I like this planet. I live on it along with my kids, family, and those that follow my tweets of wisdom via Twitter. In the 80s I watched Captain Planet. Those of you of a similar vintage to me might remember him. He was a cross between Spandau Ballet (the hairstyle anyway), Richard Simmons (spandex), and had a blue mullet — classic 80s.
Captain Planet worked with a multi-national, multi-cultural 1 team of young people called, “the Planeteers”, who defended the planet from environmental disasters with five magic rings given to them by the spirit of the earth (Whoopi Goldberg). Often these environmental disasters would be personified with names that identified the issue like Sly Sludge (Martin Sheen), Dr Blight (Meg Ryan), etc.
In situations that the Planeteers could not resolve alone, they would combine their powers to summon Captain Planet, who possessed all of their powers magnified, symbolising the premise that the combined efforts of a team are stronger than its individual parts. I liked that.
Inspired by Captain Planet, I did an Environmental Science paper in the 90s — our lecturer Jeanette Fitzsimons introduced us to concepts such as global warming and overpopulation, along with an appreciation of the finite nature of our planet — that, despite its immensity and beauty and ability to sustain our western lifestyles, is very limited. (Those magic rings would be handy about now.) These experiences coupled with spending a lot of time at kaupapa Māori hui and wananga meant that I often wondered about these issues, not only from a Māori perspective, but also from the perspectives of other peoples from similar and not so similar cultural backgrounds.
My environmental bullet points of the 80s and 90s can be summed up as follows:
- Spandex and blue mullets get exponentially un-hip as the years go by.
- We need to have environmental advocates/leaders/heroes of those perspectives, particularly at the local level
- There are different ways of understanding the natural world around. Societies from all parts of the world possess rich sets of experience, understanding, and explanation — particularly those with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings.
- Personifying our problems into easy villain caricatures is handy, but harder when you’re focussing, let’s say, our collective consumer behaviour, or something like overpopulation, which is a wider societal issue that requires collective responsibility, as opposed to taking out some B-grade bad guy. (If life was only that easy.)
Different ways of understanding the environment
One of the great things I’ve been able to do as a part of my working life is to visit and stay with different indigenous peoples in, sometimes, quite remote locations, working on supporting different Indigenous Knowledge 2 projects, and, occasionally, they come and stay at my house. Earlier this year I had Victor Steffensen stay. Victor is a traditional fire practitioner, using fire as a land management tool. I remember thinking to myself, this would be great for some of our students to do — some comparative learning, comparing concepts of conservation with our own.
Here in Aotearoa we refer to this type of knowledge (which has its basis in the arrival of our tipuna and its ongoing development) as Matauranga Māori. A definition from Landcare Research:
Mātauranga Māori can be defined as ‘the knowledge, comprehension, or understanding of everything visible and invisible existing in the universe’, and is often used synonymously with wisdom. In the contemporary world, the definition is usually extended to include present–day, historic, local, and traditional knowledge; systems of knowledge transfer and storage; and the goals, aspirations and issues from an indigenous perspective.3
Connecting with advocates
There are environmental heroes in our communities. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them.
As some of you will know, our long fin tuna are now endangered. This important issue was the focus of an interesting documentary called Saving Tuna (you can watch it on the Māori TV site) It highlights the work of Kaitiaki Bill Kerrison who has been helping eels to bypass river obstacles by guiding them into traps, and transporting them up or downstream by hand, and releasing them into tributaries along the Rangitaiki. There, they grow up to 1.5m long and can stay for up to 10 years before wanting to return to their ocean spawning grounds.
Another example is some whanaunga of mine from up in the Nōta, Ahipara — Reuben Taipari from Te Rarawa, and Heeni Hoterene from Ngāti Hine. I interviewed Rueben for a resource that I’m working on that looks at how the moon phases, along with seasonal changes in the natural world, would, among other things, inform planting and traditional food gathering practises. Passionate about the North becoming self-sufficient in terms of food, he also supports projects that encourage people to use land and sea sustainably, ensuring that it is nurtured, as it provides sustenance to whānau and hapū.
My point here is that often these people are in our communities, it is just a matter of finding them and connecting them to the teaching and learning of our students.
Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into teaching and learning
UNESCO has a number of publications that can be requested as hard copy or downloaded as PDF:
On TKI there are a number of resources that use science as a lens to incorporate a Māori world view:
- Tidal Communities: Interdependence and the Effects of Change
- Life between the Tides: Sandy Shores, Mudflats, and Rocky Shores
- The Bush: Classifying Forest Plants
- Scientific knowledge and Māori knowledge about mussel biology
- Tidal Communities: Interdependence and the Effects of Change
Have you heard of LEARNZ virtual field trips? They are a great source and learning experience for students and teacher:
CORE’s LEARNZ virtual field trip programme provides opportunities for students to interact with experts across a wide range of sectors including environment, conservation, engineering, science, social science, and the arts. In 2014, conservation-based field trips in partnership with agencies such as DOC and regional councils include:
1 The young people came from all youths across the globe: Kwame from Africa, Wheeler from North America, Linka from the Soviet Union (hands up if you remember the USSR), Gi from Asia, and Ma-Ti from the Amazon (Ma-Ti was my favourite — I had a similar haircut a number of times in my childhood).
2 Local and indigenous knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. For rural and indigenous peoples, local knowledge informs decision-making about fundamental aspects of day-to-day life. This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality’. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity, and provide a foundation for locally-appropriate sustainable development. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/priority-areas/links/
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