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Relatives, Not Resources: Finding Kinship with the Earth | Books Uncovered podcast

Updated: Jan 16

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Sam Scinta

Hello and welcome to the Books Uncovered podcast, a podcast brought to you by Fulcrum Publishing where we explore the world of books and the people who make up the publishing and the book industry. I'm Sam Scinta, publisher of Fulcrum Publishing, and I'm joined today by Kelli Jerve, our Fulcrum's marketing coordinator. Hi, Kelli. How you doing today?

00:00:23 Kelli Jerve

I'm good. How are you, Sam?

00:00:25 Sam Scinta

I'm doing really, really well. Thank you. Doing really well. We've got such a great guest today, so I can't be happier. And of course it is fall and I it's, you know, literally watching the last leaves fall here. So I've gotta ask Kelli, are you a mulcher or are you a raker?

00:00:44 Kelli Jerve

Ah, well, that's that is the question. So we've tried both, but this year we raked it all up.

00:00:52 Sam Scinta

You did OK.

00:00:53 Kelli Jerve

Yeah. In the past, we've we've left some of it, which has left some little dirt piles in various spots across our lawn. So.

00:01:01 Sam Scinta

Yeah. Well, I I'm because I'm lazy. I'm a proponent of the “Leaf It” program, which the city runs, right? Just let it all sit there and let let nature take its course. But unfortunately, we live in a neighborhood where they're not very happy on that. So literally I have, I have a neighbor who comes over and mows our our lawn and and picks up the leaves and then, you know, dumps them for the leaf vacuum to get. And he's a retired gentleman. It's. I mean, it's a wonderful gift that he's doing, but it's even if I tried, I wouldn't be able to just let nature work.

00:01:39 Sam Scinta

Well, we are. We're we're going to talk a little bit about nature and and stewardship and conservation, all that good stuff today because we've just got a terrific guest. One of my favorite people in the world, someone I've known for over 2 decades now, Dan Wildcat is a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation who holds his PhD from the University of Missouri.

And has dedicated 37 years of teaching and administration at Haskell Indian Nations University as a respected figure in the traditional ecological knowledge world. He has spoken for various organizations and universities, including NASA and the Ecological Society of America. He currently is leading a $20 million National Science Foundation funded project. And he's overseeing also this organization called Rising Voices, changing coasts research hub at Haskell, focusing on indigenous knowledge's role in understanding climate change impacts. He has authored and edited various works, including power and place, which he did with Vine Deloria Jr, Destroying Dogma and Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge, along with his latest book On Indigenuity: Learning the Lessons of Mother Earth. Welcome, please, Dan Wildcat.

00:02:53 Sam Scinta

Hi Dan, how are ya?

00:02:55 Daniel Wildcat

Hey, it's good to see you, Sam. I'm doing well and I'm enjoying a fall day on the beautiful campus of Richmond University in Richmond, VA. It's just been marvelous weather here. Yes.

00:03:08 Sam Scinta

And so you've been doing a conference and environmental conference out there?

00:03:12 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, we have. We've been, it was called Braiding Knowledges and we were focusing on really discussions about sustainability had some of my indigenous relatives from deep in the Amazon join us. They came from the Amazon here. Uh people like David Orr, the famous, you know, environmental writer and deep thinker. And of course, David Wilkins is here at the University of Richmond. And so it's been a really, really great visit here and some and really important discussions.

00:03:48 Sam Scinta

Well, that's outstanding that you're actually connecting with indigenous people around the the globe, not just in North America, which is, which is wonderful. Well, you've got this, this terrific new book On Indigenuity that has just been released. And I'm just going to read a little bit here for you. So I think this, this, this really sets the stage for the conversation. What is addressed in this book are the mistakes made by those who are honestly wrong, who misunderstand as opposed to those who misrepresent the world and our human place in it. Therefore, I hope the ideas offered here might cause them to rethink how they see and understand the world, many of the problems we currently face, I believe, are associated with the dominant, modern, overwhelming Western influenced worldview that has culminated in an age we now rightly call the Anthropocene, the age of humankind, A worldview that plays a large role in many of the global crises we now face, and one not likely to produce any solutions.

