Native Communities - Lost Treasure
In many respects, the movie Avatar was a decent representation of native/nature/invader dynamics. The indigenous groups with whom NCP works see nature with different eyes-appreciative of its beauty and wonder and protective of its vitality, while taking from it what they need to live. Songs, dances and stories often frame their lives, creating deep links to their culture and to the natural world as well as expressing their present-day hopes and fears. Nature itself provides food, medicine and guidance (sometimes in the form of visions; often as a model for sustainable living). Native people typically understand their own well-being bound up with the health and stability of the ecosystem, believing they must care for nature so nature can return the favor. Their creation stories portray a common origin of humans and other living things, not unlike the Genesis accounts where adam (human) is brought forth from the adamah (ground or humus). In short, nature is seen more as a relationship than a resource.
In contrast, invaders of native lands - both on the big screen and in real life - ¯see the natural world primarily as a resource to exploit. Nature has little inherent value, save economic. Native people who stand between the invaders and the goods they seek are met with a combination of violence, imported disease and attempts to pacify and then relocate. The invaders often work to co-opt some native groups or individuals and turn them against their own people. While the movie did little to show the role religion plays in the exploitation of native groups (the scientists were the kindly missionaries' sent in to offer trinkets in exchange for land), it is often part of the pacification process - ¯gaining the trust of the people, plying them with education, medicines and the promise of the afterlife, all of which gradually disconnects them from their culture while drawing them into the invader system.
Native cultures can also be surprisingly hospitable to individuals from the dominant culture, as the people of Avatar eventually were to several of the humans who sought to befriend them. And occasionally, as in the movie, individuals from the dominant group can be 'won over' by native culture and outlook on life.
In one important respect, however, the movie gives a false impression of native/invader relations.
Where the movie misses the mark is in its happy ending. The natives have yet to win.
If the invaders want what the natives have badly enough - ¯be it petroleum or crop lands or workers for their plantations or factories - ¯native resistance is typically futile. It's not just a lack of firepower or numbers or the inability to fend off imported diseases that dooms them. As in the movie, their worldview is misunderstood and they themselves are dehumanized by the outsiders, allowing the newcomers to use their power to wreak havoc on them without remorse.
This turns out to be a lose/lose situation. Initially, of course, it is the native communities who are the losers. Their lands are taken, their population is decimated, their culture and religion are overrun.
Over time, the invaders are losers as well. They had much to learn from native communities about respecting the land, preserving culture, living within the boundaries of a sustainable system. There may have also been positive things the invaders could have shared with the invaded, had there been a more cooperative and mutually-respectful relationship.
Even though the natives have yet to win, this doesn't necessarily predict the future.
Where are we in all this? As usual, there are two paths before us. The course of least resistance will be to join in the conquest, if only by providing the economic energy and political and moral acquiescence to allow the invasion to move ahead.
Or we can look for ways to join the resistance: