Lyla June’s TED talk on 3000 year old solutions to modern problems

I am a huge fan of Lyla June – as a singer and artist, as a writer, as a political candidate, as an activist.

She recently delivered this TEDx talk, inspired by her doctoral research into Indigenous food systems.

I’m here today to share a message of hope. This hope comes from what I’ve come across in my doctoral research. This hope comes from Native people have proven is possible.

Lyla June

Lyla June is an Indigenous musician, scholar and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages. She has studied Human Ecology at Stanford and is working on a doctoral thesis on Indigenous food systems revitalization. In this talk, she unearths Native American food and land management techniques and strategies.

Some highlights from the 13 min talk:

  • Contrary to the myth of the “primitive” nomadic foraging Indian, for tens of thousands of years, Native people constructed beautiful gardens, forests and grasslands and actively shaped the land to produce prolific abundance – acting as a keystone species, a species upon which entire ecosystems depend.
  • We currently live in a story that seems to suggest the Earth is better off without humans.
  • “The Earth may be better off without certain systems that we have created, but we aren’t those systems. We don’t have to be those systems.”
  • The Earth needs us.
  • We can turn deserts into gardens.
  • Our human hands and minds can be such a great gift to the Earth that they spark new life wherever people and purpose meet.

Four important Indigenous land management techniques can inspire us:

  • Align with the forces of nature. Tap into pre-existing natural systems.
  • Practice intentional habitat expansion, instead of keeping animals on farms and cages. Make a home for animals and plants and they’ll come to you.
  • De-centre humans. Create non-humancentric systems. Serve all life. Like the Coastal Salish Nations of BC, who planted kelp forests to enhance fish habitat, by allowing the herring to lay more eggs, which cascade up the food chain and nourish bear, salmon, orca, eagles, wolves and more. Bonus, getting greater food security for yourself.
  • Design for perpetuity. Why plan for the next fiscal quarter, when we could plan for generations not yet born?

These lands that settlers first encountered might have been mislabeled as “terra nullius” “empty” or “wilderness” but Lyla June says they were actually “living heirlooms, thousands of years in the making.”

Humans are a critical piece of the ecological puzzle. But we need to redesign our systems, to centre life. And heal the soil. And heal our histories of conquering and theft.

There is a word in Lyla’s language, hozho, that is the joy of being part of the beauty of all creation.

Humanity is an expression of the earth’s beauty. We have an ecological role. Our Mother Earth needs us… to be her friend, her partner in life, instead of her dominator, her “superior”, her profiteer, and we can transformed dead systems to living ones.

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