So you're really laying down the gauntlet right from the get go and trying to trying to make this case that you know this, this idea of indigenuity — indigenous ingenuity. We need to tap into the knowledge that has been here for thousands of years and that we're disregarding at our own peril. But talk a little bit about this. What what? What has inspired you to to think about this?

00:05:08 Daniel Wildcat

Well, you know, Sam, I've been real fortunate being in Haskell Indian Nations University is small university, but it's kind of the de facto United Nations of higher education in the United States of America.

I've been fortunate it's a small institution and so from day one when I got there I was able to to sort of break those boundaries that those silos I I made good friends in our natural sciences and environmental science department. I’ve always, you know, tried to honor you know, the arts program in our in our campus and everything and so it really is the is the culmination of a sort of a lifetime's work, largely inspired by my, our dear friend and my mentor, you know, Vine Deloria Jr, we're honoring the 50th anniversary of his really landmark book — God Is Red this year, I think what the work is about is the f ollowing. I make the argument that we have in essence, some solutions all around us but what we need to do is to put on a sort of a different lens to understand the world. I think the lens is an old lens. It's one almost everyone on the planet had at one point in time, but somehow through this kind of a a over fascination with our own accomplishments, our human accomplishments with technology and the like, we forgot first that we don't live in a world full of resources. We live in a world full of relatives. Just just think about that point. I mean, I don't know any indigenous people who in their oldest intellectual traditions and worldviews, don't honor the fact that, you know, when we use the term Mother Earth, that's not being romantic. That is acknowledging that we see the Earth itself as a living entity of being, and then we look at all of the life that surrounds us, plants, animals, the land, the water, the air, and in many indigenous traditions, they don't categorize those things as resources as things. We really honor those in our own worldviews with this deep relational understanding that says, you know, those aren’t resources, but we live among relatives. Really. And of course, you know, you and I've talked about this before. I think what's ironic is, is if you look at the most advanced DNA driven genetic science, what it tells us is by God, we are all related, you know, I mean, life on this planet is deeply interrelated.

And and so I I always point out. Well, that's old knowledge for native people. We've our worldviews understood this in a very directly experiential sense. So I think you know. Indigenous knowledges might provide us that lens we need so that we can stop trying to fix the problem with the same thinking that's always producing bad results. You know that's one of the definitions of this insanity. You know, you keep trying the same thing over and over and you expect a different result when you're going to get the same result. So I think that's what indigenuity is, is is about it's. It's an an invitation for people to reconsider and think deeply about our relationship to the balance of creation and maybe it's time to walk away from this worldview that's dominated by how are we going to manage? How are we going to use? How are we going to profit? By resources and resources and it says, say, what is our responsibility? To live well on this planet with relatives, yeah.

00:09:12 Sam Scinta

I I absolutely I I want to put that on a T-shirt. We don't live in a world of resources. We live in a world of relatives. I think that is just a beautiful way to put it because it it underscores not only this traditional indigenous knowledge world, but really what's what so many and what we've done at Fulcrum for so long, this idea of stewardship, right. That if we are, if we are true stewards, we understand that we have to manage this for everybody long after us and and managing it.

00:09:31 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah. Yes.

00:09:43 Sam Scinta

Managing it means, you know, understanding the interconnectivity of all this, and just a just a fascinating thesis. So. Why? Why do? You think we don't do this? Why do you think that we're? So resistant to this.

