March 30th, 2017

The Cure is in the Cause: A Rationale and Guide for Scaling Up Indigenous Principles & Practices for Resilience and Sustainability

By Dawn Marsden

Marsden, article thumbnail

Abstract: Healing a world on the brink of eco-social collapse requires an understanding of how planetary health has declined, how sustainable societies worked before, and how we can restore them. Global colonizing processes established a worldview of economic domination and competition that has had detrimental impacts upon our social and environmental systems. Archeological and mathematical studies of the rise and fall of human civilizations concluded that egalitarian societies with low environmental exploitation were the longest lasting in human history, and that high economic stratification, and/or overexploitation of resources were precursors to societal collapse. Indigenous community systems were relatively egalitarian and environmentally sustainable. Hypothetically, if we use Indigenous eco-social systems as a guide for community planning, then eco-social collapse can be averted, and eco-social resilience and sustainability can be restored. A framework of Indigenous principles and practices is included, with examples of goals, activities and indicators.

Keywords: Indigenous, colonization, suicide, eco-social, egalitarian, community, resilience, sustainability


In our Prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation or [be] faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes…You alone – and only you – can make this crucial choice, to walk in honor or to dishonor your relatives. On your decision depends the fate of the entire World (Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 2016).


Greek philosophers have urged us to look for the cure in the cause of the ailment; Indigenous Elders have urged us, in a similar way, to join in a circle with hands back and hands forward, as we learn from the past and move, together, into the future. Healing a world on the brink of socio-ecological collapse requires an understanding of how planetary health has declined, how sustainable societies worked before, and how we can restore them without returning to the stone-age. This article discusses a retrospective analysis of 30+ years of Indigenous teachings shared with me as an Indigenous woman and researcher for Indigenous organizations in Canada. Indigenous knowledge includes stories of best practices for staying healthy while responding to environmental changes. These practices arose from direct experiences within specific ecosystems, and were honed over millennia by survival in the face of predators, changes in food species, climate change, competition and natural disasters. Planetary changes impact human health directly and differentially according to human knowledge systems and the transmission of protective knowledge to subsequent generations.

This process was disturbed by Kurgan-building, horse domesticating, Indo-Europeans, who inadvertently entrenched their colonizing worldview via the traumas of rape, pillage, domination and assimilation. Colonization has only been around for a small portion of the 200,000 year history of modern humans, and until 1800 only impacted 35% of the planet’s land mass. Planet-wide colonization is a recent and critical factor in the degradation of planetary health. Archeological and mathematical studies of the rise and fall of human civilizations conclude that egalitarian societies with low environmental exploitation were the longest lasting in human history, and that high economic stratification, and/or overexploitation of resources were precursors to societal collapse. Hypothetically, if we use Indigenous socio-ecological systems as a guide for societal planning, then socio-ecological collapse can be averted, and planetary health restored. A review of literature, policies, agreements, legal instruments, processes, materials and technologies suggests that we have the knowledge, skills, and critical motivations to transform within 10 years, by devolving control of resources and revenues to community territories, and by restoring individual and community capacity to develop eco-socially cohesive infrastructure.

The underlying theme of this paper is that humanity has lost its way, painfully, yet we can still restore healthier ways of interacting with each other and the natural world. I am hoping that the rationale will encourage people to move beyond the pain and anguish we’ve experienced, beyond conservative protectionism, to consider what the world would look like if everyone adopted earth and community-based worldviews again; what would that look like? The best path for healing our communities, is to widen the circle, to share the teachings internationally, with our neighbors and colleagues, and especially with those who’ve initiated their own healing and are ready to work together.

How Colonizing Worldviews Became the Norm, but Aren’t Sustainable

About 6000 years ago, the Kurgan building Indo-Europeans (aka Kurgans, Figure 1) domesticated the horse and exported their male dominating, vengeful god-empowered worldview to Europe and the Mediterranean. Rather than live off of their own hunting, fishing, gathering, herding or farming, they realized they could live off the harvests of others (Gimbutas, 1985; Eisler, 1988). Consequently, one egalitarian, earth-based community after another fell prey to rape and pillage (theft) by those who had the capacity to violate others and take what wasn’t theirs, by force. Over thousands of years, the colonized Indigenous people of Europe and Mediterranean became colonizers themselves. The methods of colonization in more recent times were given a new image under the title of exploration and defense of new land and resources; but the tactics were the same: rape, pillage, superior weapons, disease, kidnapping, murder, deception, legal entrapments, indentured servitude, imprisonment, and forced religion and education.


Figure 1: Kurgans (Shevchuk, 2006)

Figure 1: Kurgans (Shevchuk, 2006)

The colonization of Indigenous North Americans is the latest in a string of colonizing events, which has left global societies broken and sick. According to Thomas (2007):

In 1800 Western [European] powers held and governed 35% of the earth’s surface. By 1878, the proportion was 67%, a rate increase of 83,000 sq. miles per year. In 1914, Europe held a total of roughly 85% of the earth’s land as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions, and commonwealths.

In Canada, the methods and consequences of oppression are well documented (RCAP, 1996; TRC, 2015). Colonized people find ways to deal with their experiences of oppression; some find ways to heal, while others disassociate or disconnect from their own feelings or bodies so they can function despite painful memories. According to Dr. Lee Brown, our public education systems do not adequately mentor emotional competency; without this capacity, it is difficult for people to form values and think clearly (2011). Without emotional competency, colonized people may try to dull their pain with substance abuse or other addictions, and may begin identifying with the power and privileges of their oppressors, and, to dominate others for power and privilege. We see this lateral violence acted out in our schools, hospitals, legal systems, agencies, governments, and in every work place; we are told to “get over it” if we protest. We identify and treat the effect – stress – but not the cause, so stress related diseases and mental illness continue to rise. With reduced abilities to connect, feel or think, and/or the valuing and equating of oppressive behaviors with strength, people are not as able to make healthy decisions regarding themselves, others or the natural world; this is a critical concept for understanding how global societies became so socially and environmentally unsustainable.

It seems clear to me that through the 8000 year communicable disease-like entrenchment of the Kurgan or colonizing worldview, global peoples have become so disconnected from each other and the earth, so emotionally wounded, that many feel limited energy or little compassion beyond their small circles, or hold little value in collaboration, planetary life or the natural world. For those who’ve made a good living in these competitive and hierarchical systems, happiness depends on remaining slightly blind to those who make much more, or much less. When ignorance ensures livelihood, it may be difficult to comprehend that we urgently need to protect the natural world upon which our lives depend, within the limits of our ecosystems. As a consequence, humanity is at a crossroads created by overpopulation, ignorance, extreme inequities between rich and poor, the suffering of refuges of war and climate, and increasing damage to the natural world. John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Advisor in England has summed up the critical state of the world, under the phrase “perfect storm”:

…by 2030 the world will need to produce around 50 per cent more food and energy, together with 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. This threatens to create a ‘perfect storm’ of global events (Beddington, n.d).

This perfect storm is often described as something that just happened, perhaps through industrialization, combustion engines and the invention of plastics, with little critical analysis of the human psychology behind it. Natural threats have come and gone since the beginning of humanity, but we used to have the social systems to remain resilient, survive, be responsive and stay in balance with the natural world. Before colonization, our populations and impact on the natural world did not exceed the capacity of our ecosystems because self-determination, community food & resource sharing, local apprenticeships, and cashless trade meant everyone lived equitably off of the fruits of their community labor and direct, daily experiences of the environment ensured fair representation of the environment within governing circles. Overpopulation was kept in check by herbal control of reproduction (when appropriate) and expansion to new territories. There is growing evidence that earth-based and egalitarian systems were not confined to family or tribal levels of organization and prior to great flood in our legends, was a global phenomenon (Boulter, 2009).

