October 01


By Anoushka Singh, Akhila Lingam, Sami Polumohanti, Jessie Li, Vanshika Bhamidipati, Allie Liu, Tamara Turchetta

We do our best to do our part. We haul our compost bins to the town recycling centre, we clear our email inboxes so they take up less space, and we wash plastic containers before recycling them. We understand that there are wildfires and melting ice and dying animals, which is why we alter our lives in prescribed ways to try and make a change.  

For our whole lives, the slogan ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ has been drilled into us, along with similar catchphrases and easy-to-remember rules to follow in order to save the environment. We like to say we have selfless motives when it comes to saving the environment, but how true is that, really? Truthfully, the beliefs and mandates of our community, as well as personal-gain, and just general “do-gooder-righteousness”, are big motives for our decisions and actions.We also tend to blindly follow rules as compared to understanding and believing in them. Besides, following community guidelines provides us with the approval of those around us, social collateral that is very important in today’s world.

Yet we also check the news every morning, constantly disheartened by reports of things getting worse: “Heat waves in the U.S., wildfires in Europe, floods in Asia: This summer has shown how the climate crisis has made extreme weather a part of everyday life….Experts pushed back on that characterization (of a new normal). They argued that calling it normal suggested we had reached some sort of plateau”.1 In the face of all this, all the composting, recycling and washing feels meaningless on any sort of scale. Surely, we must be able to do more than this! 

Perhaps that’s because we’ve been listening to the wrong people this whole time.. Perhaps we, as a society, should turn our attention to more proven practices. Indigenous communities have been protecting their land and our planet for centuries longer than the rest of us, even as the world around them suggested they were backward, dismissed their culture and knowledge, pushed them to the fringes, and denied them access to their traditional means of survival. Although we are certainly making some broad strokes here since there are many, many different indigenous peoples globally, each nation and community with its own unique traditions, there are several characteristics that stand out as fundamental tenets of Indigenous peoples,  especially around the creation of, and  the relationship between, all things.

• First it is common to think of the creation of the universe and everything in it as more of a mental thought process.
• Next, it is also common to have multiple entities involved in the creation process who bear a familial relation to each  other
• And as an important side note –  creative entities are rarely human and most often take the form of elements (wind/  fire/ water/ etc) or animals 2

This animated, non-human, relational perspective on creation carries over to inform a very different relationship to the environment…Anglo-American “ecologists” often have a very narrow conception of what constitutes “ecology” and the “environment.”Certainly… Ecos (can be defined) in a narrow sense, as our immediate vicinity, or we can broaden (its scope) to include the Sun (which is, of course, the driving power or energy source in everything that we do), the Moon, and the entire known universe… Our Ecos, from the indigenous point of view, extends out to the very boundaries of the great totality of existence.3 As author Jack Forbes continues, “I can lose my hands and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live. . . . But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun, I die. If I lose the earth, I die. If I lose the water, I die. If I lose the plants and animals, I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath than is my so-called body.”4 We are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings as European mythology teaches. . . . We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected with the rest of the world. . . .For us, truly, there are no “surroundings.”5

For indigenous people, even with different traditions in communities, their environmental view is similar. Even beyond seeing the entire universe as being alive, and having movement and an ability to act, “Indigenous Americans tend to see this living world as a fantastic and beautiful creation engendering extremely powerful feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, obliging [them] to behave as if [they] are related to one another”5  Native people, according to Standing Bear, were often baffled by the European tendency to refer to nature as crude, primitive, wild, rude, untamed, and savage. “For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and woods were all finished beauty. . . .”6

It is perhaps vastly overstated to suggest that there are no other cultural perspectives that share an appreciation of the finished beauty of nature, but seeing nature/ our environment/ the Earth as an extension of ourselves and all things as connected as one – AND with this connection  informing the health and life cycle of all of the individual parts and the survival of the whole… This is more specifically Indigenous. We can and may appreciate the earth, but it is as something separate from us, something we live on. We are above the earth both literally and metaphorically.

We see it as the ground we walk on, the soil we grow food in, the resource we own and can use. We have the power to selectively decide  whether and how to nurture and care for it but we do not see that it is part of us. And, as evidenced by the current climate crisis, having power over something does not necessarily make us powerful.