00:09:57 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah. Well, again, you know, here's the here's the challenge. And and this is the exciting part, a number of people who are who are really trying to think deeply about this. We're all we're we're all sort of coming to the same conclusion. Part of the problem is the anthropocentric worldview, for all of the accomplishments, and there there's some accomplishments, and there's some beauty that is a part of the west western civilization and its tradition, but one of the the Achilles Heels though of that worldview, you know, writ large and it's it's totality is the way it sort of places man, humankind, above everything else. I mean that's the hierarchical view and it's led to a separation, A notion that somehow humans with our control and our management, we can direct nature, we can control nature. I mean again, they're just resources and we're smart. We'll figure out how to use them well, that's the problem. The problem is is that, that when we take that view, we forget that deep relationality we are a part of uh, we start thinking of a tree as — Timber. Lumber. We look at the Earth and we think of that as well. You know, how can we use that and maybe the the deeper question we need to raise about water, you know, forest, the soil itself, is not. How can we use it? Notice we when we say resources, resources for whom are we talking about the squirrels? Are we talking about the deer? Are we talking about the Buffalo? Are we talking about? The fish? No, we're talking. About us. See, it's all about us. And so another theme I'm trying to raise, uh, is that I think we're ready for a new definition of justice, that justice is not just about us.

But it's really about our relationships with the ecosystem, you know different than human persons, we share our lives with. I think. I think we're ready to really dive into a much deeper view of of justice, of community. And I think it it will challenge a lot of the underlying assumptions of a kind of a hubris ridden, notion of civilization and progress. No one wants to be against progress, so you know in my books I talk about, well, what are you for? And I always say, well, I'll tell you what I'm for. I'm for promoting creating systems of life enhancement. It's not just us that's important. If we're going to live in a just world. We have to think of our relationships with the land, the air, the water, the plants, the animals, and if we do that, they're just. I'm hopeful that we can still address the pressing problems we are facing today. I don't think we'll do it successfully. If we don't change that lens through which we're looking at the world.

00:13:29 Sam Scinta

But what about the the the common retort to that of well, but you know, technology always saves us and so it'll save us again. You know, we don't we. Don't need. We don't need to do that. We'll just invent something that will, you know, take take carbon out of the air or will make sure that the sun, you know, will last longer than it will or. That, you know, we'll, we'll, we'll heck we're. We're reengineering mammoths, right. So we'll just bring these these creatures right back to life.

00:13:53 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I think I think the problem with that is and again this is where we would do really well to foster a sense of humility that, yeah, you know, this is one of the things I always tell my students that I that I've I've come to so appreciate when you talk to people like my my relatives that I I just met from the deep Amazon. I mean, they are in the middle, they're experiencing the same history, my relatives experienced 200 years ago. They've got people coming into their lands illegally, unauthorized. They're building roads. Why they coming? Well, they're coming to get the timber. They're coming to cut down their forests, they're coming to take oil. You know, out from the ground underneath them. And I think I think what we need today is to recognize that technology really is, I think the best way to understand it is an extension of our human selves and the problem is if we continue to human to define ourselves primarily by just looking in the mirror at our creations at what we've done and think ohh Gee, look how great we are. We will continue to create technology that always seems to have these unintended consequences, these latent consequences and we say ohh well, we didn't see that. We didn't foresee that well, that's because all you're doing is looking in the mirror at yourself. And you need to start paying attention. You know, to the ecosystems, the environments. We're a small part of. And so I, that's my retort is not that I think again I'm not anti-technology. I would just say that we've we've got we're looking at technology through the wrong lens. I always challenge my students, I think you know, so the kind of view I'm advocating, you know, are more Earth centered ecocentric indigenous view about the as my dear mentor and our friend would say, Vine Deloria, don't forget the power of places, particular places. They're unique, you know, expression of life. If we took that and started thinking about how we can use technology. I think we'd have a very. I think we'd have a more sustainable technology. Then, if we're just always measuring technology in terms of its relative comfort, convenience and the capital gains it gives humankind.

00:16:40 Kelli Jerve

Yeah. Yeah. So we've definitely been talking about that technology and that kind of Western view of seeing our ecosystems as resources. So how do we as individuals and as communities what what can we do to make that shift to to see more of as you've been talking about eco-kinship?

