A 10,000-Year-Old Technology
According to co-founder of the permaculture movement, Bill Mollison, Permaculture Design is a 10,000 year old technology made up of indigenous knowledges from all over the world. This concept is problematic in that it:
- Generalizes the thousands of different peoples, cultures and practices from which Mollison drew his practices
- Extracts these practices and values from their distinct cultural contexts
- Adds to the pervasive notion that indigenous people and practices are extinct or a thing of the past
- Erases the blood, sweat and wisdom accumulated over thousands of years of land-based cultures.
- Appropriates, brands and commodifies the wisdom of a multitude of indigenous cultures without giving recognition or reparations to the communities from which principles were taken.
Though permaculture is often very well intentioned, it can perpetuate the systems of oppression rooted in practices and values that stem from colonization. There are certain found in permaculture such as homesteading that forget that the Homestead Act was one of the ways settlers stole and re-bundled land for their own use, or reference to “primitive skills” that perpetuate the narrative that indigenous peoples were inferior to their settler counter parts and glorifies the re-appropriation of those skills in this new context. Returning to the land instead of homesteading or reskilling instead of primitive skills training.
Though one may feel they are appreciating a particular culture by using certain skills or practices of those people, it is important to ask oneself a few questions before:
- What did I give to receive this? Am I building a reciprocal relationship with people who identify with this culture?
- How am I giving people of this culture recognition for their knowledge? Am I doing anything to compensate them for how I am benefitting from what I have gathered from them?
Practices of Decolonizing Permaculture
- Listen. Centralize the voices of the community you are working in, whether that be in Oakland or Chiapas or Costa Rica or Idaho.
- Put your land into a land trust after you are gone.
- Couple anti-oppression training with permaculture design courses or workshops.
- As we, settlers/colonizers, reconnect to indigenous communities, we recognize the a) historical rights of indigenous peoples to the land we are working b) the centuries old trauma that still permeate many communities and c) invite indigenous communities members into the conversation.
- Have ASL and other language translators at events to make the space as accessible and inclusive.
- Develop relationships with communities of color and invite them into conversations of how we can support their efforts in protecting their own communities.
- Be a friend! NOT a savior.
- Share resources! Donate a percent of your income from teaching permaculture to indigenous or people of color led organizations
- Care for people! There is a direct link between climate change and racial issues. People of color need support from those of us who have white privilege.