once they are patented by modern corporations, as in the case of the early patenting of basmati rise. In a related issue, the World Trade Organization (at the behest of Monsanto) pressured the Indian government to crack down on street corner oil presses run by poor Indian women, on the grounds they were competing with the genetically engineered soy oil that the US corporation was selling to this country.

  123. I have taken a few courses that have discussed the effects of industrial farming. Soil fertility is lost and some land becomes completely inhospitable for traditional farming purposes. I had not heard of indigenous methods being able to fix the issues that comes with the industrial farming method. It is too bad that more measures have not been implemented according to indigenous methods. Only looking at current Salmon runs it can be seen that management methods over the past 100 years or so have decimated a once plentiful resource. Natives of the area were able to keep healthy populations and yet with all of our advances it can be ruined. 80% of our world’s current biodiversity rests in indigenous lands. Our dominant worldview should change to include more values dealing with reverence and holism. The fact that only 20% of the world’s biodiversity rests with non indigenous peoples is sad. We need to adopt more management styles from indigenous cultures and maybe correct some of the problems caused by industrialization.

    • Hello Holly, thanks for your comment. Actually, soil so ruined by industrial farming can come back, timing depending on soil and climate–and diligence of particular farmers, since bringing back such soil can be labor intensive. But this is the reason for the “transitional” label of farms on the way to being certified organic– but recovering from their chemical addictions.
      And as for our “advances”– we may need to define this word more closely, and use science that supports the values you indicate–and I would add, bio and cultural diversity as well.

    • Hi Holly,
      I was also surprised that some of the other classes I have taken discussing the effects of industrial farming had not discussed indigenous methods as a means of repair. With the soil becoming such a problem in some areas it would seem that people would start considering and teaching about all possible solutions. I have to wonder if farmers don’t use indigenous methods because they are uneducated about these methods or they don’t find it profitable to use them.

      • Yes, Alicia and Holly, especially given the success of particular indigenous methods in doing exactly such repairs (as in Bangladesh and Mexico)– there is a links dedicated to such experiments all over the world on our links page under the farms and gardens topic.

  124. One of the previous students a year ago briefly touched on population growth as an issue. You stated “To set the re-population of indigenous communities in the context of environmental impact, on a daily basis a person living in a modern industrialized nation uses as much as two dozen times the natural resources as does an individual living in an indigenous community.”

    In my opinion this is perhaps the biggest problem. In previous classes, I wasn’t afraid to argue the controversial topic of population management. China and India have enforced regulations for years, but this hasn’t controlled the issues of resource management. Some indigenous populations have large numbers of children, yet minimal impact upon their resources, simply by the methods of management that are part of their culture. However, in our industrialized country we likely use far more than the resources you suggest. We have become a society based upon convenience and preferences. We have become spoiled. I do believe in population control, although I feel that is needs to be related more to those who abuse resources than those who manage well. For example, I allowed a homeless woman and her daughter to stay with me for two weeks in November. She was grateful, yet lived a life I have never known. Food for her was all highly processed and came from a drive-thru or was able to be prepared in less than five minutes. Heat meant turn a dial. I live 15 miles from the nearest store, and 30 miles from the city with any fast-food or convenience items. Heat means hauling in wood. At no time would either her or her daughter help carry wood in to heat the house, and neither preferred any traditional home cooked meals. I would make a dinner for me, and each time I offered I got the same response “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll like it. I’ll just eat …” which generally was highly processed prepackaged food laden with sugar and preservatives. Entertainment was not throwing a stick for the dogs or hiking along the river, but television, internet and cell phones. This family clearly utilizes a massive amount of resources with no concept of the mess it creates. However, in contrast, my nearest neighbor has 13 children, and raises almost all of their own food, including meat, dairy and produce. They rotate crops and use other methods to help sustain the land.

    In some way I have to think that it’s not only the indigenous people of the world that has the right ideas on living right, but rural farmers and ranchers here in America might be on the right track as well. We are seeing a trend in a greener and more sustainable living as well as a movement to “think global, eat local.” Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about “think global, act local” that could be applied closer to home.

    • There is much to consider on this issue of population/resource use as your comment indicates, Kristi. Obviously our push for convenience and the media ads behind this are a problem. I also like to remember that the UN has found, in a number of studies, that a very effective way to limit births is to give women economic and political powers. Seems women automatically do this when they have the power to do so–and their livelihood is not reliant on large numbers of children.

      • Changing women’s economic and political powers can help, but the culture needs to change as well. I watched a discovery program on child brides running away and later being forced into sex slavery. One father simply said his daughter would marry at age 9 because it was the custom, and he didn’t want to be shunned by his neighbors. Ineffectively he was saying that he would rather sacrifice his daughter to a life of torture and suffering than be embarrassed within his community. For us in the United States this is outrageous, yet we ourselves will sacrifice our natural resources to extinction and delve into the realm of consumerism simply to “keep up with the Jones,” or oblige the neighborhood association who insists upon large manicured lawns which waste water.

        • I would say that changing the child bride system is certainly an integral part of raising women’s economic and political status– which is what the folks at Half the Sky are doing with respect to this issue.
          And I agree that there is much critical perspective to develop on our own choices–and since we manage to consume a quarter of the world’s resources for our needs with only about 4-5 per cent of its population, the changes we make can have substantial effect.

  125. The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People should be re-worded to say “within the modern world” instead of “within modern nation states”. Once people can truly learn to hear the education that other people can provide about the local ecology, then maybe the race, as a whole, will grow out of this rut that we are in.
    Using local farming techniques to a given area is a wise move. A technique that I used just 50 miles south of the Dallas area a decade ago does not work at all with the area that I live now. I have had to learn a new way of farming in my back yard and adapt the way I grow my little garden and even the way I compost my waste. The only way I was able to do that is by talking with local farm stores and learning how to adapt to the new area and be more successful in my garden.
    Going through the history of new people coming into an already settled area it is sad how the old population is kicked aside in the thought that the new comers are the more intelligent ones. A person new to the local population always has a sense of they are better than the locals. It comes down to the basic human emotion of fear. They fear what is different, what they do not understand, or what could possibly be smarter than them. It is sad that as a whole the human race cannot come together.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Stephen. You have an essential point about place-based technologies–and learning from those who had place-based knowledge of the land. We only do ourselves harm, as you indicate, by dismissing such knowledge.

  126. From the article, “Indigenous Peoples,” I learned two very strong facts which are significant evidence that indigneous peoples truly are the “guardians of the future.” Two major statistics indicate that this is true. As stated by Dr. Holden, “today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity even as they comprise 90% of its cultural diversity.” This is so impresive to me, and makes me very proud of the indigenous peoples. It is truly an honor to share the same planet with such mindful and devoted peoples.

    I hope that they are successful in increasing their populations, and that their meaningful interactions influence others to do the same. If we all lived as they do, our planet would probably already be a sustainable one.

  127. I really enjoyed the synthesis of so much useful information in one essay. Nicely done. Several things came to mind when I read this. First, the globilzation of environmental values that speak to a connectiveness and reverence for life would help counter out of control neo-capitalism. I love the concpet of “pachamama” that has been inserted into Ecudor’s constitution – reminds me of the Earth Charter that many US cities have signed. I also love some of the UN conventions that have been ratified (many not by the US unfortunately). However, WTO and IMF laws and treaties have been contrary to the spirit of efforts by the UN – this always seems to be the case. Agreements are made, but then loopholes inserted. Not only are threats posed by mining and other extractive operations, timber and agriculture, and development. Nuclear waste, hazardous substances and toxins are disposed of on land in developing countries. I recall reading that one of the reasons Somalia is ungovernable is due to the disposal of nuclear waste along its coastal region, which destroyed the fishery and made the populace dependent on pirating foreign ships to survive. Also, as previously mentioned in the comments, land is currently being acquired by corporations and foreign governements throughout Africa to tie up agricultural lands (with plans to export the crops). Finally, the Amazon and the Williamette Valley both appear to have at least one thing in common – they were ecologically engineered by indigenous populations. Ultimately, these populations were more interested in making sure they had food and water, and not in protecting biodiversity. There was certainly favoritism for certain wildlife species and wild crops, and plants were propagated. I still think they are similar to the more scorch and burn Western cultures than we may want to admit – the populations were probably limitied for whatever reason (their choice or natural factors).

    • I agree knowing that Ecuador has adopted an indigenous concept into their constitutions is leaps and bounds from how indigenous peoples were treated no more then 10 years ago.
      But although you raise a good point about people wanted to survived by any means possible I don’t think you truly address how the spirituality surrounding an indigenous tribes existence may also be a factor in how they survive and view life.

      • I agree that we do ourselves a disservice when we think of humans in the merest terms of survival rather than in terms of our potential to get beyond this, even in the most difficult of situations.
        That being said, we ARE asking much of ourselves to move into change when our survival is threatened– but in another way of looking at it, that very imperative may motivate us to make the changes we need.

    • I had not heard this about Somalia, Mary– but it is a sad case of the consequences of the thoughtless actions of industrialized societies that see themselves as “advanced” without ever defining this term.
      As your response indicates, we stand on the edge of a change– for better and for worse both. This makes it all the more imperative we lend our weight to the choices that, as the wise Muckleshoot elder put it, go “on the side of life”. It will certainly test our system in a good way if more and more municipalities sign on to the Earth Charter and the federal government allows corporate misdeeds on the part of US corporations.
      Thanks for your thoughtful and obviously caring comment.

