Narrative Summary (cont.)

How We Get There

The process by which we pursue sustainability and our vision is as important as the goal, and the process must be harmonious for the outcome to be harmonious.  It starts within ourselves: we must individually reconnect with the "real human being" and inherent intelligence inside ourselves before we are able to fully act from a place of wisdom and create harmony in our relations with the world.  This calls for individual and collective reflection on the questions of who we are as human beings, and what our role is on this planet, and why we are where we are today with all these problems.  This soul searching will help steer us in a wiser direction.  From there we each need to take responsibility within all of our roles, as citizens and as consumers, as employees or as employers, as local or national or international leaders, as sons and daughters, and as mothers and fathers.  The actions needed today must be engaged in all places at all levels of society.(7,9,12,13)


"Somebody's got to step up and begin taking the leadership part in dealing with these problems.  Otherwise, if you're laid back it's just going to continue.  Somebody has to take responsibility." (6)

We must walk the talk, because many learn not by being told what to do but by observing the actions of others.  Thus, we must start with ourselves, and from there teach our families, other members within our communities and beyond to assume responsibility for the protection, care and restoration of our cultures and the land.(4)  To promote the active engagement of all, we need our leaders to speak up with clarity and courage to bring further awareness and understanding to the importance of the work that needs to be done.(2,13)

We find hope in the promise of our youth to assume the leadership roles of tomorrow,(2,7,13) and to carry a vision that crosses the boundaries and constraints we have created and perceive as adults.(5,9)  Still, much work needs to be done to prepare the youth and tribal members of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.(6,8)  In addition to providing quality education and developing problem solving skills,(5,6,7) we must ensure that they are educated about the way tribal governance works, including relationships with the federal government, the state, and other tribes.(6,8,10)  Additionally, continually practicing our culture is important for instilling those values into our leaders of tomorrow.(7,8,11,12)

Community and cultural restoration

"Our cultures have so many values and have a lot of principles and a lot of world views mounted to them that really embody what sustainability is.  But I think that those principles, those values, those ethics really come from a place of our culture and our heritage and so I just think it's so critical to build that heritage and to pass that on and to sustain those values and beliefs because if we can do that than we can really ensure that those same values that we're so proud about that protect our environment, that strengthen our communities will continue forward." (7)

We must mend the social fabric and dynamic for today's environmental threats to be resolved.  Without intact families and communities, and transparent political processes with leaders acting on behalf of all people, harm will continue to be exerted on our peoples and the planet.(5,12)  Processes, such as naw'qinwixw of the Syilx people(12) (see Appendix M), need to be engaged with great regularity to bring diverse voices and perspectives together so that our problems are addressed in a manner that works for the interests of all.  Again, the process by which we pursue sustainability is at least equally important as the goal.(12)

Within our cultures are harmonious practices and processes that we must continually engage, especially with inclusion of our elders and our children.  We should continue to tell our stories,(3,4,9,10,11,12,13) to engage in art, song and dance,(11,13) to speak our Native languages,(3,4,5,8,9,10,12,13) to hunt, fish, gather and share our traditional foods,(2,4,3,6,8,9,10,11,12,13) to actively steward the land,(3,4,8,10,11,12,13) and to conduct our ceremonies (5,8,10,12,13) for through these activities we achieve the transfer of knowledge, values, and life experience from generation to generation, and we reaffirm our connection with all things.(5,8,9,11,12,13)

Expanding on the importance of some of these aspects of our cultures, programs are needed to facilitate the learning of our Native languages to keep them and the knowledge embedded within them alive.(3,4,8,9,10,12,13)  Sharing with others, especially elders, is one of the most uplifting things we can do that brings us closer together as community.(3,4,7,8,9,11,13)  And, we must keep the ceremonies going.  In bringing us together to pay respects to the gifts of life, our ceremonies reconnect us with our cultural identity, provide a needed spiritual touchstone, and remind us of our responsibilities as humans to continuously live in balance.(8,10,12,13)

Ecological preservation and restoration

"Any renewable resource should be protected.  To me, I think our creator created it for us to live off of and we need to protect it.  If we don't, we are going to lose everything that was there for us.  We can't live off of money, that's for sure.  We can't eat money, we eat fish." (3)

