Four Ways to Look at Standing Rock: An Indigenous Perspective

By Kayla DeVault

November 23, 2016

To understand Standing Rock, you must remove the Western lens and adopt a holistic, indigenous perspective of the world.”

“Certain concepts—holistic methodologies, the value of ceremony and language, the religious significance of certain landmarks, the beliefs of interconnectedness and interdependence—put indigenous groups in stark contrast with Western thinking.”

Everything in Navajo philosophy is related to the concept of balance, and even groups of fours balance one another. These are pairs rather than opposites, and maintains what Navajos call hózhǫ́, a sort of harmony the universe relies on. The other key concept is k’é, or your relations. These could be your siblings, your clan relatives, your tribe, or even your belonging among all creations on this shared planet.

To me, conversations of hózhǫ́ and k’é are crucial to global talks of sustainability. We cannot address how climate change will affect our futures if we do not acknowledge the need for both balance and our fellow beings. The concepts may be of Navajo origin, but they embody the holistic viewpoint of many indigenous communities.

What does this view have to do with the climate? To achieve sustainability in any society, we must ensure the protection of four areas of community well-being:

Environmental: We are all made of water. We all breathe air. We cannot change our dependency on the four elements or the fact that they create us; therefore, we must protect our environment.

Economic: No community can operate without an adequate and fair economy. Furthermore, the diversity and adaptability of an economy are key to its survival.

Social: Our relationships to one another ensure the well-being of us as individuals and as societies. Our communities thrive when we have mutual respect, safety, and room for personal growth.

Cultural: Identity is a critical part of community sustainability, and it is often left out of the greater picture. This is a crucial issue when indigenous communities attempt to assert their sovereign authority and are faced with infringement of their cultural freedoms and rights which, without, would destroy the ability to maintain harmony.”