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Agency and Resilience: Teachings of Pikangikum First Nation Elders, Northwestern Ontario

Andrew M. Miller, First Nations University of Canada
Iain Davidson-Hunt, Natural Resources Institute; University of Manitoba

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05665-180309

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Abstract

Although scholars of social-ecological resilience propose unity between humans and the natural world, much of this work remains based on Cartesian division of mind and body that denies it. We present an example of a unified system of resilience thinking shared with us by Anishinaabe (Ojibway) elders of Pikangikum First Nation, northwestern Ontario. The elders’ views of boreal forest disturbance and renewal are distinct from western scientific approaches in their recognition of agency, the ability to individually express free will in nonhuman beings including animals, plants, rocks, and forest fire within their landscape. Pikangikum elders perceive that, if relationships based on respect, reciprocity, and noninterference are maintained with other agents, renewal will continue. The proposition of living landscapes composed of diverse nonhuman agents poses challenges to collaboration with western worldviews, which view nature largely as mechanistic and without moral standing. We suggest that a greater attention to nonwestern ontologies can contribute to productive cross-cultural partnerships directed toward fostering resilience.

Key words

agency; Anishinaabe; other-than-human persons; Pikangikum First Nation; resilience; social-ecological system
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087