This past February, I facilitated a TEDx Redding talk with the Winnemem Wintu’s Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk about indigenous knowledge and how, when understood and respected appropriately, it can and should be used to find solutions to some of our most pressing environmental problems.
The way Caleen’s mind differs from a lot of the water policy officials in California is that she has a mental image of how California existed before the railroads and the dams and highways, from the free-flowing rivers to the alpine forests, which the Winnemem and other Northern California tribes carefully manicured.
When it comes to solving environmental problems, she is focused on turning things back, making the natural world as close as possible to how it used to be. Nature, in the end, had the most complete and effective plan, one that we can never hope to surpass, not matter how we might try.
I think it’s important to remember that the knowledge she possesses, which was passed down among generations of Winnemem, is equivalent to having about 10,000 years of direct observation of the local environment, or as the TEDx organizer Rachel Hatch described it – “10,000 years of R&D”.
I hope the talk will help people understand that there is a real practicality to the indigenous way of knowing, and that true keepers of indigenous knowledge should have a real seat at the table in policy discussions.
Their knowledge and their perspectives on how to treat land and water are not part of the past, but the key to our future.