Knowledge of these practices is still alive, but has been marginalized, possibly because self-reliant people threaten the stability and control of the corporate wage labour pool, which maintains the wealth of the top 1% of people on this planet. Colonial laws, regulations and policies around governance, land use, health, educational curriculum, job qualifications, pricing, taxes and trade make it difficult, but not impossible, to re-establish more socially cohesive and environmentally sustainable practices. It is very clear that without more collective efforts, global societies will be unable to function under natural threats, and humanity will be plunged into dark ages again, fighting for survival. We know that everyone, and especially women and children suffer under those conditions. Proactively, many are considering our current crises as a wake up call, and opportunity to learn from our mistakes and redesign human societies more harmoniously.

Crime, Suicide and Violence are Indicators of Social Disintegration and Collapse

While many will say that suicide is caused by mental illness and that all we need to do is shore up people’s mental health through drugs, intervention or social supports, this does not address the underlying reasons for suicide. People commit suicide because they see no way out of the extremely traumatizing or depressing situations that surround them, including murder, rape, physical violence and psychological assaults, racial barriers to education, employment, housing, health and social services, abduction of children, poverty and malnutrition. You’d think with all the money spent on anti-depressants, anti-racism, poverty and abuse that these experiences, and suicide rates would have decreased. Rather than blaming the victim, we must look to the underlying factors. Suicide rates have not fallen because they are caused by colonization, not by inherent mental illness. Our mutually colonizing worldviews and practices are dysfunctional and causing trauma and social destabilization.

Indigenous peoples all over the world continue to suffer from disproportionally high rates of  poverty, health problems, crime and human rights abuses (United Nations Department of  Public Information, 2010).

Indigenous people are painfully aware of the effect of colonization upon desperate acts of crime, violence and suicide rates. Though partially attributed to a racist justice system, Indigenous people have the highest rates of incarceration, violence and suicide, as a population group, in the world. These acts are not the cause of social dysfunction; they are the symptom and consequence of social dysfunction. As the most marginalized, Indigenous people are the indicator populations and recipients of the greatest oppressions and inequities within colonized societies. What many don’t realize is that a criminal, violent or suicidal response to a colonized world is a planet-wide phenomenon; we must remember that the Europeans who colonized Indigenous people were themselves colonized thousands of years earlier. Intuitively, billions feel hopelessness and anger at the inequities and no-win situations we are in, and are reduced to “taking care of their own,” or “getting theirs while the getting’s good.” The future seems bleak. This realization has led to an increase in suicide rates across the world:

 Suicide has now become the leading cause of death for people aged 14-49 years (Dokoupil,  2013).

According to Emile Durkheim, suicide is a primary indicator of social disintegration:

Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of society (Durkheim in Jones, 1986).

Colonization increases social disintegration because humans naturally disconnect, distrust and disassociate from things that are painful, including their own feelings and people around them. While suicide is a self-harming response to being colonized, crime, domestic violence and armed conflict are more external expressions of anger and desperation. If we had a rating scale for colonization, we might find that rates of crime, violence and suicide are proportional to rates of colonization, while inversely proportional to social integration. This speculation is corroborated by global mortality rates for armed conflict that are almost as high as those for suicide (Figure 2). The Swiss audit, tax and advisory group, KPMG (employing 175,000 people) reiterates the issue:

While conflict around the world has been on the decline since the mid-1990s… armed conflict is on the rise: 66% of related fatalities are in countries not affected by war (KPMG, 2014).

Figure 2: Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation, 2010.

Figure 2: Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation, 2010.

Normalization of a colonizing or dominating worldview does not make it acceptable; we each know, in our hearts that there’s something sick about our societies, that humanity is capable of so much more, and that things have to change. If a sense of wrongness isn’t enough to instigate change, perhaps we can be motivated by the fact that our colonizing ways have taken us to the brink of social and environmental collapse:

The process of rise and collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history…Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…either one of the two feature apparent in historical societal collapses — over-exploitation of natural resources and strong economic stratification— can independently result in a complete collapse (Motesharrei, Rivas & Shalnay, 2014).

We have 6 to 10 years remaining to slow and stop the processes that will eventually cross that carbon 425-450 ppm battle line. We either do the nearly impossible or we will die.  (Wollersheim, 2017).

From an Indigenous perspective, some might say that the threat of collapse is the result of the disharmony, disconnection, disrespect, irresponsibility and imbalanced relationships caused by the intergenerational traumas of colonization. This has become the norm of the majority, but is not the natural state of humanity. People of all Nations must realize that most planetary peoples have been colonized to some degree and that things won’t change until we all become more earth-based and egalitarian in our thinking and actions. We cannot continue business as usual. If global systems don’t change, the remaining Indigenous ways of being – the time-tested ways of living harmoniously on this planet – will be extinguished, the larger society will fall, and things will get worse for everyone.

Hypotheses and Calls for Change

We are at a time when we have to decide between the fearful, alienating, unsustainable, and destructive paths of competitive, dominating materialism, and the more connected, equitable, fulfilling, cohesive, balanced, and sustainable paths of earth-based cooperative living. Colonizing worldviews have taken us to this state of imminent social and environmental collapse. In the past, Indigenous systems were the most socially cohesive and sustainable; hypothetically, planetary systems could return to more earth-based egalitarian systems by replacing colonizing practices with Indigenous-guided practices. This would require large-scale proactive initiatives, at the same time as we identify and eliminate continuing oppressions. If billions are spent on marketing the latest gadget, junk food, fashion or vehicle, surely we can invest in more public education towards more earth-based and egalitarian practices? In a similar way, we must practice thinking and acting outside of the dysfunctional norms, and create social environments that are more socially cohesive and earth-centered.

If we understand that cultural continuity builds personal resilience to suicide, and that Indigenous Elders (with greater cultural knowledge) have the lowest suicide rates among all nationalities in Canada (Chandler & Lalonde, 2004; Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2012) we can concur with Kasser’s statement that:

There is evidence, for example, that a non-materialistic orientation contributes to psychological well-being. The ecocentric and relational values of some Aboriginal groups may be one antidote to the negative effects of the materialism fostered by consumer capitalism (2002).

If we combine Emile Durkheim’s observation of the inverse relationship between suicide and social integration and understanding that resilience through social cohesion and environmental sustainability are the opposite of suicide through social stratification and overexploitation of resources, then we could say that Indigenous cultural continuity is a pathway for simultaneously reducing suicide, increasing social cohesion and sustainable environmental practices.

I’d like to take this a step further and challenge people to consider: if this is a pathway for the sustainable well-being of colonized Indigenous people, then it is logical to consider that all people in this globally colonized world could use Indigenous wisdom as a guide for restoring the social practices necessary for reducing resource exploitation and reintegrating society. NASA funded Motesharrei and his team suggested a similar shift after their discovery that egalitarian, earth-based societies are the most sustainable:

Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion (Montsharrei et al, 2014).

Sharing Indigenous Knowledge

At first glance, it seems impossible to consider changing from where we’re at, to a more eco-socially resilient, harmonious and sustainable world. Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch; Indigenous Elders around the world have collectively retained the wisdom of the most enduring systems on this planet, which provide us with clues for strengthening our health, social cohesion, resilience and sustainability in the face of threats to our wellbeing.

Living harmoniously or wholistically are common Indigenous concepts, based on an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, and the related need to be responsible, to respect life and live in balance with the natural world. Unfortunately in the last 50 to 500 years (longer if we consider the witch hunts), this knowledge has been treated as the work of the devil, or at best as cultural folklore and – despite prior adaptations (psychotherapy, WW II code talkers, US Constitution, pharmaceutical industry, etc) has not been given the seriousness it merits. If we were to translate these concepts using the dominant science-based language, we could say that the Indigenous ideal is to live sustainably, with social and environmental cohesion, through collaboration, to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, protect or restore ecosystem services, enable adaptation, and plan for disaster risk reduction, in the face of external threats. It seems like there is an urgency to reinvent, piece by piece, the knowledge systems already demonstrated within Indigenous knowledge systems; why not just adapt Indigenous principles and practices for contemporary eco-social transformation?

How can we – realistically – transform our communities? From one Indigenous perspective, we could heed the words of the late Elder William Commanda, as he shared the 1000 year old Anishinaabek prophecy of the 7 Fires about these times:

 At the time of the Seventh Fire, a new people will emerge. They will retrace the footsteps of their ancestors and will try to find those things which have been lost along the way. They will approach the Elders in search of guidance. It will not be an easy task but if they are of good heart and pure intentioned they can prevail. Some Elders will be sleeping and have nothing to say, others will say nothing out of fear. The New generation must be fearless in their quest. The Light Skinned race will be at a crossroads. If they continue down the road of Materialism it will be their destruction and for all humanity as well. But if the Light Skinned Race chooses to join with the Natural People of this land on the spiritual path then they will again have the chance to create a nation, the greatest spiritual nation ever to have existed (in Rheault, 2011).

Or, from inside the depths of American society, we could heed the words of ex-US Marine and CIA agent, Robert Steele:

The goal is to reject concentrated illicitly aggregated and largely phantom wealth in favor of community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth (Cook, 2014).

Going global, we hear the same call for the restoration of Indigenous wisdom, this time from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change:

Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation (IPCC, 2014).

At a grassroots level, the centrality of food becomes the natural organizing principle:

Since the time of colonization, Indigenous communities have witnessed a drastic decline in the health and integrity of Indigenous cultures, ecosystems, social structures and knowledge systems which are integral to our ability to respond to our own needs for adequate amounts of healthy Indigenous foods. Indigenous food sovereignty provides a restorative framework for health and community development and reconciling past social and environmental injustices in an approach that people of all cultures can relate to. “Food will be what brings the people together”. Secwepemc Elder, Jones Ignace (Indigenous Food Systems Network, n.d).

It’s time to share Indigenous knowledge for the good of all our relations, yet what do we share, and how do we share it when wholistic and colonizing approaches are so conflicting? I have agonized over summarizing the knowledge that’s been shared with me over my life and during my work with Indigenous people, yet I feel the responsibility to do so. Everything I know was learned from others. Elders have said that Indigenous ways must be shared using the language and media of the youth, because they are the ones who will inherit the earth. Not having the best digital skills, I’ll have to leave sharing by social media to the younger generations. The content however, I can help with, but please consider the following as just one person’s example of an Indigenous pathway for building health, fulfillment, social cohesion, resilience and sustainability. As such, the ideas (Table 1) must be considered and revised according to local Indigenous practices and socio-ecological contexts.


Table 1

Table 1

An Indigenous Guide for Restoring Health, Fulfillment, Cohesiveness, Resilience and Sustainability

When looking at the table, it might be useful to remember that these principles and practices work synergistically. Prioritize and adapt activities according to their greatest potential impacts upon your community health, fulfillment, resilience and environmental sustainability, with strategic considerations of costs, and other barriers to initiating them. Priorities will also change according to what’s already in place in the community and the effects of each action upon the people in the community. The more the practices are integrated, the easier additional practices

will be to implement. In the following section I will outline four of the most important steps for establishing transformative Indigenous practices in a community.

Step 1: Foster Deep Connections with Local Environments

The foundation of all human cultures is our dependency upon the natural world for our comfort, survival, and physiological maintenance. Direct experience with the environment over millennia

has fostered a deep knowing and respect for the many animals, plants, insects, fish, birds, lands and waters we co-evolve with. Researchers in the field of epigenetics are discovering how our lives and wellbeing are shaped by our interactions with the world around us. Indigenous cultures around the world engage in knowledge systems and activities, like Elder teachings, daily habits, gatherings and spiritual ceremonies that help people to stay connected to the earth, to the gifts of the earth, and to each other. These activities foster a sense of a sacred reality, an understanding of interconnectedness and embed the logic of caring for the natural world and each other.

Elders in the city often meet Indigenous people from other Nations; rather than turn them away when they are seeking help, I’ve witnessed them, on many occasions, encouraging newcomers to join in the cultural practices that are offered, until they find their own way. Today, people of many cultural backgrounds live together in Canadian communities. Rather than deny these cultures, Indigenous practices can be used as guides to foster the same sacred, interconnected and eco-socially logical relationships, through the facilitation of public events and lifelong learning opportunities. For example, learning to identify food and medicinal plants, learning about contemporary water, energy and waste systems, and engaging in outdoor meditation, prayer sessions or ceremonies can help to reproduce the direct experiences and relationships of the past, that can help people to feel connected again, to regain their intuitive sense of right and wrong, to value the natural world and to think critically about the reciprocal relationship between humans, other beings and the local environment. Some people call this the heart path, or the beauty path.

