Sixty Things We Can Do to Help the Earth Right Now, Right Here

This is the second part of the answer to a question of how adopting Indigenous land use protocols can help the Earth. The first is here: The Price of De-Indigenizing the Land. This one is more practical. It is a list of practical things we can do, right now, to change the narrative of climate change, right here. It begins with an introduction, to give the list a little context.

Unwanted in the City of Vernon? Really?

It was a long journey to get to a point at which the Earth became broken, but let’s not panic. Let’s remember that it’s not precisely the Earth that is broken, although it does look like it, that’s for sure:

Trucking away a wetland? Really, you Managers of the City of Vernon? To make room for water flowing down a dry watercourse, to flush out water lines at a high country reservoir? A watercourse that was not meant to carry water? All in the name of natural systems? Really? In 2020?

Rather, it is social relationships that are broken, relationships that include the Earth. “Broken” is too dramatic, though. That we are having this conversation, and that you are following along, however bemused, means that the relationships are not broken. That separation from our own knowledge is also no cause for panic. There are still things we can do. We do need to keep clear heads, though.


Really? City of Vernon, turning a walking path and a wetland, the home of many species, into a mud-hole, when it wasn’t the spontaneously-generated wetland that was the problem but your own mis-understanding of water in dry syncline grassland systems?

Large global problems are destroying our planet, terrible things like atmospheric carbon and plastic in the oceans, and as serious as all that is, it is still abstraction, and not the relationship that has caused our problems or will heal them. The healing of carbon and plastic will come locally. Going into relationships is key, not just relationships between humans, or even a series of individual relationships, but integrations of social relationships as well. Collectively and individually, we must change.  Let’s just remember that as a first step.

Really? Building million dollar homes so that Canadians can retire in an image of paradise, while there is no inadequate housing and less-than-adequate wages for the workers building that housing, whose jobs are largely replaced by machinery? When most of the profit in house-building goes to building supply manufacturers, transportation companies and retailers, when most of that money leaves the valley, leaving our children with less environmental wealth or flexibility than they had a generation ago, or three generations ago, or five? Even a modest sum, say $25,000, from each of these houses, would go a long way to restoring the habitat on the hillside above, which is advertised as natural and is one of the selling points of the subdivision, raising the value of each house by far more than $25,000.

Most problems on the Earth revolve around issues of ownership, with private ownership being used to protect communities, community being used to destroy private ownership, or to protect communities, or private ownership being used to destroy them. We’re not going to escape from this, not as humans, but wherever we stand in this constantly changing dynamic, the earth is the focus. Not Earth as “a planet” but earth as the stuff you can pick up in your hand, the first stuff, the place from which things spring out of nothing, whether that is Adam, a plant, or water, and help that place of springing forth. This is a bodily relationship, one of physical, social and spiritual bodies, related to each other on Indigenous models, as being-of-this-place. Whatever place you are in.

Relationship work might mean:

  1. helping the earth hold water so it can pour through the summer by replanting the hills in bunchgrass
  2. adapting the techniques that bunchgrass uses to gather water to planting systems or to rain gathering systems
  3. adapting civic infrastructure to follow the model of the bunchgrass
  4. laying stones on the slopes to gather and shelter water, which plants can then use
  5. planting seeds in cracks in frost-split stones, where birds can fertilize them and rain and snow can water them
  6. sculpting the land to provide matching zones of exposure and shade, to provide stationary streams
  7. removing excess sagebrush, which reduces the water-holding capacity of earth, while adding to its inflammability
  8. building artificial glaciers to release water slowly in the summer
  9. building artificial snow melt apparatuses, which melt snow before it can be taken away from the air, and before it creates spring floods
  10. seeding the grass by gathering bunchgrass seeds in your hand as you walk and dropping them on bare spaces
  11. casting seeds on snow, so the sun will melt them through it to the warm, watery zone beneath the snow, where they can be carried to the best possible locations and sprout in a protected zone
  12. build crop covers that imitate the crystal patterns of snow, for gardening out of the dry season,

for the trick of using water in this landscape is not to allow water to flow, but to hold it, to control the flow, which also means to weave it into a web of life. That might mean:

