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The proposal that was brought to the October 24, 2023 Special General Meeting by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Most of us have likely seen some version of this image. It’s frequently included in Permaculture, Regeneration and Organic Land Care presentations, as well as any space where the rights of more than human lives are being discussed.

Over the last decade, the vast majority of what I’ve found in Permaculture, Land Care, Regeneration and similar spaces has focused on caring for the lives relegated to the lower layers of the hierarchical pyramid and working to forestall their collapse as the costs and weight of current societal structures are piled on to them. And there is definitely care and harm reduction work that is needed to support those bearing the weight of today’s hierarchical system.

Unfortunately, this kind of supportive care work can easily end up unintentionally propping up the pyramid itself if not paired with a great deal of advocacy for change, attention to outcomes and ongoing re-evaluation.

The weight of this work also often consumes all of our available time and energy and leaves us without the physical, emotional and mental resources to explore and practice the work of moving out of a position at, or near, the top of the pyramid and into a place within a circle of care. Especially if we are trying to figure out and navigate that transition on our own.

But this is a transition that needs to happen. Even if we set aside the suffering that is caused by this pyramid, it is trembling on the edge of collapse. Over half of the lives outside of direct human control that these images represent have disappeared within my own lifetime and the rate of collapse is accelerating. It isn’t just a question of emissions and a heating climate, how land is being treated in this hierarchy is the primary driver of biodiversity collapse.

But the question of how to cultivate the skills needed for participating in circles of care for those of us who have spent our lives within the pyramid of hierarchy isn’t a simple one. Fortunately, it also isn’t something that needs to be started from scratch.

More and more Indigenous voices are not only being raised but are finally gaining access to platforms such as book publishing, media and academia and the perspectives and lessons that they have to offer are becoming accessible to those of us who have long been isolated from them. Simply listening to these voices as they teach and tell stories from within circles of relationship is a good place to start. But any significant change in behaviour has to move from idea to practice to become real.

While I’m sure that there are many more, two communities that I’m aware of where the learning, practice and skill building of caring are intentionally being centered are in the gentle parenting and the prison abolitionist movements. Both places where the work of dismantling patterns of hierarchical control and cultivating safety, connection, mutual responsibility, compassion for mistakes and room for difference and growth is being actively undertaken. A lot of these skills and practices apply equally well within more than human relationships.

Reinforcing, whether intentionally or accidentally, the pyramidal hierarchy undermines the work of everyone trying to transition away from it. Assisting in the cultivation of circles of care supports everyone working to transition toward them. Expanding the conversations around caring for land to include caring for humans also creates a space for voices and perspectives that are often excluded from conversations and decision making in urban landscapes and can create a space for mutual support as we each bring our strengths and experience into the circle.

SOUL speaks of care in how we describe what we advocate for. At this time, I think that the most valuable things that we can offer are resources and practical guidance for anyone looking to move from a relationship of hierarchy to a relationship of care within the complete ecosystem.

Building up those resources will require SOUL, as an organization, to engage with others who have skills, experiences and perspectives to share on the cultivation of responsible, caring relationships. It will also require us to consider how what each of us does contributes to pyramids of hierarchy and to circles of relationship and an openness to reimagining what livelihoods in caring for land can be.

It won’t be fast, is won’t be simple, but it will be important work.

Sundaura gave a presentation related to this on January 18, 2024. The recording is available here

SOUL members made the decision to proceed with the development of a process to engage diverse stakeholders in the discussion of land care philosophy and practice, and develop resources and practical guidance to support the transition from a relationship of hierarchy to a relationship of care within the complete ecosystem.  

The first step in this process is gathering together for conversations, sharing ideas and co-creating the next steps. We’ll be working to practice a consensus approach both in designing a process and in the creation of whatever resources we eventually agree would be appropriate. 

If you would like to participate in this process, please email Sundaura

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