Iterations on Environment, Memory, and Consciousness in an Age of Accelerated Human Information Interaction
Friday, February 18, 2011
First Nations Epistemologies on the Commons
What can we learn from First Nations peoples about sustainability? I have to believe that there are important practices and epistemologies that can be learned and honored from peoples and cultures who have a proven environmental consciousness. For instance, if we read Jimmie Durham or even Chief Seattle's purported speech there must surely be some takeaway for those of us looking to build a 21st century environmental consciousness. I recently listened to Jay Walljasper discuss his new book "Field Guide to the Commons" and I am curious about what a synthesis of Durham and/or Seattle would look like when applied to some of the suppositions Walljasper introduces.
Labels: Chief Seattel, Commons, Jay Walljasper, Jimmie Durham
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Jimmie Durham and Chief Seattle's speeches painted a surreal image in my mind of the bond their people have with their physical land. Their connection with physical things, the earth, the environment makes sense. How have we (Humans in the 21st century) missed this? It is almost as if we have gotten so caught up in living for now with cars, cell phones, facebook, and material items that we have completely failed to see how they relate to the environment and to one another. Seattle brings up religion, almost comparing his Cherokee people's connection to their land, like white men's connection with God and Christianity. This makes me wonder, has the spread of organized religion around the world, through out time, inhibited the ability for people to feel connected with their surroundings because they have a spiritual connection to a deity that has somehow replaced the ability to feel physically connected? Does it have to be one or the other? Durham and Seattle's speeches tie in with Walljasper's idea of a "commons" so well. With so many people and things bonded in the commons, we all must share and feel a connection to one another and the land that we inhabit in order to preserve some idea of a future.
I think that there is something to be gained (in respect to contemporary society's survival) in learning from the first nations' lifestyles and societal doctrines regarding the environment. Because, more often than not, their whole culture was built on being "sustainable", centuries and decades before that philosophy was even officially engendered/coined. The First Nation's central philosophies typically focused on protecting and respecting the environment, sometimes worshipping it. Contemporary (commercialized) western society believes that nature is a tool, a resource that humanity can simply fool around with, desecrate, and destroy without facing any consequences in their generations.
Both of Durham's and Seattle's presented themes/messages, when synthesized, may actually be the "saving grace" mentality that humanity is in dire need of since the turn of the 19 century, when absolute consumerism was first introduced and proliferated. If the Industrial Revolution had been handled more "gracefully", i.e. environmentally conscious, instead of practically requiring profligate behavior, the need for a synthesis of Durham and Seattle would be amerliorated.
At this time, retrospect might actually be one of the best weapons against Humanity's wasteful behavior. Thus, the First Nations are now a role model for what can save, and possibly enlighten the subsequent nations that destroyed them.
The concept of interconnectedness and collaborative consumption is something that can be taken from First Nation peoples and applied to the practice of sustainable living. In the treehugger podcast, Jay Walljasper briefly talks about how young people are emerging into a different culture where the idea of sharing is becoming more common than that of ownership. This "lack-of-ownership" mentality is mentioned in Chief Seattle's speech. He describes how he does not understand how someone can buy wind or water, things that have no owner and therefore cannot be purchased. Modern day youth is accustomed to charing transportation, living space, and information through resources such as the internet. All of these things are (or are evolving into) the "Commons" Walljasper describes in his new book. If the concept of ownership was eliminated (or left to only minor things and personal items), more resources, technologies, and places would become "common". Without the boundary of ownership, the connections between the resources the earth's populations share can become more apparent to the public eye and more prevalent in the public mindset. If the government and national communities stop thinking "I have to protect my water" and instead think "we must protect the water", sustainability can become an achievable goal in the near future.
