Sustainability and Health: Part I

Wellness is inherently connected to sustainability and health

Throughout my blog, I am vocal about my belief that health is holistic and integrated with the body and beyond. My belief is informed by my academic background, and my personal experiences. As I practice mindfulness, I see how facets of my health impact one another. The area that I would like to explore this week is the connection between sustainability and health. 

I will explore these concepts throughout the week (links to Part II below), as I believe they require more attention than previous concepts I have written about. 

In this first article, I will explore how the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island perceive health in the context of their environment and sustainability. I will also touch on how Indigenous health has been impacted by Colonization. In Part II, I will share the various ways in which we can begin to make sustainable health decisions, and how these decisions will impact our health.

“The Indigenous Peoples on
Turtle Island are not owned by
Canada or by any individual,
which is the way the language
makes it out to sound. Try to
say “the Indigenous Peoples of
what we now call Canada”
instead.” – Indigenous Ally Toolkit

Indigenous Perspectives on Health

Generally speaking, cultures that live close to the land tend to view health holistically. There are many Indigenous groups across Canada, but this is a common characteristic, whether living in Nunavut or across the prairies. Indigenous people in Canada and their cultures are diverse and unique, and I would be wrong to speak as though they are one. Therefore, throughout this article, I will specify which area I am pulling Indigenous teachings from.

I want to note that the sources I reference generalize across areas, rather than addressing specific Indigenous groups.

The first Indigenous authority I approached was the First Nations Healing Authority, which is a provincial health organization in British Columbia. They advocate for traditional healing and ceremonies to support Indigenous health in BC. They also prioritize:

  • holistic wellness
  • prevention and treatment of chronic illness
  • health promotion
Sustainability and health are intrinsically connected in Indigenous worldview.
Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart

Their approach is especially significant because of the legacy of Colonization, which:

  • Criminalized traditional cultural and healing practices
  • Subjected Indigenous groups to residential schools, reserves, and many other traumas
  • Drastically changed their natural subsistence and diet, contributing to health problems
  • Enforced wage labor economy, which contributed to high rates of poverty

Addressing health through holistic, traditional medicine contributes to reconciliation and healing!

Sustainability and Health: Worldviews

The traditional subsistence of Indigenous people in British Columbia was hunting and gathering. They lived active lifestyles and ate a balanced diet. Indigenous persons were healthy. Moreover, they were intimately connected to their environments, needing to understand animal migrations and seasonal changes.

Their subsistence was sustainable. Their impact on the environment was low.

And, especially compared to post-Colonization, they were healthy. Wellness permeated their lives.

This is evidence that when we are connected to the environment, we are healthier people. When we live sustainable lives, our environment is healthy. Connection (to ourselves, the land, and other people) is key to sustainability and health.

In Alberta, the Aboriginal Mental Health: A Framework For Alberta explores how the concepts of elders, The Creator, tradition, and holism pertain to Aboriginal mental health.

We recognize that Indigenous persons find health and wellness value in their culture.

What we neglect to explore is how these concepts of tradition, sustainability and health impact everyone. ‘

In “Whose Land Is It Anyway? A Manual for Decolonization”, a collection of essays written by Indigenous scholars in Canada explores how the connection to the land is intricately connected to their physical and mental health. It is a wonderful and comprehensive read, and I have linked it below for your reference. I highly recommend this resource to those seeking to understand what decolonization entails, especially in the Canadian context.

Some Truths About Health

We know that being active, especially in the environment, is good for our physical health. Moreover, we know that fresh air benefits our mental health and supports our lungs. What we eat, affects our mental health.

We know that stress and trauma have long lasting effects on our bodies.

There is a growing body of research (that I will explore in later articles) that activities like hiking, gardening, and simply existing in nature have profound impacts on our stress levels and happiness.

When we are happy, our physical health improves and our body functions better.

Slow living, and making the conscious choice to be mindful rather than reactive, is proven to lower stress.

Sustainability and Health: A Proposal

Whether you are a self-professed eco-warrior, or you simply enjoy spending time by the lake, you know human activity leaves a profound mark on the earth.

Plastic is being dumped into the ocean. Fossil fuels being released into the atmosphere. Our economies create disposable products that we throw away after a year of use. Sustainability has been a buzzword for a while, and with good reason.

The earth is our home. We live off the land and the animals, even if most of us only ever buy our food in a grocery store. For Indigenous cultures across the globe, the climate crisis is imperative to address. And they are right.

Without creating a sustainable worldview, how can we protect health? How can we build a healthy society?

There are cities where air pollution is so toxic that lung disease is the norm. Processed, sugary foods are one aspect of the diabetes epidemic. Stress caused by working ourselves to the bone leads to heart disease, memory loss, mental illness, and more. When we are cogs in the machine, we don’t have time to nurture our children and build a better future.

So I propose we change the script. Focusing on sustainable individual choices, while holding corporations accountable is key! Indigenous groups are leading the way in the fight to save our planet! We should listen to their beliefs, message, and worldview.

Thanks For Reading

In Part II, I will explore what we can all make to make a difference. I will also highlight some of the corporations that are paving the way to a sustainable future.

Stay tuned, and thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, and are interested in learning more about wellness in the modern world, subscribe today! For more information on how to be an ally to Indigenous peoples, read this article below!

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