Panel 12: Indigenous Futures/Justice



Panel 12: Indigenous Futures/Justice

Bringing Indigenous Values to Bear on an Urban Land Ethic

Phil Arnold and Rachel May, Syracuse University

Using the Onondaga Nation’s efforts in Syracuse to revive the natural landscape, this presentation will explore some of the efforts that have been made to surmount that divide between growth and change over permanence. The authors will do so in the context of a broader theorizing about the need for an urban land ethic.(more).

Linda Hogan’s Dwellings: Our Only Future is to “Restore and Honor” the Treaties “We Once had with the Land”

Márgara Averbach, University of Buenos Aires

This talk analyzes a work by a Native author, Linda Hogan, and her approach to contextualize the relationship we have with the world around us. The presenter will explore the thought process that led us to stray “from the treaties we once had with the land”, and what it takes to honor them once again if we are to have a future as a species (more).

Solutions to a changing climate: stories from the past and present to inform the future

Julie Maldonado, Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network

Stories serve as powerful conduits of knowledge among and between people and across generations and locales. Considering the power of stories at this critical time, as we enter into a new climate system, this talk addresses the following question: How can storytelling – and the lessons informed by stories – foster the creation of sustainable and culturally-appropriate solutions to climate change among and between people with various technical and traditional perspectives, approaches, and objectives? (more).

Q & A

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26 replies
  1. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Hi, all in this panel and other panels, I would like to tell everybody that here in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I have been teaching a whole Literature course on the ecological crisis, with the book I talk about in the chat as the center of it… I hope to be able, from tomorrow to exchange chats and ideas with all of you in the Conference from now on… Thank you very much

    • Lila Moore, Cybernetic Futures Institute says:

      Hello Margara,

      Thank you for bringing to attention the book Dwellings and your analysis of it. I hope to purchase the book and meanwhile read a few pages online. I am interested in your statement that the book, or parts of it, is in itself a ritual or a ceremony. The text is certainly very evocative and the depictions are visceral and highly visual, almost filmic. I am researching, teaching and working with ritualistic art forms, and would like to ask you if you can explain how Dwellings as a text becomes, and functions as, a ritual or ceremony.
      I also wish to invite you to watch my talk, as the nous to which I refer to, is a way of knowing that corresponds with spiritual knowing. Although it derives from a European tradition, it is an ancient tradition with roots in the pagan and shamanic customs of Ancient Greece, Egypt, etc.
      In addition, I would be interested to know if you have any published articles or books on this or related topics.

      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        Hi, Lila, Sunday here but yesterday was too long a day to respond, sorry about the delay.
        If you read the seminal book by Paula Gunn Allen about Native American Literatures, The Sacred Hoop, or that by Adrian Louis and I suppose most of the theory on these literatures, one thing Gunn Allen (and the rest says) is that Native US cultures and therefore literatures are ceremonial in nature. In the book, Hogan describes a number of ceremonies (my analysis of the book is longer, if you want me too, we can go on by mail and I will send you a longer article on the book… I am not very sure how to give you may email in private in this place but we could meet in Facebook if you want…) and what happens there is that there are a number of ceremonies described (not totally, that is also typical: ceremonies belong to the community and are never described complete) but with certain features (always community events, always about making contact and feeling that one belongs to Nature…, always about sharing, etc). But apart from that, it is obvious that the whole book is a ceremony to try and restore the Treaties. And what she seeks is “new knowlings” which are “spiritual”, as the subtitle says. All Native US Literature (and I could almost say, though I dont know so much) all Native American (in the sense we use it, the whole of the continent) Literatures are ritualistic but in a different definition of that from European ideas about ritual, ceremony, etc.
        As regards publications (thank you for your interest) the main one is a book but it is in Spanish… my native language where I feel more confortable, clearly (sorry about any… obvious mistakes in the tape my daughter filmed). It is called Caminar dos mundos (Walk two worlds) and it is published by the Valencia University Press in Spain (not Argentina, here it is difficult to publish as an academic, specially if you study what for us is foreign literature… I have many books here but there are fiction books for kids, adolescents and adults). Apart from that, here is a list of articles in English… (not listing the Spanish ones, which are more) published in USA or Brazil:

