Just yesterday (July 3, 2014) the Supreme Court of Canada granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to a 1,700-square-kilometre area of traditional land outside its reserve in British Columbia. While this is a massive victory for the Tsilhqot’in people (who have been fighting for their land for over two decades), and also for other First Nations groups in Canada due to the precedent that this decision sets, it will likely prove to be a thorn in the side of developers backing projects such as the $7 billion dollar Northern Gateway pipeline (perhaps, another very good thing?).
Although there are many ways in which this decision is groundbreaking (no pun intended), I am especially excited about it because the opportunity it provides for a discussion concerning the relationship between humans and land.
For most ‘western’ people (I am a white man of Dutch decent), land is something to be bought, sold, and developed. Land is external to me, and I can use it whichever way I see fit–most likely, for my own, personal, short-term, economic benefit. Many argue that such an understanding of land stems from Descartes’ dualistic worldview which separates mind and matter combined with the Christian belief that humans are the pinnacle of creation whose role on the planet is to subdue/dominate the earth (something–I think–we have been very successful at!).
While I am not an expert in indigenous culture(s), my understanding is that the relationship that First Nations peoples have with land is much deeper than most Westerners. Indigenous peoples seem to have an inherent respect for the interconnectedness of all things, and view land primarily in a spiritual manner, rather than in material terms. For indigenous groups, the entire planet is a sacred place–a worldview which stands in stark contrast to the predominant dualistic Western perspective.
This makes me wonder, how would Westerner’s treatment of land (and the broader environment) change if our underlying dualistic worldview was to shift towards a more holistic, indigenous one? And, if such as shift was to occur, would we find more joy in the places and spaces that makeup our lives?
Personally, I think we have a lot to learn from First Peoples. What do you think?