Why decolonize permaculture?

Artist: Josh Yoder 

Part of the purpose of this project is that I want to help radicalize the permaculture movement both in how it’s practiced and how it’s conceptualized. It’s a complicated issue, some people who practice permaculture would claim that it’s not a movement at all and should not be politicized. I disagree – obviously – and think that one of the most important aspects of permaculture is it’s potential to offer a vision of radically transformation – which is inherently political and activist. I want to see permaculture deeply intwined with other transformative social and environmental justice movements.

First I want to flesh out some ideas for how we can decolonize the movement. This is especially important for those of us who live in settler states – Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, etc. The legacy of colonialism in our countries is strong, destructive, and pervasive. We have to acknowledge that many of us are descendants of white settlers from Europe who were given their small farms partly as a way to drive Indigenous communities off the land. We also have to acknowledge that our countries – their borders, their laws, their very existence – is based on genocide of people who were here before Europeans arrived. Colonialism is not a relic of the past – it is very much alive in the way in which these countries continue to treat Indigenous people and communities.

At the heart of this colonialism is the land. As permaculturalists who work with the land, as part of the land, this means decolonialization must also be at the heart of our work. So what does that mean? Here are some ideas:

  1. We must acknowledge that the ideas of permaculture weren’t invented by Boll Mollison and David Holmgren. They put together various practices and philosophies of agroecologists – many whom were indigenous people – throughout the world to create the philosophy and practise of permaculture. The ideas don’t belong to any of us. They were developed over thousands of years and shared within and sometimes between groups of people. Whenever we know a certain idea or practice has been  developed by a particular person or group of people, we should acknowledge them. Sometimes it might mean not practicing it – for example some permaculturalists take spiritual concepts and practices (such as sweat lodges) from Indigenous people. Don’t. And especially don’t make it part of your business.
  2. Part of decolonizing permaculture means not being so attached to the concept of private property. The concept of private property drove people off their land throughout the entire world. This happened through colonialization and imperialism in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands and through the enclosure movement in Europe. And the process still continues! It’s hard to imagine a world without private property – it is one of the most treasured concepts of the capitalist system. As permaculturalists, decolonizing our ideas about land ownership can mean a few things: that we focus on creating projects in public spaces, that we create projects that emphasize sharing and cooperation, that we think of ourselves as being in relationship with the land not owners of it, and that we acknowledge that the land in settler states was stolen – which leads us to #3.
  3. We absolutely must support the activism of Indigenous communities in fighting for treaty rights, for community control over their land, and in struggles against sexism, racism, and colonialism. There are many important struggles happening right now in North American including (to name just a few) Muskrat Falls, Chippewa of the Thames, and Standing Rock. Support these struggles in any way you can. This means finding out what type of solidarity the communities leading these struggles need and want. It means listening and acting as requested. It might mean, someday, that land you think is yours -like the family cottage- isn’t. What will that mean? I don’t know, but the way our government currently treats land (or allows it to be treated) is a disaster so I’m willing to find out!
  4. If you are from a European settler background, acknowledge it. It is harmful to deny this painful story. Does it mean your ancestors were horrible people? They were probably complex and contradictory people (some probably – definitely – were horrible though). Many European settlers to North America were displaced people from the centuries long struggle to remove peasants from commonly owned land in Europe (the ‘enclosure of the commons’). They were convinced, in a multitude of complex ways, to become an active part of the colonial project instead of resisting it. But guess what? You get to write a part in that story and your part can be about honesty, resistance, and solidarity.

Decolonization is a process – a sometimes painful, sometimes joyful one. It is an essential process to undertake if you want to be part of building a better world. There are many other ways you can act in solidarity with Indigenous People. Solidarity is a powerful concept that I believe will radically transform our world. Exploring how to act in solidarity is one of the most important things we can do as individuals and as activists/organizers of social movements. It’s a concept I’m going to explore in future blogs. As Eduardo Galeano wrote,

“Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

So do I, so do you, so do our movements. Let’s start now.














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