  128. It is hard to believe that the indigenous people have been around for 36,000 generations. This is assuming that you believe in evolution. With the industrial revolution we have had 7 generations. It is no debate the environment has suffered. The indigenous people believe in that nature is a teacher and that lands cannot be replaced or exchanged for others. They also believe that all wildlife is Kin. Wow what a wonderful thing; just think if we all has these great thoughts. Also, I love the idea of reciprocity and balance. Nature gives to us, do we need to give back? Yes we need to give back to nature and also protect it, but to do this we need to have a better understanding of nature and listen to its needs. I think that the indigenous people are able to read nature a lot better than us, so we need to listen when they have an idea; however the advancements in technology have taught us that they are not always correct. You would think that the smarter we get the better we would take care of nature and learn from it. But instead we are killing it, not like the indigenous people who live in harmony with nature and help protect nature and they are the poorest in the world. What is wrong with this picture? We are going to drive ourselves into extinctions. Like we have done to a lot of the other species if we don’t change our way of thinking and living. We need to do what we can to support the environment. We need to make sure that third world countries adhere to the same environmental regulations that we have here in the United States. Until this happens the environment will continue to suffer as well as the indigenous people. There can be a true balance between the two if we only work together

    • I am not clear what the theory of evolution has to do with the fact that humans have been on earth for so many generations, Christi. I did wish to make clear in this essay that any simple idea of social evolution that assumes we are moving from indigenous societies to “advanced” ones is problematic.
      Your point about the necessity of giving back to nature what we take from it is an essential one. You bring up another important point in the issue of wealth disparity– if we really want an effective strategy for the future, we should be rewarding most those who do the most to sustain our environment, not those who ravage it! Thanks for your comment.

    • I was surprised that the indigeous people have been around for 36,000 generations. People try to compare between 36,000 generations of the indigeous people and 7 post industrial generation. I think post industrial knowledge contributed to our growth, but lost something we need to maintain for next generation…. However, 36000 generations of indigenous knowledge can fix its loss.

  129. I am compelled by the idea of cultures based upon gratitude, reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility and balance. It seems like such values should be staples in every culture, however they are not. Indigenous peoples live a life of selflessness and respect for both people and the earth. Unfortunately, many non-indigenous cultures live a life of the opposite, one of selfishness and power. It is almost difficult for me to picture living in a society based on such wonderful principles, when I am part of one which is not. Our culture has a lot it can learn from indigenous peoples. Instead of the continuing in the pursuit money our culture would do well to help in the pursuit of becoming “Guardians of the Future”.

    • Thoughtful points, Alicia. I find these values and the human history that enacted them (and enacts them still) compelling as well. I do think we have gone off track of our better potential in industrial society– but since humans are the ones who made these decisions, it is humans who can fix this by changing ourselves.

    • I think the real question is are we a natural people from Earth? You need to read into the Ancient Alien theory because a lot of the evolution that has taken place by humans seems very unnatural. Both of these articles we just read proves that we don’t really belong on Earth. Why did our species develop culture and technology while no other species on Earth came close to accomplishing what we have?

      • I would disagree that anyone needs to read the ancient aliens theory, Andrew. I myself have a good deal of difficulty with this theory, since it seems to flow from preconceptions about “advanced” technology that assume that indigenous peoples could not possibly developed particular knowledge/technology, so that people from outer space with a technology just like ours must have landed from somewhere else to teach them this.
        With the entire universe out there, there may well be other life forms that have something to teach us (I actually think so)– but I also have a problem with the idea that humans are not “natural” creatures. I have never seen any data to the contrary that is at all convincing to me. I would say that close observation over thousands of generations can yield detailed knowledge and technology. For instance, there are those indigenous peoples who predicted the last major Asian tsunami and tried to warn the Indian government about it. How did they know? The changes in their fish catches were similar to those that had happened many generations before in knowledge their ancestors passed on to them. (Deep sea fish tended to rise to the surface as a result of deep sea disturbance). I would propose that all similarly “fantastic” knowledge of indigenous peoples can be explained. It seems to me an insult not only to these peoples but to our own human capacities that we think we have to attribute such things to those from another world.
        I am also concerned about an “aliens” theory that would supposedly take us away with facing the limits of this world–and accordingly, the consequences of our own actions.

        • Do civilized humans understand the Earth as well as they do? We are nearly two different species.

        • Actually, there are DNA studies that indicate ALL humans are closely related to African San peoples. So no, we are not a different species– in fact, this is a strange question even to address. Franz Boas, key figure in developing American anthropology in the nineteenth century , spent a good deal of time countering the racism that put humans into different physical categories– that idea of different human species should be long dead and gone. We are all one and the same Homo Sapiens.

  130. There were two points that stood out to me in this essay.
    First, “Dingo makes us human.” –and the idea that “humans become human by means of their embededness in the natural world.” I understand this first hand after buying a piece of property to create and build a ranch. The first time I saw the land I knew it didn’t want anything to do with us. The water table was high, there were just a few species of trees and the ground looked unhealthy. My husband insisted we buy it and I reluctantly went along with him. Before we could do anything we had to re-route the water and build the building site up with rock so we didn’t flood in the winter. I knew from all my years in Oregon that it wouldn’t matter how much we tried to manipulate the land, it would do what was natural. After that one decision, we decided to let the rest of our efforts be guided by the land and let it tell us what it wanted. It worked! The ranch looks nothing like our vision, but it is healthier, quite beautiful and becoming more so as we let it Iead the way. When we are at crossroads on a project, my husband will say, “The land will tell us what it wants us to do.” Sometimes the project gets put off because the land isn’t ready to tell us what it wants.
    The other point that excited me was “ Pachamama”—the sacred life giving qualities of nature and ability to sue on her behalf in Ecuador. I admit this is the first time I have heard this concept, and wonder how it could possibly be implemented in the United States. Is it too late for us? I’m wondering how a future presidential candidate would fare with this type of agenda. Would it be so foreign and so unprofitable that it would be impossible for Americans to accept?

    • I love your example with the ranch whose land told you what it wanted you to do, Bev–and obviously an essential point of this is the fact that you and your husband were able to listen!
      In terms of rights of nature, it is a concept that is actually being enacted in particular US municipalities. And in Ecuador, it is helping indigenous Amazonians stand against big oil corporations’ devastation of their environment.

    • Allowing the land to speak to you is a great way of phrasing it. At my house and property in Oregon, the previous owner had told me that the lawn on the north side of the house needed to be re-sod twice per year. I thought it was ludicrous and put in a cold weather shade garden, pond, and torn out the entire lot of lawn grass and replanted with bunch grass from other parts of my property, and masses of wild flowers. I laid a flagstone pathway, and in the summer I walked among tall flowers and beautiful grasses. The best part, I never had to water after the first year.

      • Wonderful when beauty flows from creative design and wisdom in this way! Sounds like you began with the question as to whether you OR the land really wanted sod there if it was so hard to maintain.

  131. Two points I found very interesting. The first is in regards to the suit by the Onondaga Nation. I found it interesting that they chose not to include repossession of the traditional lands but instead they chose to assume environmental trusteeship of the land. I think this is a unique way of looking at the situation at hand. Perhaps they also did not want to push those who are currently living on the land off, as they were most likely forced to do so many years ago. Or perhaps they figured they could get the area cleaned up faster and more efficiently?

    The second point I found interesting is in regards to the Ecuadoran constitution. The idea that nature has a legal right and than anyone can sue on her behalf is wonderful. Think of where Big Oil and other industries would be if we had something similar to that in our constitution.

    • Or perhaps the priority in terms of caring for the land is that care itself rather than possessing or owning it?
      Big Oil is at this very moment being confronted in Ecuador using this law.

    • Hello Brandie:
      I found several points in this essay fascinating as well. One we both liked, that I will definitely be doing more independent research on was the Ecuadoran Constitution (even when I’m done with this class). I’ve never heard anything like that before and hope it catches popularity among the nations. I could just imagine the long list of lawsuits big coal would have from families in West Virginia! Everyone seems to focus on big oil, I assume because most of ours is foreign and its the most commonly/everyday used fossil fuel by the average consumer. Unfortunately coal is far more devastating to the environment than oil. Which is unfortunate since its my countries (U.S.) most abundant fossil fuel. Just a handful of coal fired power plants can produce more carbon dioxide and release dozens of toxins into the environment. Than if all the vehicles in the U.S. were running at the same time. Thats just the burning of coal, the mining process is just (if not worse) as bad. I personally look forward to the day when were completely fossil fuel free.

      Ryan McGarrity

      • You have an important point on the issue of coal. It is currently being touted as an alternative to gas and oil– but all one has to do is read the excellent Big Coal to get a sense of what is wrong with this approach on both a local and global arena.

