Working with Earth: Land, Culture, and Reclaiming Heritage as a Sources of Healing

As part of our efforts to highlight indigenous Iranian and First Nation cultures we have created an exhibition focused on pottery and ceramic arts. Pottery was particularly important to us, as it is an art form that combines esthetics with a hands-on experience of working with Earth/land. Among indigenous cultures, including various First Nations and Iranian traditions, communal healing, and land play an important role in facilitating peace and reconciliation. As such the emphasis of earth and land as a sacred concept take center stage in our exhibit and discussions. Like many Frist Nations peoples, Iranian cultures exalt and honor the earth and notions of ancestral land. The land is seen as a source of collective healing. In a way, as we work with land/earth we are engaging in a healing process in reconnecting with the deep-rooted connection we share with the Earth, our heritage, and our ancestors.

Research has shown that peoples connections to land plays a major role in shaping indigenous cultures and traditions. Likewise, for many formerly colonized and First Nation communities, the impacts of land dispossessions, disintegration of traditional kin systems, the struggles for land reclamation, the spiritual and ancestral ties to the land continue to influence notions of collective identity, health, and wellbeing. It is important to acknowledge connection to the land not only as a reflection of a personal connection, but rather that of the community – shaping a sense of collective identity and culture. In short land is sacred, the earth is sacred, and a source of cultural and healing.

Internationally, Indigenous leaders, activists and scholars have raised attention to the spiritual, social, cultural relationship shared between indigenous peoples and their land as fundamental to their existence and to their customs, beliefs, traditions and cultures(Bauer, 2016). As the President of the Central Organization of Indigenous Peoples and Communities of Eastern Bolivia stated:

“We indigenous peoples think and plan in terms of the territory, not only the individual plot; in this way, we assure the access of the community to the diverse resources […] We indigenous peoples know that without land there can be no education, there can be no health and there can be no life” (Quoted in Roldán 2004).

These words speak to the consideration of land not as an individual but communal aspect of identity – people share the land communally and “an individual does not need to give something in order to get something in return”(Fiske, 1992). As described by Stelkia et al. (2021, p.361) in many ways “the spirits of the land, water, and territory are within us”, representing an “intersection of cultural identity, spirituality, ancestral knowledge, and health and well- being”(Stelkia et al., 2021). Yet, around the world, First Nation peoples have been dispossessed of their lands and the political, socio-economic, and cultural rights associated with the land (Ojong, 2020, p.1). This has been a source much suffering and trauma for many communities.

As, Lars Anders Baer, a Sami activist and scholar describes, many indigenous nations and people “cannot survive without the land and without the knowledge that is obtained from using the land” (Gilbert, 2009). Land is also often conceived to be at the heart of Indigenous resurgence, as essential to the “regeneration of Indigenous knowledges and ways of being in the world”(Higgins & Madden, 2019; Wildcat et al., 2014). Thus, ways of being (human, indigenous, Nation, community etc.) come about through engaging with the land. Thus, the land is simultaneous a source of healing, of herbal and traditional medicine, and a literal space to flourish as a distinct community with unique culture and traditions. Land also provides continuity through generations – it ties people to the history of their groups, to the ancestors and the collective heritage. First Nations, claims for land have to be regarded in this light – it is not simply about demarcating territory to indigenous communities to guarantee their livelihood, physical nourishment and resources; it is also about the resurgence of a Peoples collective and cultural identity, their multidimensional connections to land, and feelings of unity with the land (Stelkia et al., 2021).

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