“We cannot allow false solutions to destroy the Earth’s balance, assassinate the seasons, unleash severe weather havoc, privatize life and threaten the very survival of humanity. … Indigenous peoples’ systems of resource management have existed for millennia, sustaining us even in the face of colonialism.”1 These are the voices of a diverse coalition of indigenous people and allies who met in Kari-Oca, Brazil, in June 2012. Their declaration is emblematic of recent indigenous gatherings addressing unsustainable colonialist and capitalist development models.
European and non-Western imperialisms have had genocidal consequences for many indigenous peoples and the intergenerational trauma continues. Some 370 million indigenous peoples survive today; many are now working out what it would mean to move beyond surviving to thriving. Resilience, when celebrated among indigenous peoples, is centered in the foodways, worldviews, heritage, play, and spirituality of ancestral homelands and wherever home is today. (More than two-thirds of the world’s indigenous peoples today live in urban areas.) But many indigenous communities contend with grinding poverty, threats to food security, and ongoing resource extraction or pollution. They would be the first to urge caution in romanticizing resilience. Surviving the unnatural disaster of the Canadian Tar Sands, the world’s largest open-pit oil extraction regime, or the catastrophe of uranium mining for Indigenous Australians or American Indians—many communities do not see themselves as resilient but perhaps as resistant. They might remind us that their choices were few. Living with pollution or poison or radioactive contamination in the waterways and foodways, indigenous communities have faced an imperative to make themselves stronger, to grow flexible and lithe. And yet the scale and velocity of these crises are unlike anything indigenous ancestors might have faced.
In the mini-photo essay below, I introduce several modalities of embodied resilience. If one were to render resilience in terms of human affect, it might be described as determination, reverence, defiance, buoyancy, and humility. Each speaks to community efforts to exercise self-determination—considered the linchpin of indigenous rights—and local choices of how to honor heritage praxis, imagine modes of living, and tend the local wilds. Each image instantiates a recipe for the ingredients we might strive to cultivate in our intellectual practice. In my vision, our intellectual psyche should be firmly rooted in the local communities where we reside, if not in scholarly content then through outreach, by extending our energies into and firmly inhabiting the local. In research with living communities or their descendants, ethical exchange is imperative. And drawing from indigenous models, we might rethink the individual development driven ideology of higher education in exchange for an inter-generational classrooms. The landscapes and ecosystems we and others inhabit will not be inherited by single generation communities, but by multi-generation communities. With a view toward cultivating resilience in these places, we might shift toward a pedagogy of greater diversity in generation as well as ethnic makeup.
ann-elise lewallen is assistant professor of modern Japanese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Co-editor of Beyond Ainu Studies: Changing Academic and Public Perspectives (2013) with Mark Hudson and Mark Watson, she is currently completing her book, entitled The Fabric of Indigeneity: Ainu Modernity and Gender in (Post)colonial Japan. Lewallen’s research focuses on Indigenous movements in Japan/Asia; the intersections between gender, ethnicity, and race; environmental justice; and multiculturalism in contemporary Japan.