A global perspective shift is in order. Perhaps more than focusing on creating any consensus on WHAT exactly to do– which will for sure be very different things in different places with different concerns, landscapes, resources and populations– we could shift the attention to HOW we regard the environment – and building more consensus around understanding our connection to everything around us. In western culture, we defer to advice from medical doctors on how to help our cells and tissues and organs work in harmony for our body because we prioritize preserving our own life and we have no trouble seeing our body as connected to preserving our life. We are the centre – the top being that smaller organisms support. We have little trouble with this perspective. Similarly, it only makes sense that  to address climate change, we would need to defer to advice from Indigenous knowledge holders who hold centuries of traditional knowledge on how to help the plants and animals and us work in harmony for the earth. Although this is exactly as vital to preserving our life as attending to the health of our body, which we mentioned before and can probably all agree is a priority,  in this scenario we are the part, not the centre…this is much more difficult and troubling for us. Our idea of us as mere “related parts” and not “entirely autonomous wholes” is very difficult for us to get our head around. It is imperative for us to switch our perspectives on the Earth and our environment. Seeing and acting in a way that all living things are interconnected recognizes that the health of one part of this complex ecosystem directly or indirectly affects another part of it. We are a part of the environment, not above it. 

Changing OUR world views are important, but there is an even  greater importance in passing this Indigenous world view onto the future generations. Education has always been the key to passing down world views to younger generations in hopes that they keep the legacies alive. Traditional Indigenous beliefs are thousands of years old, and it is a wondrous thing that against the destructive intentions of colonialism, these stories, traditions, and connections to Mother Earth have survived at all. That they endure is a testament to their importance, and because of this, it becomes increasingly vital to teach current generations the land-based education curriculum.

“Indigenous land-based education is its own paradigm based on Indigenous worldviews and beliefs and the passing on of knowledge to one another and to the next generation.” – Dr. Alex Wilson, Opaskwayak Cree Nation.7 

Indigenous knowledge and beliefs have been poured into this curriculum that teaches students that nature is a part of them and that there is so much to be learned from being surrounded by it. When we teach children that the environment is a small part of their identity, their perspective of the world is completely shifted. Protecting the environment is not an external factor anymore, it is protecting what is directly threatening a part of their identity, culture, and survival. Learning with the environment instead of about it changes the perspective of all generations in ways that are intangible but can grow to be world – changing. In working to shift our perspective to acknowledge Indigenous wisdom and knowledge, we would be taking a proper step towards a healthier earth and a more sustainable way of life…. one that grounds us and more substantively informs our purpose and path both as individuals and as part of humanity.

PLEASE CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST  EPISODE “LET’S TALK CLIMATE JUSTICE” for insights from Cree Author, Educator, and Champion Hoop Dancer Sandra Lamouche


  1. German Lopez, “A Summer of Climate Disasters.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 07/09/2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/07/briefing/climate-change-heat-waves-us-europe.html.
  2. Jack D. Forbes, et al. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.” American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Daedalus, Fall 2001, https://www.amacad.org/publication/indigenous-americans-spirituality-and-ecos.
  3. Jack D. Forbes, et al. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.”.
  4. Jack D. Forbes, et al. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.”
  5. Jack D. Forbes, et al. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.”
  6. Jack D. Forbes, et al. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.”
  7. Canadian Commission for Unesco, “Land As Teacher — Understanding Indigenous Land-Based Education”, UNESCO website 21/06/2022, https://en.ccunesco.ca/idealab/indigenous-land-based-education#:~:text=%E2%80%9CIndigenous%20land%2Dbased%20education%20is,to%2C%20the%20wider%20universe.%E2%80%9D


Referenced for background but not directly cited:

Canada, Natural Resources. “Government of Canada.” Natural Resources Canada, / Gouvernement Du Canada, 14 Sept. 2020, https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/energy-sources-distribution/fossil-fuels/pipelines/pipelines-across-canada/18856.

“Current Affairs, Documentaries and Education.” TVO, https://www.tvo.org/article/how-indigenous-land-based-learning-can-help-fight-climate-change

Recio, Eugenia, et al. “Indigenous Peoples: Defending an Environment for All.” International Institute for Sustainable Development, https://www.iisd.org/articles/deep-dive/indigenous-peoples-defending-environment-all