Language and Environmentalism

In June we marked World Environment Day. A day underscoring the fact that a healthy environment is the foundation of a prosperous society and that attaining such a state is the collective responsibility of every global citizen. Encouraging awareness in this respect is especially pertinent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic as the fallout of this world-wide catastrophe has led to the destabilisation of broader society and the innumerable ecosystems within which it dwells.

While not as mainstream as International Mother Earth Day (22 April), any occasion highlighting the state and conservation of the natural world around us is of utmost importance to every man, woman, and child on earth, and the fight against climate change should be promoted at all costs. This month Folio looks at the terminology from the community-centric traditions of conservation practiced by certain First Nation peoples. We also explore what these customs, which are often embedded into the language of these traditional peoples, can teach our modernised society.

Many First Nations make expansive contributions towards ecological conservation. This is due to their strong focus on tradition and coexistence with nature. These communities strive to make sustainable use of the available natural resources, staunchly abstaining from harming or polluting the environment around them, and living lifestyles finely attuned to their natural surroundings. This goes deeper, as First Nation languages often play a vital role in the transmission of traditional knowledge which is very often geared towards acknowledging the boundless importance of natural ecosystems and preserving the state of precious natural spaces.

The Māori people of New Zealand have the word kaitiakitanga”, referring to the tradition of “guardianship and protection” towards the environment as a way of honouring the past and securing the future. This principal is essential to Māori culture and exemplifies their deep-seated bond with the surrounding lands and wildlife. This tradition of conservation is far from exclusive to the Māori. In fact, it is ubiquitous in the practices of First Nations in many other countries as well.

The Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador have proposed the Kawsak Sacha or “The Living Forest” declaration, which, if adopted, would establish legal recognition of and territorial rights for the First Nation peoples who practice living together with the Amazon rainforest. The Kichwa are dedicated to standing firm against oil extraction as their notion of wealth is based in ayllu (family), community, and protecting the rivers and abundant aquatic wildlife in their territories.

The Dayak Kenyah communities of Indonesia practice tana’ ulen or forest conservation. Their approach to conservation stems from caring for the environment which sustains their livelihoods and cultural identity. With this reciprocal relationship in mind, they strive to live in harmony with their surrounding forests and thrive as sustainable rotational agriculturalists, affirming that “there is no Dayak community without forest.”

The words Pacha Mama from the Peruvian Quechua language, or Runasimi, equates to “energy, life, health,” and represents the notion that reciprocity and harmony are key to sustainable existence and co-existence with Mother Earth. This concept confirms the incompatibility of exploitative practices such as overmining, overfishing, and rampant pollution, and the continued survival of our species on the planet.

The Maskoke language, used by the Muscogee and Seminole people of Oklahoma and Florida, has the phrase Ekvn-Yefolecv which simultaneously purveys the meaning of “returning to earth” and “returning to our homeland”. This forms the basis of an intentional reparative movement after forced removals from traditional homelands. The term that represents “earth” is grammatically an inalienable noun, meaning something that cannot be possessed, and that humankind cannot be invasive towards. Categorising the earth in this way thus erects a linguistic and logical safeguard against the exploitation of the native species and ecosystems with which we share the planet.

Folio commends the ethos of conservation-orientated First Nation groups. They observe sustainable ecological practices and embrace a holistic approach to leading a life which is conscious of environmental impact. Together with our collaborators, such as Clearer Conscience recycling services, and our utilisation of solar energy both in the office and at home, we are reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible by the modern day means at our disposal.

While World Environment Day is only one day, we must heed these principles of living in harmony with nature throughout the year, acknowledging our reciprocal relationship with our environment and the consequences of our actions on the world around us today and in the future. Join Folio in the fight against the global climate crisis. Say no to pollution, non-renewable energy, fossil-fuel extraction, deforestation, and the illegal wildlife trade!