Why We Need to Indigenize Ourselves

When we arrange for a celebration, we often invite many guests to our home to enjoy a specific holiday, to commemorate an event, or simply to enjoy the company of our friends.  Frequently, a celebration involves more people than a home could ever sustainably house.  There isn’t enough space for sleeping, large amounts of food and fuel are consumed, tremendous (but temporary) strain may be placed on the septic system, and the guests might get loud as the evening progresses.  But, for one night, we tolerate the noise, hassle, and commotion to reaffirm friendships, express gratitude, and enjoy the amenities and food.  The next day, the guests leave, and things slowly return to normal as we clean and reorganize the interior setting.  But, what if the guests never left?  What if we were always in party mode?

Anyone who has hosted events will instantly identify that if the celebration didn’t end there would be serious complications within a few days (for most events).  Ultimately, the strain of so many people in one location would cause stress, headaches, and loss of sleep, and people would become irritable.  This would be especially true because, as everyone knows, some guests don’t treat other people’s homes with complete respect. Eventually, the food stores would be depleted.  After a long enough time, the septic system would be overrun and would be backing up outside the home or in the house itself.  Everyone understands that “party-mode” is not a sustainable lifestyle, especially for those who lived in the home prior to the party and require some level of pristineness to function there.

But as descendants of European colonists, this is exactly what we have done.  Even though we came to this continent centuries ago, most of still live in an unsustainable manner, one that has been devastating to the people and other-than-human persons that lived here previously.  We have deforested much of the continent, dammed and polluted its rivers, and built sprawling urban centers over what used to be wilderness (where someone lived).  We now go on clearing and building like there’s no end to the earth, all the while discharging carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals into our neighborhoods (literally).  Our methods of growing food (and transporting it to urban centers) rely extensively on fossil fuels, and further contaminate the very soil, water, and air we require for health.  We throw things away after a single use, most of us having no idea (or care) where those paper and plastic products go (you may be horrified if you do a little research in this area).  And we certainly over-populate.  We have acted like guests that won’t stop partying.

Using the celebration analogy, it’s time to cease the perma-celebration (i.e., realize our lifeways are not sustainable).  Not all the guests are going to like this because it will demand they do their part cleaning and repairing the home (i.e., healing the forests and rivers we have devastated).   Given there are so many guests in the home, a home that was not built for this many people, it will require radical changes in how we live to make it work (i.e., we need to consume and discharge less).  To avoid filling the garbage bags too quickly, people will need to cease throwing things away after one use (i.e., cradle-to-grave technologies and disposable products are filling our lands with trash).  We need to get everyone in the house to pay attention and act with respect toward everyone else (i.e., we need to stop being egocentric and realize our lifestyles are harming other beings).

To put this another way, we need to indigenize ourselves—establish roots in a manner that blends and flows with the landscape (not in a manner that exerts dominion over it).  We need to consider this land a place where we will live for generations (currently, we act as if the existing generation is the only one that counts).  Only through establishing strong connections to the landscape can we properly treat the world like it is our home (and not merely our party location).  By continuing to live as we do, we are further degrading the environments we depend on, ultimately creating a less viable world for our children.  Spending time in, learning about, and gathering food from the areas near our homes (for example) will foster a very different relationship with those wild places (large and small).  Once you realize that your food and medicine comes from areas near your home, it becomes important what you pour down your drain, mature trees become more valuable standing than felled, and clearing space for another big-box store becomes pointless.  The descendants of European colonists have altered and fragmented this landscape to an incredible degree.  It is now time for us to indigenize ourselves, treat this continent like our sacred home, and move forward in a rejuvenative manner.