"You save the guinea pigs, you ultimately save yourselves." In order to begin saving the planet we must think like the First Nations people did, Native Americas. They practiced ALL forms of environmental sustainability. They had a sacred bond to the land, and the natural resources the land provided them with. Native Americans not only worshipped the land but they protected, respected, and honored it through various rituals. Wilderness was a key part of life then. Before the European settlers came over, North America had no ecological threats. As Durham says in one of his articles, "The Americans/European settlers have yet to arrive in their 'New World'. To do so would mean to actually live here, instead of living on imported good." Today people live for new technologies, modern innovations, and they strive for "high" standards of living. People are not environmentally conscious, because they fail to accept nature, and they are intimidated by the thought of the wild. Many believe that the resources our planet has belong to us or our industries. As Walljasper suggests if people would accept the idea of sharing versus owning, the Earth could have hope for increased resource awareness and conservation. Resources are being exploited, because people believe they belong to them. If people believed everything was "common" as Walljasper says, then people would never claim ownership and everything could be shared and in return respected. Native Americans thought of nature and its offerings as "commons". They believed nothing belonged to anyone, and that is why they prospered so well in the wild. If people would just listen to the teachings and stories of the natives, maybe our society also could see how important their ideas, practices and beliefs are.
Chief Seattle said, "Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people." This quote from Chief Seattle's speech shows how important the environment was to the Native American people and how they worshipped the land. The Native Americans believed the land and nature belonged to no one and that they were just vistors who paid worship to the land, respected, and honored it.Through Jimmie Durham's speech you could also see the connection and relationship between Earth and it's inhabitants and how important it was to keep the balance more towards the environment. To build a 21st century environmental consciousness, people (of the 21st century) need to realize our Earth is not something we can possess but rather something that has been here much longer than we have. We must learn to respect the land and all it offers or else we will end up destroying everything. Chief Seattle said, "One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land what he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on." This is one of my greater fears, that people these days have no respect for the natural land and are too much obsessed with the new technology and dominating everything. If we are not careful with how we treat our land, we will end up with nothing. I think there is much to learn from Chief Seattle's and Jimmie Durham's speeches and if we wish to have an environmentally conscious population, we must start learning from our past now.
Looking back on the First Nations peoples and their history is hard as a nation because of the wrongs imposed on them. But if we look back to see how those people lived it may help us to become more sustainable. When a group of hunters went to hunt game they didn't kill as many as they could, they killed what they needed. Our society is not based on need but more of want. The First nations people understood that those are two vry different things. Also when the game was brought to the tribe they used every part of the animal, nothing was wasted. From bone, meat, skin, and even organs; nothing was ever wasted that came from a nature. We could use a lot of that in today's society because we are a very wasteful people. Think about all the things that go in the trash and end up in a landfill somewhere, all that stuff could possibly be used for something besides pollution. The First Nations peoples also had a great deal of comradery. They all were together and shared everything. That is a shared belief of Walljasper by his use of the "commons." What they took from nature had to be returned somehow, and they were not the owners of anything but they shared it.
Durham and Seattle's speeches really created a picture in my mind that showed how people are connected to the land around them. For thousands of years people used the environment with care, no one owned any of the resources, they all shared everything. They didn’t use the resources as carelessly as people do now. People don’t really think about where all the food they eat and the things they use come from and because of that society is becoming disconnected from the environment around them. People seem too wrapped up in buying new things, and that is where it can tie into Walljaspers idea of the ‘Commons’. If we stop trying to own everything that is around us and things like water and other resources are owned by no one, then everyone would benefit from that. When resources are being used by everyone and no one can control it, people will really start to thinking about how they affect the environment. That will change people just thinking that they should help take care of the environment to how everyone has to help take care of the environment and do all they can to save it.
The First Nations people knew that living off the land was a give and take relationship. That without the land they would not survive and because of this they knew they had to take care of the land. People like Chief Seattle knew that we must take care of the land or the land will not take care of us and we will not survive. The problem today is that many people have forgotten this and with such advanced technology it is harder to replenish what we have taken. The increase in population has a little to do with the situation that we are in but that is no excuse for destroying the land. At the current rate we will destroy ourselves by destroying the land. We must look past sustainability and try to create a system of longevity.