Preservation of those places that are still relatively intact is critical.(2,3,4,7,13)  In addition to maintaining the refuge and services for all the species that call these places home, we need to preserve these places for models of the restoration work that needs to occur elsewhere.(13)  In some cases we need to establish legal mechanisms for protection.(2,3,9,11,13)  Where possible we should purchase lands for conservation and restoration.(10,13)  And wherever applicable, we must ensure the enforcement of tribal treaty rights for the basic social justice of being able to access to hunt, fish and gather, as well as enable stewardship of those lands via traditional management techniques.(6,8,10,13)  Ultimately, what really matters is what is happening on the ground, so when all else fails, we should be prepared to engage in the direct action needed to protect the forests, wetlands, salmon creeks, and everywhere in our homelands that has helped meet our spiritual and physical needs.(11,12,13)


Figure 9. A view of health as resulting from interaction between healthy environments, healthy foods, healthy people, and healthy communities and cultures.

Build awareness, understanding and engagement

"There are some things we're still struggling with and fighting, but I think just the more education and communication that happens and understanding one another, that we'll be able to, I believe, continue on to have a better place for everybody." (4)

Education is one of the most important pieces in achieving a sustainable future for all.(2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,12,13)  In the schools attended by our children, we need to work to integrate programs that teach our Native languages as well as our cultural knowledge and values.(3,5,4,7,13)  All children should receive a more accurate account of history, before and after the arrival of Columbus.  Our heritage is now shared, and it's important for everyone to have a better understanding of North American history to understand the realities of today, and make right the injustices that have occurred.(6,7,8,9,10,12,13)  All children should also receive a better education about the way ecosystems function, the habitat needs of fish and game, and the importance of conservation.(2,3,7,9,12)  This calls for more time beyond the indoor classroom into the multi-sensory classroom of the out-of-doors with real hands-on learning experiences.(7,9,12)   Involving our elders, inside and outside of the classroom, can really contribute to the learning experience children have from Native languages, to Native culture, to history, to traditional ecological knowledge (TEK).(7,8,10,12,13)

Formal education is an obvious place to start, but in every aspect of our lives we have opportunities to communicate, share our knowledge and demonstrate through our actions.(4,5)  We need to continuously work to increase people's awareness of the consequences of their decisions and actions.(2,3,4,11,12)  For example, almost all projects require investment money, so we need to do the work to inform investors of the kinds of impacts their money has on our communities.(11)  For issues involving the broader public, like recycling and proper waste management, public information campaigns, including commercials and advertisements, can help to promote awareness of these issues and cultivate environmentally minded attitudes.(2)  Also, everyone needs to take personal responsibility to be lifelong learners and educated on important issues.(6,7)

As Native peoples, we need to be active in educating the general public and political leaders about our needs and perspectives.(2,4,7,8,12,13)  Part of this is making sure our voice is heard by being organized and participating in the democratic process.(2,7,13)  Knowledge and talk of what should be done will be just talk without the political will to get it done.(7)  As politically engaged people, we also need to be humble and educate ourselves about the needs and perspectives of others.  With greater understanding of each other, there is a better chance that we can live and work together in greater harmony.(4,8,11,12)

Greater awareness and understanding of the problems and the needs of others will empower people to take action.(2,7,11,12,13)  We need all people to stand up with courage, confidence and hope, to find their voice and to commit their lives to finding solutions.(2,3,6,13)  The problems and the gifts of today are mutually inherited, so it is the responsibility of all people to become involved in the cause for a better tomorrow.(7,9,12,13)

Work together

"The loss of knowledge and the environmental crisis, the need to bring science and TEK together for the mutual benefit to all of humanity: it is no longer a color issue, it's not an ethnic issue, it is a humanitarian issue at this time." (13)

We get there together.(2—13)  We need the perspectives and knowledge and visions of many to effectively deal with the crises we face.  We must build true partnerships that are entered with humility and mutual respect such that we acknowledge the validity of alternative ways of seeing things.(4,7,9,12,13)  Whether it is within our communities, with neighboring communities and local governments, with representatives of state and federal governments, or with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and big environmental organizations, the process of building relationships takes time and mutual effort to understand the perspectives, needs and interests of one another.(2,3,4,7,8,10,13)