00:17:02 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, I you know, I think the best thing to do is please, let's get our children, our grandchildren, our our nieces and nephews out of doors. You know, I I I think one of the greatest miss educative disservices we do to young people to young children has somehow we've we've decided that when kids become five or six. We put them in school. And we take them at 8:00 in the morning and we say, OK, you're going to come here, you're going to learn how to sit still. You're going to learn how to get in line. And no kids. Kids are made for that. They wanna be outside. They wanna get their hands dirty. We could teach so much to our children by having them out of doors again that I think that's a good place to start, we ought to really start thinking how can we promote. More out of classroom learning for students, and I would do that K through 12 and I think that's I don't think that's unrealistic. I think I think we would see tremendous benefits from inculcating that that kind of perspective about knowing and experience and what knowledge is.

00:18:28 Kelli Jerve

Yeah, I my my son would love to hear that. He's about five years old. And yeah, he loves the outdoors. Being outdoors, I think that's that's perfect.

00:18:36 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean I to me, you know, and what really gets me worried today is I hear about people who are medicating their children because they can't sit still, you know, in a classroom. And I'm saying, wait a second that that problem might not be that child. The problem is this crazy environment we place them in and we're asking them to not be human, to not be that young, you know, active, energetic 5, 6, 7 year old. So yeah, I I think we've got an opportunity here to do something very positive.

00:19:14 Sam Scinta

So Dan, one one of the the, the maybe the, I guess this is almost a sad note and you and I have again have talked about this, but we talked about this tapping into traditional knowledge, but you also know that so much of this traditional knowledge is being lost around the world. But how do we how do we ensure? Or that we are that that we preserve this, that we make sure that this knowledge not only is available but is preserved so that it it doesn't vanish because so much of it seems to um, I mean the the folks you list at the beginning of the book that you pay homage to most of them unfortunately have passed to the to the next world. So how do we ensure that we don't lose those voices and those ideas?Yeah. So I I I'm going to give you, uh, kind of the big picture answer and then the more on the ground answer, the big picture answer is if you accept that deep relationality. Of of everything and and and by the way again now this is something that everyone knows. You know, we live in the age of sort of a global economy. We we a global political economic system. Everyone talks about globalization. I think we have, so one of the things we have to do is those traditional ecological knowledges were the result of this you've heard me use this language before saying this symbiotic relationship between a people and a place so people who've lived in the central Amazon forest for thousands of years, they know a lot about that place. They figured it out out how to live there fairly well, but now we have their confrontation with modern globalization and development, and that resource driven world. So I think the one thing we've got to do. Let's don't have any more discussions about saving traditional ecological knowledge unless we're honest about saving the ecosystems. That produce those knowledge, the places, the environments, the Amazon is critical for the people there. And for the knowledge that resides there, because if they lose that relationship to that forest to that river they call home. They lose the knowledge that resides there, so I'm so the at the big picture level, I argue. Let's remake that connection. We've got to tie the connection between environmental biological diversity to cultural diversity on planet, that's at the big level now at the more on the ground level, I think what we've got to do is we've got to really honor this broader view of education that I talk a little bit about in my new book On Indigenuity of view of, of, of learning that says, you know, most of the important lessons we've learned in our lives didn't come from a pedagogical kind of classroom lecture. We learned them from living. We learned them in relationships. Sometimes they were hard lessons to learn, but I think we have a tremendous opportunity now to respect storytelling traditions to respect the way that people embody knowledge in their actions and their choices, and to remind people that really that's an important part of learning today, anthropologist very quick anecdote and anthropologist. Tell me about 10 years ago said he's doing a program. He invited me. And I said, what are you going to talk about? I said one of the things we're going to talk about is storytelling and I said, oh, really? And he said, yeah, he says, you know, everyone. I hear this talk all the time that, you know, the storytelling traditions are are we're losing them. And he says, I disagree with that. He says they've changed, but they're still there. And he says, what? Here's the difference. The stories our children are hearing are no longer told to them by their relatives in front of a fireplace or around a campfire on winter nights, but they're sold to him. They're sold to them on flat screens by corporations. And if you don't think that's real, just talk to any, you know, iPad savvy 6, 7, 8 year olds and there's a bunch of stuff that's being sold to them on those iPads and through this media. So I I think we have to really honor the kind of in place. Deep knowledge, just old-fashioned storytelling. Because this flat screen stuff I'm I'm glad we've got this technology don't get me wrong, but we've gotta realize. As we would like to believe, we're doing it for a positive intent. There's a lot of people who they're doing it because they are. Totally invested in the resource view of the world, and that's what they're trying to sell us.

