As a planet biologist I have studied the entire
of Earth as a single living system, with special attention to the
of our relatively new human species to the rest of this system
our known history. From this extremely broad perspective, the present
crisis and potential solutions came into clearer focus. The emerging
led me to become a co-founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science
convinced that the knowledge indigenous people have about living in
balance with other living systems is critical to our own species'
these two capacities, I have come to the following conclusions:
The Conquest of Nature:
- Humans are not the first species to
its own and
others' extinction by way of resource depletion and pollution.
- Ancient species survived similar crises
living systems from aggressively competitive to peacefully cooperative.
- Presently evolved species can exist only
because the Earth
spent billions of years burying atmospheric carbon in forests and
much of it as fossil fuels; to burn these forests and fuels reverses
planet's system for keeping atmospheric conditions and climate
to species health.
- The Earth's living systems can clean up
but only if they remain healthy; destruction of forests, seashores,
tables, ozone layer, etc. makes it impossible for the Earth to perform
- Industrial hi-tech monoculture
agriculture is so destructive in terms of fossil fuel use, pollution
desertification that the human species can no longer be sustained by it;only
indigenous, traditional agriculture, demonstrably more productive and
can meet human food needs in the very near future.
- Small community societies of indigenous
survived in health for many thousands of years without overpopulating
they were composed of living systems in balance with their
industrial society, by contrast, threatens its own extinction within a
few hundred years of existence because it has created overpopulation
has violated most principles of living
all living systems, including human. Monoculture is as
and dangerous in human social systems as in human agriculture; the
to respect and protect indigenous and traditional cultures in the
to industrialize all humanity according to one model actually hastens
- Technological production is natural to
but must be reevaluated and revised in a goal-setting context of
- The most promising survival path for
is to merge appropriate
technology with the knowledge, wisdom and ecologically sound practice
indigenous and traditional peoples.
At present human existence is dominated by a
society founded on the mechanical worldview of western science with its
materialistic values-- a worldview, value system and way of life that
all its benefits has brought us to the brink of disaster. It stands
in sharp contrast to the worldviews, value systems and lifestyles of
and traditional peoples, which are only now beginning to be recognized
as valid in their own right and possibly critical for our very survival
as a species. For this reason the formulation and implementation of
sound, participatory policy on indigenous peoples is a vital task for
Western/Northern science and industry from
shared the conviction that man is master of all nature and would bring
about a Golden Age for all humanity by conquering, subduing and
material nature to his own ends. Nature, according to John Locke,
principal philosopher architect of this tradition, has no value in
gaining value only when transformed by industrial man. This view of
nature still prevails today, notably in genetic engineering and patent
discussions for the GATT.
We now look back on a tragic history of the
Brother's destruction of indigenous cultures to build his technological
world. It is a world in which non-human species are rapidly
as vast tracts of forest and mineral-rich earth are transformed into a
network of great urban sprawl cities, a top-heavy world in which seven
percent of the people own sixty percent of the land and use eighty
of the available energy. It is a world in which nature has been seen
as a supply base and a dumping ground, a polluted world which testifies
to the White Brother's failure to respect the Red Brother's sacred
wisdom. It is a world in which we finally recognize that humanity may
face extinction through its own folly.
There can no more be one true science than
be one true religion. Native science
to mention Arabic, Vedic, Taoist and other) has contributed
to modern knowledge. Mechanist science, in its reductionist search for
the parts of natural "machinery," has failed to see holistically,
The whole enterprise of industrial society science is based on removing
phenomena from their natural context to "control" them, while the whole
concept of indigenous science is teaching natural phenomena in natural
settings in order to integrate yourself with them. It is not a science
that stands apart from nature to look at it objectively; it does not
the sacred, but integrates it. It fosters dialog between humans and the
rest of nature.
If we take the single example of agricultural
the modern high-tech Green Revolution cannot hold a candle to the
productivity of highly developed Inca agriculture, or even to that of
traditional "permaculture" farming practiced by the natives of India
Green Revolution agriculture uses vast quantities
fossil fuel energy to produce machinery, fertilizers, pesticides and
systems, all of which combine to irrevocably destroy soils and water
not to mention the destruction of the traditional communities of people
who formerly owned and farmed the land. These people, who developed
productive seed and varied crops over thousands of years on the same
are now pressed into serfdom on huge mechanized farms that grow
crops from sterile seed and will remain productive only for limited
before the ground is reduced to saline desert (see The Violence of
Green Revolution by Vandana Shiva, Dehra Dun, India 1989).