Dialogue is a powerful tool for building healthy, united communities and building effective working relationships across communities.(7,9,11,12,13)  In particular, we desire a stronger dialogue with the environmental community.  Indigenous interests of maintaining intimate relationships with the land are often challenged by efforts to set aside wilderness preserves to the exclusion of people despite long histories of human inhabitation.  We hope to move beyond this conflict of interest with much of the environmental movement and achieve a more effective collaboration around our shared interest of protecting the planet.(7,10,12,13)  There is opportunity here to more effectively demonstrate the truth that people can live harmoniously with ecosystems and actually promote ecological health.

Integrating traditional knowledge systems with Western science is one of the most important and promising areas for effective collaboration.  Much of the challenge lies in gaining further credibility in the eyes of scientists regarding the value that traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) offers, including long-term observations of place, proven models of sustainable agriculture, subsistence and forestry, and supportive value systems and cultural practices of those models.(4,7,9,10,12,13)  In addition to enhanced understanding of ecosystem health and functioning, the TEK/science partnership should intensely inquire into figuring out how to adapt traditional ways of knowing to modern times.(7,12,13)  Because much has been created in recent history without regard for our long-term interests, we need to engage processes or programs to evaluate modern achievements and innovations to determine what is actually useful.  Wise evaluation calls for critical reflection through an integrated lens of traditional knowledge systems and science.

To achieve this integration, we must bring TEK practitioners and scientists together at conferences, convene special forums, and connect around on-the-ground problems (13).  As this relationship develops, efforts should focus on integrating traditional ways of knowing into the formal educational curriculum so that the next generation of scientists inherently bridges the two.  We see the most immediate opportunities at the level of higher education, but believe that this should continue to be pursued at all levels, especially among schools with large Native student populations.(2,3,4,7,12,13)


"How do you do more with less, and treat the resources; the trees, the wood as precious commodities, and really treat the fish, and flesh, that you are going to either eat or transfer to somebody else as the very precious life that it is?" (11)

We need to design economies that work with the values of our cultures and the local ecology.  In many ways, this calls for the need to come up with radically different ways of doing things.(5,13)  A major challenge is with the global economy, which needs to be redesigned and instilled with a conscience so that it does not continue to wreck havoc on the Earth.  This calls for reversal of trade systems and institutions that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor and indigenous peoples, while establishing truly fair trade, prioritizing self-sufficient subsistence living, and generally moving towards communal and conservation based economies.(6,7,11,13)  In essence, we must design our own future, otherwise someone else will dictate it for us.(5,6,7,11)

Live our role

"We're a part of this land, and necessary part of it.  The land needs us, and the planet loves us, and we don't know how to be a part of that anymore, in a real sense, in a physical sense.  A coming back to that is something that we as humans have to figure out together.  We're all a part of that, we're all in that together." (12)

The call to action is to serve as leaders in preserving and restoring our cultures and ecology.  We must build awareness and understanding to engage all citizens of the planet in working together and redesigning our future.  While the challenges are immense, we are hopeful.(2,3,4,7,9,10,13)  Inherent in us, a gift of our ancestral roots, is the link with the larger living life force that connects us with all else.(8,12)  That gift is the source of our potential as humans to be active (2—13) and careful,(2,3,4,6,8,9,10,12,13) creative (6,8,9,12,13) and discerning,(3,6,9,11,12) strong (6,8,10,12,13) and loving,(4,8,12,13) intelligent (2,6,9) and humble,2,4,5,9,11 respectful (2,3,4,6,7,8,9,11,13) and grateful.(2,8,9,10)  Gifted with this potential, our purpose is to continuously maintain ourselves and all our relations in harmony and balance with natural law.  The extent to which our cultures serve this purpose is the extent to which they are ultimately worthy of being passed along to future generations.(2,4,6,7,8,9,10,13)

This is what we believe "sustainability" is about.

Narrative Endnotes