00:24:33 Kelli Jerve

Well, before we run out of time, I have. I'm going to take us in a little bit different of a direction. I am. I am curious. I'm going to come from maybe a little bit of a skeptic’s perspective. What if somebody says I don't think this is Dan, this doesn't work. What examples have you seen of indigenous practices that have positively impacted ecosystems and and our environment?

00:24:47 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think again, people always want to say, well, show me an example. Well, I'll show you an example. Look at the health of, So let let's go up on the northwest coast, OK. And let's look at the estuaries. You know, on, on the northwest coast. Let's look at Bellingham Bay. And let's look at the condition of those places, in terms of their biological diversity, water quality and everything. They were much better OK before the industrialization of those landscapes happened now. See now. And. And here's the catch, people say ohh now you're bashing technology again. You're you're you're bashing progress. Well, maybe I'm saying we need to think deeply about what we think process is because the process. If if we think progress is just, you know, more wealth, more convenience, more comfort, you know, for just us. We can look all around us on this planet and see that that comes to a high price to the water quality, the soil quality, the air quality that we say we really we really want to protect. Well, those two aren't unrelated. I think the way indigenuity and indigenous knowledges work is that again, it's it's probably the most non anthropocentric view of the world you could ever imagine. It's never thought of it. We should think about us. We think about our relationships and I think that that that's where I'm hopeful. So we see examples of this, the Menominee’s forest management program. That's incredible example. I mean you have. And forestry managers all over the world who've looked at what they've done and they said we're doing it our way. You know, the Menominee way, they developed this. That's the way they do things. And again, so there are just numerous examples, although you know a lot of those older systems again like the forestry, forestry management system of my relatives I just met from the Amazon. Those are being directly threatened by the people who are illegally coming into their homelands building. Roads to do what? To cut down the resources. And so yeah, to the skeptic, I would say just do a little historical back-casting and think of what the Great Plains look like, you know, 150 years ago when well, OK 160 years ago. When you know they used to say 20 million bison on the Great Plains, the latest people who've looked at that, that kind of North American Natural History, they're now saying we believe it was closer to 70 or 75,000,000 bison that were moving up and down the Great Plains and think of what that what that must have been like now. I think we have a lot to learn from looking at the past, seeing what the nature of the human relationship was, and the interaction was and then saying we're not going to go back to that right. But the lesson to be learned is in the nature of the relationship we're going to foster. So how can we foster a more sustainable relationship with the forest, with the river, with the grassland? Those are all real questions. And I think by looking at the way indigenous people dealt with those landscapes, those places we have a lot yet to learn.

00:29:02 Sam Scinta

Dan, that is, that's just simply beautiful. And you've given us so much to think about here today. This is this is what I love about what you do is you are provocative, you in in the the words of the the book that you did along with others about VIne, you're willing to destroy dogma or really poke a poke a stick at dogma. And and say wait, you know, try this. It's it's just fantastic. So thank you so much for doing that because it really does serve us all. To to hear from people like you who force us to think differently. Your, your, your comment about insanity is absolutely right. It just seems like we keep trying the same old things with diminishing results. Let's maybe listen to other other voices now.

00:29:49 Daniel Wildcat

Thank you so much for the invitation to share with you guys today. It's been great seeing you both and yeah.

00:29:54 Sam Scinta

Well, we we got one little thing. We still got to do, which is we want to talk a little bit about some book recommendations and tonight, today what we're doing is we're offering books that offer perspectives from indigenous authors, particularly about understanding our world so Dan, we always start with our guests. Do you have any books that you would book or books that you would highlight?