When I think of the First Nations I truly believe that they were environmentalist and knew how to live off the land in a way that neither harmed it nor put it in danger. They knew what it took to be a sustainable society and treated the Earth as a human being. When the Europeans came to America they did not understand this concept. They didn't know what the Earth looked like without being industrialized like it was in Europe. They came to a land that was pure "wilderness" and had no idea how much that meant to the First Nations and to their sustainability. I look at what Americans did to the First Nation and other Indians and think that this is whats in store for the plant if we continue. We forced them out of their lands, their homes, and their communities. We made them stay on reservations and tried to assimilate them to our culture and make them like us. Eventually their population has decreased and not many people even remember that they are around. They speak of them in a past tense like they are in extinct population. This is how we treat the Earth, we move animals out of their environment into man made "reservations" or "sanctuaries". We use up their resources and destroy their way of life and by doing so we have a huge impact on the environment. We're changing the way mother nature has worked for thousands of years and because of that we're killing her. These animals and plants have a specific purpose for the environment they are in and by killing or relocating them we are throwing off that balance and if we continue down this path then the way of life as we know it will surely be a past tense and we will slowly kill off ourselves. The Earth should be treated like a human like it was treated many years ago. It has just as big a part in keeping us sustainable as we do. If we destroy it we destroy ourselves theres no other option.
The main thing that the First Nation people have that we lack is the connection to the land and nature. One of the major things plaguing America right now is the fact that most citizens are apathetic- resulting in littering, overuse, and the overall destruction of nature itself. Jimmie Durham discusses the relationship he feels with every objet, whether it is a dog skull or an empty plastic bottle. We have no deep appreciation for everything around us; we are too focused on technology.
One of the most explosive quotes is when Chief Seattle stated that "Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people." This quote is a great comparison to how the Native Americans treated our land and how we treat our land now. The Native Americans lived "with" our land and now we just "use" it. Like the Native Americans, we need to respect, appreciate, and honor our land. If we honored our land we would only use it for our need purposes. We take things for granted. The environment can be destructed by our demoralized world. We need to take what we learned from our past and use it to make our future a future.
I believe that it would be very beneficial to any country hoping to become more environmentally conscious to take notes from countries who have already achieved this goal. It is easy to think of new ways to improve, but it is easier to learn from others. If a country has already become more environmentally sound, then they obviously know what works and what does not. Jimmie Durham and Chief Seattle both support this idea. Learning from someone who has already achieved what are you attempting to achieve is much more effective than trying to start from scratch with no idea where to even begin. Jimmie Durham would be the first to tell you how important all objects on Earth truly are. He talks a great deal about his attachment to all objects on Earth no matter how little their significance. Chief Seattle would also agree. He mentions that all things on Earth are sacred to him and his people. Both seem to realize the significance of our surroundings. Nothing is ever insignificant. Every object on our planet deserves to be protected, and our greatest asset to help us do so is the knowledge of those who have already done so.
Chief Seattle states in his speech, "Youth is impulsive". To me this quote is extremely true. Nowadays people act on impulse and never give a thought to how their actions will impact the rest of the world in the future. Constant growth of the population worldwide is causing a depletion in food, water, fuel, etc. Crowded cities are becoming even more crowded. Rainforest's are disappearing rapidly in order to provide for the constant demand for wood, and land. To most people the nature is a small part of a society that we have created, but there was a time when society was more in sync with nature and the world around them. People at one time cared for the land and found comfort in nature. Today's generation is a fast-paced, technology savvy group who do not take a second glance at their surroundings before moving on to their next generation. However, I do believe that society has a chance at returning to this way older way of living. It will take a lot of work, and commitment, but it could be possible.
Walljasper speaks of the commons, which is more a concept of sharing than any one particular place or thing. In one specific example he speaks of the Italian Piazzas, which are in reality just areas in the street that widen out. This area is just a common area where people come and bring their things to create a nicer communal result. The applied result of this endsup being an intersection in Portland Oregon that is painted and reclaimed from automobile ownership. The idea of the commons is very much an integral part of Chief Seattles's speech, where he struggles to understand the concept of owning something that just is. Chief Seattle ponders over owning the air and the shine on the water, but at the same time conveys a sense of honour and pride in the lands where his ancestors are buried and still exist. This is the common preservation that Walljasper speaks of, where many people who do not own something privately can still honour and preserve it. Ultimately, a far superior situation can be reached with a sort of 'everybody all in' attitude.
The Durham article focuses on a different facet of the same issue of the commons: connectivity. Walljasper states the common misconception that one area can just be 'messed up' while another remains pristine and separate. Durham talks about how even in his separation from his Cherokee brothers, he is still connected. This understanding of connectivity connected together with the common ownership really creates a new concept for the predominant culture present in the United States. The concept of the commons introduces the possibility that perhaps the solution to environmental issues and sustainability isn't within the ideas of privatization, but instead exists in a community of sharing.
Jimmie Durham stated,"The land is exactly part of us and vice versa." We should take his statement into consideration and start to act and believe that we are a part of nature and destroying nature is equivalent to destroying ourselves.However it seemns almost impossible for humans to accept this concept when considering the fact that most of us are not even able to take care of our own mind and body. It is hard to develop a sense of caring for our surroundings when people do not even care about themselves.Chief Seattle stated, "Youth is impulsive".Perhaps his judgment is right and we all should make a change. We should be more aware of the consequences of our actions.We live in a society and share spaces, therefore our actions will always affect others.Taking care our mind and body can be a good start. If we are able to to take care ourselves, maybe we can take care everything around us. Durham has stated," One cannot do one well without having done the others well." Take care of yourself and the enviroment around you is now a necessity that can change the future.
After reading the article about Jimmie Durham it reallymade me think about our society as the humans who inhabit the earth and how we have no appreciationg for the things around us. I say this because we have no connection with the land and other beings which share the Earth with us and this I feel is what helped others such as the Early Americans and Indians have a sustainable Environment. I also feel that until we get our attention off of technology and being the biggest and best we will continue to have problems and drive ourselves farther and farther away from the sustainable lives we dream of.
In most western cultures, particularly the United States, we are resistant to thinking of anything as a common asset. We tend to be culturally trained to segment everything into categories of ownership. Both responsibility and blame are assigned to the organization who has power over it. Whether it is the government or a corporation someone particular has responsibility. First Nation cultures thought of everything as being, essentially , everyone's responsibility. And this applies to the environment because we all rely on the resources our environment supplies. We all use the water, and the air, and the fuel. Therefore we should all be concerned and involved in the use and management of these resources. The goals of sustaining these resources need to achieved as a community.
What we can learn from First Nations peoples is how to see ourselves as part of Earth and nature, as opposed to a separate entity who's purpose is only to conquer. Durham writes, "We do not traditionally see the earth as a mother but as a process that intimately includes us." First Nations peoples have a sense of oneness with all that is around them, a sense that enables them to see the importance of crucial resources. Only by realizing this can we come to truly accept, rather than grudgingly go along with, sustainable practices. First Nations people live alongside the land and we must learn from their example that people need nature to grow and develop.
For thousands of years, people have lived with nature in a minimal impact way, and yet in just the past few hundred years human lifestyles have begun to rapidly harm the Earth. In order to revert this damage, we ourselves must revert to old ways of seeing the world. Like the First Nations people and those before even them, we must not let selfishness drive our destruction. As Durham says, we must not see the Earth as a separate being, but as a part of our existence and life in this universe. A widespread understand of this principle is necessary for major changes to occur in countries, and without this change, sustainability will not succeed.
Although one may feel that we are far more educationally advanced in today's 21st century, I feel that we can learn a lot from the First Nations peoples about sustainability. Or perhaps we already have, but yet we just choose to dismiss our findings. I agree with the statement Jimmie Durham made in one of is articles, "There is a basic problem in the U.S from which most other problems come: the denial of reality". I see our sustainability in relation to nature as a relationship. I personally feel that the problem is simple, we do not share the same feelings about nature as the First Nations people did. They had more of a connection with nature and the land. Our 21st century peoples do not care about nature in the same manner what so ever. We have grown apart, and we have grown to fall in love with someone else. That someone else is the technological advancements that are our beloved entertainment. The First Nations peoples understood that we need to work in conjunction with nature as a team, for we have a sacred relationship with each other. They loved the land, and even performed rituals respecting and honoring the land. "Til death do us part"; Well, in our current relationship status with nature today, death WILL do us part if we do not stop abusing mother nature. The First Nations peoples were the lovers in the relationship, and our 21st century peoples are the abusers. The honeymoon stage is over, and I feel that in order to begin fixing this problem, we simply need to "find the love" again, because our problem is, we just don’t care. "As Jimmie Durham said in one of his articles,"The "New World" has environmental problems specific to its vicious colonization by Europeans that cannot logically be made peripheral, nor be considers as problems of the "past". The ongoing project of the takeover of these lands is in itself a contradictory project." It’s a love hate relationship, nature loves us, it is our caregiver and provider, and it seems as if we hate it.
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