        “Translation and Resistance in Native North American Literature”, publicada por la revista estadounidense American Indian Quaterly. Número 24, 2, primavera, 2000. (páginas 165-182)
        “Technology, “magic” and resistance in Native American women writing”, publicado en el Femspec, Volumen 2, Issue 2, Cleveland: State University Foundation, 2001. (Pages 7 to 17). ISSN: 1523-4002. Este artículo también se publicará en Gender Watch, on-line data base, contrato: noviembre, 2002.
        -“Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko: Stories as Resistance”, en Raízes e Rumos, Perspectivas interdisciplinarias em estudos americanos, Sonia Torres, editoria, Rio de Janeiro: 2001. (Páginas 555 a 564).
        -“Translating Carter Revard: An Adventure among Mixed and Fertile Words”, en SAIL (Studies in American Indian Literatures), Volumen 15, Número 1, Primavera de 2003. (Pags. 74 a 89).
        -“Dances with Wolves: How to Repeat Old Tricks and Look New at the Same Time”, publicado en el libro Screening Culture: Constructing Image and Identity, capítulo 2. Canadá: Lexington Books, 2003, edited by Heather Norris Nicholson. (Pags. 35 a 47).
        “The return of the Indian Guide: new formulations of the Indian guide at the end of the 20th century”, in Comparative American Studies, Volumen 2, número 1, marzo, 2004. United Kingdom; Sage Publications. (pp. 75 a 90).
        – “Two Versions of the Road Back Home: Native Cinema in the USA and Canada”, en Ilha do Desterro, Número 58, enero-julio, 2008. Santa Catalina: Universidad Federal de Sta Catalina, Brasil. (145-159). ISSN 0101-4846.
        – “From this house to the other one, there was always a path”: what the Native Indians of the US oral histories say”, en Oralidades, Revista de História Oral, USP: Núcleo de Estudos em História Oral, San Pablo, Brasil: USP, Junio-Diciembre 2008 (publicado en 2009). Páginas 85-99. ISSN 1981-4275.
        – “America from (South) America: How to Erase Most of a Continent”. Published in Americana, E Journal of American Studies in Hungary. Volume VI, Number 1, Spring 2010. Septiembre, 2010.
        -“Counter-Memory: Manuel Scorza (Perú) and Pauline Melville (Guyana) Against European Colonization” en Black Magnolias, Special 2011, Issue, The Crossroads of Africanness and Indianness in the Landscape of the Americas, Volume 4, Number 4, 2011, edited by Chezia Thompson. Clinton: Massacchussets, 2011. (pages 166-174)
        – “Bricolage from the Other End of the Continent: My No Conversations with Paula Gunn Allen”. Aceptado como capítulo del libro sobre Paula Gunn Allen Remembering Paula Gunn Allen, en West End Press. It will be published soon.
        – “Leonard Peltier Writes about His Years in a US Prison: My Life is my Sun Dance as a Literary Text” in Kalfoun. A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies. Volume 3, Issue I, Spring, 2016. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016. (Pags. 109 a 124)

        I am going to listen to you talk first thing tomorrow morning…We have had a number of too cold days for this time in Spring so… being today is a better day at last, I am going out.
        Thank you very much for the interest.

        • Lila Moore, Cybernetic Futures Institute says:

          Hello Margara,
          Thank you very much for the references and explanations, which I will explore. I research contemporary spiritualities (also teach film and art in a department for BA in Mysticism and Spirituality, and may use the terms New (Age) Religions and contemporary spiritual trends). There are currently new modes of rituals practiced by Western non-aboriginal people, for example, women’s spiritual practices, that inter-weave motifs from different cultures and religions, including Native American cultures. These rites are usually done with full respect to the original wisdom that inspires them. It also coincides with raising awareness to the spirituality of the Earth.
          With regards to stories, how can Europeans learn from the Native Americans with regards to respecting the Earth? How can we bridge the cultural divide? Clearly, students of religions learn to respect the different traditions and religions and as a result may become more receptive to aboriginal wisdom. However, on a larger scale, to reach the masses and mainstream culture with this wisdom, I feel that we need to become more creative and resourceful through education and critical cultural productions.
          I watched the television premier of Before the Flood by Leonardo DiCaprio with some people. Immediately after the film, they changed channel and moved on to the next film as if nothing has happened. They were trying to escape, I guess, from the ecological horrors that the film unfolds. Perhaps, what was missing, in this well-done and well-researched uncompromising documentary, is a healing story told in a ceremonial way. I sent additional reply to your thoughts on my panel’s page. Many thanks!

    • Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

      Greetings, Márgara. Thank you so much for your thoughtful talk. I especially appreciate your emphasis on the need for different languages and ways of knowing. My colleague in Syracuse, Robin Kimmerer, is a Native American botanist who is very eloquent about the interplay between traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and scientific ecological knowledge, and she has collaborated with Phil Arnold and me and a number of other educators on a project to incorporate TEK into the high school curriculum here. The idea of “a language that knows the corn, and that the corn knows” is especially powerful, and thinking about how to raise children to know such languages feels so important. I also like your treatment of the “Dwellings” chapter, since the whole notion of what constitutes a home seems to lie at the root of a lot of our ecological and political debates these days.

      If you haven’t read Robin’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass (2015), I highly recommend it.

  2. jkmaldo says:

    Caravanning for Just Climate Solutions: Movement Building Across Communities and Regions
    • How can we work to create and share an open space for frontline communities in sacrifice zones who are deeply suffering from historical trauma and continued atrocities wrought by the fossil fuel industry to have their voices heard and work to ensure that the same injustices are not continued in the post-carbon transition?
    • How could such stories be leveraged to build awareness, knowledge sharing, and solidarity across cultures, communities, regions, and even nations, to infuse environmental justice into the transition to a post-carbon, clean energy economy?

    • Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

      Hi, Julie. Your talk, and all the images that accompanied it, was moving. The Onondaga Nation here in central New York has been very active in fighting fracking, and instrumental in leading the movement that got the Governor to ban fracking, at least for now, in NY. I don’t have records of the process, but I’m sure storytelling has been a major source of their influence in that effort. Not just stories of personal experience, but storytelling in the way Margara is referencing in her talk – speaking a language that “heals our relationship with nature.” It would be exciting to figure out ways to shift the discourse of social media into that kind of language. Imagine response emojis that aren’t just about “liking” but about gratitude, or about how the earth or the waters or the plants would respond to a given post. Just dreaming here!

  3. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Hi, Julie… we are at the same presentation and I wish to tell you I am going to tell my students (not all of them, those who really can understand English) to listen to your talk about “stories” because this is what I teach here in Argentina when talking about stories in Indigenous cultures… In a way, my talk about Linda Hogan is about the same subject… Thank you for this opportunity.

  4. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Julie: after listening to your paper, which I will try to translate (if I have the time after the teaching year finishes here, in November and summer starts), I want to make two comments: first, the same is happening, as you know, in the whole world, in my country for instance (Argentina) so maybe what you say about National awareness should be changed to “international” awareness… Networks should be built that continue to spread the stories everywhere. And second (not to be long in this), these spreading of the stories is what George Lipsitz talks about when he defines “countermemory”, a memory of what is generally not seen, not in the media, not shown so that this destruction is stopped… That is what I try to teach when I teach books like Dwellings, which are also a way to spread the stories… Thank you for your talk.

  5. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Hi, Phil and Rachel, I am listening at last to your presentation. In the book I analyze, by Linda Hogan, there is a constant reminder of the need you talk about, the need to understand Earch as a relative and to “honor the treaties” we had with her and honor her spirituality. The fact that this can be done even in large cities as Syracuse seems marvellous to me. Thank you for your talk, in a way, it can also be a culmination of what Linda Hogan asks for in “Dwellings”.

  6. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    El “buen vivir” you talk about in Latin America (and there is a mention of it, I think in many of the speeches by Indigenous leaders in countries near my own, like Bolivia, I have seen translated into “living in harmony” or “living in beauty” in US Native Lit. But what really called my attention in your paper is how it links this new urban ethics with “total institutions” on the one side (jail, inmates, the conception of imprisonment not as punishment but as new oportunity) and also free college education… THese three things have been the center of discussion in my group in literature teaching and research and also the center of many discussions and practices in Buenos Aires. I teach literature to inmates in National prisons as part of the University of Buenos Aires, I teach literature on total institutions to these and other students and here in Buenos Aires, Argentina, up to now (things are changing for the worse, with the new government), we consider college part of the rights of education and therefore, our best universities, which are the public ones, are free for everybody, something that the right here has been wanting to change for years. The talk has made me see ways in which these themes could be linked with the idea of city… in a new way. Thank you very much.

