The creation stories of indigenous cultures around the world are strikingly similar: humans were put on the land and we are responsible for its stewardship. In these stories, we have been entrusted to maintain a right relationship to the Earth and exercise care for everything on it.
There’s a common refrain that expresses this world view: I belong to this land.
This statement is emotional, political and philosophical. With its emphasis on collective, multi-generational stewardship, the sense of ‘belonging to the land’ underpins an outlook and way of life in relationship to the Earth. It encourages respect for the planet and its bounty; guardianship of the land and its resources; and consideration for all life, both human and non-human.
To belong to the land acknowledges that we are but a part of the natural world. It reminds us that our individual actions have consequences on a scale larger than ourselves. It encourages us to be thoughtful in our treatment of the planet, respectful of the diversity of life with which we share it and thankful for the gifts with which it provides us.
By contrast, the historically Western articulation of relationship with the natural world is: this land belongs to me.
Ownership implies privilege. If we own something, then its treatment and disposition is solely up to us. We can do, or not do, anything with it that we choose and are responsible to no one but ourselves for our decisions and actions.
When we belong to something - a group, a team, a partner, a family - we feel a sense of responsibility to others. Having a sense of belonging to something outside of ourselves shapes our behavior, infusing care and accountability into our interactions with the people and things to which we belong.
How might our collective attitude and behavior toward the health and well-being of our planet change if we start to see ourselves as belonging to, and not an owner of, the land?