Step 2: Develop Community Food and Water System

For millennia, humans have been hunting, fishing, farming, herding, gathering, harvesting, processing, preserving, caching and protecting food and water for their families. This ensured that during times of bad weather, scarcity or disaster, people could survive; they had food security. These practices also are the keys to living free, healthy and fulfilling lives. If you have control over your food and water (aka food sovereignty), then you do not have to enslave yourself to others to keep yourself and family alive; you will also have the opportunity to select fresh, natural food and water, rather than the old and chemically contaminated food and water that we are offered in stores. Establishing community food and water stores is as simple as starting an informal food and water group, to develop the knowledge, skills and actions to increase food and water security and food and water sovereignty. As the group grows, so will their security and sovereignty; all those that contribute labor, knowledge and resources to food and water processes, are entitled to an equitable share of the food and water. Ideally group members will acquire skills for diverse types of food and water acquisition, processing and storage. Besides identifying or creating community food and water sources, community groups must maintain, protect, harvest, process, store and share them. This requires securing and protecting the land it grows on, and creating facilities for processing, storage, and community feasts.

In many communities today, there are few public places to assemble freely with others, grow food, fish or hunt for food, work together, store or share food with the community. Everything is controlled by governments, institutions, agencies and corporations, and usually require fees, proposals or lobbying the right people. In addition, while some laws are designed to protect people’s health, some just create barriers to food and water security and sovereignty. Under social or environmental duress, most communities do not have the food and water required to ensure the survival of their members for a few days, let alone months. A shift to community self sufficiency would require greater protection and control over lands and waters, the development of food and water facilities, stores and distribution systems and processes that prioritize community events, labor or service for food and water, and disaster preparedness.

Step 3: Strengthen Community Self-Determination & Governance

Self-determination is an individual right and ability to judge right and wrong, think, feel, speak, decide and act independently from the perspectives or coercions of others, including those of our family members, teachers, adversaries, religious leaders, government leaders and police. Self-determination is at the root of health, social cohesion, fulfillment, resilience and sustainability, because it improves the functioning of any group. Many only understand it as a community level right of Indigenous governments to control reserve budgets and programs. Some even believe that current electoral systems ensure self determination for all, when they only ensure the power and influence of politicians, civil servants and institutional employees. Self-determination is the nurtured capacity to respond appropriately to our social and physical environments. Self-determination is expanded by knowledge and awareness; the more we have, the more we can estimate consequences, and the more choices we can make.

Self-determination needs to be fostered from birth, by encouraging children to make their own choices, while teaching them about potential consequences. Limited only by preserving life and preventing damages, children should be allowed to learn the hard way, complete with scrapes and scratches. Self-determination is also fostered in children by identifying, nurturing and encouraging their natural gifts or aptitudes, by teaching them how to survive off the land, and by encouraging them to examine their own interests, limitations, strengths and fears. In traditional societies, children would learn from community mentors and if required, these mentors would suggest they learn some skills from others, to advance in their field of interest. Near adulthood, youth would be given opportunities to test their skills, examine their calling, and contribute the fruits of their labors to the community. The ability to know one’s self, and to contribute to community would be acknowledged and valued by community members, as a sign of both competence and adult maturity.

Self-determination also requires development of a strong community belief in respect for self-determination and valuing the contributions of each person, which means people can give advice and offer solace or affection, but no one can prevent people from doing what they want, coerce them, or touch them without permission, except to prevent harm or destruction. Those that violate personal self-determination, or who act harmfully or destructively were considered incompetent, were supervised, and prevented from further harm according to their ability to learn. Hence, people with diverse capacities were supported to develop according to their interests and aptitudes.

Self-determination is a critical component of healthy, cohesive, resilient and sustainable governance. In stories of older Indigenous societies, governance systems operated to ensure the wellbeing of the whole community. If everyone in the community is self-determining, knows their capacity, speaks their truth and listens to others, then all those perspectives can inform and strengthen the choices and actions of the community.