  132. Ever since the birth of the industrial age mankind has witnessed a steady decline of the environment around him. This is really thrown into perspective when one looks at how many generations it took for this decline. For modern man to live in relative harmony with his environment for nearly 36,000 generations, then cause such a negative environmental impact in just 7 generations is a tragedy and a legacy I do not wish for future generations. The unfortunate aspect is that the majority of our modern civilization only seem to be motivated by profit. That is one of the main reason’s why going green (in some ways) is becoming more popular today, it saves people money. One example I noticed was how the Pacific North-West Native Americans were able to annually harvest seven times the amount of salmon from a local river than modern man, without causing damage to that ecosystem. Modern seafood companies would not be interested in the Native Americans methodology because its responsible and the right thing to do but because its profitable.

    A very interesting fact pointed out was that indigenous people around the world usually lack the technology that most modern cities have. Yet they possess something that somehow slips through our fingers… values. Out of the seven listed, “balance” stood out to me as the one we our most lacking. Their philosophy of not taking more than one needs or can easily be replaced in a short matter of time against our general philosophy that bigger is better; and always taking more than what we need. Is a true testament of the relationship these people have with their environment.

    Another very interesting piece of legislation was that of the Ecuadoran constitution. That allows individuals to sue companies on behalf of mother nature (I will not soon forget this one). This without a doubt should be adopted by every civilized Government. The people’s voice (and mother natures) would definitely be heard much more often and I’m confident the constant harassment most fossil fuel companies (and other irresponsible organizations) would face would deter them from pursuing some of their more destructive projects.

    Ryan McGarrity

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for such a thoughtful detailed response. It is a hopeful one, as well–given your conclusion about oil companies, and I think that it is easy to forget that the profit that drives many such corporations is generating by our buying and using their products. I do love the fact that Ecuador has put these protections for the natural world into their constitution– though that does not make it entirely easy yet to sue multi-nationals, it is one first step.
      You have a great point about the importance of values: in fact, I think we might say that values guide technology and if industrial values were different, so would technology be.
      The harvesting success of native people was based on protection of salmon habitat as well as moderating the take during years of low salmon runs– also there is a Skokomish (Olympic Peninsula) bit of folklore direction which specifies why fishermen should put salmon eggs back in the water when they taken spawning salmon.
      We have much to learn from history–and from those who had so much history and knowledge of place!

  133. I’ve never been anywhere except west of the United States and Canada, so I keep using our indigenous people as an example of how this great essay can teach me of indigenous people and how they should hang on to things. My daughter is a confederated tribal member so I’m able to learn from her and her cousins about up and coming members. I see that they are not concerned with a balance between themselves and nature and they do not protest against consumerism and materialism. I have meet people that live in Harlan, Oregon who moved here in the 60’s from New York, these people have learned to use fewer resources and run nurseries that preserve the environment. Where does the pride of reserving ones environment come from? The essay brings up the issue of ownership and not just with land but also knowledge. When my 25 year old daughter is older possible she will feel more pride and seek more knowledge. A great thought is nature as ones teacher, teaching gratitude, reverence, sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, humility, and balance. Very insightful essay.

    • One point that I think it is important to remember from this essay is that cultural values need to be taught at an early age and then perhaps decided upon at a later age: those who do not grow up with them are certainly not liable to express them. In fact, I would say that those who grow up in the context of modern industrial society are likely to express the values of that society– though I do think we are always capable of change.
      It is sad that so many generations of forced attendance at boarding school, as well as adoption out of traditional communities (until the law changed in this regard in the 1970s) has removed many native children from their heritage. Good for you in (so it seems) giving your daughter the opportunity to be acquainted with her heritage.

    • You say, “I have meet people that live in Harlan, Oregon who moved here in the 60’s from New York, these people have learned to use fewer resources and run nurseries that preserve the environment. Where does the pride of reserving ones environment come from?”

      I have lived many places, including Los Angeles for 6 years and New York City for 5 years, and I, too, am always amazed at the amount of people who have once lived in these places and are now in small communities, living off the land and respecting the land in a way that I have never seen in either LA or NYC. You ask, where does it come from? I can only answer from personal experience, but for me (and I imagine for other city people as well) there came a point when the drudgery of big city life was just not worth it anymore. The constant tiredness and weight of the negative and destructive energy the city provides, the loneliness of the cold concrete and the lack of space for anything suddenly becomes too much. You would be surprised of the need for resourcefulness while living in the cities because of the price for everything. Electricity and water costs a lot and most places do not have central air or heat – in fact the heat is steam and controlled by the city on when it comes on and when they turn it off.

      For me, a pride for reserving the environment came when I moved to Alaska and saw what land and a pristine environment can do for the soul, how it can play on a community and offer you a sense of freedom and space that you have never felt before. I feel like many New Yorkers (or at least the ones who end up leaving New York) may have a similar experience and is a reason they end up leaving the cold drudge of the concrete cities. Their pride, may come, from never having such life before and wanting to keep it this way forever. If that makes sense….

      • Thoughtful personal reflections. And yet there is this about New York: a good many new trees planted and gardens and parks on now-abandoned land in all the burroughs. And if all the folks in the US lived with the same energy usage as do those in New York, we would half our carbon output, due to their use of public transport.

        • That is a great point about NY, in regards to public transportation. I wish more large cities would invest in public transportation. What a great way to move away from fossil fuels, one that is accessible to the masses and not the few.

        • We could use such an efficient and accessible system in Eugene, where Lane Transit is struggling and raising bus fares– so my experience in recently googling for a bus from my house to ride downtown came up with a number one suggestion (the fastest, given the bus schedule) to walk (51 minutes), and two, to take a bus and thus save 16 cents over driving! I am afraid that is not much of a motivator to get on the bus.
          We sorely need good public transportation everywhere!

      • Hi Michelle! I can relate to your statement about the drudgery of city life. I moved from Southern Oregon to San Diego and lived there for about seven years. It was great at first but then about five years into my stay….I began to hate it. The traffic, the people, the constant sun..yes I would just WISH it would rain! I would actually go home in October every year just so I could see the seasons change, the blustery winds, the trees, the rain. Right now I live in Tacoma, and I can’t wait for husband to get out of the army so we can move away from the city and be surrounded by natural beauty!

        • I have a friend whose daughter works in Tacoma but lives in Olympia, as she liked the small town feel much better.
          (Although Olympia is not exactly small!).
          Though I went to school in New York, I can’t imagine ever living there long term myself– given the fact that its residents are saving us so much carbon output, we should thank them for being willing to live there, yes?
          There are those who truly enjoy the city.

      • Michellerpierce;
        I wanted to say how well you did explaining to me the way the love and pride comes through for one of a land there not from. I’m not putting my friends down for where they come from or there family’s for staying in New York, it is just that it amazed me that they have such a love and it seems to be such a responsibility for Harlan, Oregon. That love, pride and responsibility are so important to our world and you understand it bless people like you. I liked your writings there great. Thank you for the insight.

  134. After reading the article it seems that indigenous people benefit in some ways from life being more difficult. They are probably less prone to injury because of stronger bodies from labor and stronger immunity from building up tolerance. Since these people don’t know life could be easier it does not affect them mentally or emotionally. They build stronger relationships with the other people they live with because they have to rely on each other more than people do in developed nations. Their detailed environmental knowledge provides them with a variety of advantages in agriculture, medicine, hunting/gathering, and survival techniques. I thought it was very interesting that the people of Pacific islands knew that a hurricane was going to hit and basically prevented any damage to their society. It shows that if you are connected with the Earth that you have a better biological connection. When that happened all of the other animals ran for high ground but people of a developed culture did nothing to ensure their survival. I think it is important that such organizations as the ICCA exists to protect these people because they live life the Earthly way.

    • Thoughtful comment, though I am not sure how life is more difficult for those (as the essay points our) who work 2-5 hours per day 3 days per week to obtain twice the protein of the average US adult and die of old age without disease.
      With our ideology that we are more “advanced” and technology gives us a life of ease, we are prone to stereotypes that keep us from discussing just what exactly we mean by “advancement”– or “advantages”– to use another term you use well here in a critical sense with respect to indigenous lives.
      Thoughtful response about the ways in which relationship to the natural world gives us information we cannot afford to lose or overlook.

  135. How can indigenous cultures be thought to lack the ability to make key subsistence choices? They have survived for thousands of years on their lands, living sustainably and they are smart enough to avoid intensive agriculture because it is “likely to raise the workload of local populations.” These are cultures that sustain healthy and content populations whose days includes time to play, relax, and tell stories. This essay emphasized for me how very different value systems can be. What is the definition of progress?

    It is good for the planet that indigenous communities are fighting to protect their lands and I think the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a good thing. As a side thought, I wonder what would happen if all of the Native American tribes in the U.S. fought to get their lands back. Could we, as a country, make something like that work?

    • Excellent perspective! We do indeed need to re-define “progress” in this context–and look with realism (rather than the denial that brings us license to use up and abuse) at what works with relationship to the environment as well as fulfilled human lives.
      I don’t have an answer to your last question. It is something to ponder–and in small ways, many tribes are working to get some traditional land back– though very little in comparison to that which these communities once had. And most live different lives than they traditionally did before colonial incursion.

  136. By the ongoing flexibility and adaptation as hunting, gathering, fishing, herding, agriculture, and shifting people, indigenous people have been around for 36,000 generations. That is amazing to me and by living off the land. The indigenous people might be some of the poorest in the world, but as with the San people of the Kalahari Desert, they are wealthy in longevity, health, and nutritional well-being. I never thought about this concept before, to them money isn’t everything. As an industrialized nation we want to go in and just fix it as in the green revolution.

