Recently I read an article in which an Indigenous man was asked why he opposed the continued logging of the pristine forests on tribal lands, despite the fact that this logging provided much needed jobs and income to his communities. He replied, “When all the trees are gone, we will be just like everybody else”. I had to think about what he meant, read between the lines and get to a deeper understanding of his words. What was it that he was trying to say?
After further reading, it was apparent that what he was conveying is the inherent connection to the land that sustained his people for generations. It was the forest and all that it held that made them who they are. If those forests disappeared, then what becomes of the people, their identity and culture? Do they then cease to exist?
This type of connection is one example of a Cultural Landscape. In essence, it can be defined as “We are Who we are, because of Where we are”. As Indigenous people who have lived and occupied our traditional lands for millennia, we literally become a part of that landscape. Our stories, songs, ceremonies and prayers are born out of and shaped by those experiences and interactions.
When that landscape is destroyed, then what do we become? Do we become what that Indigenous man stated, “like everybody else”? Again, what does that mean? I think what he meant is that we eventually fade into the masses, losing our self-identity in the process. Disconnected from our roots, we become lost, searching for that which made us, never fully realizing that we had a hand in our own turn-about.
Yet we still have the ability to avert that outcome. We still have the chance to afford our children, grand-children and many generations down the line, the opportunity to prove that they can be smarter than we are. That they can use their own ingenuity, knowledge and faith to make better, wiser choices about preserving their own Cultural Landscapes. In order for that to happen however, we must leave them with something to preserve. We need to ensure that they do not fade into the masses with no sense of who they are, because we left them with no sense of where they are.
Until recently, I was working on a project and I wrote about the need to protect and preserve such a Cultural Landscape (http://wp.me/p6Oja1-bO), however my statements ruffled feathers and I was asked to refrain from making such comments. Out of respect for those involved, I removed myself from the project. I did so also to maintain my own sense of well-being as its never healthy to censor one’s own feelings and intuition (yet I cannot help feel that I abandoned my co-workers).
I am definitly torn about my decision. Still the struggle continues and we must find other ways to preserve a future identity for our own children and those who come after. We have the opportunity to leave them with an identity that is still rooted in the landscapes of our ancestors.
When all the trees are gone, who will we be?