Modern Indigeneity: Youth as Allies for Cultural Identity and Ecological Regeneration
WORDS BRIAN R. BEST, LILY HOLLISTER, DR. PAUL ROBERTS
Alianza Arkana is a Peruvian NGO whose team members have been working more than 10 years to co-create a resilient future for the Amazon rainforest through symbiotic community partnerships. We focus on culturally-relevant, grassroots solutions to defend human rights and preserve traditional knowledge and Amazonian ecosystems. Our goal is to catalyze regenerative livelihood opportunities that reinforce community wellbeing through participative research: intercultural education; permaculture; ecological sanitation solutions; and eco-social, cultural justice in vulnerable populations and degraded landscapes.
Our team holds a deep commitment to experimentation within culturally-appropriate frameworks. We aim to create “incubation hubs” for innovative and resilient solutions to emerge from the communities’ creativity with the experience and training of technical assistants from around the world. Nature holds the keys to its own preservation and regeneration, and we are deeply guided by Gaia’s self-organizing, interconnected forms of organization. This sacred reciprocity between socio-cultural and natural systems fundamentally impacts the way we engage with communities through our work.
Preserving and revitalizing traditional knowledge systems is grounded in conscious awareness of the influences that shape our perspectives on the shifts we witness in the evolution of ancestral cultures. Our work is not trying to restore culture, nor does it try to “go back to the way things used to be” before the forces of modernity created such enormous, and frequently catastrophic, impacts on the planet.
We recognize and accept what is emerging as new sets of norms and values within the communities we engage with (desires for higher education, technology, access to financial resources, etc.). Beyond acceptance, our goal is to find ways to weave indigenous cultural norms and values into the design and implementation of regenerative community projects. We seek ways to remember, honor, and embody these life-affirming, traditional practices and ethics, always remaining in service to each community’s wants, and the needs of the Earth.
As you may imagine, this does not come without its fair share of challenges and obstacles. There is inadequate community infrastructure and corrupt officials, even within the schools. We have also seen failing schools with undertrained, uncommitted, and irresponsible staff; even encountering institutionalized child predation which takes advantage of traditional marriage norms. We have witnessed the jealousy and envy that access to project resources can seed in those who struggle for survival, inclusion, education, and wellbeing in the modern world. Many decades of colonization of the minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits of indigenous people have taken a heavy toll on ways that communities relate with each other and the organizations and institutions that come into their territories. The traditional values of solidarity, generosity, and reciprocity can at times barely be discerned through the fog of inefficient, irresponsible, and corrupted social and political protocols inherited from the colonizing culture and modernization.
Each of these challenges is an invitation for our partnerships to grow stronger. Two crucial components to successful projects are absolute transparency and clear communication, especially in relation to the exchange of resources and community-institutional agreements. Additionally, having our organization permanently based in the region helps us to cultivate symbiotic relationships with communities which mitigate many of the emerging social and environmental challenges.
Beneath all of these challenging lessons and philosophies on nature, culture, and development lays one indisputable truth: youth are at the core of all possibilities for a more beautiful future. Ultimately, everything we do is for the children of today, the leaders of tomorrow, the future elders of the world, and for all of our grandchildren. The co-creation of a culture informed by the wisdom of life-affirming ancestry and infused with powerful tools of modernity will mean nothing if it does not take up residence in the hearts and minds of the youth.
That is why intercultural education is a crucible of our work. It is the thread that runs throughout everything we do, be it building eco-latrines; planting polyculture food and medicinal forests; awarding indigenous scholarships for higher education; or working with young women to find their strong voices alongside the wisdom and art of their grandmothers. One primary lesson gleaned from our time here on the ground in the Peruvian Amazon is that “seeing is believing”. Thus, all of our projects embody experiential learning and local leadership development alongside specialized capacity building as catalysts for cultural adaptation and regeneration.
Children here are growing up in a deforested landscape of scarcity dominated by seasonal fires and oppressive tropical heat. Yet, they are now finding sanctuary in the emerging regenerative community permaculture sites, nurtured through partnerships with Alianza Arkana. Kids relax and explore the cooler climate in the shade of culturally important tree species, with mouths watering for the variety of fruits beginning to mature. They are cured of illness by medicinal plants that are being propagated and shared. They encounter the returning fauna, hearing the songs of birds bearing messages that elders teach them to interpret. They hold these experiences in their bodies, their minds, and their young spirits. They alone will choose to either perpetuate the model of scarcity all around them, or become forces for regeneration to cultivate the abundance that prevailed in the land of their elders.
Alianza Arkana aims to provide the invitation for them to step into the latter as fledgling partners for a more beautiful and bountiful world. Visit www.alianzaarkana.org to learn more and support the work of Alianza Arkana or write to firstname.lastname@example.org