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Indigenous Wisdom

June 27, 2013

Here is a short article which forms part of The Nature of Business, a section contributed by Dr Mike Edwards.

Whilst it is important not to fall into slipshod romanticism about the lives and lifestyles of indigenous peoples, it is impossible to refute the fact that people who live in close proximity to nature, and rely on the biophysical systems of nature for their survival, have a highly complex and developed relationship with their environment.

Easter-Island-1Indigenous people have learnt through bitter experience that you cannot just take from nature in an over-exploitative manner; you have to build a nurturing relationship with that which sustains life. This relationship need not be one solely of reverence; it can also be one of utilisation but utilisation based on essential needs rather than endless wants. Unlike the exploitation which underpins the prevailing business paradigm, ‘indigenous utilisation’ has a combination of spiritual, pragmatic and practical elements which respect natural limits and can teach the Firm of the Future so much.

Indigenous utilisation has allowed people to survive in some of Earth’s most inhospitable environments for many thousands of years. The Aboriginal people of Australia, for example, have both survived and flourished for over 40,000 years on one of Earth’s driest continents until, of course, they were colonised. By learning to adapt to extreme environmental conditions, Aboriginal Australians built cultures that were perfectly adapted to their environments. This adaptation, based on highly efficient resource utilisation, allowed Aboriginal people to build thriving cultures in environments where even the most technologically advanced ‘Westerners’ struggle to survive.


By looking at how indigenous people relate to their environments and how they use resources, the Firm of the Future can learn how best to adapt to the volatile conditions ahead of them. Importantly, the value systems of indigenous people can also inform the Firm of the Future. Reciprocity, for example, allows balance in indigenous communities and it is balance that underpins resilience. Reciprocity also underpins the respectful relationship that many indigenous people had, and have, with nature. You don’t simply steal from nature; you care for it so that it will care for you.

Interestingly ‘sustainability’ as a term does not really exist amongst indigenous cultures simply because indigenous people live it (not think about it in a separate way to normal behaviour). This is why they have thrived for thousands of years in volatile environments and lived to tell the tale. By embodying the notion of right relationships, reciprocity, reverence, thinking generations ahead whilst having a holistic understanding of their natural and social environment, they ensure their actions form part of the interconnected nature of life. Hence, sustainability is not needed as a concept as it would never occur to them not to behave and live in a sustainable way.dark-side-of-the-moon

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