ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Let’s Start Thinking AheadBy Sami Polumohanti, Chioma Okoro, Vanshika Bhamidipati, Nischitha Korrapati, Tamara Turchetta
Imagine eating your grandma’s cookies:
Chocolatey, sweet, and full of love. You think that, one day, you can make those same cookies for your grandkids. You can, because it is a long-standing family recipe that gets passed down through generations connecting them to their past and to people they have never met, from the time they’re children, to the time they have children. Keep in mind that these are cookies. They bear no sacred, ceremonial, or monetary value.
Maybe it’s hard to see this as anything profound enough to be called generational knowledge. But these are the things that help connect you to where you are from, give you an identity, and make you feel like you belong. Knowledge can be anything from recipes to wisdom. It’s the words, and smells, and stories, that historically and intuitively connect us to our past, allow us to see we have a place, and bind us to recognizing the role that everything in and around us plays in who we are, and the impact of the decisions we make.
Perhaps even seven generations from now.
In indigenous culture, all learning is tied to relationship and connection – connection that binds the land and people. “Storytelling is an ancient technique used to retain information and an important part of Indigenous traditions,” states Thomas Johnson, a member of the Eskasoni Mi’kmaw Language Initiative Group, “authentic Indigenous land-based knowledge is embedded in language and in the stories that transfer knowledge passed down from our ancestors.” 1
This kind of generational knowledge can be as simple as finding and following your grandma’s hand-written cookie recipe, or as complex as hearing and understanding the traditional stories that highlight the physical and spiritual bond with the land passed down from elders to the youth that inform their connection, cultural practices, and decision making.
Land based education is a mindset which has been practiced by Indigenous Peoples for hundreds of years. Communities that follow this have a deeper understanding and respect for the land on which they live. Land-based education focuses on a way of life that is intuitive and sustainable, in which the earth is not treated as an inanimate vessel of resources to serve man, but rather is personified as an entity that exists in its own right. While this way of thinking originated in Indigenous communities, the principles are applicable to all people. These principles are rooted in the past and extend through the present to inform and safeguard those in the future.
We are led to believe we are constantly advancing our knowledge and our quality of life through technology. And advancements in the sciences only serve to confirm our inextricable bond to the environment, highlighting the misconceived idea that we are above, or separate from, our surroundings. “For humans, identifying where one individual stops and another begins is generally not something we think about. It is usually taken for granted – within modern industrial societies, at least– that we start where our bodies begin and stop where our bodies end,” writes Melvin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life. “Developments in modern medicine, such as organ transplants, worry these distinctions; developments in microbial sciences shake them at their foundation. We are ecosystems, composed of – and decomposed by – an ecology of microbes, the significance of which is only now coming to light.” 2
Yet despite this evidence, we rely on seeing ourselves as individuals. This belief currently informs our systems of value, social interaction, and resource management. It is difficult to simply dispose of a perspective that we are so reliant upon for organizing so much of our daily life and experience. We do concede, of course, that through all of our advancement, we are cumulatively having a substantially negative impact on the earth. Seeing the effects of thousands of years of human life on earth right in front of our eyes, it would seem hard to miss that everything we do affects our ecosystem and the land. In an effort to soften our tread, we find ourselves looking for more effective alternatives.
Perhaps we can look to combine what we continue to learn from the evidence that both advances in science and generations of Indigenous traditions and stories bear out: that we ourselves are part of an inextricably connected environment, that we don’t own the land we live on but rather that we coexist with it and are linked with everything else that is, and has been, here with us .. Since our well-being and survival relies on the well-being of our environment, land-based education is important right now- to indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Pop culture has always had a fascination with turning a lens to focus on the innate tie between man and nature. One prime example is the recently released Avatar sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. This long awaited sequel takes Jake Sully and Neytiri’s family, who are jungle Na’vi, away from their jungle home for protection. The family ends up in another part of Pandora where they meet ocean Na’vi. With the completely different change of lifestyle, the sole jungle Na’vi family has to learn new ways of life and the culture of the ocean Navi. While it is true that part of this blockbuster’s appeal comes from the artwork and spectacular effects, the film also sets up a more intimate dichotomy between the different beings and how they see themselves and behave in relation to their own and different worlds that makes it more than just “easy on the eyes.” For the Na’vi, there is the notion of Eywa, their great mother and sole deity, who is made up of all living things. The Na’vi are connected through a network of energy. For them, all energy is only borrowed from Eywa and must be returned to her in some form. There is an emphasis on balance and respect, and on the concept of “enough”.
In contrast, the colonizers, presumably from a used-up Earth, come to extract and accumulate . They know about the balance that exists, but they disregard and even mock it– enough is never enough; having more for yourself, now, is more important. Through all of its color and special effects, the movie starkly juxtaposes the importance of understanding, heeding, and preserving our connection to our environment and fellow inhabitants against the utter insanity of ignoring it or believing ourselves above it. The movie provides a glimpse into what it means to be part of a community-that every single creature is important to the survival of a people, of a world.
How does this movie translate to real life? Just like Ewya, Indigenous people see all things as living and connected. There is no ownership – only borrowed and shared energy. “Native Americans never took a stance; we’ve always respected the earth,” 3 Dale Carson explains. “Anytime we do something that will affect nature, we ask ourselves, how will this affect seven generations? The earth is our mother, the sky is our father, and everything in between is our brothers and sisters. Everybody deserves respect and the right to be listened to.” 3
This type of long-term thinking isn’t new to many Indigenous groups, who are used to… “Seventh-Generation decision-making,” where people make choices based on how it will affect their community decades, if not hundreds of years, into the future.
