The truth is: the tension and contemporary hostility between ecology and economy is increasingly ironic because they share a common root; grounded in Greek language and suffixes. Ecology at root means the legend of the house, the story of where we live. Moreover, the economy needs resources from our ecology to function. As Lateral Line put it, “modern economy is a travelling salesman with no home…it’s logic is profit-based not place-based.” Indigenous law will tell you that agency is given to all aspects of ecology: to Country, to community, to culture; this is the house; the legend speaks of the house as true instruction and as deep understanding. The original sense of economy is the keeper of the house, in which we consider ecology – and live in integration with it.
Over the last few years we have all witnessed, experienced and been uprooted by a series of unprecedented “once in a lifetime events”. Devastatingly, we have watched as the 2022 floods have wreaked havoc in Queensland and the Far North Coast; floods that have claimed lives, livelihoods, houses and robbed people of human resources needed for survival. With a government that has remained mostly silent and definitely blind, continuing to operate their capitalist fairy tale, in which macro economic advances are both prioritised and fail to move within a larger wholistic picture. Our capitalist structures and our government are both the protagonist and antagonist that have turned their backs on ecology and on human life.
When we consider our house, on a macro level, it is hard to ignore that modern economics is increasingly homeless as we burn our own wood to keep ourselves warm, alighting our resources, and lacking true understanding of the long-term plight we are throttling towards. Since the Paris Climate Agreement, G20 countries have provided more than $3.3 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels; ever heard of greenwashing? Unsurprisingly, Australia increased its fossil fuel subsidies by 48% between 2015 and 2019. Just today it has been reported by The Guardian that the Coalition will spend $128m of taxpayers money to allow projects, including those of mining companies, to bypass federal environmental protection laws. Our house is clearly not being taken care of by the people in charge.
The 2022 floods have shown me one thing: the power of community. It hits close to home, my house was filled by the unrelenting La Nina. Throughout the entirety of the Northern Rivers, I have digitally witnessed the most tangible form of kinship. In Lismore, a town engulfed by fourteen metre high sewage laden water, Koori Mail has led the way in providing urgently needed supplies, safety, healing and volunteers; creating a system to meet an abundance of necessity and outreach within dire circumstances, and within a very short amount of time. Additionally, Koori Mail has pointed out something poignant: the lack of dialogue, systems and relationships between non-Indigenous Australians and First Nations people; especially in times of crisis.
Reflecting on a portion of my abandoned university degree I recalled ‘the gift episteme’; a knowledge that invites us back into hope-enhancing philosophy, strengthened connective relations and eco-ethicability (Kuokkanen, 2007). This system – “The Gift Economy” – puts forward the idea of collective nurturing, diametrically different to the individual favouritism of the market economy. Mililani Trask writes in ‘Indigenous Women and Traditional Knowledge: Reciprocity is the Way of Balance’ that “reciprocity is the way of balance—planting precedes harvesting, sowing precedes reaping. In most Indigenous societies there is a common understanding (sometimes referred to as the “original instructions”), that humankind’s role in the world is to be the guardians of the creation. Indigenous peoples know that if we care for, nurture, and protect the earth, it will feed, clothe, and shelter us.”
When we consider the keeper of the house, in our cultural climate, we have chosen roles at the mercy of money and at the mercy of the hierarchy. We’ve become hustlers, survivors, financially free – but at what expense? Within our prior exercises of Darwinism, we’d developed a collective ‘ownership mindset’ backed furthermore by our relentless era of consciousness. Within this space the limelight has been thrust upon rigid utopian ideals as the only way forward; failing to acknowledge that the approach is laden with egoic, intellectual superiority that dismisses the complexities and barriers relevant to large sects of society. Jarringly, it is in times of disaster that we see this disparity for what it is: a rat race that is only foolproof if you have a foot in the door, access to equity, insurance, “fuck you” money and cultural advantages; a rat race that sees people excluded from resources, from basic human necessities and connection to land.
It is invigorating and frustrating to see the necessity of grassroots philanthropy, like SOCIETY, stepping in to mobilise funds quickly to civilian recovery workers; who have left their own lives behind to rebuild the community. The response seen in the Northern Rivers is a far cry from the viciousness and urgency of expectation that underpins our traditional Western transactions and energetic exchanges. What we have seen is nothing short of ordinary people being heroic; without even a sliver of support from any level of government. This is true decentralisation. One of my favourite interviews, from Sarah Van Gelder (journalist and creator of Yes! Solutions Journalism), is with Adamson of the Cherokee Nation, founder of First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide. Adamson shares with Van Gelder that “an Indigenous system is based on prosperity, creation, kinship, and a sense of enough-ness. It is designed for sharing. Within a “prosperity of creation” mindset there’s the ability to create new kinds of energy that we haven’t even tapped yet. That way of thinking brings us into a relationship in which we create new responses to what we need.”
As we step back into our house, a ravaged dystopian wasteland built upon stolen land; how can we protect community, culture and Country? How can we integrate, in a society where the government has shown capitalist money is still the most important exchange present, in which disparity is rife and disgusting wealth is still inflating, how can new systems surface after the floods of greed?
And so I would ask: in a time when our environment is in turmoil and our government has left us like a parentless child; community reliance and localisation rendered our only option; is it not time we hear old knowledge? In integrating Indigenous law into common law and hearing deeply, we can evolve our blindness – protecting our house; and the keeper of the house; the one that was supposed to reciprocate protection from disaster; from disparity; from collapse.
Power to the fucking people.