  1. building watercress systems that create a crop in water before releasing it for other uses, such as in greenhouses
  2. planting bushes and trees at the base of natural draws or up scree slopes, to take up water
  3. planting willows in wet areas to dry them and to provide spring forage for bees and shelter for birds foraging out into the grass and deer raising their young
  4. planting asparagus just below cut lines on slopes, to use the water, or to plant it at the base of fenceposts, to gather the water. For this use, one will first have to plant fenceposts not treated with harsh chemicals. For that one would need to
  5. grow a crop of black locust fence posts, which can be used for asparagus, necessary fencing, and for tree support on organic farms.
  6. using steep slopes as agricultural sites by planting a succession of root depths, from shallow to deep, at specific points up the slope, and watering from above, allowing gravity to do the rest
  7. planting orchards in the high country, rather than in the low country where 35% of the water evaporates without being used.
  8. The extra 35% could support deer and bears, allowing them to prey on the orchards with no commercial loss, especially when the cost of transporting water and cleaning it is taken into account
  9. Planting trees in rainwater-gathering wells in urban landscaping, so that they will cool houses using the water run-off from roofs.
  10. Installing electrical-generation equipment in downspouts
  11. Planting crops in the fall, winter and early spring, using natural water, and decreasing the water load on the land in the summer
  12. Planting trees along riparian zones descending from the ridges to the valley floor, to allow birds perches along an altitude line.

It might mean to weave that web into our communities by:

  1. changing zoning to allow for farming rights on scree slopes and natural draws and
  2. to allow for farming on steep slopes, using rain-gathering and gravity-fed water, rather than claiming the farms are unsuited to agriculture because they cannot be farmed with large tractors, and developing them into climate-changing housing instead
  3. changing forest tenure to allow for non-timber harvesting and non-timber forest enhancement
  4. zoning for altitudinal deer migration corridors, like current riparian corridors, to allow deer to move up-and-down slopes to access wetlands in the summer and improve their health and water-holding characteristics
  5. provide a system of compensation for farmers losing grazing land to re-introduced beavers acting as flood-control, fish-enhancement, and water-storage agents
  6. building linear wetlands along walking-path parklands, to take up water and improve the walking experience
  7. design and distribute equipment for stripping compost and grass clippings of water, to reduce compost haulage and return water to a living environment
  8. develop and implement systems for chipping and composting forest waste rather than burning it, evaporating its water and negatively impacting air quality, light transmission, human health and crop growth
  9. permit the use of water for such water-hungry crops as ice wine only if the volume of water they waste is recovered by other systems
  10. build school classrooms in wetlands
  11. eliminate rock-scaling as a landscape mode, and eliminate the use of landscape fabric. Both of these destroy the ability of the earth to weave into human societies
  12. Use road ditches as water-collection spaces, with plants to slow its flow, reducing the need for civic infrastructure

And all in all, to place production within social space, instead of separating it, such as:

  1. building market space
  2. building collection systems for small-scale production
  3. expanding organic farming systems, to allow agriculture to be integrated healthily into residential areas
  4. building and marketing equipment for wall-based and down-spout-based agricultural systems
  5. replacing decorative trees with productive ones
  6. incorporating small-plot farming and large community garden systems into land use plans, and implementing them
  7. building small-scale processing plants, for the development of innovative local products
  8. starting a food-writing school
  9. building schools around greenhouses and other agricultural spaces, including non-tilled ones
  10. building a school of Indigenous agriculture at a local university
  11. expanding the agricultural land reserve system by reserving land for Indigenous farming and making it available from the crown land base
  12. placing the administration of all lands in the hands of both Indigenous communities and central government, with Indigenous communities providing labour and vision and central government providing access and balancing of claims

and a change in attitude:

  1. Give patent rights to native crops and encourage their production, use, and distribution, with appropriate royalty systems
  2. Develop the medicinal potential of indigenous crops, with royalties going to Indigenous peoples
  3. Teach Indigenous languages to all children, as they link to the landscape
  4. Develop replacements for all imported foods
  5. Tax imported foods, as negative pressures on local environmental development
  6. Train young people in reading and writing the land rather than reading and writing settler cultural signposts such as poetry; rather, integrate them,
  7. Which also means giving greater land rights to Indigenous people, instead of merely more cultural control. Cultural control without land rights, the right to production and healthy relationships with earth, will not build social relationships, while land rights can build social relationships. This is an extension of a principle known on all native reserves in Cascadia: land without water is land without water. You can’t eat from it.
  8. Teach the agricultural arts, art that a single person can master and carry, over industrial arts, which require industrial supports; individual people will build social relationships within environmental webs, whereas industrial arts will build industrial relationships within industrial webs.
  9. Grow some people for young people in your community, and some other food for elders. Give it to them.
  10. Build access paths to gathering sites, or potential indigenous farming sites, rather than for recreational values, or tourist industry values.
  11. Build a true local food culture, not one that uses international foods and calls them local because they are fresh and represent, symbolically, the bounty of settler planting but one that uses locally-developed foods, such as Indigenous crops, or choke cherry orchards instead of vineyards, or sour grape juice instead of lemon juice, or spruce tips instead of water-hungry vegetables grown in hot climate zones and trucked in at a great carbon cost. Perhaps licensing the use of “local” will be a supportive governmental addition.
  12. Change civic zoning to bring agricultural space deep within the city.

