Mitigating Natural Hazards:
An Indigenous View
Vol. 5, No. 1, Aug. 2021


Mitigating Natural Hazards: An Indigenous View

(A companion publication for Of Time, Patience, and Ceremony,
by Adams, Barlo, and Belasco.
Evaluation Matters — He Take Tō Te Aromatawai 7:2021.)

Dawn Hill Adams, Ph.D.

Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, Volume 5, Number 1.

August, 2021
(revised autumn of 2021)

To cite this paper/learning exercise: Adams, Dawn Hill. 2021. Mitigating Natural Hazards: An Indigenous View. Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, 5(1).


You’re probably here because you’re in the environmental evaluation community and found the link to this publication in a paper that Stuart Barlo, Jo Belasco, and I published in Evaluation Matters — He Take Tō Te Aromatawai. If so, I want you to know that these pages were written and designed specifically for your community, to meet needs you’ve expressed in print with a real sense of desperation. You’ve said you want to better understand complexity theory, ecology, and especially Indigenous worldview so you can make a paradigm shift that allows you to understand and promote real sustainability. That’s such an important goal that I wound up putting a great deal of effort into preparing this learning exercise to help you get there.

I’m calling this a learning exercise rather than a paper because I’ve had to use a design that can address a problem it’s not possible to deal with in standard publication format. Neither Indigenous worldview nor the complexity theory that informs resilience ecology is linear, but standard academic publications are. As evaluators, you’re probably familiar with the pedagogical principle that, for learning to be effective, what people learn has to match the way they learn it. So we’ve got a significant epistemic conflict here.

The mismatch between the linear format of journal papers and the non-linear nature of complexity theory and Indigenous worldview means a large number of Indigenous authors have repeatedly explained things about the human-nature relationship and sustainability you’ve asked to understand — but their responses didn’t make sense to you. And a smaller group of physicists and ecologists have laid out how and why complexity theory applies to these same issues — but what they said didn’t make sense to you either. If these things had made sense, you wouldn’t still be asking for help to make a paradigm shift. So communication is not happening even though everyone is making a real effort.

This communication problem isn’t your fault, though, nor is it the fault of Indigenous people, ecologists, or complexity scientists. The problem is that the journal publication medium is linear in structure.  As such, it is a filter that structurally blocks the transmission of non-linear knowledge. As Cree scholar Cash Ahenakew has observed, journal format and publication standards marginalize ways of knowing as well as people (2016).

Once I realized what the problem was, I knew I could not publish this particular paper in a journal. But the paradigm shift your community seeks is potentially game-changing in the current situation we all face, so it’s worth responding. At the same time, the paradigm shift you want to make is enormous: nothing less than the doorway into a new experience of reality — a Reality that is not linear. Facing this impasse, I did Ceremony to ask for help. In response, I was sent a Dream.

The Dream showed me a basket in the process of being woven. Several strands of cane were bent in a loose curve above the part of the basket into which they’d already been woven. I didn’t quite understand how this image told me to solve the problem in a practical way I could apply though, so I did Ceremony and prayed again. The next night, another Dream came. It showed me a basket in the process of being woven too, but this time the image turned so I could really see the way the pieces crossed one another in the mesh of the weaving, and how the different pieces of cane related to the pieces next to them to form patterns and shapes. And suddenly, I understood.

It’s possible to organize separate webpages of information by subject, to create something like the long strips of cane that are woven into a basket. Hypertext links between concepts and ideas on the individual pages permit “sideways” or “cross-ways” movement between different pages, which creates connections that function like the strips of cane woven in, out, and between “subject” line strips of cane running the opposite direction. This weaving permits your, the reader’s, cognitive processes to handle the information you learn in a non-linear way that matches the non-linear nature of the things you’re learning.

So that’s what I’ve done. The resulting resource is essentially a college-level course in Indigenous worldview applied to environmental issues. Some of the pages have questions designed to advance your cognitive processing and the paradigm shift itself. I encourage you to write out thoughtful responses to these questions that you can hang onto and think more about as you find new questions and ideas on other pages that weave back into them in important ways. I structured that kind of engagement into the exercise, because that’s what gives you the opportunity to weave pedagogically and epistemically authentic Knowledge.

The pages of the learning exercise are grouped into four sections. By far the biggest section is the second one, called Weaving the Basket. That’s where most of the cognitive process happens — the weaving that can power the paradigm shift you’re hoping to accomplish.

To start your adventure, click “Preparing the Cane” (below). When you finish that section, come back to this page and click the “Weaving the Basket” link. When you finish that section, return here a third time to click the link that will take you to “Final Steps” as well as the fourth and final section. (It might be a good idea to bookmark this page.) The exercise will be most effective if you work through the big sections 1-4 below in the order shown. But once you are within the big Weaving the Basket section (#2), you’re invited to choose your own path and read those pages in any order you please.

1. Preparing the Cane.
Click here to understand how to prepare yourself for the work we’re going to do together, so you can really get a paradigm shift out of it.

2. Weaving the Basket.
Click this link to weave ideas and concepts into a basket that’s a whole new paradigm. Many of these pages have thought questions for your response.

3. Final Steps.
Click this link to activate and consolidate your paradigm shift. When you finish that part of the exercise, a link on the last page of the exercise will take you to the fourth and final section, which is . . .

4. Indigenous Mitigation of Natural Hazards.
The primary link to this page is internal, on the final page of Part 3, because it’s important to read it only after working through the previous parts of the exercise. This final section explores some ways to mitagate natural hazards from within a new paradigm.

References cited in the exercise pages all are listed together here.