Indigenous Landscapes: Where we are is who we are
By Claudia Tomateo
In the spring edition of Resilience Quarterly, Mollie Lyders, Niamh Peren, and Darren Rewi share scholarship, wisdom and life experiences as they relate to Indigenous sovereignty and environmental restoration in Aotearoa New Zealand. The authors, Māori and pākehā, explore how the struggle for Indigenous self-governance and ecological resilience are intrinsically related. As Mollie Lyders writes “Regardless of the condition of the Mataura River now, the significance of the awa (river) to the people of Ngāi Tahu remains the same. The clean-up of the Mataura River has to start somewhere and for me that somewhere begins with working for the Hokonui Rūnanga (Hokonui Rūnanga is one of 18 rūnanga, or local councils).”
There is no arguing for Indigenous knowledge, without arguing for decolonization and acknowledging the diverse systems of governance supporting Indigeneity. When studying Indigenous landscapes, Indigenous knowledge cannot be seen as a resource from which to extract ideas. Very often, we see ‘strategies’ claiming to empathize with vulnerable populations, when in reality they are just appropriating their vision.
If we aim to understand the role of Indigenous systems of governance, we must first acknowledge that Indigeneity is a “marriage between humans, landscape and the Indigenous cosmo-vision, understanding all as an indivisible multilayered unit; where you are, is the same as who you are.” (Tomateo, 2021). To take action today, doesn’t mean to argue for a romanticized past, but to question current systems and find the meaning of Indigeneity today.
Across the Tawantinsuyu, the geographic area where the Incas expanded (today covering parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina), a series of different landscape interventions were built. These not only serve as infrastructure for water management and landslides mitigation, but as places where the community would grow their food. This means that people had (and still have) a deep and cyclical connection with agro-ecological cultural forms. In other words, the landscape morphology informed people’s social arrangements.
The ‘ayllu’ was a land-owning social unit composed of several households. Each member of the community is assigned to work in the community’s land (communally owned), and in exchange they receive the ‘ayni’ (a sort of labor tax). Accordingly, the community supported the individuals in tasks such as house construction. Indigenous infrastructure can persist (and inform) in current conditions if their systems of governance are not broken apart. For instance, labor arrangements over communal land ownership.
A system designed from western ideas of ownership and property is inevitably going to conflict with Indigenous peoples’ worldviews, where to own is also to care. Indigenous peoples often shared weapons, tools, and territories, and the idea of private property is often linked to the sacred. The most valuable forms of Indigenous property are immaterial such as stories, medical knowledge, stitch patterns on their clothes, and the reproduction games (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021). However, let’s not forget that ‘where we are is who we are’ and that Indigenous sacred property (immaterial) would vanish if they can’t inhabit their lands. And this is why, Indigenous’ reclamation of land is urgent and important (The Red Nation, 2019).
In the last 30 years, Chile’s forestry land went from 988 000 acres to 7.4 million acres, taking Mapuche land in this process. Ancient trees felled to replace them with fast growing eucalyptus, sacred rivers dammed for hydroelectric projects, and a geothermal plant constructed at the Tolhuaca volcano are some examples of recent ‘development’ strategies.
On October 18th 2021, Chile started a process to write a new constitution. 17 Indigenous representatives are part of the 155 person assembly. Elisa Loncon, Indigenous Mapuche, has been elected to lead the creation of the new constitution, the one that will replace dictator Augusto Pinochet’s. One of the foundational points of the emerging constitution is the implementation of a mixed judicial system, where additionally to traditional courts, indigenous authorities would be in charge of imparting justice. This represents a big step towards Indigenous justice, and a compromise for a plural and equitable decision making table.
I am humbled to be part of this edition of Resilience Quarterly. The following stories of Indigenous struggle, give visibility to historically invisible populations, and bring light to possible decolonization strategies across the world. Sharing stories of justice, and advocating for Indigenous worldviews is a radical act in itself, because Indigenous’ justice anywhere is an achievement for Indigenous’ justice everywhere.
(www.dw.com), D. W. (n.d.). Chile chooses indigenous woman as president of New Constitutional Assembly: DW: 05.07.2021. DW.COM. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.dw.com/en/chile-chooses-indigenous-woman-as-president-of-new-constitutional-assembly/a-58157983
Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2021). The dawn of everything: a new history of humanity. First American edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Red Nation. (2019). The Red Deal: Indigenous action to save our earth. The Red Nation. http://therednation.org/wp-content/
Tomateo, C (2021) Indigenous land systems and emerging of Green Infrastructure planning in the Peruvian coastal desert: tensions and opportunities, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2021.1960806
Claudia Tomateo is an architect and urban designer with expertise in mapping techniques that inform urban stategies. She is a Research Fellow in the Urban Systems Lab at The New School, and Adjanct Professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.
Marikit Mayeno is a woman of color artist, who practices Buddhism and deeply values indigenous ecological knowledge. Marikit uses research-based artmaking focused on the intersections of science and spirituality to challenge systems of power and binary thinking from colonialism to capitalism. Her mediums include ink and paint as well as upcycled materials such as plastic and one-time-use paper to call attention to excessive consumption and environmental pollution. Her studies and art include complex, symbiotic systems, and relationships to foster a pluralistic worldview and encourage planetary health and sustainability. She incorporates this pedagogy in the Climate Justice Club at The New School in which she is the founder and president. The club collaborates on creative projects to amplify the climate movement and acknowledge that BIPOC communities are at the forefront and front lines of the cause. She is passionate about being a community organizer and educator to help build more equitable and resilient futures that value racial justice and the interconnectivity of humans with nature.