Indigenous Cultures and a Long-Term Vision Approach to Managing Time and Promises - 8 minutes read

Indigenous Cultures and a Long-Term Vision Approach to Managing Time and Promises

— In the Gaia University course, Managing Time and Promises, we do a cultural reframing of this topic and consider how to transform the rigidity of deadlines into something more agile while also retaining the value of accountability (and the capacity for other people to plan their projects in conjunction with us).

Here in the Gaia U virtual office, we discuss the ethics of managing time and promises a good deal.

The arguments are to do with whether or not the agile approach we advocate here for managing time and managing promises is a significant leap forward towards a distress-free approach to productivity and reliability and yet is woven through with some sneaky threads of distress and/or dysfunctional patterns.

We prefer to think the former, but we may be deluding ourselves. Meanwhile, the sneaky threads (if they are there) would likely be a function of the current, globally dominant, military/industrial/corporate/academic complex that promotes such memes as consumerism, productivity (of money), so-called rational utility, competition, superior achievement, business and profits without morals. At Gaia U, we call this “The Patrix” or the Patriarchal Metrix.

As most of us in Gaia U (so far) grew up in such societies, there is every possibility that we are unconsciously carrying forward some of these patrix memes.

From another perspective (so we are led to believe) whole societies (especially indigenous societies) have functioned and continue to function (when permitted), without apparent formal systems for managing time, managing promises and got/get along just fine.

Although, when we dig little deeper, it turns out that indigenous cultures are/were deeply purposeful, capable of long-term, multigenerational perspectives, acted in timely manners to natural phenomena and more.

Some of the fuel for the debate here is provided by our recreational/informative readings. For example, Martîn Prechtel’s works (Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, Long Life, Honey in the Heart and The Toe Bone and The Tooth) that describe in detail, from the perspective of an active participant, the civil and shamanic dimensions of an ancient Tzutujil Mayan culture in Guatemala, is one such extended source that documents plenty of evidence of timely purposefulness in the culture.

So too does Kat Anderson’s significant and scholarly work “Tending the Wild”. This book importantly reconfigures our understanding of how the Native American cultures of what is now California, USA, lived in balance with nature for millennia (before the arrival of the Europeans) whilst all the time significantly modifying the landscape through burning, seed collecting, species selecting, cultivating and planting, coppicing, pruning and more.

The perspective argued in “Tending the Wild” was bolstered for us when one of our External Reviewers, Lee Klinger, presented his work on healing sudden oak death (a major problem in northern California, USA and now moving south) at the Gaia U gather-in in California, USA, 2013. See his website here.

Lee has gathered evidence to show that large, acorn producing oak and redwood trees were kept alive and healthy for hundreds of years (when the natural life span might be more like 120 to 150 years) through indigenous interventions (burning out competing understory plants, generating fertility flashes also through burning, adding calcium by way of seashells to acidifying soils, burning out rotting heartwoods to avoid the rot spreading to cambium layers, etc.).

This work maintained the oak savannah ecology in California, prized by the Native Americans as it generated staple protein/oil supplies. This savannah was a deliberately arrested succession as, without human intervention, the oak forest would naturally give way to much less hospitable pine forest. The work of maintaining such a stable, productive ecology requires coordinated action down multiple generations (20 + generations) and indicates a way of thinking that can hold onto intergenerational responsibility.

The extensive collection of evidence presented in Kat Anderson’s important work roundly contradicts the European invader’s self-serving and prejudiced view that First Nation people simply (and, the implication goes, lazily) just took from what nature provided without making any significant input themselves.

Both of the above sources show that these indigenous cultures were actually highly strategic, purposeful and structured. They involved whole societies thinking ahead (by at least seasons and frequently by multiple years and even generations) and inventing and maintaining multi-generational solutions to problems arising in the emergent dynamics of the eco-systems of which they were an intimate part. And, in California at least, the eco-systems are challenging as they move in and out of unpredictable 70 years droughts and severe flash floods.

This would have them engaging in extensive and creative engineering with natural materials and human labor to meet the complex demands of digging, planting, harvesting, weaving, sewing, container making, long-term food storage, cooking without metal pots and more, including (in the case of the Californian Indians) a sophisticated understanding of how to use fire in the landscape for multiple purposes including the extension of the life of productive oaks from 120 years to 600 years.

Likewise (as in strategic, organized, and drawing on multiple intelligences) they practiced simple, systematic and speculative tracking for the purposes of successful hunting. See here – Art of Tracking – for a detailed description of these practices and the observation that tracking represents the earliest evidence of scientific thinking in humans.

These people also knew how to time their arrival at remote stands of fruit, seeds, flowers and so on at the precise time when their interventions would be the most productive and effective and would coordinate together in appropriately sized groups to head out to take care of the job.

Overall then, the picture is of purposeful, organized, scientific (and also mystical) and coordinated cultures that work(ed) towards meeting their own needs and sustaining a productive and diverse nature.

These cultures functioned with careful attention to phenomenological timing and with an acute, collective capacity to observe the effect of their interactions with their environment and alter practices to achieve their (holistic) goals through processes of induction, deduction and imagining long-term outcomes.

And, for individuals during their lifetime of deep involvement with their culture, with mentoring assistance from their peers and elders, the expectation was/is of a thorough and complex transformation of the self over time.

This sounds very like the orientation of a purposeful, eyes-wide-open, transformative action un/learner and it is this many-faceted, complex flavoring that we are seeking to promote in our Managing Time, Managing Promises approach. —

This post was previously published on and is republished here under a Creative Commons license CC BY-ND 4.0. —

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