- The Power of the Talking Stick: Indigenous Politics and the World Ecological Crisis by Ridgeway, Sharon J, Peter J. Jacques
From its opening chapter, entitled “It Is Time for Our Hearts to Be Broken,” it is clear that The Power of the Talking Stick is not a dispassionate review of indigenous ecological knowledge and politics. Rather, the book is a passionately written call to solidarity—or as the authors put it, a call to “join the struggle”(p. ix)—in challenging a model of global development that has pushed many of our planetary systems to the brink of collapse.
Ridgeway and Jacques’ book is broadly structured around two interwoven themes. The first is a ranging critique of the neoliberal model of globalization and the ecological and cultural impoverishment that they argue has resulted from it; they move from the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions to the rise of transnational corporatism, then to a focus on how these trends have triggered a crisis in the global food system. The second theme contrasts this dominant model with a call for “a planetary consciousness [that] begins with a new awareness of the connections amongst all life forms sharing existence on this planet Earth” (p. 13). They then outline this call, first though proposing a green [End Page 140] theory of the state, followed by an examination of indigenous ontologies, and finally providing a description of, and call to support, a world indigenous movement that promotes the model of planetary consciousness that they have described.
The authors contend that the model of corporate-led globalization we are currently experiencing is both a structural and discursive project. Their critique is largely built upon Wallerstein’s world systems theory, wherein resources are constantly extracted from the world’s peripheries to enrich its centers in the Global North, and William Hipwell’s concept of industria, defined as “a globalizing system of power/knowledge that has come to control most of the infrastructure of civilization” (p. 17). Combined, they argue, these create an insatiable, and hence unsustainable, model of global capital accumulation that has effectively enclosed the global commons and is responsible for the converging global crises we face today—including climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecological degradation.
In their two closing chapters, Ridgeway and Jacques raise the question: “If we accept the proposition that the predatory world-system of industria is destructive and illegitimate, ‘what do we do now?’” (p. 118). They respond by outlining an alternative ontological position based on the concept of buen vivir (“living well”) and drawn from existing global social movements, including indigenous movements, as an alternative to mainstream conceptualizations of development. These movements have already begun making headway in resisting the dominant global order, the authors suggest in a review of some of the key moments of this resistance occurring at the margins of major global environmental forums such as the Rio Summits, and through the World Social Forum. For those who, upon reading this book, see themselves as allies in this resistance, Ridgeway and Jacques close with some proposed tactics that, rather than seeking to dismantle the global system outright, may help to forge “a synthesis of what has been and what can be” (p. 151). The proposed tactics include decolonizing our minds from dominant ideologies, pursuing radical consultation with those who have traditionally been excluded, talking ethics and virtue, and remaking the rules.
Although The Power of the Talking Stick makes an impassioned plea for a global shift of consciousness, the book suffers from some fairly significant shortcomings. First, for a book whose focus is on indigenous politics and the world ecological crisis, limited space is devoted to a detailed examination of what constitutes these indigenous ontological positions, with most of this discussion being limited to the sixth (and second-to-last) chapter of the book. The literature on traditional ecological knowledge features rich accounts of these positions, often from indigenous scholars, but the book has limited engagement with that work. Related to this, the level of detail in argumentation is...