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Scholar Daniel Wildcat in Discussing the Environment: It’s Relatives, Not ‘Resources’

Our world may not be the global village or Spaceship Earth of last-century prognosticators, but we can at least avoid being an invasive species, one Native scholar believes.

The message was one of several voiced by Daniel Wildcat, Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma and a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kansas. He addressed the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Center of the American West on September 29.

It was a wide-ranging talk in which Wildcat said he would be “a little bit provocative” since he wouldn’t be able to describe everything in detail. He touched on a false nature/culture dichotomy and technology’s limitations and, in informal discussion following his remarks, on contemporary issues including the Keystone XL pipeline and its possible impact on tribal lands.

The massive pipeline from the Alberta, Canada tar sands to the Gulf Coast may cause damage to the lands of First Nations peoples in Canada and for tribes in the U.S., transecting present-day reservations or historical tribal territory, while proponents “don’t consider at all what we are doing to our Native lands,” he said.

Wildcat suggested looking at tribal nations that “never had a word for ‘resources’ in their vocabulary” but instead called them “relatives,” pointing out that “You don’t treat your relatives like resources” and the “ATM” approach “is not going to cut it” given 200 years of withdrawals without many deposits.

There has been a symbiotic relationship between peoples and place, culture and nature that seems at odds with the mentality that we can change nature and the environment as we see fit: “Mountains are no problem if you have explosives.”

“Is it true that wherever we go, biological diversity declines?” he queried. “Are we the invasive species of the planet?” That’s not the case because we can still point to the relationship between peoples and places, he said.

Until recently people were members of tribes rather than of nation-states and tribes’ ceremonial life centered, for example, on bison for Plains tribes and salmon for the Coast Salish, while for the Muscogee and others “corn was the central relative we acknowledged.”

“Indigenuity”—a word Wildcat said was coined by a colleague—could apply indigenous knowledge to the design of dwellings and use of local food, he said, praising the food sovereignty projects of the Muscogee Nation and other tribes.

One of the largest myths is that man is in charge of the planet and the main challenge for mankind is one of maturity because “it is not all about us.”

He invoked the late Vine Deloria Jr. as well as Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller and others whom he called “prescient” in their concerns about man’s becoming a part of technology.

Wildcat is a scholar in indigenous knowledge, technology, environment and education and a co-director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center.

He spoke on “Indigenuity: Exercising Indigenous Ingenuity in the Age of Cybernations” in a presentation of the Center of the American West’s Modern Indian Identity series.