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Reforest the Mind, Say Brazil's Indigenous Leaders
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Reforest the Mind, Say Brazil's Indigenous Leaders
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Reforest the Mind, Say Brazil's Indigenous Leaders
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Articles
21 April 2022

Reforest the Mind, Say Brazil's Indigenous Leaders

On Earth Day 2022, an Indigenous-led return to relationship with the living world may be a solution to the metacrisis we find ourselves in.

Written by Felipe Viveros

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer

We are in the midst of a metacrisis: a series of intersecting crises perceivable almost everywhere we look. These crises impact almost every aspect of our lives: social, ecological, economic, political, relational, cognitive and spiritual. While the effects are becoming ever more palpable to many of us, what’s most worrying is that they are becoming more frequent and more terrifying. From the unprecedented floods that devastated New South Wales, Australia, earlier this year to the record-breaking temperatures in Antarctica; from the global spread of zoonotic viruses like COVID-19 to the fossil fuel-driven geopolitics of the invasion of Ukraine, we are living through deep and unsettling disequilibrium. Yet all of these interconnected crises are actually symptoms of an outdated and malfunctioning operating system we all contribute to somehow – of course, some of us more than others.

At the heart of the climate emergency, the metacrisis is worsening the increasingly precarious condition of the world’s most important biomes and wildlife hotspots. One of the most critical is: the Amazon rainforest, deemed the most important organ for the climatic metabolism of the planet. According to recent data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, deforestation in the Amazon through the first two months of 2022 has amounted to 430 square kilometres (166 square miles), more than twice the average over the previous 10 years. Rather than taking action to prevent this, the Brazilian congress is fast-tracking a new mining bill, known as the ‘death bill’ by those challenging it, that could pave the way to mining on more Indigenous territories. Brazil’s President has cited the Ukrainian War as a justification. Yet according to a study published in Nature, the Amazon biome is nearing a dangerous tipping point, with devastating global implications.  The research shows that the Amazon is gradually losing its resilience and could be nearing a point where the loss of lush rainforest could fall into an unstoppable spiral causing large scale drying across the region.

At the epicentre of the crises we face, Indigenous peoples are a living alternative to the climate catastrophe. The world’s Indigenous peoples protect 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, while making up only five per cent of the global population. Neither are Indigenous peoples a monolithic category, there is as much breadth in their cultural complexities as there is in the multiplicity of territories they live in and the ecosystem management practices they maintain. Imagine for a moment, a plethora of bird song echoing across the forest, the drifting fragrance of wild orchids inviting bees and pollinators to dive in, the majestic savannahs teeming with an abundance of life. All of this is deeply enmeshed with offerings to the land, prayers and songs that ‘hold the sky in place’, as Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa tells us, dances that celebrate the rich web of life.

Yet, Indigenous peoples – nature’s greatest stewards and humanity’s greatest hope –  are more under threat than ever before. They are on the front line of the devastating externalities of capitalism, caught in a seemingly endless cycle of imposed destruction and violence,  deforestation, epistemicide, systematic racism and extermination. Despite all of that, they continue to put their lives on the line, every day and every night in service to the living world as they have done for hundreds of years; championing a reciprocal and restorative relationship with the Earth we are all part of.

What can the rest of us do to support their efforts? When I have asked this of Indigenous elders I have received a clear answer: Reforest the mind.

Indigenous wisdom, science and practice has been systematically discredited and ignored by the Western world for centuries, at huge cost to all life on Earth. Yet reforesting our minds – coming back into relationship with the living world we are part of – could hold the key to untangling the metacrisis. As Celia Xacriaba, an Indigenous scholar and activist reminds us,  “ You can’t cure with the same evil that first caused the sickness.” In other words you can’t cure the illness of settler colonialism, extractive greed and atomising isolation by pouring money into the problem, or buying carbon credits. It is our relationship to Mother Earth, the four-and-a-half billion-year-old superorganism that is life itself, that needs to radically transform. This means that our relationship to nature’s greatest stewards needs to fundamentally change as well. My guess is that many Indigenous peoples hold an unbroken line to place-based wisdom that will enable us to not only survive through the metacrisis but thrive beyond it. After all, we are all Indigenous to this Earth but most of us have been socialised in cultures that systematically aborted our indigeneity.

When we begin to realise that the Earth loves us back, in a literal sense, our distant and avoidant relationship with the Earth could be transformed into a deep, playful and nourishing love affair. As author and academic Robin Wall Kimmerer puts it so eloquently, our relationship would change profoundly: “From a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

This is perhaps what reforesting our minds actually means. Recalibrating our minds and hearts with wild ideas and disposition towards awe for the immeasurable entanglements we have been entrusted with. Why would we do this? So we can evolve our behaviour and consciousness so that it can be in harmony with the living, breathing, messy world we are part of. That means ending our misplaced notions of human domination and endless growth and moving towards adaptability, resilience and long-term flourishing. If we do this with humility, gratitude, sobriety and responsibility we may be able to course-correct towards a slightly more manageable and much more exciting future. To paraphrase the Hopi prophecy, ”We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Non-Indigenous people have a huge role in turning the metacrisis around. With radical imagination, and a massive amount of creativity, willpower, solidarity and wit, we can change direction. We will need the support of Indigenous peoples, more than they need us. With every crisis we also glimpse an opportunity to overcome adversity. We saw that through the pandemic. Rather than the zombie apocalypse some had predicted, we witnessed – or at least I certainly did – people showing up as ingenious, empathic and giving – concerned for the common good and willing to go out of their way to help one another.

On April 4th 2022, thousands of Indigenous people from 176 different groups gathered in Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, for what has become the most important event of the Indigenous year going forwards. They created a 10-day camp bringing together hundreds of young and seasoned activists, to strategise, and to organise their resistance. The ‘Free Land Camp’  is a  wonderful example of what is possible when a group of humans come together to  stand in solidarity with one another and to work together for life. This Earth day, 22 April, is time for us all to stand in solidarity with Gaia’s most connected stewards. As we do so, we will begin the process of reforesting our minds, opening the horizons for new possibilities.

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

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