A few salmon shaped synchronicities occurred over the past week which has prompted me to write on the subject of the importance of elders in community, education and power. Allow me to explain…
[footage appears courtesy of www.earthways.co.uk]
My story begins in planning my journeys for the year (watch this space!) and i get an email detailing a group of young people from Whapmagoostui taking the call to adventure by beginning a two month sled journey to Ottowa through the landscape to support the ‘Idle No More’ campaign. My interest piqued by teens taking such an epic voyage; i followed the thread and was stirred by this passionate native Elder speaking:
So inspired, i contacted the six nations council and offered my support. I was touched by the various families, communities and nations standing up for their leaders, their lands and society with passion and integrity.
A few days later my neighbour returns with a tale of tears. She took her regular walk along the banks of our local River Findhorn, and on witnessing some substantial felling works as part of a multi-million pound ‘flood alleviation’ scheme was reduced to tears. Her relationship, built up from many walks and talks along this body of water; provoked such a reaction that some local fishermen felt compelled to stop and ask if she was OK. This is where the story of eldership collides with my patch…
She explained her feelings and to her astonishment, the fishermen concurred. The two men unfolded a tale of standing in the waters on these particular pools for forty years, and their fathers before them. Tales unfolded of floods remembered, patterns and trends, how fields and forests responded, even guesses of where the river will burst it’s banks next. They’re overriding concern was that the machinations of the works would cause the river bed to become so shallow that the ‘grilse’ (returning salmon) will be unable to travel up stream.
My neighbour returned with all this; distraught and powerless on my doorstep. ‘What can we do about it, darling?’ she said. The fishermen and She, our Bard; had met.
[footage appears courtesy of www.earthways.co.uk]
Species extinction. Salmon on the Findhorn. Potential Really Big Deal. Otter tracks upstream. Whom do i trust? The big contracted engineering firm with computer models? Or the man that has stood in the river for 40 years? Had the latter been consulted and ventured his ‘expert’ opinion?
Hearing this story compelled me to dig deeper; the same compulsion that stirs me to commit these words to my blog. Elders know what they’re talking about…
Indigenous people connected to the land know what they are talking about; They can predict patterns far more than a computer model can hope too; Why?
I’m willing to hazard that it’s because they’ve talked to other humans, a LOT over the years. In between yarns, they’ve taken walks, many have worked hard in field/farm/craft, made mistakes, made the fire, listened to their elders and if we’re honest; suffered the constraints and hardship of a life lived close to the land. If they havn’t, almost certainly their parents have; and so stories of relationship, causality and trends were passed on.
Today, I saw the woman next door who works for the local paper who complained of local ‘tree-huggers’ getting in on the act. On leaving her company, i immediately hear of a local couple that had planted trees on they’re farm-field boundaries over 60 years ago. Are these farmers ‘tree-huggers’ because of their grief for the end of a 60 year relationship with a forest? Of course not. What environmental factors caused them to plant them in the first place? What impact will it have over their grand-childrens tillage and tending?
I met a dog walker who knew, intimately, what happens downstream and along the neighbouring berms and wetlands. She could see clearly what will happen to neighbouring areas downstream as a result of the machinations taking place. I met a taxi driver who told me how his grandfather used to dredge the local burns by horse, removing silt and field stones to alleviate the risk of fields flooding.
You see it’s not a question, ever, of ‘us against them’: The farmer, the salmon, the man upriver seeking his home and family protected from flood-waters, the shelterbelts and forests are inseparably connected. It is all a question of perspective; something true elders have buckets of: As James Whittle wrote:
‘The natural environment is not an optional second class factor of economic theory, but it is the very basis of economics. Without a natural environment, there can be no economics.’
I must confess a little grief for what is happening here. The tale of my generation, and the one above in positions of power and privilege; effecting drastic changes with a computer model and a consultant makes me want to disappear under the duvet! The idea that local residents must somehow stand against every proposal or suffer the plans of their ‘council’ is counter-intuitive. That we live in a society where it is frowned upon to stand FOR something belittles common-sense. In the end, we must be willing to forgive these stupid transgressions… these ‘adolescent elders’ must be released from blame…like water under the bridge.
Going forward, and forward we must: I question how we best ask our true elders, our local heroes into our work. How do we call on Grandfathers, Grandmothers, with or without children of their own? How do we integrate experiential learning with our mischievous mentors? these swarthy story filled codgers?
Folk of experience are impactful on the young mind!
They know because they’ve grown into being human. That’s what they’ve been doing outside!
Would a culture where elders are respected for their experiential knowledge help the poor young man having to make a decision so impactful as to redirect a mighty river? Yes, or even to s/he who’s responsibility it is to locate the site to build a human settlement in the right spot in the first place? Do you remember an experience, or a wry question from an elder which put your life decisions in perspective?
Even though, or perhaps because it is; still winter… i dream forward to the opportunity to work together with folk in the outdoors. In the forests, in the mountains and rivers, on the margins of land and fringes of towns. To learn and teach to slow down, to observe whats going on in nature, with people and inside ourselves. It is clear that whatever threads allow local indigenous knowledge of place to be shared; with themselves but also of equal importance to the ‘incomers’- is good for people and for place. In my ideal world, Education, Community Consultation and Planning will honour indigenous knowledge; and recognise the inseparability of culture, nature and economics.
The salmon must run in the Grand River as much as they must run in The River Findhorn. To that end, I send out these echoes to the edge of my sphere of influence.
I commit to honouring these simple truths in my work, i hope you can support me in that in some small way.
Mind the Badgers!
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