Today in the light of ecological crisis and exploitation of land, we find that the indigenous people who live closely to the soil are the worst affected community among many. Historically, indigenous people have suffered colonization, subjugation, assimilation and exploitation by merchants, traders, states, churches, corporate institutions which has in many ways eroded their identity. They have been uprooted from traditional earth-centered life and cultures which has led to spiritual and identity crisis. Humans’ greed and exploitative attitude towards our Mother Earth brings poverty, oppression, ethnic conflicts and multifaceted forms of injustices and this in turn becomes a threat to other’s peaceful existence. In this context, indigenous people’s spirituality, worldviews and their understanding of land and ecology offers pathways for our ethical environmental leadership.
1. At the core of every social being and societal setting lies a particular worldview, which defines and determines a person’s thoughts, values, acts, and deeds in the community. In a similar manner, indigenous worldviews strongly influence, shape, and portray indigenous people’s thoughts and life and play a crucial role in their communal life. Thus, they provide the basis for one’s thinking, perception, knowledge, and action. Indigenous people’s worldviews serve as the bedrock of their social norms, customs, laws, socialization, and relationships with one another, including their creations through mediums like myths, folklores, proverbs, and tribal rhetoric. These mediums symbolically express a symbiotic relationship of all creations with other creatures and highlight an aspect of an integral connection of all creation, which possesses an inherent significance. Indigenous worldviews and spirituality provide the basis for conservation, co-existence, and interrelatedness, a comprehensive vision that all creation belongs to God and is part of one family. Indigenous worldview affirms, creations are not mere objects to be mastered and used for human convenience and enjoyment, but it is divinely created and need to be preserved.
2. Indigenous spirituality emphasizes that creation is central and all other beings are part of it and they perceive the whole cosmos as one integrated and interlinked experience of spiritual connection to nature. This provides a vision of life rooted in a harmonious relationship with nature, preservation, and protection of people’s culture. Hence, the organic connection of all realities is the core of indigenous spirituality.
3. For the indigenous people, all creatures are an integral part of creation and as such, human beings are part of creation and not above creation. For them, it is not possible to separate creation and humanity. Furthermore, indigenous people perceive the whole of creation as living and symbiotic. Creation is seen as the key and central point of reference and humanity is defined and perceived only in relation to creation. In this web, humanity is also dependent, susceptible and accountable to other creation. Therefore, indigenous traditions point to the earth’s eco-system as a web of interconnectedness and interdependent entity and this is why indigenous traditions validate the importance of the judicious use of natural resources.
4. Indigenous people maintain a close kinship between people and ecological needs in such a way that both are protected and preserved which were maintained through the practice of taboo, totem and sabbath days. These acted as the governing and controlling principles legitimized by religious basis through myths. For example, taboo was observed with the awareness that it affects the whole community. It was felt that when the observance of taboo is neglected, the whole community gets affected. It is not only the human community who suffers, but also the animals and plants are affected.
5. Indigenous people’s notion of the interrelatedness of God-human-world forms the crux of indigenous people’s spirituality and understanding of peace because for them, people and the creation are all interconnected, and any misuse of land would affect and creates chaos among the entire creation and humans have no right to treat the earth as a mere object to be used and exploited. Therefore, for the indigenous people, to have peace is first to make peace with the earth and with community. Furthermore, indigenous people’s traditions and cultures are marked by communitarian values and ideals, as such the wellbeing of their existence and survivals also depends a lot on one’s relation with the other or communities. The cosmic oneness, inter-relatedness with nature and honoring the integrity of God’s creation stands out as important compatible ecological model.
6. Land is a very complex spiritual component and occupies a very central place in indigenous people’s worldview. For the indigenous people, land as not just a mere space but also a symbol of unity that gives identity to the community; if there is no land, there is no community, personhood, or identity. Many indigenous communities perceive land as mother and tribal myths speak of how their fore parents emerge out of stones or out of a big hole from the earth. Also, for the indigenous people, the land is life—the source of origin, nourishment, support, and livelihood. Indigenous people affirm that the whole of the land and ecosystem is home to all creation and human beings are members in it and people own the land with the wider understanding that the land belongs to the Creator. Injustices and abuse to land and ecology in any form is injustices to all the people therein irrespective of religion, gender, race, class, caste, and other affinities. It also exemplifies interrelatedness of all creation, and this calls for liberation and transformation of all inequalities, exploitation and marginalization of people with the wider understanding that they are created equal in the image of God and are part of the larger web of community. Further, indigenous approach on land affirms that rights and dignity of land cannot be abused to pander human selfish desires but a space that affirms mutual flourishing of all creations. Also, land centred aspects of the indigenous spirituality envisage unity and communitarian life which calls for communion and solidarity irrespective of differences. Because for the indigenous people, the entire creations including human beings in spite of diversities are understood in terms of organically related members of community. Thus, liberation and wellbeing of indigenous community also calls for freedom and justice of all other communities who inhabits on the land.
7. Indigenous people understands that human beings are steward. This makes the human distinct and different from other creatures. However, the possession of this quality does not imply the superiority of human beings over other creatures. This is a special gift and responsibility bestowed on humans so that they may respect, care, love, and protect fellow creatures from destruction. Also, this gives an awareness that land and our ecosystem is not for domination but for re-creation.
Therefore, relationships with fellow beings and creatures are vital, and the wellbeing of everyone depends on preserving and restoring these relationships with people and with the cosmos. Such a relationship demands the practice of right relationships that will foster social and communal humanism. However, these relationships are not ends in themselves for the indigenous people but are meant to enhance humanity and human values more broadly as they seek their ultimate fulfillment in redemption of all creation.
Dr. Zulunungsang Lemtur, of the Ao Naga Tribal community from India, discusses indigenous traditions in the context of the Indigenous-Christian discourse known as Tribal Theology. Dr. Lemtur speaks of ways in which indigenous traditions can aid in building communities and offer frameworks that foster mutual flourishing and interdependence of all creation. Indigenous tradition can be the voice of the silenced community in their quest for right, justice, peace, and building vibrant society and a theology that reverberates and buttress the transforming, liberating, and prophetic agencies of the Kingdom of God.
You can take his GTUx Originial, Indigenous Traditions, here.