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Can Indigenous Peoples Teach Us to Survive?

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"If you have food in your refrigerator, a roof over your head, and a bed to sleep in, you are better off than 75% of the world's population."  It's hard to let that fact in when you're worried about your job, or your pension, or a relative who's serving in Iraq. These are tense times. We are all looking for a path out of our present troubled circumstances, a way to feel secure and to assure our children that they will have the opportunities we've had without the trials and worries.

But that opening quote reveals a fundamental truth. Their future depends not just on getting through the next year or two, but upon our making the world stable and sustainable with social justice and opportunity for all. The alternative is a grim advance of violence, hunger, pestilence, and death as earth's resources grow increasingly less adequate to supply the needs of over six billion (6,000,000,000) people.

As I write, I am looking at a web picture of two dark-skinned men with paint on their cheeks and feathered head bands. These "primitive" indigenous members of a South American tribe look curious to me. They are not like us-their lifestyle has been sustainable for thousands of years. Everything they use and need is renewable. Were it not for our excesses, they and their kids could go on living as they always have for millennia to come.

To survive, they need for us to change. The immediate threat is the logging and mining that decimates the jungle forest that has sustained them from the beginnings of their people's history. But the degradation of the environment that threatens us all, also threatens them, though they have done nothing to contribute to it.

This paradox - that our unsustainable consumption threatens their completely sustainable primitivism - served  as inspiration for a group of people to bring together the wisdom of our cultures. The relationship has grown in many directions, but the one that is of most immediate interest is a grass roots movement to motivate people to take action in their daily lives. This is not a political movement to influence the seats of power, but an educational effort to package accurate information, without spin or sensationalism, in a presentation that is interesting and participatory. Through participation in this program, people are offered a new point of view in looking at their world and their lives, and are encouraged to formulate daily practices that reinforce new attitudes about sustainability.

Called "Awakening the Dreamer" this half-day symposium utilizes a wealth of informed opinion and data to define our present situation, and then to suggest things we can do accomplish the needed changes. The program is a rich blend of colorful audio-visual materials interspersed with moderated discussions. The trailer offered on the website, is a promotion for the program with clips of presenters and participants. All of the source reference materials for the presentation are available from the website and at most of the symposium presentations.

The presenters of the program are local volunteers who have been trained in delivering the materials and organizing the individual events. Schools, community service organizations, and churches are invited to sponsor presentations for their members, and the national website announces times and places for unaffiliated individuals who wish to attend.


Richmond Shreve is a citizen journalist and former Senior Editor at He is a published author of fiction (Lost River Anthology, Amazon) and training materials (Instructor Candidate Manual, and A retired (more...)

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of those that may seem primitive or savage is unre... by shadow dancer on Saturday, Dec 27, 2008 at 8:24:56 PM
Whenever I go camping I am reminded of how few &qu... by Richmond Shreve on Saturday, Dec 27, 2008 at 8:43:43 PM
Right on, Richmond!  Glad you are spreading t... by Davaru on Sunday, Dec 28, 2008 at 7:52:29 AM
as it reminds me of the fact that we have always h... by virginius "gin" arnold on Sunday, Dec 28, 2008 at 10:42:45 AM
Nice article and link to resources.I like the idea... by August Adams on Sunday, Dec 28, 2008 at 12:02:07 PM