Terrestrial Indigeneity

Words by Ruth H. Hopkins

photography by Paul Robert Wolf Wilson

There is much to learn from Native Nations. After all, humanity is Indigenous to this planet and we must use that as the basis for everything we do, writes Ruth H. Hopkins.

Humanity once again finds itself amid desperate times. And while it’s true that history is replete with instances where we’ve been on the brink of disaster, this moment stands apart because if we fail, all life on Earth will expire.


There’s no doubt that climate change is real, and we are witnessing the widespread collapse of ecological systems across the globe occurring in real time. As food shortages loom due to systemic failures and pointless wars, and scientists note the extinction of hundreds of species, know that we can no longer afford to avert our eyes and pretend our survival is a task best left to the next generation. Without quick, deliberate action that should have happened yesterday, the last generation of humankind may have already been born.


Mainstream environmentalism has been around for decades, but its focus has largely been on the preservation of pristine “untouched” wilderness. This is a flawed approach because it doesn’t acknowledge the existence and importance of Indigenous peoples. This colonial view doesn’t recognize the interdependent relationship Indigenous communities have held with their ancestral lands for time immemorial. There is no empty, virgin landscape void of Indigenous land management practices. Also, removing Natives from the equation of conservation involves entrenching colonial injustice within environmental protection through the forcible relocation and exclusion of Indigenous peoples and dispossessing them of the homelands they’ve tended and protected for countless generations.


It’s time to hold the menace of colonialism accountable for the primary role it has played in bringing about the destruction of a livable planet. Indeed, studies are showing that colonial superpowers continue to drive climate change, principally through resource extraction and waste. Global resource extraction is causing widespread ecological collapse, and is actually increasing, even as we watch the devastating effects of climate change play out daily. The United States and the European Union were responsible for 74% of global excess in resource extraction from 1970 to 2017. The world is consuming 90 billion tons of material every year, a level that is in extreme excess and completely unsustainable, even over a short period. Colonial superpowers are exceeding planetary boundaries on a regular basis.

We can no longer afford to avert our eyes and pretend our survival is a task best left to the next generation.

Ruth H. Hopkins

Indigeneity is the antithesis of colonialism. To correct course and inoculate our planet against the disease of colonialism, we must implement new climate policies that not only include Indigenous input but trust Indigenous peoples with healing our natural world and returning to them that authority to do so.


Indigenous land practices are not “primitive” or outdated. They’re key to protecting ecosystems and keeping planet Earth inhabitable. Governments and environmental groups should work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to make land accessible to Native Nations and allow them to not just consult on environmental issues but take leadership roles and give them real decision-making power to enact measures necessary to preserve and revitalize landscapes.


“Landback” isn’t just a hashtag. It’s a rallying cry—a means of honoring Tribal sovereignty and literally saving entire ecosystems from the devastation of colonial extraction and neglect. Land is protected by Indigenous stewardship in ways that Western science has just begun to grasp.


One crucial piece of the puzzle that mainstream environmentalism has yet to realize is that a significant part of Indigenous ancestral knowledge is about adaptation—and in order to adapt, one must possess a deep, integral understanding of connectedness. This belief in connectedness is foundational to Indigenous science and is central to community resilience. Living with climate change requires adaptation, now more than ever.


That said, let’s take it a step further. There is more to be learned from Indigenous ways that’s not being discussed.


In recent years, humanity has begun to see itself through a new, cosmic lens. While eyewitness accounts of extraterrestrials and images of otherworldly unidentified flying objects have been captured for millennia, just a few years ago, the U.S. government took the extraordinary step of acknowledging unclassified footage of such aerial phenomena as legitimate. Footage was released to the public and was accompanied by testimony from navy pilots who explained how the objects defied what we know about the laws of physics. Of course the government stopped short of recognizing interstellar visitations, but that same year, scientists announced that there should be at least 36 intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy alone that are capable of communicating with us. As it turns out, life in our Universe isn’t as rare as Western science once postulated.

The realization that we aren’t alone in the Universe, let alone the galaxy, calls upon humanity to erase the false divisions.

Ruth H. Hopkins

The realization that we aren’t alone in the Universe, let alone the galaxy, calls upon humanity to erase the false divisions that have been established by the white supremacist colonial framework of the ruling class. In comparison to alien life forms from other planets, humans have more in common with one another than previously accepted. It’s time that humanity experiences a new paradigm shift, one that demands that we embrace our kinship to one another and the planet on a spiritual level.


Humankind, as a whole, must relearn its indigeneity. Using Indigenous peoples as a template, we must understand that we are Indigenous to this planet and use that as the basis for everything we do. We are being called upon to represent our planet among the stars.


Once humanity acknowledges its indigeneity as a species in relation to the planetary body that bore us, that we have in fact evolved to exist upon, we will take ownership of this planet as a whole. This ownership and understanding of relatedness is the final missing piece that is needed for humanity to stop climate change in its tracks and take responsibility for the negative impact we have had on its ability to support life moving forward. Each one of us must assume accountability as children of Earth, whether by correcting our own actions, or stopping those who are intent on destroying us all through wasteful extraction, pollution, and inordinate unsustainability.


Colonialism represents a sickness of the mind, a separation of man from his own spirit, a disconnection from not only our human family, but our kinship to the beasts of the field, the water we need to continue on, and the planet itself, who is our Mother. Colonialism is not natural, but humanity is. To love oneself is to love this planet we call home. We, terrestrial Indigenous, will defend her to our last breath because we are one.

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