My name is Berea Antaki and I am a Graduate student at the University of Georgia and a member of the North Oconee River Project. I would like to introduce myself and discuss my Masters research and how it relates to the rights of nature movement. I am a MS student in the Textiles & Merchandising department and my interests include craft and sustainability, with a focus on ethics and non-market solutions.
In my first semester of graduate school, I took Environmental Ethics in the Philosophy department. In this course, we read seminar philosophical texts from the early 20th century to the present providing arguments for everything from the rights of non-human animals to the legal protection of ecosystems. This course provided me with the rigor to understand how Man conceives of his role within nature. I learned that since the Scientific Revolution, Western philosophy has contributed toward a Man/Nature binary, positioning nature as something that can be studied within a vacuum, controlled, and improved upon. This class allowed me to begin thinking: how can we change this paradigm that Man is inherently in a destructive dominion over nature? How can we reimagine our role on this planet? In this class, we discussed the growing rights of nature movement, in which natural entities such as watersheds and mountains are being granted legal rights. This ensures protection and stewardship of our limited resources, in addition to asserting the inherent right of nature to exist and thrive.
I then took a class called Ethno-ecology, which is the study of the relationship between humans and their natural environments. We learned about traditional ecological knowledge, which are knowledge systems established by indigenous groups over hundreds and thousands of years. This connection forms mutually beneficial communal behaviors, in which people are incentivized through ethical and spiritual attachments to care for their land in a reciprocal and long-term manner. The implications for sustainability are large: do we need to enforce sustainability in a regulatory manner? Should we solely rely on the economy to provide incentives for corporations and their citizens to practice more sustainable lifestyles? Do the experiences of indigenous peoples across the world dismantle this binary that tells us that humans are inherently destructive toward the natural environment?
"Do the experiences of indigenous peoples across the world dismantle this binary that tells us that humans are inherently destructive toward the natural environment?"
Lastly, I took a class with Dr. Fausto Sarmiento called the Geography of Latin America. In this course, I learned about the Sumak Kawsay/Suma Qamaña or buen vivir cosmology, which is a cultural development in the Andes critically responding to mainstream economic development and political misrepresentation. Since the 1980s, indigenous peoples in the Andes have organized in the name of political representation, environmental protection, and cultural preservation. Los pueblos originarios of the Andes apply ancient values of community and reciprocity to the 21st Century challenge of environmental degradation and government corruption.
This grassroots movement is inextricably tied to the rights of nature movement, as indigenous peoples across the Andes are demanding communal control of their ancestral lands in order to protect these natural resources from both national and international corporations. The governments of Ecuador and Bolivia have both passed historic bills that protect the rights of Nature or Mother Earth, respectively. However, many grassroots organizations are dissatisfied with the institutionalizing of this cosmology, noting that although the governments have nationalized many of the major industries, environmental destruction of both nations’ natural resources continues as an alarming pace.
There is a very strong material culture in Bolivia, with alpaca, wool, natural dyes, and advanced spinning and weaving technologies existing for thousands of years. Last month, I made the trip to Bolivia. My proposal was to understand how artisans have been affected by Suma Qamaña and whether it influences their material practices. I wanted to understand, how does an artisan’s connection to their land influence their approach to sustainability? Can artisans, in today’s global market, form reciprocal behaviors with their local environment, or is this an outmoded model? I want to understand whether Suma Qamaña can provide a useful theoretical framework for restructuring sustainability from the producer’s perspective, rather than the consumer.
Scenes from La Paz, Bolivia.
I am happy to say that in my 10 days in La Paz, I established a research relationship with two companies. In May, I will return to work and conduct research with Artesanía Sorata and COMART, two businesses in La Paz that work with Bolivian artisans and produce handmade products entirely out of natural materials. With COMART, I will be assisting the artisans in cultivating a dye garden. Currently, all of the wool used is dyed naturally, with traditional plants. However, the artisans are foraging and therefore the availability of colors is limited. We will work on cultivating these native plants so that the artisans may develop a more systematic method for dyeing their materials. This opportunity will allow me to utilize participatory research methods and observe how artisans interact with their natural environment. For Artesanía Sorata, I will be working in the capacity of a “visiting artist”, learning spinning and weaving methods from the artisans while contributing my own skill set. Through daily interactions with the artisans, I will collect my data. I will also be assisting the artisans in modernizing their knitting patterns while learning (as a humble student) from their traditional practices.
In Bolivia, I spoke with as many artisans as possible and asked them some of my preliminary questions: Are you familiar with the Suma Qamaña movement? How has the current government affected your role as an artisan? Do you feel a spiritual connection to your natural environment?
What I learned reveals only the tip of the iceberg. Some artisans are from smaller communities outside of La Paz. Some have lived in La Paz for many years but still maintain family farms in the countryside. Some have lived in the urban environment for their entire lives. I found that the closer a tie an artisan has to the countryside, the more likely they are to feel close connections to the natural wool, dyes, and methods that they use. Conversely, an artisan that was born and raised in La Paz stated that she only uses the natural materials because this is what tourists want to buy. She did not feel any special affinity for the material traditions and believed that Bolivians prefer, for the large part, foreign products.
I am really thrilled to be returning in May so that I can conduct a more profound research project. So far, I am beginning to understand the complexity of the rights of nature movement. Although many artisans seem to feel that their natural environment does deserve to be protected with legal rights, they do not completely trust the Movimiento al Socialismo’s interpretation and appropriation of the indigenous cosmology. Ultimately, los pueblos originarios may not accept anything less than full autonomy over ancestral lands. While most people in America are not living on their ancestral lands, we can practice this stewardship in a local context by supporting local agriculture, interacting with our natural world, and contributing to the strength and diversity of our ecosystem. I believe in my heart it is impossible not to feel a spiritual connection and ethical duty to the natural environment once it is intimately experienced.