    Some indigenous people unfortunately are sitting on a wealth of natural resources and others want their land or the resources. This is where corrupt government or violence will come in for the taking, all because of money and greed. I like how progress has been made to protect the indigenous people and their land.

    • Perhaps in the context you indicate we might well re-define what real wealth means? To those with this type of real wealth money isn’t everything– indeed, it isn’t anything all, since one can’t buy the items you list– longevity, health, and nutritional well-being (I would add, belonging).
      The natural resources issue is a sad one. With respect to the San, they were left pretty much alone as long as industrial societies did not want anything in their desert environment, but lately, diamonds have been mined there and now they are in true poverty on reservations. Greed for such things, as you indicate, leads to violence and corruption. Time to foster a society that rewards different kinds of actions– such as generosity and cooperation.

    • I know. It is amazing to put things in that perspective. How many people today would be willing to change their lifestyle? I was impressed by the fact about the salmon fishing. It said that the indigenous got on average a greater yearly take of salmon but did not destroy or damage the population. It makes you think that there are ways to feed and support all the people on the planet but we are going about it in a way that makes things worse, not better. Its time to re-evaluate. I don’t think its a good excuse when people say there are too many people on the planet. We should look at the way we get our tuna, improve the industry’s tactics and methods so that we can have a plentiful and sustainable resource for all.

      • How many would be willing to change their lifestyle? I imagine that would be related to what motivated them to do so. I know that many are not particularly happy in our current society– so if they saw a chance for a more fulfilled life (or even a job, given the current economy?) they might well be willing to change.
        And then there is the fact that many will be pressured into change by the environmental crises that will escalate, like it or not, if we continue the same behavior that caused these.

  137. The most striking realization for me after reading this piece was just how arrogant developers and others are towards the indigenous populace. This obviously stems from the days of colonialism. How dare the indigenous views are essentially swept aside. They have existed in their respective areas for generations and who would know more than them? It is in this manner that we cannot think of “development” as bringing about positive change, wither economically or environmentally. Development and the arrogance of the North acts more like a virus than the “savior” they claim to be.

    Indigenous do not ask to be “saved” or “progressed”. They live the way they want and who are those to judge it as ‘backwards’? The indigenous way of life is much more in tune to nature and their place in it, rather than subjugating it for their use and control. In this manner they don’t consider themselves poor, but we label them as such because we don’t see the value of such a relationship and therefore can’t put a monetary figure on it. This also comes up in the land claims disputes as indigenous don’t comprehend it in the same manner as developers. They do not claim to own the land because they do not view it in this manner. They just live within it, the same as whales live in the ocean, but hold deeds to that ‘property’.

    • You have a good insight in comparing colonial attitudes to carryovers in development, Trent. Indeed, we might heed the fact that many third world populations simply do not wish to be “saved” nu development, especially when such development robs them of their ability to care for themselves (by taking their lands, for instance) and puts them into money debts.
      It is obvious that judgement of some ways of life as “backward” is a thinly veiled excuse for making money by changing other ways of life, which is not real “development” in any sense.

  138. In the article, you mentioned that over 95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas overlap with lands claimed by indigenous peoples, which means they know proper way to live in our respective geographic areas. Any kinds of knowledge were taken over from generation to generation so it is important for us to keep their knowledge. Indigenous people have been held the way for making better world. We do not think it is useful idea because we think it is very old idea and never adapt in our world now. Even though we might not use their knowledge now, someday we need to use them for saving something. In addition, I wonder which generations had better knowledge… (“36000 generations of indigenous knowledge vs 7 generations of post industrial knowledge”).I think post industrial knowledge tremendously contributed to our growth, but lost something that we need to maintain for next generation…. However, 36000 generations of indigenous knowledge can fix its loss.

    • Good thoughts here, Tomoshiro. Place-based knowledge is something that Indigenous peoples possess and something industrial societies dismiss as “backward” at their own loss. As you indicate, there is something lost in all our “advancement” that needs to be recovered for the sake of coming generations.

    • I agree. I see no reason to remain ignorant when ANY knowledge is available that might address our current ecological crises.

  139. Like others have commented on which would you take advice from, 36,000 generations of productive knowledge or 7 generations of pretty much screwing things up? Although it would be nice if developers and industry personnel would take this view and apply it to today’s standards I think its a long shot because in the end its about profit for most of the companies. Change is one of the hardest things to accomplish especially on a grand scale. We as people are the problem and until we change as a whole things will continue to degrade. Using the example of Chevron, they are in the business of drilling oil. It makes them a ton of money and we as consumers are creating a demand for it. I believe with a change of view on how we see nature and our resources along with technological advances we can repair most of the damage we have caused in the last 7 generations. Thanks again for sharing this article.

    • Your first sentence made me smile– pretty much lays it all out there. We have plenty to do to create the change we need– and there are many others who share our values and are rolling up their sleeves to get to work. I still maintain that the more problems there are, the more imperative it is that we get going– each in our own way– to do something about them.

    • I agree Ryan. I like what David Suzuki says in his forward about technology and if it has made us better off. He says that he got really caught up in science and physics but realized that if these things were so good for our society then why hasn’t our standard of life gotten better? In most industrialized nations it has gone down and should have gone up especially around the 1960’s and since then. Obvilously there is something to learn from 36,000 generations of knowledge.

      • Yes, and once more, the issue turns to the necessity of critically evaluating such ideas as “progress” and particular types of technologies in terms of exactly whether we are indeed better off because of them.

    • I agree with what you said, ‘change is one of the hardest things to accomplish especially on a grand scale.’ I was amazed at the amount of success that can be achieved with continual effort exerted by a group of dedicated people. The amount of land that has been conserved and protected as a result of the efforts of indigenous peoples is an example of this. Change is possible, and a little something every day, adds up to a lot of change in the long term. Lets get to it. 😉

  140. I surprised as to how easily others write off people. You stated how indigenous people predicted and prepared for the tsunami in 2004. Even though they tried warning other now one listened. Does technology make others better. Throughout history during colonization that seems to be the opinion

  141. It seems fitting that indigenous people are the stewards over 80% of the earths remaining biodiversity. If anything gives me hope for the future of the environment it would be the idea that the oldest cultures on earth, the people who live their lives on the basis of cohabitating with nature and not possessing it, are now the main protectors.

    It’s also a scary notion that some of the poorest people in the most remote areas of the world are supposed to challenge the powerful multinational companies that are determined to strip every last bit of natural resources from the land and oceans. Whether it’s timber, oil, gold, minerals, fish or endangered species, if there is someone out there that can make money off exploiting them on the black market, then they will continue to be sought out and destroyed no matter how protected.

    I don’t see many traditions of the indigenous people carried out in the United States. We could incorporate these ideas in public schools and teach classes like Environmental Values and World Views to middle school children. We could teach that respect, reverence, empathy and kinship are the best ways to implement wildlife protection rather than domination and individual competitions to conquer everything.

    It’s important that organizations like “The Nature Conservancy” are backed by powerful individuals as well. These organizations are buying remaining lands and having them declared critical habitat. I believe this is one of the quickest ways to protect the last remaining areas of cultural and environmental diversity left. The indigenous people won a battle with the 2007 UN Declaration on the rights of their people being recognized, but since it can’t be enforced we need to do our part and help them in any way possible. My dream is to work for an organization like the “TNC.”

    • Hi Joy, thanks for your thoughtful comment. On the one hand, I like your idea of hope in indigenous management. On the other hand, as you point out, we can hardly expect these people to challenge multi-nationals on their own when we can’t even get them out of our government as lobbyists.
      I love the idea of sharing such values among school children. Seems to me it would be great to start with kindergarten, getting kids to connect with wildlife rather than try to dominate them. Someday we are going to have to figure out that conquest always fails, and the more we try to conquer (now the whole of the natural world) the harder the fall when it does come.
      Great dream, Joy! Wherever you do work, we need such thinkers in our future.

  142. I really didn’t understand the depth of knowledge the indigenous possessed. It is truly amazing that the majority of the worlds population just brush them aside and don’t take them seriously. I was particularly amazed by the claim that indigenous peoples in the area, predicted the tsunami in 2004, that they unsuccessfully tried to warn the authorities. How did they predict it? Science has been working hard to try to predict such things, why are scientists not drawing their information from indigenous peoples? How valuable a resource, we should be paying them for their services to all of us. I also was blown away by the amount of land they have, as a whole, been able to preserve. What a debt we owe them. There is hope after all.

    • I love your last line as a conclusion to viewing this history, Summer. “There is hope after all”, given what humans can and have accomplished– and the place-based knowledge we might develop.

  143. Human behavior is one of the hardest to understand. As I was skimming over some of the comments, I saw a growing theme on the topic of poor treatment to these people from the outside communities as a whole. Before moving forth and declaring that scientists do not draw from these people, we must learn to understand why? Why don’t the draw from these people? How come these people do not interact with each other? Does the trait of sharing this knowledge lack on both sides, the scientists and the indigenous peoples?

    Also, is it simply just knowledge that people need in order to create a sustainable environment, to promote diversity and overall live our lives more like the indigenous peoples? Or is there something else holding people back? Many are familiar with the corruption and unequal distribution of power and wealth in this world. Well that very power and wealth puts in for a long battle of the people who do not fall in this category. Which include, many times, people that actually wish to sustain the environment. For as long as this world is corrupt, the knowledge of these peoples will go unnoticed by many. It is and will always be our job to create a tiny voice that makes the big voices listen but even then, a battle to set nature on the right path will still prevail.

