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Native Culture Contribution to the Global Community
~ Meucci Ilunga
2021 WINDS Scholar
The greatest contribution Native culture can
give to the global community is a road map
The global community is currently faced
with numerous existential-level threats,
whether they be from nuclear annihilation
or the rapid onset of a climate catastrophe that is making life across the planet unbearable if not simply unsustainable. What makes these crises particularly unique is that they are very much anthropogenic—man created these issues, and at any point, man could decide to solve them. Yet here we stand—everyday teetering ever so nearer the edge of catastrophe, possibly taking all known life in the universe along with us. And for what? For a few extra zeros on a computer screen, or a few additional moments of distraction from the disastrous reality we’ve built for ourselves?
Our current priorities, fundamentally, are incompatible with the long-term survival of the species. But our current priorities were not set democratically. The world did not come together in one large forum and have every person cast a vote in favor of what they’d like the priorities of our species to be. No, rather the world’s current priorities were set largely in a few small rooms scattered across the world by a few people you and I will never meet. And our list of priorities, for as long as even the oldest among us can remember, has always been fundamentally governed by one key principle: that infinite growth is a realistic economic outcome.
The reality is, Indigenous cultures long ago found the cure to our current plight, and it’s the rejection of this idea that the destiny of humanity is to grow endlessly and forever. This truth becomes especially salient when the type of infinite growth being considered comes not in the form of advances in healthcare, new frontiers of science, or as improvements to quality of life such as cleaner air to breath or cleaner waters to drink, but rather as a myriad of glittering distractions and momentary diversions; that is, new electronics, new toys, sweeter candies, fattier foods—all the things that don’t make us happier, but that distract us from the things that make us sad. Native cultures long ago realized that sustainability could be cultivated through simplicity, through the recognition that the most fundamental and moral of pursuits that we as humans can embark upon is that of knowing to take only that which you need. To have more than you need is to have too much. And humanity, for an exceptionally long time now, has had much more than it needs. More than enough food to feed 10 billion people on a planet housing less than 8 billion—yet still people still go hungry.
The notion of infinite growth is at the heart of this travesty. The pursuit of infinite growth will always prioritize increasing growth above all else. But this is not to say that all growth is bad or fundamentally immoral; civilizations ebb and flow to meet the demands of a growing society like the indigenous communities of the world have throughout the millennia. But where infinite growth goes especially wrong is that it can never—and will never—prioritize the use of that growth to make the lives of the public at large any better. It becomes growth purely for the sake of growth—a viewpoint many Native cultures have rejected since time immemorial.
This is where we find the greatest gift the Native community has to offer the world. We have, for a very long time, developed a working philosophy of day-to-day life able to offer meaningful, rich lives without falling to the ills of a mindset of infinite growth. We’ve found meaning in community, in our cultural ways, and in our spirituality. It is these elements of our way of life that offer a way forward to the rest of the world. But we offer not just philosophical insight, but also pragmatic solutions to the world’s ailments because we do not just pay lip service to these ideals but have embraced this way of life for a very long time. So, we know not just that de-growth and a move towards a more sustainable equilibrium through a rearrangement of priorities is good, but the very fabric of our culture has taught us how exactly to go about creating such an equilibrium. Baked into our very identities by virtue of our culture is the key to building a fairer, more sustainable society, not just for indigenous communities across the globe, but for every person on the planet.
And it is our obligation to share it, without expectation of something in return—as is expected of any good gift. For, as Martin Luther King once said, we must either learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools. But we can go a step further, because it is in our native cultures that we find the key to something even more desirable: the ability to prosper together, as a family—one exceedingly large, but also exceedingly human, family.