It’s hard to believe the transition from one calendar year to the next is quickly approaching. Naturally, this time of year presents an opportunity for giving, often via consumerism. It’s a time when spending typically hits its apex. But does the cost go beyond the price tag?
This year, the Converge Lecture Series kicked off the holiday season at the end of November by inviting nationally renowned authors to speak. They included Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, scientist, professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kimmerer wrote Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, and lectured at both UCCS and Colorado College this year.
Kimmerer’s talks largely focused on healing our relationship with nature and shifting away from Western thought, which looks at humankind as the “subject.” She is a proponent of coupling ecological thinking with Indigenous wisdom. “An educated person,” she said, “knows their gifts and how to give them to the world.”
She asked the audience to consider what it looks like to “see with both eyes,” meaning Indigenous ways of thinking coupled with Western science.
At this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, UN Climate Envoy and chair of the Elders Group — an international non-governmental organization made up of peace and human rights advocates and senior statesmen — said, “The world remains on the brink of climate catastrophe. Progress made on [cutting emissions] has been too slow. We are on the cusp of a clean energy world, but only if G20 leaders live up to their responsibilities, keep their word and strengthen their will. The onus is on them.”
Collectively, our consumption has to change. In this season of giving, we should think about what it means to pass the Earth on to future generations. Maybe this is quite literally the meaning of giving experiences rather than things.
In the audience at Colorado College’s Armstrong Hall, Colorado Springs Councilor Nancy Henjum said City Council/Utilities Board members were considering an ordinance regarding water availability for future development. She asked what City Council and Utilities should consider when making this decision. “You are engaged in public and human law, but where is the seat at that table for natural law?” Kimmerer brilliantly responded. “The question I would ask those folks is, ‘Do you know of any ecological system that can grow perpetually?’ Not possible; it breaks all the laws of thermodynamics and ecology.”
President Joe Biden recognizes the dire need. Last November, according to the White House, his administration “...released a new memorandum that commits to elevating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) in federal scientific and policy processes. ITEK is a body of observations, oral and written knowledge, practices, and beliefs that promotes environmental sustainability and the responsible stewardship of natural resources through relationships between humans and environmental systems. It is applied to phenomena across biological, physical, cultural and spiritual systems.”
Kimmerer argues, “if there can be institutions of powerful violent forces of cultural erasure, can there not also be opposing forces of cultural revitalization and resilience?”
Indigenous peoples are still here among us in the Americas. We are all better for recognizing that and gleaning from their wisdom.