Embracing the sacred: an indigenous framework for tomorrow’s sustainability science

Abstract

Mahalo (thank you) for reading our paper. What you will find is an attempt to synthesize and compare the strengths and weaknesses of Indigenous and Western perspectives on sustainability and a proposed path leading to the integration of these two perspectives into a sustainability framework that considers resources as much more than commodities. We enter into this discussion with 50 years of experience between us, both of us products of our experimentation with the integration that we are advocating. From this experimentation, we have concluded that sacred relationship must be the foundation of any successful sustainability effort, with success achieved only when resource management practices and policies engage the spirit and are aligned with equitable and respectful interactions among human and non-human. By sacred, we refer to those sentiments, actions, and commitments that emerge from spirit-based relationships that are founded on love, respect, care, intimate familiarity, and reciprocal exchange. By spirit, we refer to that which gives life to the material body, the enigma that is our collective conscious, subconscious, and unconscious beings. In formulating this paper, we made three assumptions: (1) the need to shift our spiritual selves, and our collective weight and resulting ecological footprints, is fully evidenced by the failure of purely Western approaches to sustain the social and biophysical world around us; (2) each and every citizen of our planet contributes to both sustainability’s advancement and its demise; and (3) by engaging the spirit and reclaiming sacredness in all our relationships, we can help move the Earth community towards her fullest potential of wellbeing. Our hope here is that we are able to grow the connections among a nascent but rapidly evolving transformational vision for sustainability, the enlightened thinking of contemporaries, and inspired ancestral knowledge. To facilitate the continued emergence of this transformative vision, we marry Western sustainability concepts to an Indigenous sacredness framework.

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Acknowledgments

This paper resulted from a 2012 National Science Funded workshop entitled: Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences: Diversifying our Methods. We thank our workshop host, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington; workshop organizers, especially Jay Johnson and Renee Pualani Fisher; and other workshop participants, who over the course of three days, provided much inspiration for this paper. We thank Paul Hessburg, Marla Emery, Tamara Ticktin, and Frank Lake for important insights into how integration of multiple knowledge systems can support efforts to foster sustainability. We thank Tamara Ticktin, Kealoha Kinney, Chris Heider, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kekuhi Kealiikanakaoleohaililani.

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Handled by Renee Pualani Louis, The University of Kansas, USA.

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Kealiikanakaoleohaililani, K., Giardina, C.P. Embracing the sacred: an indigenous framework for tomorrow’s sustainability science. Sustain Sci 11, 57–67 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-015-0343-3

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Keywords

  • Hawaii
  • Aloha aina
  • Malama aina
  • Love
  • Relationship