  144. I love that you mentioned in this article about indigenous peoples and their methods of working the environment. It seems that all too often in our recent history, because of our technological “superiority,” we feel that we can force things. In the early days of this country, our government sold a lot of land in the Midwest to hopeful farmers who wanted to settle down and build a future. In that instance, the indigenous people were ignored and those farmers eventually failed due to poor topsoil (which eventually exacerbated the dustbowl effect).

    Now it seems our technological advancement is causing or demise. We have become too used to being able to conquer the earth. We are using land for whatever purpose we deem necessary. There are farms in California that are sucking the water table out from under themselves. Yet, they continue to pump water to them which is causing even more water issues.

    In my range management classes, the books often refer to the early peoples and how they practiced early “range management.” They may not have known the science behind why they did what they did, but they learned over generations which methods worked and which didn’t. Because they were dependent on the land for their living, and essentially worked in partnership with it, they used all their knowledge to protect it. There is a lot of wisdom in those who worked the land in the past and even just from those who lived it.

    You used a reference about native people knowing a tsunami was going to hit back in 2004. This again happened in the recent Japanese tsunami. I don’t recall the specifics, but one of the small Japanese villages had an old stone tablet warning the villagers not to build any part of the village lower than the stone because of the tsunami risk. Of course, as time went on (and as it always seems to), people forget about the lessons of the past and people ended up building lower than the tablet. When the tsunami eventually came, the lower part of the village was wiped out. It kind of makes you think you should have listened to your grandparents all those years ago. Maybe they did know what they were talking about…

    • Thanks for sharing the perspective and story about the Japanese tsunami (which I had not heard). It is true that those who survived on their lands for thousands of years could only have done so by utilizing considerable knowledge garnered over the years– whether or not it was set into “scientific” paradigms. I understand that there is some work on the traditional Massai management of cattle in Africa– perhaps they were in your range management texts. It is good to see this information finally getting out.

  145. I just took a class dealing with earthquakes last quarter. There was a whole chapter dedicated to modern science’s attempt at predicting earthquakes. Basically, they’ve determined that as of now earthquakes/tsunamis cannot be predicted. How interesting that an indigenous people somehow had the notion to prepare for a natural disaster before anyone else even knew what was going on. I find it a little disheartening to hear that the authorities wouldn’t listen to them though. I feel like that is an attitude a lot of modern society would take unfortunately. As if native peoples had nothing to offer us in terms of medical or scientific advances. Lives could have been saved if they had listened, and hopefully from now on they will.

  146. A long time ago, indigenous people were hunters and gatherers. Nowadays, there is this bi-cultural experience that the article/essay mentions. This is when an individual lives by both the western and indigenous cultures. Colonialism caused much hurt to the indigenous people that perpetuated stereotypes of their way of living. There is a spiritual authority. The spirit is alive in both people and nature.

    We learn a lot from nature if we put ourselves in the midst of nature. This means living within it. Land is valuable. Nature depends on us as much as we depend on it. We must take honor in being a leader of the lands like a shepherd takes leadership of his flock. This is a unique responsibility that is both compassionate and stern.

    Biological diversity is mentioned in the article/essay as being important in keeping the truths, wisdom, and knowledge of the indigenous roots alive and the understanding on how to care for nature. A human’s life is just as sacred as the life of nature. When humans look at all of life on earth in this light they begin to alter their worldview into one that allows us to protect all that gives us life (nature). The human and nature partnership is the key to making all of this happen. It’s amazing what this kind of partnership can do if we just believe and let it run its course.

    • Actually, there are indigenous peoples that still live by hunting and gathering today (though few of them)–and a few decades ago (not so long ago) there were many more who did– or lived by the multitude of subsistence strategies that included hunting and gathering and others listed in this article. But it is important to remember, as you indicate that such lives in the heart of the natural world is the central human inheritance. Why might these details be important as we look at the issue you raise here?
      Colonialism has indeed led to many tragedies– not the least of which is the destruction of the partnership view (hard to maintain when one people is conquering another and taking their land).
      Thanks for reminding us of the biocentric view which understands the intrinsic value of natural life. The natural world is indeed amazing– it sustains us all.

      • Exactly we live in a world that doesn’t see the spirit in nature. This is why it’s important to understand how indigenous people live and how it’s beneficial to our environment. In addition, there are many injustices we place on people because of the way they live. The hope is that through education, for example taking this class that we will be able to break down the stereotypes and get rid of them.

  147. Reading this article gave me some peace. It is good knowing that around the world there are many people and organizations which stand together in order to protect its local biodiversity. I was especially taken aback by Ecuador’s Pachamama, which is part of their constitution; that is, a government actually listened to the indigenous elders who stood in behalf of nature and won. In most countries a fight for nature where greed and corruption are the main influence is an upward battle. However, on a positive note there are probably more people who are conscientious, more people who are organized and more people who are out spoken in defense of nature today.
    One interesting thing I learned from this article was that 80% of the remaining biodiversity remains with the indigenous people. I can only hope that the rest of the world will wise up and realize how valuable it is by leaving it alone.
    It is sad how the indigenous people have had a direct correlation and parallel with lose of nature. Yet, they remain steadfast but also, flexible. They are to be admired for they have not forgotten the traditions and the stories of the elders. With all of our modern day science, they knew the signs of the forthcoming tsunami in 2004 and they warned on deaf ears. What I admire the most about our indigenous people is that they will warn again and they will help again and they do not hold grudges for all the wrongs they have been subjected too. Talk about an amazing religion!

    • It is good (and hopeful) to remember that all of us had indigenous ancestors at some point in our history– indeed, all human dna on earth is connected to that of the San people in South Africa.
      It is time to link such ancient and sustaining wisdom with contemporary science.
      And just an added note: a worldview is not a religion– indigenous religions are widely diverse, though many indigenous worldviews share similar values with respect to the environment.

  148. What a profound and insightful essay. I can honestly say that I wish that I lived and practiced indigenous worldviews more consistently. As hard as I attempt to, it is difficult sometimes in Western society to do so. However, I think that be even practicing just one or two of these views, you can live and be a better steward of the Earth.

    I also have several responses to information contained in the essay.

    First, the fact that modern post Industrial Revolution has systematically almost eliminated 36,000 generations of idigenous way of life in seven generations is mind numbing. Pst IR peoples probably would have eradicated the indigenous in less time if forward ecological thinkers had not stopped and taken notice and began to make an effort to conserve and become the new stewards of Pachamama.

    Point two.
    The difference in the point of view of technology was interesting. Indigenous technology adapt humans to particular lands, while industrial attempts to adapt lands to human activities. The need for control of the uncontrollable always will be the downfall of people.
    The use of the one size fits all intensive agriculture doesn’t work and is not suitable for all landscapes. No matter how much people want to simplify and use this assemblyline approach, nature doesn’t work that way no matter how hard you try.

    Finally, I think that it is very important that greater than 95% of the world’s biodiversity areas overlap with indigenous peoples. If there are two distinct assets to the Earth that need protection and increased awareness still, it is these groups. The challenge will be protecting the people from the corrupt forces of drug cartels, natural resource extraction corporations, and corrupt governments. Any number of these larger players could sell out these assets and a further degrade these critical resources.

    • Travis your last point, is a point that drives me crazy about people. That is, why the majority allow the larger players and elected officials do what they want with the land that belongs to the all. Must the gentle, earth loving people and scientist stand with arms, say no and start shooting? It almost seems this is the way the other team plays and if we are not heard and listened to now, we’ll have to play the same game.
      About nine years ago I started a petition and an advocacy and in the end won two out of two counts. Prior to the wins I was told in public forum by the authorities that it could not happen what I request, and that what I purported did not happen. However, what i purported did happen, the officials lost and we could have sued. I worked hard for a 1 1/2 years and had less then a handful of support. What drives me crazy is that people always want someone else to do it. I did it and I was not given or paid anything. I however, gained far more from that experience then many will ever gain in a lifetime. In a small arena of city and county officials I learned how to play the political game of chess. That is, you must know your enemy and be two or three steps ahead in strategy to win – maybe. I’m afraid this is the game we’ll have to play with the last of the world’s biodiversity in a much bigger arena.

      • Your example illustrates the importance of the actions of a single citizen, Debora. It can seem like quite a burden when we feel alone in asserting the values that seem so imperative to us– but in the end, if those of us who care most about these issues do not act, how can we expect others to do so?

    • Thank you for the feedback and this very thoughtful response, Travis. Your points are well taken and lay out some challenges to both the thinking and the actions of contemporary industrialization with respect to both indigenous peoples and the environment.
      Though the destructive in this arena is rampant, there is also a vision indicated in your first paragraph which rightly indicates that changing the way we think will also change the way we act–and expanding our views to incorporate the values of those who lived sustainably on the land for so many thousands of years can only benefit us.

  149. I find the section of the article discussing the “green revolution” to be insightful. First world technology is not an all powerful fix in the struggle to preserve food resources and natural environments. Traditional farming methods are replacing the foreign techniques as they seem to be sustainable and more suitable to a particular plot of land. However, different environments have different needs, tolerances, and requirements. Thus it would be wise to understand the principles that sustained farmers for generations previous to European colonization.