  7. Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

    Hi, everyone. One particular interest of mine coming out of Phil’s and my presentation is how we can focus on urban land as having the same deep validity as “natural” lands. The only way the growing human population can lessen its impact on the earth’s ecosystems is by living in very dense urban settings, and by moving around less on the face of the planet. So we need to understand our cities as “home” in the same way that Márgara discusses in Hogan’s chapter on “Dwellings,” and the way indigenous activists tell stories of their ancestral lands in Julie’s presentation. Is it possible to develop an urban land ethic that is comparable to these, given that most urban dwellers are newcomers and there is often little shared culture?

    • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

      This is a fascinating question, Rachel, and as it happens, it ties nicely into the comment I was about to post regarding your and Phil’s presentation. The depth of indigenous knowledge of place is really difficult to comprehend, and sadly, it bears little relationship to the way we create and manage places in US cities today. European traditions of form and function, particularly those from England, France, Italy, and ancient Greece, have far more influence over the environments we interact with every day. This is a really strange circumstance, when you consider it, and there are plenty of examples of fundamental conflicts between these borrowed forms and the North American climate. I like the idea of employing and applying the Haudenosaunee ethics to not just heal Syracuse’s ailing neighborhoods, but also create a deep authentic sense of place and human connection to place. (In fact, that sounds like an excellent start to a design studio project…) I wonder if your ideas could be extended to other upstate cities, perhaps refined to relate to the most relevant (local) one of the Six Nations.

      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        It is really part of the way Europe went everywhere in the world and in a way imposed world views why we feel more European than “American” in the sense we use the word in Latin America (as all the American continent). And this is important. If you read La Pachamama y el humano by Eugenio Zaffaroni, he deals with what he calls the Cartesian idea (he calls it “el exabrupto cartesiano”, which is very strong in Spanish): that anything not human in the planet was a machine, even the animals and humans owned all that… He says with other indigenous leaders that that has taken the world to a dangerous situation and that we should go back to… what Linda Hogan calls Treaties, though he does not call them that way. The same can be read in This Changes Everything, I think is the name in English by Naomi Klein.

        • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

          Good points. Adding a bit: Most of the rural US (barring mountains or very early settlement) has roads laid out in a grid – a Cartesian grid. There’s a strongly democratic philosophy behind the road grid, going back to Thomas Jefferson, but it’s also the most machine-like way to dominate the landscape imaginable. Roads that don’t conform to the grid are typically older, and very often that means they are built on routes established by Native Americans.

          The standard layout of new towns used by the Spanish in their American colonies (I want to say that layout was dictated by the Book of the Americas – not sure) pushes this machine-like standardization even farther. Not sure how any of that relates to Argentina (I’ve not been south of Mexico).

          • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

            Ah, yes, our main city is totally square and easy to understand in nature, there are, that I know of (of course I dont know the whole city, it is enormous really) there are very, very few streets with curves… The streets here do not follow nature except, of course, the ones that are built over the pipes they enclosed rivers into: Juan B. Justo is one and the other one is called Arroyo, because it was a stream. But in general, as you say, it is graphic representation of the way Western civilization classifies in pigeon holes and uses straigth lines. There is in fact a topic in Native lit where one can compare squares in Western civilization with circles as important in Native lit.

            • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

              If any particular sources comparing circles to squares or anything else relevant to this Native vs. European-inspired form comes to mind, I’d love to hear it. I’d like to learn more about indigenous use and organization of physical space in the Americas, in preparation for a likely book project in a few years (after the current book project is finished!). Happy to see anything you post here, or you’re welcome to email me directly with suggestions at .

              • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

                Susan, you can email too at, but the book that comes to mind now is a small (very small) booklet called Circles, consciousness and culture by James A. Mischke, but it is all about myth, the idea of God, etc. So… I am not sure it is what you are looking for. As regards literature, there is a lot about this in Paula Gunn Allen’s books, no doubt, but I would have to look for the exact quotation…. I think in almost any book on Native American Literature there is something about it. As regards Space and space organization, it is more difficult for me to say because I have not really studied the point but of course symbolic use in literature and physical space go together.

