Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

Iñupiaq ancient lore in video game May 11, 2014



Exciting news on the indigenous storytelling front: the Iñupiaq people (of the place currently known as northern Alaska) will soon release a video game based on their traditional stories. For those who haven’t the ability to physically sit at the feet of their First Nations elders and listen, what better way to get this ancient knowledge of how to live in right relationship with the more-than-human world into the ears of today’s youth — and even the world?

Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) is the story of a young girl who, with her arctic fox companion, must save her people from an endless blizzard.  From their trailer:

“Welcome to the top of the world. Where nature challenges life in the extreme. Where death lies waiting in the cold. Where you must explore the fantastical world of Iñupiaq stories to help a young girl save her people from an endless blizzard. …A game of survival in a place where survival shouldn’t be possible. A game that opens a gateway to explore what it means to be human.”


Upper One, the creators of this “atmospheric puzzle platformer” adventure game, say they are the first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in the U.S. To create Never Alone, they had experienced game developers join forces with Alaska Native storytellers and elders. Some of the stories are thousands of years old.

Ecopsychological Dimensions

On the one hand, such video games encourage more staring at glowing machines indoors instead of actually interacting with the natural world in both its physical and magical dimensions, as seen in Never Alone‘s storyline. From an ecopsychological viewpoint, I find this a painfully ironic disjoint. But if we accept the fact that the burgeoning use of internet technology is here to stay for now, telling traditional stories in an interactive way like this is a wonderful use of it – especially if players then apply the principles to their own lives, seeking deep relationships of the sort featured in the game.

Native Language

The game will be released in Fall 2014 so I obviously haven’t played it, but from the trailer alone I love nearly everything about it. Besides the sheer gorgeousness of the visuals and the fact that it offers vitally important traditional lore in such a delicious and widely accessible package, one of the best things about this game is that it is presented in the characters’ own language of Inupiat, with an English translation below.

Why is this so great? Because native languages are in serious trouble. According to MIT’s Indigenous Language Initiative, “In the world, approximately 6,000 languages are spoken, of which only about 600 are confidently expected to survive this century.” Preserving them is important not only for the speakers of the languages themselves and the integrity of their cultures each one’s language creates and holds, but the fact that diversity of languages is intimately tied to biodiversity.

First Nations languages contain words and phrases for local natural events and features. They therefore hold keys for the local natural world’s survival and thriving, so when the language is lost, this knowledge of how to work with and care for the local environment is lost as well. The loss of a native language is therefore a painful loss for the whole world. Exposure like this game offers could go a long way toward preserving and even expanding these languages’ use.

What, no Mac version?

The game will cost a reasonable $15, but is only going to be released for PS4, Xbox One and PC. No mention of Mac. 😦   So I only hope I can gain access to the right kind of machine for awhile to play it. (Hey Upper One developers, if you’re reading this, please make a version for Mac too!!)

To learn more or to play it once it’s released, here is the game’s website





Equal Rights Granted to Nature April 12, 2011

In a breathtaking movement toward sustainability through wisdom, indigenous philosophy regarding right relationship with Earth is about to become law.

From the U.K.’s excellent paper The Guardian, April 11, 2011:

“Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.””

[read more here]

My friend Jon Berger, a lawyer, pointed out that this is not a completely revolutionary idea. “Way back in the early 70’s,” he said, “a law prof named Christopher Stone published a completely serious and non-ironic article called Should Trees Have Standing?, which proposed that natural features like trees should have legal rights just like people do.” (Read it here on Harvard University’s pdf.)

I used to teach from this very article, including it amongst other provocative readings in environmental philosophy for my ecopsychology courses. But it’s a long haul from theory to actual practice (and not only by a small pocket area but by a whole country), particularly when the basic idea behind it is generally seen as so outlandish as to be laughable. Seeing such theoretical musings now put into actual practice is a big, wonderful shift. (And seeing it put into practice here in the heart of capitalist greed would be revolutionary.)

It remains how effective this law will actually be in halting the polluting and otherwise damaging actions of industries. After all, Ecuador changed its constitution to recognize rights of the more-than-human world, but this has not stopped the oil companies’ destructive activities in the Amazon rainforests.

But Bolivia is fortunate to have a VP like Linera, an intellectual, mathematician and ex-armed rebel who, according to Indymedia Ireland, defines himself as “the bridge between [supporters of] indigenous and the middle classes.”

In his eclectic combination, I hear echoes of another great Latin American scientist-cum-change agent, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Following one’s eclectic interests needn’t mean mere dilettantism; followed with passion and persistence, they can lead to some amazing new perspectives. As issues get viewed across disciplines, a giddy freedom of thought can emerge. As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.”

But I digress.

Both Guevara and Linera seem to be guided by deep caring. As Che once observed, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

This act, attempting – and succeeding! – at passing the Law of Mother Earth, certainly qualifies. The Bolivian government is reportedly committed to a strong conservation movement against pollution and other exploitative, extractive activities, conferring the power to monitor and control the activities of industry, including at local community levels. How moving and fitting that these changes are based on their indigenous idea of Pachamama, recognizing that this ancient wisdom, if acted upon, provides a clear path toward future survival.

Such a governmental commitment to nature’s basic rights means much greater leverage for achieving the kind of structural changes necessary for the future health of the land and all of the peoples that dwell there.

As if that weren’t enough, the new law also restores power and dignity to the area’s indigenous population. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca commented, “We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.”