How Indigenous Knowledge Can Help Us Heal
An Excerpt from The Seven Circles
Getty/Alix Tran Duc
Indigenous people have long understood the healing power of connection to the land. Here are simple steps to incorporate this wisdom.
Everything comes from the land.
And so, we are taught, the land continues to teach us everything we need to know throughout our lives. If these ideas sound foreign to you, remember that at one time, in everyone’s history, our ancestors were intimately connected to the land. The beautiful and unique aspects of every culture on earth resulted from our interacting with the beautiful, diverse natural regions from where we came. For many, that connection has been severed, and this continues to impact collective health and wellness today. It is imperative that we repair these bonds.
Today, as the climate crisis continues to grow, so do global health crises, as evidenced by the modern prevalence of illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These hardships are interwoven with social ills like displacement, poverty, and inadequate housing. It is no coincidence that as life on earth grows sicker, the root diseases of greed and exploitation continue to damage the very soil, water, and air we humans rely upon.
Reclaiming the Indigenous Narrative of Good Health
We have all heard of “Blue Zones”—health hot spots where people are living longer, happier, more fulfilling lives. One of the common themes in Blue Zones is neither technology nor money, but rather that the people in these diverse cultural areas live in harmony with their surroundings and that they are culturally connected.
Typically, the United States is not thought of as a hot spot for health. In fact, it is often criticized for its reputation for having a sedentary and overweight population. Of note, the creator of the Blue Zone theory is a Minnesotan. Only two hundred years ago, on the lands we now call Minnesota, it was common for Anishinaabe and Dakota people to live active lives with full mental faculties well past the age of one hundred years. At that time, North America perhaps represented one of the greatest Blue Zones the world has ever seen. It wasn’t until the invasion of a land-exploiting culture that this changed.
Now, we all have the opportunity to reclaim the Indigenous narrative of good health rather than to accept an unhealthy fate for the people of this land.
This circle of wellness—land, and connection to it—might be viewed as the circle that impacts collective, global health, as opposed to just individual health, more than any other. Indigenous people make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. This is proof that Indigenous leaders, climate activists, and governments are truly the carriers of the knowledge we need to move forward into a livable, breathable future.
Ways to Heal—Through Indigenous Knowledge
We will not pretend to have any answers for solving the climate crisis via technology or policy, but we do have an idea as to how we might begin to effect change from within our hearts and minds, ultimately encouraging more people to care about these issues. It begins with a shift in worldview toward love for the land. Indigenous knowledge may serve as the guide.
Establishing a connection to the land will not only heal our planet, but it will heal our traumas, our spiritual wounds, and our hearts as individuals and families who are seeking to be well. Our ancestors never had to consciously set time aside to connect to the land, because it was simply a part of life. Today, everything we do, from work to recreation, keeps us indoors, often in front of electronic devices that emit unhealthy blue light. Because of this imposed sedentary, indoor culture, we face more illness and more depression, and we feel disconnected from the natural world.
We need to consciously reconnect. And once we do, we feel immediate healing benefits that the land provides.
Studies show that as few as five minutes spent outdoors—no matter whether in a city park or deep in a forest—leaves people feeling more positive and boosts self-esteem.
Ten minutes spent outdoors on a sunny day boosts our levels of vitamin D—which is critical for keeping our immune systems strong and which many people are deficient in.
And twenty minutes outdoors measurably lowers the stress hormone cortisol. If just a few minutes can do all of this, imagine what hours, weeks, and days outdoors would feel like.
Imagine a life on the land.
From THE SEVEN CIRCLES by Chelsey Luger and Thosh Collins and reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2022.