Facing Human Wrongs:
Navigating paradoxes and complexities
of social and global change.
Forest Walk (Entanglement)
Forest/City Walk: Self-On, Cell-Phone
“Mohawk grandmother and traditional midwife Katsi Cook teaches that, “women are the first environment.” She also explains that in the Mohawk language, one word for midwife is iewirokwas, which means, “She’s pulling the baby out of the Earth.” These teachings describe how the waters of the Earth and the waters of our bodies are the same; for better or for worse, there is an undeniable connection between the health of our bodies and the health of our planet. Violence that happens on the land is intimately connected to the violence that happens to our bodies.” (From Violence on the Land, violence on our bodies: Building an Indigenous response to environmental violence, (Links to an external site.) 2016, p.4)
This forest walk invites you to experience the land differently and to consider how the violence that happens to the land for the sake of our comforts is also violence towards our bodies. You will also be invited to consider how technology is intertwined with both systemic violence and the possibility of different futures.
This walk consists of 3 parts. You will walk for about 20 minutes or until you find a space where you can do the exercise in a safe way for you that is also considerate towards others. Then you will return. This should take about 50 minutes of your time.
Part A: Arriving
Walk for 20 minutes or until you find a place (a clearing or bench) where you can do the exercise in part 2 safely. In this walk, consider the words of Indigenous grandmother Katsi Cook about the undeniable connection between our bodies and the Earth. Consider the meaning of the word iewirokwas (midwife) and how the waters of the body and the waters of the land are the same waters. Before you start, please consider the usual suggestion for consent and reciprocity below.
Usual suggestion for learning consent and reciprocity: Many Indigenous communities do not make a distinction between objects and subjects, or humans and nature. The rivers, the mountains, the trees, the other animals and the forests themselves are experienced as conscious entities who are much older relatives and who, like human beings, require engagements based on trust, respect, consent, reciprocity and accountability. Therefore, we invite you to consider your relationship with the land where you will do this exercise – be it a forest, a park or the paved streets of a city. Before you start the walk we suggest that you establish contact with the land by requesting “safe passage”, which is a way of asking permission to experience it as a relation, rather than an object to be consumed, a property to be owned, a resource to be used or a benefit to be enjoyed. Then you should offer something in reciprocity. The offering/request can be quite simple. For example, you can request permission to enter and offer a song, or berries, or a flower. You can also request inspiration and guidance and offer your labor in service to the land as a form of reciprocity. Listen with your whole body for a response from the land. Sometimes you can be told it is not a good time to proceed.
Part B: In the Forest
- Once you find a safe place to perform this exercise, take your phone out. Turn the camera function on and hold it right in front of you. Resist the temptation to take photos or videos. Use the camera to notice your surroundings. Try to connect to what is around you only through the small screen of your phone for the next 3-5 minutes. Notice if there is any compulsion to “capture” something with the camera. Observe it and let it go. Once you get used to observing what is around you without the desire to capture or consume, check through the camera if something in your surroundings is trying to catch your attention. It can be a stone, a trunk, a slug, a stick… it may not be “beautiful” in the way you understand beauty. Once you find an entity who is trying to connect with you through the screen of your phone, get as close as possible with your camera.
- Come even closer, as close as you can without the image blurring and now begin to follow the shape of this ‘being’ closely through the screen of your phone. For example, if it is a branch, follow the branch with the camera, slowly looking at its intricacies, until you find a spot you relate to deeply and stay with it on the phone. Again, resist any urges to capture. Now remove the phone quickly from your line of sight and look again without the screen, with your eyes, and notice the differences.
- As you look, notice if there are any changes in your body. See this other being who, in their own way, is also seeing you.
- What other senses are returning now?
- Can you notice differences between looking, seeing and connecting?
- Can you notice differences between seeing the being in front of you as an object or as an entity that is also seeing you?
- Can you hold your gaze without consuming this being?
- Stay with this sensation of seeing this being, who is land looking back at you. close your eyes and hold this sensation.
Now focus on your sense of touch.
- Hold your phone with one hand, stretch and touch this being with the other hand. This is land. Touch in a way that the touch itself asks permission. Sensing for temperature, texture, respectfully explore. Respectfully inquiring, with your sense of touch.
- With your other hand holding your phone, bring your attention to the metals in your phone. They are land too-from all over the planet. lands that have been subject to resource-exploitation, human-slavery and long supply-chains of violence. Violence that results in accumulation of profit on one end, and poverty on another. Land that has been transformed into the mega-tool you hold now.
- Bring your attention to yourself, you are also land. Your bones, skin, flesh, hair, the food being digested inside of you, all your fluids-water, blood, salive, snot, urine-are made up of and sustained by the same, the land. You come from the land and one day will return to the land. Remember that your food and your clothes are also land and also connected with harmful and unsustainable chains of production and waste disposal.
- (If you are a settler in a settler-colonial state) Remember that land is also Indigenous territory – the place you are in is deeply connected to the bodies of the Indigenous people who have lived there for thousands of years and who have had this land violently occupied. This is what happens when land is perceived to be an inanimate object, a property or a resource. They suffer this violence together – and you are affected by this suffering too, although you may not identify it as such. What is your responsibility in relation to this on-going suffering.
- Whenever you are ready, turn the camera of your computer on again for a different kind of selfie. Try to create a picture of this encounter that decenters yourself and your ideas of beauty. What would be photographed if the land around you could take the picture? Try to make a photo of the land in you both through the image. Try to shape your body to be in alignment with this being, not the other way around. How can you move in ways that make space for this being’s own existence to come through, as opposed to changing it for your ideals of beauty? Take a picture and thank those (human and non-human) who have taken part in this learning experience.
Part C: Reflection
On your way back, walk in silence holding the teachings that this encounter may have gifted you. Hold space for the following questions:
- Where does the land end and begin – does it?
- What would it take for people to un-numb to the pain of the land in all of us?
- What would it take for people to shift from a paradigm of separation that treats the land as property or resource to the realization that the land is a living entity, that we are part of it, and that what happens to the land, good or bad, also happens to our bodies and communities?
- How is technology connected with the violence inflicted upon the land and upon Indigenous communities and how could technology also be mobilized to interrupt this violence?
Post your photo together with the reflections on this walk in your (un)learning journal.
Further thoughts and reflections
This exercise has invited you to start to see the connection between the technology available to you and the violence that the land suffers so that you can have access to this technology. For example, the minerals in the device you are using right now were mined in ways that dispossessed Indigenous communities, contaminated the land and exploited the labor of multiple people in the production and supply chains. There are also other aspects of informational technology that contribute to the continuity of violence and unsustainability. Consider the following questions:
- How does information technology feed hyper-individuality, vanity and systemic narcissism?
- How does it encourage and reward us for treating everything (including knowledge, experiences and other people) as objects of consumption?
- What role does it play in dissociating us from our senses?
- How does it fuel our desires for aestheticization and validation?
These websites have tips for healthier social media use if you are interested: