People need to work together to create a new system to enhance life, Daniel Wildcat, professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, told about 70 people in a Civic Luncheon Lecture on Thursday at Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.
“If people keep treating the planet like an ATM machine, one of these days there won’t be anything left,” he said.
Wildcat, a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, also directs Haskell’s Environmental Research Studies Center and has written a number of books exploring Native American culture, the environment and cultural diversity.
In his talk, he encouraged audience members to look at the world in what he called a more indigenous way:
• Realize people are related, but not the same.
• Acknowledge the relationship between time and place.
• No longer relate with the land, air, water and animals as resources to use but as relatives to respect.
• Remember rights should always be countered with responsibilities.
“We need to find different ways of thinking and finding solutions,” he said. “Indigenous peoples have a deep depository of knowledge that can help us solve problems.”
He said everyone is a product of the time and place they are from.
“We’re shaped by the ecosystem we call home,” he said. “Our cultures are products of a centuries-old symbiosis of time and place.”
Realizing this, he said, could decrease conflicts between people and nations.
“Political and ethical problems belong not just to the human sphere but involve all of life,” he said.
He also said thinking indigenously would lead to a re-evaluation of what constitutes “progress.”
“We’re victims of the idols of progress and civilization,” he said, “not creating a world just for our comfort and benefit, but to create a life enhancement for everyone.”
In a question-and-answer session following his talk, Wildcat said he supported creating a polyculture agriculture system to replace the current monoculture system as a way to relate better with the environment.
“The monoculture system of growing just corn or wheat isn’t natural,” he said.
Answering another question, Wildcat said the best way to integrate indigenous thinking is with science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes.
“Have students work on a real problem,” he said. “That’s what we’re pushing at Haskell.”
He added Haskell began in 1884 as an institution aimed at separating Native Americans from their culture. However, in recent years, the university has changed into a center for studying culture and sciences, as well as preserving Indian languages.