Humanity in the patchwork of life

The Wet’suwet’en defending their land and waters against the colonial RMCP and fossil fuel pipelines.

Here is what I saw. I saw, for the first time in my life, human beings, the Wet’suwet’en, standing with their environment. Identifying with it.

Placing the quality of their environment — “you can drink this water right here … it feeds all our territories all the way down to the ocean” — as their life work, their integrity, their core mission and identity.

Doomed

And right there and then, my whole cosmogony flipped upside down. Because those words, from Molly Wickam, Wet’suwet’en spokesperson, who is wrenchingly arrested at the end of the video, actually allowed me to ‘escape the confines’ of my previous understanding.

In my previous understanding, humans had a troubled, extractive and exploitative relationship with their environment. That history had ups and downs, inequalities and differentiated responsibilities, for sure, but the core fact of an abusive and damaging relationship was unquestioned.

My main hopes lay in a very speculative and uncertain possible change of paradigm, a change of heart. But here, there was evidence of a fundamentally different relationship, one that predates any civilisation I came from – which is: settlers, colonisers, Europeans way too much in their own dualistic Descartian heads, as I have come to learn.

And that fundamentally different civilisation had at its core the respect, love, and preservation of the environment they depended on. The people of that civilisation were willing to risk everything – arrest, harm, violence – to stop the damage of fossil fuel pipelines on their environment.

Quite simply, here were humans standing with their world, rather than against it. The landscape this opened to me was breathtaking: a future of life and purpose in accordance with our world, rather than one of conflict and doomed damage.

Quite simply, humanity became human. Humanity became possible. Humanity became real.

Worldview

I didn’t have to exist in conflict with others and the air, water, mountains, forests, plants and animals that surround me. I could exist with them. On their side, and the side my child and his friends. I could be on the side of life. And everyone else could too: our human cultures could shift to the side of the living world we depend upon, that we relate to.

It struck me that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have images of animals on their traditional cloaks. At the highest point of their human role, in their role of “honour” as Aristotle put it, they represent the animals living in the environment of their territories.

I am trying not to fetishize, idealize or appropriate a culture that is clearly not mine, and that I am still so far from understanding. I am trying to explain to you, whose culture may be close to mine, what it means to me to see humans, leaders of their communities, marching under the banner of the forms of life: amphibian, bird, plant, insect.

Scientifically, from the basic functioning of ecosystems, we know we are not separate from, and cannot live without, other forms of life. So seeing a culture that represents that interdependency, that relationship, at the highest level, made me realise that humanity has existed — and can exist again — far beyond Cartesian dualism.

Embarrassingly, the Wet’suwet’en resistance was not the only YouTube video that changed my life and worldview, in the few minutes it took to watch and take it in.

Ecosystemic

There is something about seeing and listening to other people, who are not lying, just communicating their core truths, that has an emancipatory power to take us far beyond where we were before.

The second video, unsurprisingly, was of Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Potawatomi nation.

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