I was speaking with a student who was a member of a First Nations group once about her language when she made a comment that has stuck with me for several years. She said that when she moved to the city to pursue school she had to give up part of her language. This wasn’t, as I initially assumed, because she didn’t have people to talk with or because she was dealing with a school system that privileges English. It was because the city was missing a lot of the nature and relationships that the language was connected to.
As I said, this stuck with me. I’m fascinated by language and how it shapes what we think about and how we think it. As an example of some of my own reflections feel free to check out my past post on “What is The Environment?” But it makes sense that this extends beyond language, although language is significant and worthy on its own of concern, change, and reconciliation.
Demeulenaere et al (2020) studied the interconnections between culture loss and environmental loss. Specifically, they examined how the CHamoru people’s traditional language, practices, and knowledge on the island of Guåhan (known to Westerners as Guam) is tied to the endemic biodiversity and therefore threatened by its loss.
The fadang is a tree that used to be dominant in limestone forests in Guåhan, but an invasive insect started decimating the population in 2003. The tree is currently listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act. The seeds of this tree are used to make flour by the local people. But what makes this more interesting is that the seeds contain cyanide. The CHamoru developed practices to leech the cyanide out of the seeds, making them safe so that the people can use this uniquely flavoured flour.
The fanihi is a fruit bat that the locals have long included as part of their diet. That is until the populations declined and it was listed as endangered in Guåhan since 1984 and threatened across the Marianas since 2005. One of the major threats is habitat loss, the same limestone habitats as the fadang.
I don’t really know what it’s like to lose something that is part of my culture. My family has had Tim Tams (an amazing Australian cookie) shipped across the world before they showed up in local grocery stores. I haven’t lost anything that I used to talk about, or at least if I have I don’t remember. But I can also see the potential for such loss. Climate change, colonialism, biodiversity loss and cultural loss are threats to us all. It’s just affecting some sooner than others and those who are currently losing or have lost aren’t typically the ones at fault.
In my sustainability course we talk about the connections between environment, social, culture, and economics. I want the pandemic to end but please, can we make a new normal filled with respect and systems thinking and diversity?