event: see winona la duke speak about language, the living world, and the commons

posted October 22, 2017

The theme of the upcoming 37th annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures, taking place on November 4th, is “Choosing the Path that is Green”,  a reference to the prophecy of the Anishinaabe peoples. Winona LaDuke, who is a member of the Anishinaabe is this years keynote speaker. La Duke is an activist, community economist and author and her work has always been in alignment with the work of the Schumacher Center and of Greenhorns. She has been a persistent advocate for community land stewardship, local food sovereignty and sustainable resource use. She has a unique ability to communicate the stories, ideas and wisdom of the Anishinaabe people in ways that are both timely and relevant.

One of the ideas explored by LaDuke is the language of land and resource ownership and usage. As farmers this language plays an all important role in how we take care of those things in a very important and profound way.

“According to our way of living and our way of looking at the world, most of the world is animate…This is reflected in our language, Anishinabemowin, in which most nouns are animate. Mandamin, the word for corn is animate; mitig, the word for tree, is animate; so is the word for rice, manomin, and the word for rock or stone, asin…“In our language the words Anishinaabeg akiing describe the concept of land ownership. They translate as the land of the people,” which doesn’t imply that we own our land but that we belong on it,”

-LaDuke said during her Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture in 1993.

The limits of language can have a similarly limiting effect on our minds ability to engage with concepts, encouraging us to stick with the familiar. Native American languages evolved within the framework of the American landscape unlike the dominant european languages that shaped how the land has been used over the last number of centuries. La Duke, speaking of food sovereignty, explains that in Native languages nature, including food crops are often understood and relatives rather than instrumentally. Language is a powerful tool of influence and LaDuke believes that language that views nouns as animate and living entities has the power to influence a community’s understanding of how to manage its land and natural resources.

Indigenous people are often on the front lines in terms of the protection of nature and natural resources and many have had success taking action against the genetic modification and subsequent patenting of food crops and seeds.  LaDuke is not alone in her recognition of the important of customs, traditional knowledge and communal natural resource management. Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her work on governing the commons. Ostrom studied common pool resource management by watching communities like the Anishinaabeg who have been practicing sustainable resource management for centuries. Both Ostrom and LaDuke have recognised that although these practices are often the most sustainable and holistic means of resource management, that established systems of private land ownership often act as an unsurmountable barrier.

So it seems that sustainability is not a matter of cold, logical calculation and business practices—it is an integral matter of culture, language and worldview itself. We must not only re-educate ourselves, but also challenge dominant paradigms and critique the institutions that take us down the scorched path rather than the path that is green.

Click HERE to buy tickets to see Winona speak on November 4th, at the 37th Annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures in Great Barrington.