Re-Indigenizing the People to the Planet

This special issue of Earth Island Journal is not a how-to manual, nor is it a warning message or a self-help treatise – though it includes all of those elements and more. It is, simply, a message from Indigenous communities meant to spark a conversation about what the dominant culture can learn from the world’s Indigenous cultures. For some of you, the words inside will be lessons that wake you up; for others, the articles here will be reminders, like a splash of water to the face.

You will be reminded, for example, about First Nations’ efforts to regain aboriginal title to stolen lands. You will be reminded of the sacredness of life and humans’ “treaty with creation” that requires honoring limits, recognizing kinship with the nonhuman, and giving back. You will also see that helping yourself means fiercely defending the source of our lives, our Mother Earth and all of her elements and creatures – rooted, winged, finned, and crawling. In this issue are stories that will inflame and inspire. They will remind you that the Indigenous warrior/warrioress tradition is alive and well, and is gaining momentum with elders’ tenacity, youths’ strength, and with allies who share a commitment to creating a healthy future for all.

Indigenous peoples around the world are employing creative strategies of resistance and restoration to protect Indigenous rights, lands, and lifeways. To care for our homelands we resist the neocolonialism of economic globalization that mines our lands, waters, and bodies. Native American ancestral legacies require us to attune our behaviors to the ecological cycles of our homelands. You can witness this in the many strong Indigenous cultures: in the Lakota Oyate’s “the Heart of Everything That Is” (Black Hills), among the Winnemem Wintu (“Middle Water People”) of Mount Shasta, in the Anishinaabeg Akiiing of the Great Lakes, and among the Nuu-Chah-Nulth in their Tla-o-qui-aht temperate rainforest.

Even though Native cultures are extraordinarily diverse – a reflection of the biological diversity of the planet – they are connected by the common understanding that protecting place, protecting ʻaina (a Hawaiian word for “land” that also means “that which nourishes you”) requires resisting corporate capitalism and restoring sustainable lifeways and ecosystems.

Indigenous peoples understand resistance as a type of cultural immune system to the destructive nature of what the late Lenape scholar Jack D. Forbes called the “wetiko disease” – the cannibal disease of insatiable consumerism. Our languages, our treaties and covenants, our ethical systems and land-care practices resist the “monocultures of the mind” and work to restore Earth’s immune system.

Today, all of us need to resist the destructiveness of consumerism and restore environmental justice. And all of us have some kernel of traditional wisdom in our hearts. Engaging in this work of resistance and restoration reminds us that, as the late Seneca philosopher John Mohawk once said: “It’s about re-indigenizing the peoples of the planet.”


Melissa K. Nelson (Anishinaabe)

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