Back to the Future

Back to the Future

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March 20, 2012

Adventure, dignity, fulfillment. Art, cosmology, medicine. In which of these are modern societies advanced in comparison to traditional indigenous ones?

A thousand years ago, Maori sailors ventured to what would someday be named Peru, and returned to what would someday be named New Zealand with potatoes grown in the Andes. At the same time, Kiowa freely roamed the plains of what would someday be called America, composing poetry that took their minds beyond the distant horizon. On the coast of what would become British Columbia, Kwakwaka’wakw practiced the precursor to what would someday be called permaculture.

Today, plagued with introduced diseases like alcoholism and diabetes, indigenous scholars and health practitioners are rediscovering traditional medicine and nutrition that once maintained community health and well-being.

At the Northwest Indian Treatment Center — where my colleague Renee Davis works as an intern in traditional plants education — they prioritize long-term resilience through collaborative, holistic, integrative methods. As Renee notes, multicultural models of health and illness that favor health promotion over disease management comprise the future of health.

In his article Reviving an Ancient Agricultural Practice: The Root Gardens of Canada’s West Coast Aboriginals, Daniel Green observes that indigenous permaculture was attuned to their environment as well as their nutritional needs, which seems like a pretty advanced concept in the age of industrial monoculture. So much for the nonsensical precept of progress.

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