Sustainable Indigenous communities, like all our ancestors, relate to the natural world differently than industrialized societies. An increasing number of westerners, including scientists, are noting the sustainability among Indigenous communities, when at the same time, dominant countries and cultures of the world are bringing about global warming and ecological devastation.
Why learn Indigenous way of connecting to Nature?
They promote connection and caring for the natural world. As Wendell Berry noted, everyone knows that being ecologically responsible is important, but action is propelled by feeling for the land, for the animals, plants, waterways in one’s locale. Then one will take action to keep them alive and healthy. The Indigenous worldview places humans not in the center or at the top of the biocommunity but as one of many creatures.
The data show that land areas controlled by First Nation peoples around the world have more biodiversity. First Nation peoples control about 20% of the lands that hold about 80% of the biodiversity. Even the recent report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), suggested that Indigenous ways of living on the earth should be integrated in actions moving forward.
We were inspired by this information and so, my students and I conducted a 3-week experiment to see whether we could help undergraduate students increase their nature connection to be more like that of traditional First Nation peoples. We used Heath and Heath’s (2010) ideas for how to change people’s behavior (direct the rider, motivate the elephant, shape the path).
We compared two conditions, one emphasizing conservation behaviors (like turning off the lights when you leave a room). The other condition emphasized ecological attachment such as thinking of the trees as you walk by them. Actions here included:
- Notice the relationships among living things: squirrel to tree, tree to earth, tree to sky.
- Consider how many different forms of life you can see from your window.
- Give thanks for the element of water today. What bodies of water are you grateful for?
- Think of a favorite plant in your life and feel gratitude for its life and for its gift to you.
- Find a beautiful spot in nature and take a photo or make a drawing.
We randomly assigned participants to one of the conditions and then in the laboratory, after taking a pretest survey, they read some motivating information about their condition: facts, an essay and a poem. Then they were given a set of possible actions to take in the following three weeks, one per day. They selected 21 actions that they put into an envelope to choose from, a different one each day. At the end of the three weeks, we gave them the post test. The results supported our hypotheses for the two groups.
- The conservation condition increased in what we called “green action,” doing things to preserve the environment, like reducing use of disposables and recycling.
- The ecological attachment group increased in ecological empathy, concern for other-than-human entities.
- Both groups increased in ecological mindfulness (keeping in mind earth entities when acting).
The paper is published in the journal Ecopsychology and is called: “Indigenous Nature Connection: A 3-Week Intervention Increased Ecological Attachment.”
Try out the practices at EcoAttachment.Dance.
We know from extensive social psychology experiments that behavior can change attitudes. Attitudes can also change behavior when the path is shaped. In this way, new habits can be developed.
Amel, E., Manning, C., Scott, B., & Koger, S. (2017). Beyond the roots of human inaction: Fostering collective effort toward ecosystem conservation. Science, 356, 275-279. doi: 10.1126/science.aal1931
Berry, W. (2013). It all turns on affection: The Jefferson Lecture & Other Essays. Berkeley: Counterpoint.
Díaz, S., Settele, J., Brondizio, E., Ngo, H.T., Gueze, M. Agard, J.,…Zayas, C. (2019). IPBES summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Bonn, Germany: The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. NY: Crown
Kurth, A., Kohn, R., Bae, A., & Narvaez, D. (2020). Nature connection: A 3-week intervention increased ecological attachment, Ecopsychology, 12(2), 1-17. http://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2019.0038