Envirobytes 4: Indigenous Stewardship

Welcome back to Envirobytes, the blog that crosses the intersections of climate change, food, technology, and storytelling. Last week, I looked at Per Grankvist’s work on climate storytelling. This week, I share my experience studying abroad in British Columbia and advocate for increased Indigenous led environmental stewardship.

Earlier this past spring, I graduated from Pearson College UWC, located on the unceded territory of the Scia’new Beecher Bay First Nation, in British Columbia, Canada. My school is part of the United World College movement that “makes education a force to unite nations, peoples, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” Central to my experience at Pearson College was examining the history of relations between First Nations and colonizers. In so-called British Columbia, some 95% of the land is unceded territory, meaning there was never any formal exchange of land between First Nations and settlers. Though manipulative treaties were created across North America, the land in British Columbia was blatantly stolen with no attention paid to First Nations. In the conversation regarding climate action and environmental policy, colonial rhetoric that favors settler conservation argues that science is more suited to inform governance of land and climate.

While science has offered the world technology that has increased quality of life, the argument for western science in North America is fundamentally rooted in white supremacy. When colonizers arrived with their diseases, guns, religion, and science, they could not acknowledge the complexity of Indigenous cultures in comparison to their own. The idea that colonial methods of observation were better than Indigenous models of knowledge comes from an entitlement and sense of superiority that has no basis in logic. To any scientist worth their salt today, Indigenous science presents a model that does not prioritize extraction from nature but harmony with it. Before we move past the debate regarding Indigenous knowledge and western science, modern science as we know it has existed for some 400 odd years whereas Indigenous knowledge has been passed down for thousands of years. So, if any model should hold more weight, perhaps it ought to be the one that has led to environmental harmony for millennia. While Indigenous knowledge harbors tremendous value for the world as the climate continues to change, increasing visibility of Indigenous practices remains a challenge.

Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective - The Loft Cinema

Inhabitants is a new documentary from co-directors Costa Boutsikaris and Anna Palmer that follows “five Native American Tribes across deserts, coastlines, forests, and prairies as they restore their traditional land management practices.”  In an interview with Civil Eats, Boutsikaris, Palmer and producer Ben-Alex Dupris shared key motivations and takeaways from their work on the film. Inspired by the Indigenous knowledge foundational to the permaculture movement, Boutsikaris and Palmer worked in collaboration with tribal project leaders to uplift stories of Indigenous stewardship and inspire Native youth to see new possibilities in their future. For Dupris, an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, it was important to spread the urgent message that Indigenous relationships with land ensure wellbeing for generations to come. Palmer comments that within academic climate spaces, Indigenous knowledge still is not being recognized and that USDA experts often speak condescendingly to Indigenous farmers while on their ancestral territories. Stories like the ones featured in Inhabitants are important in shaping the climate narrative and the solutions of the future.

While Indigenous knowledge presents timely solutions on its own, some Indigenous scientists are advocating for Two-Eyed Seeing, a principle that incorporates the predictive skill of western science with the traditional knowledge of Indigenous cultures. Assistant Professor Andrea Reid at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Oceans and Fisheries is putting this framework into action to conserve culturally significant fish species and aquatic ecosystems. Dr. Reid advocates that creating pathways to plural coexistence is a principle that will create a more equitable, sustainable future. This week, I gave an introduction into the world of Indigenous conservation and stewardship. To learn more, check out the film Inhabitants, and investigate two-eyed seeing for yourself. Next week, I will share exciting developments in the world of aeroponics and what it means for the future of agriculture. Thanks for reading and stay hungry for more Envirobytes!

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