    Our insatiable hunger for gain may have played a part in the down fall of some of these “green revolutions.” Greed and cost savings can be at the heart of some corporations seeking momentary profit at the expense of viable long lasting methods. Thus our priorities need to be changed rather than the farming techniques.

    Indigenous peoples seem to have an inherent connection with nature as it is central to their way of life. This is a powerful statement as it demonstrates a cyclical pattern whereby indigenous peoples function, relate and progress through time and space. This is manifest in the hunters, gathers, farmers, and fishing communities of these peoples. Modern conveniences influence and may hinder these traditional practices if not applied properly.
    The clear dominance of European and other industrialized powers have impacted these communities in devastating ways. Disease and destruction have been thrust upon them with long lasting consequences. The knowledge of how to care for and sustain the land has been strained at best. It would seem to me that these traditional values are lost in a long line of debate and discussion.

    • Thoughtful observations here, Chris. When greed and “cost savings” (to a few who profit from a project) are the guiding principles of any project, then other values like sustainability, fitting a technology to place, respect for local traditions and community– or even rational criteria for choices– fall by the wayside.
      We find an excellent example of this in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, “Failure to Yield” which assesses the fact that in spite of bioengineering claims about feeding the burgeoning world population, genetically engineered soy actually yields less than traditional seed. What does escalate in this instance is profit/sales from those who make gm seed–even though it takes more water and chemicals to sustain in addition to creating lower yields. It is easier to sell such deficient products to those who are not close to the land– who work large acreage with large machines. Small farmers– or those who work in a hands on fashion in their fields know the actual results, but may have trouble getting out from under the addiction to new technologies that are only supposedly better, due to debt manipulation both globally (see Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) and in the US.
      As the analysis of the Union of Concerned Scientists with respect to climate change points out, when profit takes the lead, there is a disconnect between actual scientific results and claims that sell products claimed to be “new and better”.

  150. Although, we cannot go back to living how the indigenous peoples did so long ago, and even how some still do, there are ways that everyone could simplify their lives to benefit the earth in ways that would make our future existence possible. Indigenous populations who have lived in such harmony with our planet and its resources represent a way of life that allows for biological diversity which is vital to sustainably supporting earth’s huge population. If we do not change the industrial agricultural systems currently being practiced, we will not be able to support so many people. We as consumers can make a difference by speaking with our money spent on food. If we buy food that is produced using the more ecologically responsible methods being practiced by some farmers, and try to buy foods produced locally in order to reduce fossil fuel use, or grow at least some of our own food, we can make industrial agriculture not so profitable for big corporate farmers, and perhaps incite change. As the article says, we cannot escape how technology has changed our existence, but I think we can change how we are allowing technology to affect the sustainability of our planet, and ultimately whether we are able to sustain ourselves with what is left of our natural resources.

    • You bring up thoughtful considerations here, Kendra. We do indeed have the power to vote with our dollars by choosing foods that are healthy for us and for the environment (and produced without violations of human justice). Or we can leave money out of it to benefit poorer members of our society as do many urban community gardens.
      Ironically, agribusiness characteristically argues that we need industrial agriculture to feed our burgeoning human population– when in fact, as you indicate, the opposite is true. The way NOT to feed the world is with the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and accompanying soil degradation– which is what we truly cannot afford.
      As to technology: would you agree that it flows from social values as well as influencing them? Native peoples also had complex technologies. I can only imagine what creative technologies might flow today from environmental values like reciprocity, respect and partnership.

  151. Great article! I had no idea indigenous people still represent 90% of global cultural diversity. Which makes we wonder if generations raised in modern industrialized times even know what cultural diversity means. I think we rely way too much on technology to solve our problems. The techniques used by Jesus Leon Santos to restore farmlands and help restore regional water tables are evident of that. It’s amazing how the indigenous people of the PNW were able to pull seven times the modern yield of salmon from the Colombia River without affecting its sustainability. It’s pretty clear that cultures who share the same basic interdependence of natural life understand basic land values, in the terms of subsistence, better than modernized civilization does. I had previously read an article on the Onondaga Nation’s fight not to regain ownership of previously lost lands but to obtain the right to assume environmental trusteeship over what were once traditional lands. I think that approach was genius on every level. Sooner or later we will have to start thinking in terms of sustainability through population growth and resource use reduction. I also believe to achieve absolute sustainability we as a global economy have to find a better way to measure our economic health rather than continuing to rely on the GDP, which is a capitalistic system that relies on continued growth for economic sustainment.

    • You are joined by many modern economists in your critique of GNP as an indication of economic well-being. Take, for instance, Daly and Cobb’s analysis (now two decades old) of alternatives in their book, For the Common Good. Some nations have even put this into effect: as has the small nation of Bhutan with its “Gross National Happiness Quotient” for its population as a goal, which leads to the use of only particular technologies and solid protection of their environment.
      You have a valid point on the indigenous methods of care for the land that flow from environmental values very different from that of modern industrial society–and allow for some creative solutions that I would concur might be said to yield a kind of (place-based) “genius”.
      Your point on whether we really understand cultural diversity has a number of implications. One thing that we might consider is the benefits of expanding our own worldviews to make them more inclusive– so as to incorporate some of the values that lead to effective environmental care.

      • I love Bhutans GNHQ idea. It inspires me to live abroad where there are other ways of doing things than the way we Americans think is innate to being human (Doesn’t everyone in the world want McDonalds?) . The fact that the GNHQ would never be taken seriously in our congress, is enough to know how far our country has gone down a bureaucratic path over earnest busy-ness. I feel Americans are so engrained in our ways, that are spiraling further into culturally driven anxiety and exhaustion, and national unhappiness, we do not even conceive a way out as an option. A (mis-named!) positive feedback loop. What will be the reset? Or will quality of life, keep deteriorating while we cumulatively have more and more stuff? .

        • I think we are at a tipping point, one way or the other at this time. Either we are going to get it in terms of the environment and human justice or we aren’t–and the repercussions are substantial either way.
          I do find hope in communities of action– such as those on our links page here– and there are so many more. Last night 75 people came together to form a local chapter of (to work to reduce carbon emissions to the life-sustaining level). Every one of those had a valuable commitment to change. An important first step in understanding our power to follow through on our ethics is to know we are not alone…

    • Hi Kelly,

      I was also impressed by Santos’ ability to restore farmlands and restore regional water tables. It’s like the contour-slope cropping that is becoming more widely used- there is evidence of its use in ancient Mayan (?) societies but its genius is only now being realized, in the face of water pollution due to runoff, and soil erosion.


  152. I have often wondered how a day in the life of an indigenous person would feel. I have never truly considered all of the possible interwoven environmental and societal issues which create both adversity and a sense of belonging. In a world geared more and more towards civilization, it was very interesting and important to learn the similarities which all indigenous cultures (sometimes negatively referred to as “savages”) share, with in mind that each group exhibits drastic geographic and otherwise largely diverse qualities. One realization that I had while reading this article: the world would be a much better place if sharing and humility (among other values) were intrinsic to civilized society. If “super-powers” such as the United States–with great ability to acquire resources via advancements in medical technology–were to use this advantage for the benefit of all man-kind by sharing with those in need (similar to the way kind-hearted indigenous tribal members would find it hard to refuse a hungry, ill, or otherwise disheveled person from the necessary assistance required to sustain life), rather than hoarding assets for the privileged “one percent,” the overall wealth and quality of life across the continents would be more evenly distributed and empathetic. In regards to humility, indigenous cultures are remarkably able to accept failure as an opportunity to become all the wiser… while there are many examples of major cities like San Francisco wherein–upon devastation in an instant from atrocious earthquake damage–society has chosen to rebuild in the fault-lines that caused the inevitable damage. It is fascinating and inspiring that native tribes are able to move or adapt to changing conditions in the face of natural disaster. If these persons are not permitted to continue their nomadic, animal-spirited abilities to move and adapt, the only other alternative would be extinction. If indigenous cultures were forced into death, the world could be considered a dark and dull place to live–wherein the human condition to achieve enlightenment and actualization would be less than a possibility and more like a dream. Is it too much to ask that native people retain their natural qualities along with the integrity of complex and rich ecosystems? As I sip my coffee, typing to all of you on my laptop in the light of an incandescent bulb… I think not. To “spend a day in the shoes” of an indigenous person would cause life (as we know it) to never be the same.

    • I think you have a very important perspective on the changes that might be undertaken in our world if more of us held the values of humility and sharing. Chinua Achebe (Nigerian Noble Laureate in literature) was once asked whether he thought the traditional cultures he described in his novels were utopian: he answered that there are no perfect societies– only those more able to fight the “human instincts of self-destruction”. In turn, I think it is clear two such “human instincts of self-destruction” are arrogance and greed– and fostering the values you propose of humility and sharing counters these dangerous propensities in humans.
      Expanding our worldview to include indigenous peoples (whose lifestyles our ancestors all once lived) is a way not only to remember our history, but to extend our human possibilities.

