“In Quechua and Aymara, there is no word for ‘nature,’ since we do not separate ourselves from it. Rather, we see ourselves as nature. It is time to stop seeing ourselves as superior beings and go back to our roots.”
Indigenous people have been called land protectors and stewards of the Earth, safeguarding 80% of biodiversity left in the world—key to helping fight climate change.
I identify as detribalized since I was excluded and separated from my Indigenous customs and languages; my grandparents lived in the Andes and spoke Quechua and Aymara as a native language, but migrating to a city they felt the pressure to only speak Spanish. Reinforce by discrimination and systematic racism, they decided that they didn’t want our family to be a target of it, so they stop sharing our customs.
As a detribalized Indigenous woman who is reconnecting, I wanted to better understand why we feel called to protect the Earth.
For a long time, I struggled with my identity, but ultimately I felt the need to learn more about where I come from. I decided to reclaim who I am; it has been a very painful and healing process in my life.
Reconnecting came with a new understanding of how I could perceive myself in relation to the world: it led me to learn that the reason Indigenous people preserve the land and our collective home comes down to the way that we relate and connect to it. Our identity emerges out of this connection with the land that we develop during our lifetime.
In my Indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara we refer to the land as part of Pachamama, as she raises us, feeds us, and we always go back to her.
I remember one of our elders reminding us, ”Pachamama is alive, just like us.”
In my latest visit to the Peruvian Andes, I was fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful Indigenous people who hosted me and shared what they grew with me.
Experiencing eating off the land they cared for gave me a greater understanding of the connection we develop with Mother Earth. It’s a connection that is based on respect and reciprocity, as opposed to a transactional, exploitative connection that requires a currency for survival. (In cities we are disconnected with the process of growing.) It felt different to live in a place where money was no longer the most important thing.
I started to see Mother Earth as a sentient entity, and as part of her I learned that we are meant to live in balance.
In Quechua and Aymara, there is no word for “nature,” since we do not separate ourselves from it. Rather, we see ourselves as nature. In his book Sand Talk, the Aboriginal academic Tyson Yunkaporta writes:
“Everything is Nature and therefore follows the same natural laws, the same physics.”
We came to understand that Nature is perfectly balanced and we all play an important role in it.
A big part of the teachings from our elders and community members during Quechua/Aymara ceremonies are based on observing and learning from Nature. Even our language is based on it. “Pampachaway,” in Quechua, means forgiving, which literally translates to “clean the land and make it even,” which teaches us that in order to forgive it is important to cleanse, to let go of what doesn't serve us, and to have a blank slate to continue any relationship. One of my friends also shared her understanding that any relationship is like a plant; too much watering or the lack of it will kill it. “The key is finding the balance,” she says.
“There is one law that applies to all Indigenous communities which is reciprocity,” writes Yunkaporta. Reciprocity has been the foundation of our communities for thousands of years, and it goes beyond giving and receiving between two people; it’s transcendental and it aims to reinforce the balance within a community and with Nature. Carlos Milla Villena, an archaeoastronomer and activist, shared in his book, Ayni, the following:
“The concept of reciprocity is totalizing—that is, it occurs not only among the members of the community, but also among them with Nature, in all its expressions and the forces of the cosmos.”
Reciprocity is the reason why Indigenous people lived and are living in sustainable environments, playing a huge role in fighting climate change.
The moment we as humans distance and separate ourselves from Nature is the moment we break this balance. One of the biggest reasons this separation happens is because of the way we see ourselves as above Nature. This is based on our limited intelligence and understanding, which raises the question: are we really in a position to save the Earth?
Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi nation, writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass:
“In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings, with, of course, the human being on top—the pinnacle of evolution, the darling of Creation—and the plants at the bottom. But in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is apparent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure things out.”
It is time to stop seeing ourselves as superior beings and go back to our roots.
Climate change is rooted in our relationship with Nature. The majority of societies currently have an extractivistic relationship. Most current solutions to climate change are trying to fix the results of this abusive relationship instead of questioning that maybe this is rooted in the way we perceive ourselves and Nature.
But, how can we get back in balance in this world? By remembering that everything has an outcome.
I have been taught that nothing is created or destroyed; instead, it transforms. We can aim for balance in our everyday lives. By reducing our carbon footprint, being mindful with the things we consume, supporting sustainable organizations, voting for leaders who have a green agenda, and prioritizing biodiversity. Ask yourself, do I really need more clothes? Can I bike instead? Do I really need to eat meat everyday? Will the outcome of my actions be in harmony with the world?
Indigenous people have thousands of years of knowledge, wisdom, and tools that are in sync with Nature. That’s why it is important to listen and uplift Indigenous voices. So let’s continue the legacy of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, as collective action will help us the most in the fight against climate change.
I strongly believe that we can create an impact by moving in the world with respect, love, and reciprocity. The moment is now.
Written by Sisa Quispe for Youth To The People