One could go on to discussions of media, advertising, transportation, racism, new-form slavery, immigration, liberalism, populism, psychology, history and so on, but the point is not exhaustion, and all would end up with earth relationships. Besides, most of the topics mentioned above have been covered in earlier posts on this blog. If I had endless energy, I would cross-index them all. Wouldn’t it be great to have that assistance! However, that is still not the point. The most important thing to remember is that a division of living space and agricultural productive space, physically, socially and spiritually, is breaking our land and our communities, in a self-feeding spiral of environmental decay and mental, social and spiritual dis-ease. For this work, we will need the inspiration of visionaries, artists, spiritual leaders and poets. Of the latter, we need, as I said above, poets of the land, not poets of individual identity. Those are the poets of urban space separated from its environment except through social threads alone. Poets, that group of people with the greatest skill at close reading and at translating nebulous connections into visions, have been locked within printed words too long. It is the same imprisonment that has placed our populations, both human and non-human, for too long within urban and industrial grids, at the expense of the webs that sustain them. Now that the urban-industrial-individual grids have exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth and earth, it is time to change the climate, one seed, one person, and one drop of water at a time. We must do this work in concert with the work of arresting the growth of atmospheric carbon and the equally-imported work of detoxifying the environment in other ways. To be “human” must undergo a change from the act of bringing products into human social space to opening human social space to earth and having it produce rather than consume.

If this were a native Columbia hawthorn, here at the far northern tip of its range, its spikes would allow it to be a natural fence to keep deer off of other young trees, while at the same time producing food for humans and birds but also for producing health through deepened aesthetic integration with the landscape. With proper protocols, the medicinal potential of hawthorns could be developed, with ample, respectful royalties going to Indigenous people, to support them in their environmental and social work. Even so, as a decorative hawthorn, it does support native birds, which is more than a decorative maple would do.

Fortunately, the earth has guides. They are Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is the wrong word for the work needed. A better one is thanks. Others are support, help, and integration — not of indigenous people into non-indigenous structures but the indigenizing of non-indigenous ones. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need an Okanagan University. What we have is a colonial university. It can play only a minimal role in the future unless it accepts the mantle of change and becomes a place of leadership.


9 replies »

  1. I think you are more indigenous then modern dY 1st Nations. In West Kelowna development as been the norm on their lands not indigenous crops …

    If that is the answer, why are they not doing it?

    Same situation in Tsawwassen, they have the 1st treaty in Canada and their lands are all about the biggest Mall and now has Industrial and Commercial tenants line Amazon …. their land is one big development site, unfettered development with no restrictions. I think you are living in a bubble …. they can grow their own indigenous crops as can other farmers … can you give me one example of indigenous people in the Okanagan growing these types of crops for production on their own lands?


    • Well, it is all their land, but that’s not my point. I’m afraid I wasn’t clear enough. There are things that can be done, that take Indigenous principles and apply them. They are not, however, the work of the syilx, who are working in their own directions. However, to answer your question directly, that does include forest care on Colville lands, extensive work with salmon throughout syilx territory, and work with restoring grizzlies, the Similkameen River, and developing food sustainability and educational initiatives, among others. For a complete list, we’d have to ask the Okanagan Nation Alliance. As for Westbank, it’s a reserve not a territory, so land use there doesn’t speak for the whole territory. Socially, that needs honouring, too. At any rate, choke cherries are more valuable than grapes, yet no one is growing them. (even though there’s a market.) What’s more, Indigenous peoples across BC are leaving native crops undeveloped due to predation by pharmaceutical companies. And that’s my point: these are social issues. We can fix them. Leaving them unfixed is leaving the land in a downward spiral. We can’t afford that. Blessings, Harold


    • However, these things hurt me as well, as they do on settler lands, including the City of Vancouver, which is very harmful to British Columbia, and the City of Kelowna, which is a kind of cancer. But that’s a story for another day. As is the story of how Indigenous issues are currently being turned into settler issues, likely to the frustration of all. I think we all have a lot in common, really.


  2. Fabulous inventory of ideas and practices Harold. I’m in New Zealand and am saddened by the colonial capitalist land uses that has cleared 80% of the North Island. It lays desiccated, and simplified by past sheep and cattle ranches, and current monoculture pine forest agriculture on 25-30 year cycles. I loved your suggestion of localized indigenous schools, food, research!!!


    • Thanks! It’s good to know that you’re out there, doing the good work. Cattle ranches are the devastating thing here. We’re still reeling from the politics of that. Best, Harold


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