Learning from Indigenous People

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Mauricio Romero Mendoza

Thoreau expressed his contempt for mankind when he said, “It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.” Woody Allen put forth his biophobia by proclaiming, “Nature and I are two.” A cursory glance at the quotes may suggest diametrically opposite perspectives but the implicit axiom connecting the two seems to be that human beings and nature are primarily distinct and separate entities. 

Indigenous cultures on the other hand, have been built on a holistic view of the universe where everything is intimately connected to everything else. On an expanded view of community in which humans, animals, plants, rocks and rivers are all biologically and spiritually fused together. The planet then in such a system does not just come alive, but turns sacred as well. The Indigenous have over thousands of years, become “biospherically conscious” and continue to live harmoniously with all life around them.

Over the past centuries though, lands of the Indigenous have been invaded and exploited to the extent that most of them are now close to extinction. Be it the Bo tribe from the Andamans or the Nenets from Northern Siberia. Hence, the need of the hour is to focus on the immediate survival, revival and long-term sustainability of the indigenous way of life.

The greater need now however, is to help ourselves re-imagine  a way of life which connects us back to Nature. So in addition to the preservation of the cultures of indigenous people, we need to honour and learn from their wise and grounded way of living. 

In this issue, Jerry Mander takes a look at the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous and how the landmark documentis a significant step towards the recognition of the importance of safeguarding indigenous culture and the value in preserving its knowledge.

Derrick Jensen, who has contributed an article on how the indigenous perceive the world around them, says that the stories we are told shape the way we see the world and that we experience the world accordingly. He says in his article, “If when you look at trees, you see dollar bills, you’ll treat them one way. If when you look at trees, you see trees, you’ll treat them differently. If when you look at this particular tree you see this particular tree, you’ll treat it differently still.”

With that in mind, we also bring you stories of Indigenous people from around the world that exemplify their belief in a living universe whose wisdom lies in maintaining long-term relationship with the animals, plants and the land.

Adil Basha
(Guest Editor for this Issue)