This was accomplished primarily through community councils of Elders, men and women, or councils of family, clan or society leaders who were chosen to accurately relay the diverse interests and concerns of their members. Some call this governing from bottom up, single vote democracy, or egalitarianism. Rather than the loudest or most charismatic characters dominating conversations and decisions, every person had an opportunity to speak in turn, uninterrupted. When everyone contributes their personal perspective on a community or territorial issue, or solution, then the decisions are much more sophisticated, transparent and accountable, than possible by individuals segregated in occupational or government silos. Those who dissented could withdraw themselves and their skills and resources from actions, without sanction, but this would also mean withdrawing their right to any benefit of the action undertaken.

Until government action is more connected to community people through electoral reforms, these councils could be set up by anyone, to discuss, take action and inform existing government representatives about community and territorial needs and interests. Later, the ideal would be for community councils to choose specialized representatives according to their ability to accurately relay the diverse situational interests, needs, decisions and commitments of their community members.

Step 4: Lobby for Devolved Control of Lands, Waters & Revenues

In a devolved system, local governments have clear and legally recognized geographical boundaries over which they exercise authority and within which they perform public functions (World Bank Group, 2001).

Developing community food and water stores, and strengthening self-determination and governance over territorial lands, waters and resources, could be initiated as grassroots activities that could be accomplished individually, in small groups, or community wide. Community-wide resilience and sustainability actions require devolution of federal and provincial control over community lands, waters, resources, taxes and revenues to community levels, so that the community is better able to act upon social and environmental concerns and goals. Devolution to communities requires lobbying across communities, regional, provincial and federal governments. Fortunately, Canada has numerous examples of devolution agreements between Federal, Provincial, Regional and Municipal governments, to learn from. Canada has also recognized the sovereignty of Aboriginal people within the Constitution Act, which has led to the devolution of control over health, education, lands, resources and self-governance to First Nations. In 2008, the Federal government signed a devolution agreement with the Northwest Territories, who then signed devolution agreements with their communities; the same process was initiated between the Federal government and Nunavut in 2008 by the signing of a devolution negotiation protocol.

According to Suzuki and Moola (2014), communities in Canada receive only 8 % of the taxes they collect, yet are expected to pay for 60% of their infrastructure and institutional funding. If this funding formula was more equitable, say 80% of taxes for 80% of institutional funding, municipalities would have the resources to install or retrofit renewable energy systems, zero emission transport systems, non-toxic buildings, green materials and processes, environmental services, and 100% waste filtration, recapture, and recycling systems needed to prevent further environmental destabilization. Institutional funding could also be shifted to support more earth-based and egalitarian social capacity development and community governance, including a greater emphasis on local apprenticeships, local service and trade, and public education that supports skill and knowledge development through public events, as requested on an individual basis. Ideally, agencies will be set up to facilitate job swapping, to assist the shift to working and living in the same community, to reduce commuting impacts upon health and environmental issues. Hypothetically, the more self-sufficient a community is upon local resources, manufacturing, trade, education and capacity; the more resilient and sustainable they will be, and the less dependent they will be upon external currencies and economic systems.


People around the globe have experienced generations of colonization that has disconnected the majority of us from our Indigenous roots and eco-socially cohesive ways of living. It is this disconnection that has resulted in increased rates of crime, violence, suicide, and the threats of social and environmental collapse in the face of overpopulation, climate change, and both natural and human made disasters. Hypothetically, if the cause of planetary disease, disintegration and destabilization was the intergenerational entrenchment of colonizing life ways, then the cure could be it’s opposite, the intergenerational reestablishment of more socially cohesive and environmental sustainable, earth-based and egalitarian practices. Communities can learn from Indigenous knowledge systems by creating frameworks for resilience and sustainability that are based on Indigenous principles and practices. These eco-social principles and practices can be adapted, integrated and combined with green, renewable, or zero emission technologies, processes and materials, and devolution negotiations, to influence transformations towards more resilience & sustainability within existing communities.


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