We are asked to take a moment. Lower your hand to the ground. Run your fingers through the dry grass or press them into the loose clay. Pick out small fragments of wood, stone, and chaff, and roll them across your palm. Wherever you are from, and whether you hold an intimate knowledge of your ancestors or not, turn your mind to those who came before you—who are responsible in a literal way for your being here today. On what land did they live? How did they interact, inform, and impact that place? If none of this is accessible to you, then imagine what it might have been. Keep your hand to the ground. Anytime you feel the need to come down from a situation displacing you from the present, put your hand to the ground and again draw upon this memory and imagination. In November 2015, Permaculture Design magazine released an edition with essays, stories, and other prose covering the topic of Decolonizing Permaculture. This complex subject requires an ongoing conversation as we as a movement strive to remain at the intersection of ecological and social justice. For permaculture to build its toolbox and remain an effective approach to systems thinking in a true social context, adaptive frameworks for perpetual self-knowledge are essential.
Throughout the International Permaculture Conference, impromptu (or responsively scheduled) sessions have been held with the intent and purpose of continuing to engage with the topic of decolonization. Led by facilitator Maria Marasigon of the Philippine Permaculture Association, these sessions guide participants to confront personal experiences of privilege, trauma, and pluralistic identity. Group activities that reveal how we perceive ourselves—and how others perceive us—aim to be "really honest about what these privileges are... and where our culture does not create a space for us to acknowledge this." Emotional responses—discomfort, denial, pride, etc.—clarify these perceptions of identity and draw us toward a posture of receptivity. We accept that, as the past informs the present, historical forces work upon us in the form of memory built into present-day social institutions and patterns of neglect.
We are ourselves alone responsible for maintaining consciousness in practice as to the differentiation between our intentions and our impacts—and an awareness that, whatever our intention, when we enter a cultural context not our own, we carry with us both a history of colonization and the potential to further the deleterious impacts of insensitivity, violence, and oppression. And violence need not be defined singularly, but instead as a spectrum ranging from the most heinous acts of genocide to daily dismissals, neglect, and quietly spoken disparagement of the people around us. Grand or subtle, anything that reinforces or is derived from historical intolerance, falls within this living spectrum of violence. "You can build compost toilets," Maria begins, "but can you talk about decolonization in permaculture—can you talk about what your privilege is?" Only when we are able to self-identify privilege, trace its roots, contextualize it presently, and work to disrupt further expressions of violence—from the physical to systematic forgetting and neglect—will we be able to say that we have begun to decolonize. And while white supremacy and patriarchal hegemony are at the center of colonization trauma, colonization can occur between any two people at any time. "I am a woman, and I am a woman of color, and I can be a colonizer. And it is 2017," says Maria, referring to the relationship between her identity as an immigrant to, and citizen of, the United States, and her more recent work fostering permaculture in the country in which she was born, the Philippines.
At the heart of this conversation is... heart. It is essential that we remember that we are not here to shame one another. Decolonization activities and awareness-building create spaces where we can confront our complicated, entangled history as we work our way through to a just future. This just future is already home to increasingly diverse examples of professional stories providing examples of how we can deconstruct the past while, parallel to this, build a more resilient future. During a special presentation and ceremony, the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute presented a group of six individuals from across the globe with permaculture diplomas—Malaysia, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Greece, and the United States. Their diverse portfolio of work includes: over 20 years of youth education in urban and rural permaculture practice in Japan; a foundational compiling of research documenting mature permaculture projects from several of the early practitioners; permaculture effected as disaster relief among war-torn communities in the Philippines and Syrian refugees in Greece; a documentary-style literary account of life in a refugee camp; video and social media used as tools for spreading permaculture education in Malaysia; and permaculture art as activism addressing cultural contradiction and human suffering.
The more tools we have and the more mediums we are working within, the greater our resiliency as cultures and as a society to confront the adaptive needs of tomorrow. For one example of how permaculture is branching into new expression, visit Marguerite Kahrl's powerful, permaculture-guided, art-based strategies at kahrl.com.