    • Laurence Marty says:

      Dear Rachel and Phil,
      Thanks for your conference. The four principles of the Roots Project, especially gratitude we tend to forget, are really inspiring. And present them as remedies for urban issues (stress, vulnerabilities to climate change, etc.) is really relevent.
      To propose an answer to your question, if we think cities as ecosystems, it helps to rethink the divide between urban lands and “natural” lands. In this way, we can apply permaculture principles for urban ecosystems as : observe and interact ; use and value margins ; etc.
      And I don’t know if you heard about the Cooperation Jackson project, but it’s a very inspiring one :

      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        Laurence, there is one thing to say about this: here, around Buenos Aires, where (as you can see in a presentation on the agricultural future of Argentina in this same conference) Monsanto and Singenta and all those are poisoning everything with their chemicals, there is a strange tendency. We are seeing birds in the city that never before were there and that now find the city less polluted and less damaging than the fields around… Impressive and true.

    • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Hi Rachel,
      Thank you for your and Phil’s talk. I really appreciated how you put forth the ideas of gratitude and reciprocity in your presentation. What I think is missing in the mindset of many urban dwellers is the feeling of accountability. It may be easier when living on rural land to see the fruits of your labor, and take notice when the stream you use for your garden or grazing cattle has gone sour. People who personally live off of the land may be more aware of what is happening in the environment around them, whereas city dwellers often see any issues that arise as fixable by the city council or government. There is little to no accountability when people are wasteful, or pollute the local waterways with dumping or infrastructure projects. There is indeed a lack of connection to the urban landscape many of us live on. Without this vital connection it becomes a place that we do not feel responsible for, and we only find someone else to blame if things go awry. We are missing the gratitude factor, and the relationship between us and our urban landscape seems in many cases, hollow. I liked the idea of implementing indigenous values in school curricula, though I hope we can find ways to reach an even broader audience. If we could start on a local level and perhaps facilitate regulations and communication between the city government and the community, methods can be enacted to mediate an urban land ethic. A first step is moving from self-serving to community-minded, which I think is often lost in a city setting.

      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        Hi, Rick… it is that but there are other things: there is also the fact that when you change a lot from place to place you have no time to see the changes, in the climate and in the trees and animals around you, even in the city. If you are all your life in one place, even if it is the city…, then this is never seen because you don’t know how the place was before. Even urban dwellers note (as I have said somewhere else in the Conference) in Buenos Aires that there are new birds, birds you use to see only in the fields around, and this is because the rural landscape is so contaminated by poisons, Monsanto and the rest that the birds find the very big city healthier… Of course, they have to notice it… and that is also a problem.

  8. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Thank you, Rachel… as regards dwellings and how we should live, I have a story I lived myself and I generally tell when I speak of my own books (as a fiction writer) because what happened there kind of started my need to write withind Fantasy as a genre. It was like this (I am telling it because I feel it can be useful to you and others on this trend). I went to Vitoria, Brazil, where my friend (another academic who studies US Literature) lives (she is Stela Coser). I delivered a lecture on Native US literatures and she took me (with a group of 5 persons) to visit a Guarani Reservation near town (this is a town between Rio de Janeiro and Salvador on the cost. We were greeted by the chief there in a big room with no walls, just a roof made of straw. He was impressive: I think I said “Hello”, and he started speaking to me in Spanish (Argentinian Spanish, where the Guarani also live in the North East region). He offered mate to me (a beverage we drink in Argentina because of Guaraní influence and people in the North of Brazil do not drink. He then spoke in three languages: Guarani to his people, Spanish to me, Portuguese to my friends. That was the first big impression to me as a translator. Then… what I really want to retell. While we spoke big tucans came and go. They were savage birds, not domestic. And they entered through the walls and ate what was left around and then left towards the mata atlantica, as the local forest is called. One of the persons who had come with us became very nervous for this…, they are big birds…, and they came very close. So she asked “Why do not close the walls with cloth or something?” This I could have answered but in a number of words, maybe a class or two. The chief said only: “IF we close the walls, how do the birds enter?” So… there you are. I hope the story is usefull. I will try to read the book if I can get it from my country. Thank you very much.

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