Green Revolution statistics show greater yield
rice per hectare than traditional methods, but they ignore the fact
the same hectares were not only producing rice, but fish, pigs,
fruit, fertilizer and mulch on soil/water that remained healthy with no
chemical input. A century ago, a British agricultural expert toured
to see how he could best advise Indian farmers to improve their
practices. His conclusion was that the Indian farmers had more to give
to the English in the way of advice, because they knew so much about
composition and health, pest control, water management, crop breeding,
and all other aspects of agriculture.
Yet in the present GATT (General Agreements on
Tariffs) discussions, scientists continue to promote the idea that
can and must be technologically transformed by scientific techniques.
that was developed over thousands of years by indigenous peoples or
is defined as "primitive cultivar" until brought into a laboratory,
altered and then patented for ownership (in direct violation of sacred
contract living). If these GATT agreements go through, the indigenous
or peasants who developed seed will be fined for planting it unless
buy the seed from its new "owners!"
Pre-Inca and Inca agriculture developed hundreds
of potatoes, high protein grain and beans, corn and many other
bred crops, feeding millions of people on the same lands without
them. Over half the food eaten in the world today traces its roots to
Andes. Their mountain agriculture included automatic irrigation systems
and climate-control to prevent freezing. Only minimal work was required
in their plow-free tabled fields. Freeze dried potatoes were among
inventions. Indigenous people without the urban social organization of
the Inca were equally sophisticated in their agricultural practice (see
Darrell Posey's position paper for this meeting: Indigenous Knowledge
the Conservation and Utilization of World Forests).
Because we are accustomed to equating science
with mechanical instruments, machinery and all the material products of
our culture, it is difficult for us to grasp the enormous scientific
technological prowess of peoples who consciously kept their material
to a minimum in order to live in ecologically sound ways. Yet science
the systematic accumulation of knowledge about our natural world and
is quite literally human artifice. However invisible much
technology was, it often worked better than the mechanical technology
the modern world.
Much indigenous science is extremely
what we call "interdisciplinary sciences," such as geology/meteorology.
The Hopi, for example discovered that in the Southwest underground
deposits draw down lightning, bringing life-giving rains to the desert.
They know that mining can change weather patterns as surely as the Kogi
know that deforestation and mining are drying the climate around them
their mountains no longer have adequate snow to feed the rivers on
their crops and lives depend. Both cultures have observed the
while the white man saw only the copper and the gold that would bring
Native science uses the sacredness of nature as
to what should or should not be done by humans. To be sacred is to be
to be treated with utmost respect. To have a sacred contract with
as said above, is to care for it, protect it, give back to it as much
is taken. When the White Brother's inventive genius comes together with
the Red Brother's deep wisdom, we will develop an appropriate
that does not violate the Earth, but restores it and permits all
to live in health.
In terms of United Nations policy
on indigenous peoples, it seems to me essential that:
In conclusion, as a western scientist, a planet
I believe that indigenous peoples are the guardians of our species;
the part of humanity that alone holds the wisdom to insure our healthy
- The UN sponsor an educational campaign
designed to build
respect for indigenous and traditional peoples; that supports them in
their own histories and worldviews, and that makes clear that much land
was taken from them by utterly unjustifiable means.
- The UN set up a World Council of
Elders with international
media coverage to advise world leaders (CEOs, international bankers,
religious leaders, etc.)
- The UN immediately begin inviting
before formal recognition of their nations, to address the General
on critical world issues.
- The UN support indigenous peoples who
past half millennium of industrialization in their land claims,
lest the very basis for their existence be denied them further.
- The UN look very seriously into its
not recognizing indigenous nations existing within the borders of
nations, though these member nations have never legitimately
title to the aboriginal lands.
- Whenever indigenous nations have
nations, whether over patents on their intellectual property,
nation status, land disputes, or other issues, the negotiations do not
take place within the legal structure of one disputing party's culture:
e.g. industrial society courts. Fair negotiations can only be possible
in some compromise structure of discussion agreeable to both sides,
within the UN.
- Ethnobiological research be supported by
UN in ways that
promote the conservation of indigenous and traditional cultures and
prevent their exploitation.
- Appropriate technology be made available
upon consultation with them.