First Peoples

Earth Intelligence at Work in the Nicola

Before I went away wandering through the sacred canyons of the nlaka’pamux and secwepemc illahie, we were talking about crosses, and how as a technology they stopped the flow of energy and transformed it into materialization. Christian tradition is a profound example of the power of this energy at work. It is not the only one. Let me show you how this works in an indigenous, land-based tradition, before we return to a discussion of artificial intelligences. Here’s an illahie from secwepemc territory on the Nicola River. (An illahie is a storied landscape, of inherited, legal dimensions. This particular form of a story is a saghalie, a place in the sky.) Beautiful, eh.

Stories written in stone don’t move — or not much, or very slowly. Indigenous stories flow at the same place. Or is that just a misconception. Have a closer look. 

Ah, see that? The story has moved. A trick of the lens? No problem. Just walk closer. Context, as you can see, makes the story.

(Pardon the quick and wonky photo editing.)

The context, however, is not just a context of stone, or stone-and-sky, or even stone-and-you-and-sky. There are other life forces at play. Pine trees and saskatoons, for example.

And birds. Well, ravens. Ravens are birds, right?

Now the figure, centred in rock, turns away.

Without moving, he has emotion and narrative. (Yes, we read this into the figure when observing it. I hope to show how this is the point. Read on!) As for figure, yes, it’s a stack of skulls. Around them, and behind them, the ravens are mating. It’s a fun business.

The thrill of the chase!


And all worth it. Five minutes later, a ceremonial twig, and the beginning of a new raven clutch. Aw.

I wouldn’t say the experience humanizes the figure. We do that. But look how it ravenizes it. Um, that’s a word, right?

So, look again. At these rocks, human and raven worlds meet. Attention to the rocks, reveals much about the nature of human attention. Attention to the rocks + ravens reveals much about raven attention. The point at which they cross is neither human nor raven, but Earth-attention.

Yes, it’s a projection of human intelligence, but it’s also a reading of something else that without this unmoving anchor that shifted with every perception of it (without moving in itself) would remain hidden. Now that it has been revealed, every visit to the bluff will reveal a different part of an unending, evolving story, that will start from a deeper point of richness. You have, after all, noticed the skull lying on its side above the dark shadow to the right of the image, right? Staring at you? This is the not unpitying gaze of the dead, who are, as you can see, far from dead.

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