In Kyle Whyte’s article “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene,” he illustrates that many indigenous peoples are already living in their tribe’s dystopian society, and have felt the effects of anthropogenic climate change since they were forced out of their land by colonists.
A definition I found for the term dystopia is: “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives” (Merriam-Webster). Whyte, however, illustrates that for many indigenous people a dystopian way of living is neither imagined nor fictional, but reality. For many indigenous peoples, living in a world where their primary resources (ex. Water, fish, rice) have been overharvested, polluted, depleted, and, therefore, have become inaccessible, is the dystopia of their ancestors. Whyte emphasizes that indigenous people have already felt the impact of “anthropogenic environmental change at the hands of settlers, including changes associated with deforestation, forced removal and relocation, containment on reservations, liquidation of our lands into individual private property and subsequent dispossession, and unmitigated pollution and destruction of our lands from extractive industries and commodity agriculture, among many other examples”(Whyte 3-4). Therefore, climate destabilization is just one more environmental change for indigenous people to adapt to and isn’t a new concept.
This article is a crucial read for any caucasian individual who is concerned with climate change. White climate activists and supporters are continuously concerned about climate change, and what may happen in our dystopian futures. But we forget that, unlike the white race, indigenous peoples have had to adapt to anthropogenic environmental changes for hundreds of years. Indigenous peoples have an understanding that humans affect the environments in which they live; it is part of the cycle of life. However, whether it be because of Christianity or capitalism, white humans often do not realize this and exploit the world with naive aggression. We believe that the world is filled with endless resources, and perhaps is too large to be affected by mortals.
Whyte explains in his interview that white environmental scientists need to not just include a single indigenous individual in a talk or seminar, but instead need to go to where indigenous people live to learn from them. Whyte says that indigenous peoples are climate scientists too, in their own way (Video). I agree with this sentiment, because western science is not the only form of science, and should never be considered supreme. Indigenous peoples have a plethora of knowledge and skills regarding climate change and adapting to new climates. Most certainly some of these skills were acquired because of brutal acts by settler society, but they are there and deserved to be heard. But, I think is important when thinking about indigenous knowledge to not look at it as something settler society can use for our personal gain, because that would be perpetuating colonialism. It is not our knowledge, but it can be listened to and appreciated. If caucasian people ever use indigenous knowledge, it needs to be properly credited to those from who it came.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Dystopia. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.
Video Talking #JustClimate and decolonizing climate science with Professor Kyle Whyte. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://youtu.be/sbAqnbJTW3Y.
Whyte, K. (2017). Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene. The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, 222–231. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315766355-32