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4 things we can learn from Indigenous wisdom

In order to restore balance in our environment, we must first listen to the natural world.

Sherri Mitchell, Indigenous educator, by the river

Sherri Mitchell Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset, Indigenous rights attorney and executive director of the Land Peace Foundation

Sustainability goals have become top of mind for an increasing number of corporations and communities, but in the words of Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation), attorney, environmental and Indigenous rights advocate, we will not "solar panel or vote our way out of this crisis without also radically re-framing our connection with our Mother."

In order to restore balance in our environment, we must first listen to the natural world — and to those who know it best.

During the GreenBiz 21 keynote session "All We Can Save: Why We Must Learn from Indigenous Wisdom," hosted by All We Can Save co-founder Katharine Wilkinson,  Houska — who took a short break from the outdoor resistance camp in Minnesota, where she is taking part in demonstrations against new pipeline beds related to the Line 3 project — joined Sherri Mitchell Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset, Indigenous rights attorney and executive director of the Land Peace Foundation. The two shared their Indigenous perspectives on this matter of urgency. Here are four key takeaways from the conversation:

1. Listen and take action on the information Indigenous peoples have to share

As Houska pointed out, Indigenous people make up only 5 percent of the world's population, yet Indigenous lands and territories hold 80 percent of the world's biodiversity.

"I think we know something and have some information to share," she said. "We have been around for thousands of years and have a deep connection with nature. Please listen and please do your best to take our words to heart instead of just putting them into something, like, 'Oh, that was inspiring and made me feel good,' and then it's back to business. This should be the business. The business of life is critically important to life."

2. Change our relationship to consumption

Although more communities and businesses are becoming aware that we must evolve the way we create and consume, Mitchell said that it is important, above all, for society to change its relationship with consumption. That includes reevaluating "our entire value structure so consumption doesn't hold a primary role," she suggested.

Even with the various layers of policies, laws and penalties in place to keep businesses in check, Mitchell believes the "destruction of the earth has become a pay-to-play endeavor. If you have money to violate the law, you can go ahead and do it." Some companies just consider that fine the cost of doing business and have accounted for it in their operational ethos, she said.

Until we can create a shift in our hearts and minds to stop viewing each other as commodities and see each other as human beings instead, Mitchell pointed out that we will have to "change the way we address those businesses who are violating the laws and have catastrophic consequences."

Aside from challenging the big corporations on this philosophy, we all bear personal responsibility and must look inward to our own relationships and connectivity, Mitchell said.

"People should think about mechanisms for climate change adaptation and mitigation and how to move it toward alignment of sustaining of life. They need to look at the ways they are perpetuating problems through solutions," she added.

Tara Houska

Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation), an attorney, environmental and Indigenous rights advocate

3. Embrace a more holistic kind of success

Our society's utilitarian mindset has given us a need to create metrics of success in all aspects of life, including political movements. "You have to say victory over and over again, when that's just actually not the case most of the time," Houska explained.

Instead of setting up "micro bars" of success, victory must be approached in a different, more holistic way, she suggested.

Through her own experiences of building up a community of resistance (a group of people who come together to live and peacefully protest on the front lines of a politically contested site), Houska has come to see one type of victory in the creation of leaders "who actually hold the earth in their hearts and understand how to do the work to live in balance and in nature. It is not easy to live in balance, and it does require some discomfort, sacrifice and recognizing that there are parts of our lives that we need to unplug from and reform."

4. Bring women back into the center of society to restore a healthy balance

As an advocate for the concept of climate matriarchy, Mitchell explained very straightforwardly to the GreenBiz 21 audience that "those who have framed the societies we live in have not been the givers of life. Those who are the 'most stringent protectors of life' have been removed from the discussion."

And because these mothering voices are not allowed to "speak on behalf of life, societies have been created to destroy life — and so we see this energy moving through that is built on destruction."

Editor's note: This story was updated Friday, Feb 12, to correct the attribution of the quote in the introduction.

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