I’ve read for years about our ecological situation and planned to make a break from the city to live sustainably in the countryside. I’ve come up with more and more detailed plans, based in good science and the inventive know-how of global pioneers (the majority of them ex-British colonials themselves), to make this dream a reality. In the course of my own research on sustainability and ecology, I've been gradually introduced to indigenous forms of land use from North America. Recently, and in part because of this, I've started taking interest in First Nations’ issues. Now, I'm a Canadian, but I'm not a member of any of the First Nations. I don’t have a drop of First Nations blood in me, unless there was more friskiness amongst the ancestors than we've give credit for. Beyond being able to say “hello” in Blackfoot, I'm a black hole of First Nations knowledge: a darkness from which no light escapes. I admit that there are others with this exact same colonial background who revere some strange new-age hocus-pocus: the belief that they have a First Nations “spirit guide” and a “spirit animal” that is typically chosen from the following list: eagle, wolf, mountain lion, bear, or dolphin. To be perfectly clear: I am not one of those people. I have never smudged, done a sweat, or joined a drum circle. I'm your classic European-born-in-a-colony: I can recite the countries of origin of all my great-grandparents, tell you the percentages of each of the nationalities that are coursing through my veins, and I've even done a genealogical trip back to the mother country to trace my roots. I feel pangs of displaced affection for the oak forests and bucolic English countryside. I have a deep cultural affinity for my colonial brothers and sisters in New Zealand and Australia. I'm even nominally a monarchist - if we agree to call the Crown a Constitutional symbol of Canada herself and the people who live there. None of this is particularly abnormal or problematic for a colonial.
At this point in the narrative, however, it’s important that we look back on what’s been written and hilight a glaring omission. I would be willing to bet that most First Nations people reading this text will – right at this point – conclude that I’ve actually contradicted myself. Everyone else will likely still be wondering what the point of this post is. It's this: my entire study has been about a new solution to a problem the First Nations peoples have already solved, and yet my own research treated their solution as peripheral. I’ve already said I don’t suffer from white man’s burden or a post-colonial guilt complex, but I do suffer from an almost imperceptible memetic affliction: I still don’t privilege the discourse of the First Peoples. I’ve taken a problem that modernity has caused, and attempted to find a modern (indeed, European) solution to it. Indigenous methods, I have to admit, I treated as anecdotally interesting but not at all part of the solution I was looking for. In actual fact, indigenous methods of land stewardship are appropriate to place, systemic, and central to the problems of sustainability. It’s struck me more and more that: firstly, the depth and breadth of indigenous knowledge about their specific environments is staggering; secondly, a great deal of the knowledge has been brutalized, suppressed, and erased by colonial powers; and finally, after all this brutality, that knowledge has managed, somehow, to survive. This last point is a highly ironic form of good luck, because that which our ancestors attempted to eradicate appears to be a major part of the knowledge we need to solve our environmental problems today. This has become, for me, a disgustingly obvious case of “the more you learn, the less you know”.
To bring it all home, watch this video on the Mi’kmaq concept of “Netukulimk”, which can translate roughly to our concept of sustainability. What hit me was not the concept of sustainability itself - that idea is becoming clearer to more and more of us late-bloomers nowadays. The specific comment that caught me off guard was when Mr. Marshall said, "We must take the best of what the white man has brought forth, through his education and through his different ways of seeing the world, and our ways". Understanding that difference is something we as colonials, suffering from this post-colonial memetic hangover, were not in a place to fully comprehend. Now that I have shaken the cobwebs out, I'm beginning to see the truth of how these worldviews can work together. The darkness of my black hole had gone unnoticed to me because there was nothing but black. A single glimmer of light has now framed that darkness, and I realise now how much I need to learn from the ancient masters of Netukulimk. It is the way of a mature man that he bows his head and listens when a wise man speaks. I've clearly got to learn to be more mature.