In my next novel, a Land Back story called This House is Not a Home, to be released in the fall with Roseway/Fernwood, there is a scene where a bison and muskox meet on either side of a great waterfall in an encounter that marks a very significant change in the world. I wrote this scene after being inspired by the words of an Elder who once told me that when two animals from opposite ends of the Earth meet on the same plate it will be a time of great change.
International trade provides an analogy for this. You can buy blueberries from Spain, Gooseberries from Columbia, oranges from California, and avocados from Mexico. While trade commodities help countries in fluctuating global markets, we must remember to eat locally and fill our baskets with seasonal foods. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer calls this the Honourable Harvest; a set of guidelines that include taking only what you need, taking only what is given, never wasting, sharing, giving thanks, and reciprocating.
The world’s population is 7.9 billion and counting. Nature cannot keep up with manufactured supply and demand without depleting the ecosystem. There is a misconception that nature is limitless. As Naomi Klein explains in her book On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, we have pushed nature beyond its limits and that demands a new paradigm “grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal.” Klein explains that climate change is the “symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: That nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out, it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract.”
I walked into a health food store the other day and saw frozen kangaroo meat for sale. I asked myself what the point was of shipping this local Indigenous food to the other side of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy trying new local foods but only when I am on vacation in a new place. I’ve tried crocodile in Florida (it really does taste like chicken), sword fish in the Bahamas, and muktuk back home in the North.
Like travel, I thought COVID-19 might slow down the international trade market. Instead, it became easier to purchase items from overseas through apps like Amazon—with the click of a button anything you want can be at your doorstep. Authors like Carol Anne Hilton highlight this problematic trend, telling us we need to shift to a “new economy” that focuses on human well-being and ecological balance rather than GDP.
When I visited Ye’yumnuts, a sacred Cowichan ancestral burial site, I learned that advanced trade routes had been established between different tribes from the Fraser Valley to the United States long before colonization. These sophisticated trade routes created intricate connections between the Nations who came together to share tools and gifts among one another. These economies, based on necessities rather than wants, maintained good relations between Nations.
The Arctic muskox and the plains bison were traditionally separated by vast tracts of land. These two great animals meeting is a sign of the changing landscape. There is an imbalance across the vast terrain. We see this in the North with the ever-growing predominance of deer, cougars, magpies, and ticks that have made their way to our colder climate, albeit one that changes sporadically. Some winters are the coldest on record, while others are the warmest ever documented. These changes create unpredictability for animals who rely on returning to their regular migratory routes. Animals are losing their habitat, if not through climate change than through human activity. The caribou have become like ghosts on the land in the North; where they were once abundant, they are now scarce. As one Elder shared —if they are not respected, they will disappear underground until they are respected again. This is what is happening due to development, climate change, and over harvesting.
While I was working at Dechinta (which translates to “in the bush” in Denendeh), a land-based centre for research and learning, predatory animals would sometimes risk their lives, coming too close to camp. It is a well-known fact that once wild animals consume human food, they will get a taste for it and keep coming back, posing a danger to themselves and humans. For instance, there was a time that a young bear had wandered too close into our camp and had to be killed. The bear was skinned, and the meat was prepared to give away to those who consume bear (there are families who do not eat bear because it is considered a spiritual animal). When preparing the meat, we were careful not to let the parts of the bear touch the ground as that would be a dishonour to the animal’s dignity. Bear fat was rendered in a teepee in a cast iron pot over a fire while the hide tanned above. The bear fat was later jarred, gifted, and used as a traditional medicine salve.
I would like to leave you with a summarized version of “Indigenous knowledge and Wisdom of Truth and Justice”. It is a story of how animals helped man as told by Brother Phil Lane Jr., Ihanktowan, Dakota, and Chickasaw Nations, and retold by the late Richard Wagamese.
Long ago, animals helped a vulnerable human that fell to earth. The animals sacrificed their lives to feed and clothe him. The human was also given the gift of knowledge and the animals were tasked with hiding that knowledge somewhere safe, yet somewhere where each human could find it for themselves if they searched hard enough. The animals counseled and talked about where to hide this gift of knowledge, in the deepest waters? No. Creator told them it was too easy to find there. On the moon? No. Creator said it was too easy to find there as one day man would travel to the moon. In the earth? No, not there either. Then a tiny mouse suggested that knowledge be placed within each of us. Yes, Creator said, that way humans will have to travel the longest distance to find knowledge – from their heart to their head – they must look within themselves.
As we go about our daily lives today and every day, we should strive to get that much closer to grounding ourselves in place, connecting our hearts and minds to find this gifted knowledge that will help us to best care for the plants and animals that need us now more than ever.
Indigenous Perspectives on the Climate Crisis
Saturday, April 9, 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Join Climate Writer in Residence Katłįà Lafferty and Indigenous climate advocates Xwechtaal Dennis Joseph, Brandi Morin, Panikpak Letitia Pokiak, and Dr. Nicole Redvers to learn how Indigenous Peoples are leading the fight against the climate crisis.