    • Hi John,

      I enjoyed reading your response. Being only one generation removed from an indigenous lifestyle, I often wonder the same thing. I was only one when my family moved to the US, so the bi-cultural aspect hits home. The dying out of a culture is also disheartening when I look to my daughter and all the things that she may never be exposed to. In my case, at least I have the storytelling of my mom, uncles, and aunts to inherit, but there is only so much that can be passed on to further generations, orally or otherwise, in the face of such drastic change (and not having firsthand experience).


  153. I think that if we took steps to work with indigenous populations to create a basis for conserving and protecting natural resources as a society we could make important steps forward to fostering sustainability and promoting biodiversity. I am very impressed that the Ecuadorian Constitution includes provisions for Pachamama and wish that more nations could use this as an example. It also makes sense that as an “industrialized” and “first-world” society there seems to be a pervasive theme that we know best and that “our” technology is better than “your” traditions. I am glad to see that in the past 10-15 years there are individuals making efforts to become more in tune with the land, but reverting back to small-scale organic and biodynamic farms, rebuilding the soil and re-establishing fertility, like what Jesus Leon Santos has done, even though I can imagine it was difficult to rely on traditional learnings and go against industry and “progress.” There is so much that can be learned from indigenous populations, who have a very intimate relationship with and understanding of these lands.

    • There is indeed much to learn from indigenous populations, Jillian– I am heartened that some of the bridges you suggest between modern society and traditional knowledge are being made– see some of our weblinks here.
      But I think these good be made much more persistently and quickly–and at the very least, we might expand our worldview and values such that we expand our imagination and ethics with respect to our treatment of the natural world that sustains us.

  154. Hmm…a fascinating article, indeed. Part of me wonders how an indigenous culture was able to predict a tsunami as was mentioned…perhaps they should have elaborated on that. It was interesting to see how indigenous cultures apparently protect so much of the world’s biodiversity AND represent so much of the world’s cultural diversity…but that also begs the question, is cultural diversity truly desirable? Biodiversity, certainly, as it represents the type of life and even sustainability ability of an ecosystem, but culture may be another discussion entirely…and the article seems to demonize the concept of human dominion over the environment. While it may be true that we aren’t always the best stewards, I find myself perhaps deviating from this perspective…again, I generally value human needs over environmental needs, but I do consider that while we’re on the subject, what we do to the environment does effect us and I do believe in preserving biodiversity, so perhaps I generally go for a moderation approach of sorts…

    • As author of this encyclopedia article, I had a word limit. But I am glad to respond to your query about the tsunami– fisherman suddenly saw deep sea fish thrown up into their nets– and they had the oral tradition that understand what this forecast. These fisherman, in turn, tried to warn the Indian government, since they were so sure of what these changes in the sea predicted–and they were ignored. The land-based cultures noted the behavior of local animals.
      I would argue that a view of history has shown the persistently negative results of a worldview that values domination both toward the environment and toward other cultures (as expressed in the idea of Manifest Destiny, for instance).
      The concept of dominion is a much more complex one, as you will see in the YALE forum readings– many Christian theologians do not see dominion and domination as one and the same, and use differing translations of the bible to support their point.
      And you are certainly right that what we do to the environment directly effects humans– it is this knowledge that was put into action by native peoples who saw themselves as embedded in the natural world.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. What we do with our human power is certainly an ethical question of much import.

  155. I really liked this essay and I was unaware of the many organizations and programs in effect to help preserve indigenous peoples way of life and their resources. I do believe that cultural diversity = ecological diversity. Unfortunately I feel it is a desperate attempt to halt the unenivetable. Globalization is wreaking havoc on cultural diversity. If a group of indigenous people fail to conform eventually, then they will die out.
    There are many indigenous tribes in Africa that are fighting off logging of their forest home with little success and are forced into the small towns to earn money to buy food. Another example is Jamaica. The World Bank is controlling the Jamaican economy and they are unable to survive in the world market yet they are struggling to go back to local subsistance with little success not to mention a lot of debt.

    • I know that there is much bad news in terms of the globalization that Vandana Shiva has rightly termed “mal-development”– which undermines indigenous cultures, the environment, and makes the members of these cultures among the poorest of the world’s poor when their traditional resources are taken from them.
      However, there is also good news– in the work of Wangari Maathai, for instance– though she faced many challenges– or the work of reforestation in Tanzania.
      I know there is real grief in facing such destruction, but I know many indigenous peoples who do not feel that the demise of their cultures is inevitable–and what I would hope for ourselves is that we do not use this conclusion as an excuse to do nothing so that this trend in fact becomes inevitable.

  156. I spent some time in Cyprus, diving my visit between the Northern and Southern portions. This trip illuminated the differences in “industrialized” or “non-industrialized” societies (I would not go so far as to call Northern Cyprus “primitive”.) In Southern Cyprus the pace is faster. The culture is leaning more toward homogenization. The main drag (and there IS a main drag) is filled with McDonald’s, Burger King, other fast food restaurants. The zoo is concrete with wire. In Northern Cyprus, there are no “chain restaurants”. Zoos are more like a Wildlife Refuge, with injured or rehabilitating animals, and boundaries made of mesh or woven branches. The commonality though, lie in agriculture. Pesticides have never been used in Cyprus, northern or southern. Instead of focusing on engineering for visual appeal, farmers work cooperatively with the environment and season for the purpose of crop and taste. This may sound funny, but biting into an ugly looking apple in Cyprus was one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. (It did NOT look perfect; it tasted better than most anything I had ever had.) The question, I guess, is how to keep permaculture alive amidst an industrialized society, as Southern Cyprus has so far managed to do.

    • I loved Cyprus when I spent time there in the early 1980s, Kari, so I appreciate the update. I am sorry to hear about the “homogenization” in the south– when I was there, it was all Greek culture– things like wonderful local food, stories of the history everyone shared and spontaneously dancing on the beach.
      I am not happy to hear about McDonald’s, but not surprised about the lack of pesticides– Cyrus was that kind of a place.

  157. After reading this dense article, I had several questions. After perusing the other comments and replies, I feel I have a better understanding. I especially appreciated the clarification of how indigenous knowledge was able to predict the tsunami, and the elaboration of the percentages given for biodiversity and cultural diversity.
    Aside from that, this article makes me reminiscient of the many times I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, especially relating to how “today many indigenous people are bi-cultural…”. I’m simultaneously saddened and revitalized upon each visit. This particular pueblo has the good fortune (for lack of a better term) to be situated in a community that shares many of their worldviews, but it is apparent when visiting, among the many tourists, that they didn’t wish for or foresee their way of life becoming an attraction. Their culture values privacy, and thankfully manages to maintain at least some of it.
    I didn’t realize how much of an impact these indigenous communities had on enviromental issues until I began reading the class materials. It’s incredible! Also, it inspires hope in a way I can’t quite finger…akin to the story of an underdog that comes back to “win”.

    • I appreciate the thoughtful example of the Taos people, Latifa. Not only is this essay “dense”–but it necessarily simplifies a topic that is as complex as any culture’s way of life and the diverse people within that culture. I can’t think of any indigenous people I know that would have chosen to become an “attraction”– though some wise elders are using their status to speak out for the environment.
      Great perspective on inspiring hope in the continuing survival of indigenous cultures even in the face of such challenges. And this is not just about “others”, but about what all humans are capable of when they have community and place to ground them.

  158. This is a very interesting article. Though it appears that the 2007 U.N. Indigenous Rights Declaration is an important acknowledgement of indigenous rights, it seems that, in the U.S. at least, equity and respect of indigenous people is a foregone outcome. In essence it seems that the preservation of indigenous culture’s does not benefit a growing economy and therefore these cultures are of no value to capitalism. This lack of value to capitalism can be seen with the fact that indigenous people don’t use as many resources as a citizen of a modern industrialized nation might. In addition, though the U.N. declaration seeks to prevent encroachment, I would be curious to see real world outcome when, say for instance, an indigenous area contains a valuable resource. At that point the indigenous people and their defenders such as Amnesty International often times cannot measure up to the the money, energy and momentum possessed by corporate powers.

    I would like to comment on the fact that indigenous people are “the poorest of the world’s poor.” If we are to accept the fact the there is no hierarchy or evolution of culture, then a subsistence culture that reaps rewards through non-monetized entities cannot be measured along the same scale of worth. Quality of life and cultural implications of nature such as spirituality are all “beyond money.” Therefore to simply subsist is to have everything they need, at least in some cultures. This can be further seen in the worldview examples given.

    In short, though I tend to be a skeptic, I am hopeful that regimes such as ICCA’s are successful at creating safe havens away from consumer capitalism, but even so, ultimately these programs must make economic sense to carry them into the future. More ideally though, would be an economic re-haul that would account for the fact that constant growth is not realistic nor good for anyone in the long run.

    • The “real world outcomes” when an indigenous area contains a resource valuable to capitalist culture have been persistently tragic, Josh– indicated by the declaration of native reservations as “national sacrifice areas” (to be “sacrificed” for the good of the US as a whole) by the Reagan presidential administration.
      This meant that the local peoples had no say in whether or not the resources in their area (such as coal) were plundered.
      You have a very good point on looking at indigenous economies “beyond money”: the article is referring to the results of colonialism: which (along with negative “development”) has taken indigenous lands and resources– after which they have nothing to live on. Post-colonial (and sometimes, post-development) poverty in these cases makes these people the “poorest of the poor”. Take the shrunken land base allotted to US reservations– this small percentage of traditional lands is no basis for natural subsistence. In fact, that is why many treaties allotted foodstuffs (which often never came through) to native peoples– in exchange for taking their subsistence base in the lands given to (or taken by) the US government.
      I could not agree more that we need an economic alternative to the “growth-consumerist” model.