00:30:15 Daniel Wildcat

Yeah, I mean, you know, I think there's a number of books. First of all, I think if people have not read, you know, Vine Deloria is really landmark book, you can use that both in a literal way in a figurative way of what I mean by landmark book. But I think God Is Red Chapter 4-5 and 6. 4, 5-6 and 7 of that really lay out his fundamental critique of of some of the features of the dominant, you know, Christian theological tradition that he really takes, you know, challenges and says look so there's some features of that that really tie into a lot of the problems we're facing today I think that's a must read. I think that's that's that's really important. I also think you know the book that in recent years I think I've just really done a lot with the general public. I I I have to mention you know Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. What a beautiful book. What a book. That that is. Science, scientific and indigenous at the same time. Pointing out these don't have to be this don't fall into this false binary thinking. Ohh, it's either science or it's indigenous thinking. No, there might be something that we should call indigenous science. We ought to be exploring. I love Robin Wall Kimmerer's work in that respect. And you know, I think. And and then when I'm thinking. Of of you know other authors I I tend to go back to some of the classics that I think you know, people forget. You know, I I've been thinking a lot about, you know, Rachel Carson's landmark book Silent Spring that was such a so people say books don't matter, she wrote that book because she was a bird watcher, because she loved watching the birds. And I'll I'll I'll you know in that region close to the Chesapeake Bay and she noticed the birds were gone and that book played a catalytic role in public thinking and probably played a major role in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. So I think there's a lot of of classics we need to revisit and and look at and then modern work, you know, that that's being done now. It's really important.

00:32:38 Sam Scinta

Excellent. How about you, Kelli?

00:32:41 Kelli Jerve

Oh well, as I mentioned, I have a a son, so we do a lot of picture book reading around my house. So one book that we've been reading recently is we are water protectors by Carol Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade. It's about a native Native American girl of the Ojibwe Tribe and her grandmother teaches her the value of water and stewardship of the Earth and it just does a really great job of bringing environmental issues to a child's perspective and and helping to, you know, put it in language that that a child can understand. I love that it speaks to community. The illustrations are beautiful. So that one's been been one on our list. How about you, Sam? What have you been?

00:33:29 Sam Scinta

Well, I you know, I I I typically come with unpredictable choices and this time I'm being incredibly predictable and Dan will appreciate this. I'm gonna build on what Dan said, and I'm gonna point out two books, Red Earth, White lies by Vine Deloria Jr and The World We Used to Live in by Vine Deloria Jr. Two books that really get into this challenging of our understanding of the planet and the science of the planet. And then the great cosmology, the metaphysics of the this, this all and just. And these are, you know, I I I talked about this at Vine’s Memorial service. So many times, you know, I hear people saying, well, Vine’s, a great Native American thinker, Vine’s, a Great American thinker, and he deserves to be read by everybody because his work. Well, they'll entertain you to start because he's just so funny. And This is why I captured that piece. Then that you wrote the beginning cause I really heard Vine in that. And I'm gonna read something from Red Earth that I think really will connect with all this, but he also he's so provocative in getting you to think about these things, this is this is his opening here from from Red Earth, White Lies “ behind the buckskin curtain.When Indian Bingo games are humming in almost every nook and cranny of our land, stealing the most sacred ritual of the Roman Catholic Church and gathering the white man's coin as quickly as it can be, easily retrieved. Progress is being made when multitudes of young whites roam the West convinced they are Oglala Sioux pipe carriers and on a holy mission to protect Mother Earth. And when priests and ministers, scientists and drug companies, ecologists and environmentalists are crowding the reservations in search of new rituals, new medicines, or new ideas about the land, it would appear as if American Indians finally have it made” And I've just read that you know again recently and I'm just thinking of what you write in this book did, because really that's Vine’s humorous way of saying maybe the time has come.

I I thank you, Dan, for everything that you do and for for all this great work for leading this NSF Grant the the biggest of its kind for any American Indian University or any American Indian college ever. That NC, that National Science Foundation grant, congratulations on that. And thanks again just for bringing us this beautiful work.

00:35:59 Daniel Wildcat

Thank you. s@nlA, Thank you, Kelli. Sam. Thank you.

00:36:03 Daniel Wildcat

Bye bye.

00:36:05 Sam Scinta

OK, everybody keep reading.

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