“Seventh-Generation thinking says you have enough: Earth already provides everything you need to be happy and healthy, so take care of it well,” 4 said Rick Hill, a member of the Tuscarora SixNations in southern Ontario. It is the recognition and acknowledgement of our connection to the land, to all people and to everything around us — things you can touch and those you cannot, past and present. It is a thoughtful v. methodical approach to problem solving that is inherently relational and forward thinking. It considers ““the faces that are yet beneath the surface of the ground—the unborn of the future nation”5
In a small way, it is why we steadfastly gravitate to our grandma’s cookie recipe and preserve her recipe card and handwriting and wording.
Because they’re not just cookies.
They’re emblems of her and her story.
The Seventh Generation philosophy is integral to Haudenosaunee life. It intensifies the bond of community, promotes stability, and provides concrete values with which each person can test his or her everyday actions. Although the Haudenosaunee practice ancient traditions, their culture is not frozen in the past.4
Seven Generation thinking “is a forward-thinking process (that) doesn’t provide quick answers…. says Rick Hill, a member of the Tuscarora Six Nations in southern Ontario. Arriving at a joint decision, Hill said, “could take days, weeks, may take a year. Because you’re cautious, you’re careful and thoughtful.” As Hill put it: “We’re out of step with modern society. But we say modern society is out of step with the Earth.”4
“Land-based learning is also a crucial step to decolonizing education systems because it places value and respect on Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Something I was taught is that the land (Mother Earth) is our first teacher, and through her we can learn everything we need to know about life,”6 says Dr. Traci Scheepstra, CEO of Embodied Learnings. Now, even if one does not believe in the concept of Mother Earth, the idea that we can learn much more intimate details of why certain life cycles occur, is as sound as it is unusual in modern society. Land based education provides an effective approach to practically observing and understanding relevant concepts and relationships. It is an approach which in turn can give rise to more holistically beneficial and sustainable resource management choices.
As Gen Z, we are often characterized as the generation most self obsessed and most attached to our devices, numb to nature and its rhythms, unable to see or hear our part and instead consumed by our own noise. We’re stuck with this idea that growth and accumulation is necessary in order to be modern, to be competitive in the world.
Land based education is not our traditional perception of what education is. It is rather awareness of our complex connection with the land we live on. We respect the land, and the land respects us. It allows us to exit the mindset of living to conquer, and enter the mindset of living to preserve, knowing the Earth provides enough. The sky people from Avatar killed and tormented the Na’vi and the Tulkuns to take over their homes and extract substances in an attempt to defeat mortality. Instead of fighting to preserve their dying planet, they fought to corrupt another.
Ultimately, land-based education does not lend itself to simple one-sentence definitions. It brings together layered concepts like the importance of language and the geography of stories, cosmologies and world views, land protections and rights, relationality and accountability, a connection to reconciliation, and much more. Seventh generation thinking goes hand in hand with land based education. It is not simply a list of green initiatives and accompanying prescribed tasks to check off. It cannot be contained in a list. It is a philosophy.
Land-based education is rooted in Indigenous knowledge systems and has been practiced by Indigenous communities for generations. It is increasingly recognized as a valuable approach to education for all learners, not just Indigenous peoples. It provides an opportunity for people to reconnect with the natural world and develop a deeper understanding of the kind of thinking that underpins the importance of caring for the environment based on learning about the relationships within it.
Land based education is a way of looking ahead by staying connected to the past, whether through cultural knowledge, language, traditional practices or stories from one generation to the next – even through something as simple as a family recipe for chocolate chip cookies.
So, consider the generations after us….seven if you can. No checklist, no government mandate, just the clear recognition that we are part of the intricately connected biosphere responsible for safeguarding the planet and not destroying it.
We have one job….
1 Johnson, Thomas. “Land as Teacher: Understanding Indigenous Land-based Education.” Canadian Commission for UNESCO, en.ccunesco.ca/idealab/indigenous-land-based-education#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20Indigenous%20element%20of%20land-based%20knowledge%20is%20regional.%E2%80%9D,member%20of%20the%20Eskasoni%20Mi%E2%80%99kmaw%20Language%20Initiative%20group.
2 Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures – the Illustrated Edition. Bodley Head Childrens, 2023.
3 Haley, Marie. “What Is the Seventh Generation Principle?” The Seventh Generation Tours Akaroa New Zealand, 26 Sept. 2021, theseventhgeneration.org/blog-the-seventh-generation-principle.
4 Lyons, Oren. “Seven Generations: the role of chief”
5Murphy, Gerald (prepared by). The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law, Cleveland Free-Net/National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), Portland State University 01 Oct, 2001
6 Scheepstra, Traci. “Decolonizing the Curriculum Through Land-Based Learning — Embodied Learnings | Conscious-Minded Teacher Empowerment.” Embodied Learnings | Conscious-Minded Teacher Empowerment, June 2022, www.embodiedlearnings.com/blogs/blog/decolonizing-the-curriculum-through-land-based-learning.
REFERENCES (indirectly referenced material?)
Motillaro, Nicole, “How climate action can benefit from Indigenous tradition of ‘7th-generation decision-making’” What On Earth? CBC, 22 Jan 2021
Cherpako, Danielle. “MAKING INDIGENOUS-LED EDUCATION A PUBLIC POLICY PRIORITY” Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, August 2019
Multiple Contributors. “Indigenous Land Based Learning” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, October 2020
Multiple authors. “Learning from the land: Indigenous land based pedagogy and decolonization” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2014
Levinson, Will. “Eywa.” Avatar Wiki. 01 January 2015.