      • Oh, I see. Essentially, the indigenous people are forced into a capitalist economy and they are thereby “poor” according to those constraints and obviously “poor” according to their prior economy as well since their subsistence resources have been stripped.

  159. Thanks, Madronna.
    Yes, I didn’t mean to imply that there would be any culture who would enjoy becoming an “attraction” without being the initiator of that state. Also, I can’t imagine anything short of full-on immersion in a culture being fully encompassing of that cultures way of life.
    I am a little confused by what you mean by “others”. Are you simply stating that any human is capable of inspiring change?

    • Thanks for your follow up: in turn, my note was not in reference to any lack in your comment– but an attempt to extend your observation to other indigenous peoples who have all too often served as an “attraction” in modern society– part of the impulse to stereotype them.
      I do believe that we are all capable of both creating and inspiring change. Change for reading me carefully.

  160. There is so much to be learned from indigenous peoples and their reservoir of knowledge concerning their native lands. Industrialized nations often seem to simply and arrogantly assume that the “modern” way of using the land and its resources is ultimately more efficient or productive – pushing out those that have coexisted with the land for generations and even millenia. Yet native people have such an innate knowledge of how to work the land, co-exist with it, and give back to it so that it will flourish for generations to come.

    It seems to me that this knowledge and sense of connectedness with nature has been pushed aside for centuries, yet with the emergence of issues such as global warming and environmental degradation, it is a time when we desperately need such a vision of the interconnectedness of all aspects of nature and our place within it. With native peoples and governments working together (as in the example of the Ecuadorian Constitution, “which asserts the legal rights of Pachamama, or the sacred life-giving qualities of nature”) we stand a much better chance of preserving our remaining biodiversity and expanding our ideas and perceptions of how to co-exist not just with one another, but with nature as well.

    • You have an important point about the arrogant assumptions behind the modern impulse to push native peoples from their lands: it is not only the assumptions about the superiority of modern ways that is at issue here, but this stereotype gives moderns the supposed license to take over the lands of others and impose other ways of life on them.
      I find your second point here a hopeful one, in the sense of what we might gain from true communication with indigenous peoples as we create a bridge between our science and their wisdoms.

  161. I do not want to dismiss the accomplishments of modern society but I do believe there has been a unanimous shift of respect for mother nature since the industrial revolution. Ever since the routine activities of life became convenient, we developed a new standard of living that did not require us to ask the question, “at what cost?” While reading the list of values of the indigenous people I like how the first one – the sense of the intrinsic value and spiritual authority of natural life and the systems that sustain it – is a standard concept for them. The attitude of the indigenous people seems to be that the only approach to utilizing the systems of nature is to cooperate with them as best as possible. Often times people in modern society will question a group of people who insist on using a longer and less convenient method to do something because they did not develop a consideration for their environmental impact; I know I am guilty of doing this. We create a lifestyle that teaches us if the consequences of our decisions are not imminent or significant we need not consider them. There is a lot to be learned from the indigenous people of the world.

    • Or perhaps we now ask the question, “at what cost”– and expect an answer framed only in monetary terms?
      Thoughtful consideration how the idea of convenience plays into our carelessness/thoughtlessness in terms of our current ethical choices, Peter. I am not sure that an emphasis on convenience began this habit of thoughtless choices– but modern advertising certainly pushes our right to convenience as a selling point in consumerist society. Too bad these don’t have a side effects list that drug ads do– convenience but cancer and hormonal disruption for the pesticides we use on our lawns, for instance.

  162. […] to Our Earth/ Ourselves  web site, Indigenous peoples of the world characteristically maintain these […]

  163. As this essay and many others on this site remind us, Indigenous peoples lived on this land well before white settlers came over. Not only did they live here, but they interacted with the land, animals, and plants in such a way that conservation seems to have been at the root of the interactions. For example, the salmon populations thriving even as fishing occurred because the fishing methods were meant to sustain the salmon population for multiple generations. Or, the buffalo populations that when hunted, the Kalapuya people would circle around and allow the larger, healthier bulls out of the circle before making a kill. These examples from your essays show me how truly knowledgable people who live with the land, as opposed to on the land, are about conservation and planning for the future. This sense of conservation has also been highlighted with the recognition of ICCAs.
    The 2007 UN declaration appears to be a step in the right direction toward valuing people that have long been abused, neglected, and often destroyed. After the demoralizing and destructive acts done against Indigenous peoples in the US, I am wondering what changed to now honor them and all they have to contribute to society. Was it a change in politics? Was it a specific eye-opening event? Was it a realization that current human activities on the global scale are creating destructive consequences for our survival? Or, have they only changed from the UN and not within the US? I ask this because it seems this change in thinking needs to be at a broader scale. If we, as a people, are to learn from those that have the knowledge to impart, then we need to know they are worth listening to, and I am not sure that is the message the majority of the US citizens hold true. (I say this thinking about how “Indian” schools are run in our country, and how casinos on reservations are viewed by the general public, just as examples.) I would like to see us as a nation honor and listen to our Indigenous people. It should have been done long ago.

    • Excellent reminders of the ways in which indigenous peoples were conscious caretakers in living from their lands. One small note: the Kalapuya lived in the Willamette Valley, where there were no buffalo– but your example does apply to their taking of deer, which also shows a very different attitude from trophy hunting that seeks to take the best for oneself– and then just to exhibit rather than to utilize to care for one’s needs.
      It would be great if “what changed” to pass the UN Resolution after so many years was an eye-opening event–and we could encourage such change in the future. In the past three decades I have seen traditional ecological knowledge become accepted and studied by various sciences– so perhaps that has effected a change.
      But I think rather that it was persistence on the part of those who worked for this recognition for year after year until the resolution was finally accepted.
      I agree that listening to native peoples should have been done years ago– and I do think that educators such as yourself can make a real impact by sharing good information in this respect.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • It does give you hope for the UN, does it not? It seems to avidly embrace ecofeminist viewpoints in the ideology expressed in so many of its proclamations. I pray for the UNs positive influence of change.

      And then it feels so unfair that the UN is nested in an economic system where the communal wealth that helps to fund projects the realize the state goals is in the hands of largely patriarchal systems. An image of so many earnest paddlers trying to move the boat in the right direction, where the motorized engine is in the hands of one or two capitalists who are driven by an element of self preservation.

      You know what I am rooting for? 🙂 My image ends with the engine breaks or simply runs out of gas.

      • The UN came into being largely as a result of the work of Eleanor Roosevelt– who also engineered the human rights declaration signed by us and other developed nations after WWII–and which we have not always held up in our policies. But it is a powerful standard:
        You are right in pointing out some contradictions in the UN operations– perhaps leavened a bit by the fact that developed and so-called “undeveloped” nations are sitting at the same forum. The UN does have some important initiatives on world health, on women and children’s well-being and on putting indigenous ecological knowledge into practice. On the other hand, there is the influence of the World Bank– decidedly capitalistic– in much of the world’s “development”.
        Thanks for your response here.

  164. I value the point linking the validity of indigenous knowledge with that of modern science. It seems too often that we push aside traditional or even more natural notions in search for newer forms of information. I was fascinated to read of the successful tsunami prediction that saved the people on Simeulue Island. I think this reinforces the idea of listening to the earth and not relying on modern technology or knowledge to predict activities. Obviously these people were very in tuned with their environments, even to the point where they knew the tsunami was coming thus making them plan accordingly. I believe this echoes one of the shared worldviews that were stated in the essay: The sense of nature as teacher. Mother Nature has so much to teach us–if we only stopped to acknowledge the lessons, I wonder how truly different the world would then be.

    It is disheartening however to realize the many losses of life that have arisen out of loving and protecting nature. As indigenous leaders boycott, petition, and battle “progress” and corruption, they experience a multitude of persecutions from murder, violence, and rape, to imprisonment. These heroes for the natural world are not represented by corporations or lobbyists like Western stewards. Instead, they represent their lands, waters, communities, traditions and their vast knowledge of Mother Nature’s teachings. Within this understanding, I appreciate efforts like the ICCA . It is imperative that we build bridges that reinforce these culture’s successes and longevity as our climate changes because these are the protectors/guardians of our world’s most precious biodiversity.

    • Thank you for sharing some important points here; we certainly cannot neglect any natural knowledge in the context of current environmental crises.
      Robin Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass (I have given a few quotes from this work in our “quote of the week” page) says that her Potawatomi people have a language that expresses a “grammar of animacy”- -that is, that values the living quality of the natural world and this, in turn, leads to the stance of learner in the face of the guidance these lives might give us.
      Powerful reminder about the motives of indigenous peoples who are fighting for the well being of their lands with their motive of care for it. They do indeed “represent” these lands– in the same way that Grandma Aggie works to be a “voice for the voiceless”.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Thank you for your gracious response.
        Your stance is not only one of justice, but of wisdom: we can scarcely afford to lose the knowledge of those who lived in balance with the natural world for so many generations– indeed, we need the very vision of this possibility to guide us today.

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