Global Ethics and Environment

By Nicholas Low | Go to book overview

11

Indigenous ecologies and an ethic of connection

Deborah Bird Rose

Introduction

I aim to generate further dialogue that will enable Indigenous people’s understandings of ecology to find conversational and practical ground in current world environmental justice debates. My work with dialogue is embedded both in Levinas’s philosophy of ethical alterity and in my work with Indigenous people. Levinas teaches an ethic of human connectivity: ‘consciousness and even subjectivity follow from, are legitimated by, the ethical summons which proceeds from the intersubjective encounter. Subjectivity arrives, so to speak, in the form of a responsibility towards an other’ (Newton, 1995:12).

Emil Fackenheim (1994:129) articulates two main precepts for structuring the ground for ethical dialogue. The first is that dialogue begins where one is, and thus is always situated; the second is that dialogue is open, and thus that the outcome is not known in advance. Openness produces reflexivity, so that one’s own ground becomes destabilized. In open dialogue one holds one’s self available to be surprised, to be challenged, and to be changed. I intend this study to constitute an exploration both of some of the directions this dialogue may take and of the Fackenheim principle I advocate: situated availability. My work with Indigenous people leads me to understand dialogue in the broad sense of intersubjective mutuality, and thus to seek possibilities for mutual care in a system of connections and reciprocities that includes humans, non-human living things, and environments. I conclude with some thoughts on pragmatics for the restoration of connection and mutual care.


Sites

I have for many years been learning from Aboriginal people in Australia. The greater part of my research has taken place in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory, where my learning focuses on intersubjectivity, ecology, and practices of colonization (Rose, 1991, 1992, 1996a, b). Here in the savannah regions of the monsoonal north, white settlers established broadacres cattle stations just over one hundred years ago. Overrunning the homes of the Indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of the region, they first shot and hunted

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