Holistic Thinking

Close up of banana leaves with sunlight glowing through the leaves from behind

Systems Thinking Is Not Indigenous Holistic Thinking

Indigenous holistic thinking is not systems thinking because many Indigenous peoples and communities do not separate their world or landscapes into “systems” in the first place. I think that this is why the physicist’s argument over how holistic thinking is system thinking confused me, because as an Indigenous person I was never taught to think of everything separately. This is why pursuing Western education and higher academia made it difficult for me to truly comprehend the importance of this way of thinking as it compartmentalizes everything. Western knowledge has separated everything into either systems or boxes, which is why there is an array of disciplines within the environmental sciences and academia.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

If someone were interested in learning more about fish health or biology, they would pursue fisheries. If someone were more interested in learning more about the oceans, they would pursue oceanography or marine sciences. While these disciplines, fisheries and oceanography, are two different systems, through “systems thinking” they can be connected. However, for Indigenous peoples, separating our world into systems is why many environmental or climate solutions are not effective and continue to fail to address the root of the problem. This is because when everything is separated into systems or boxes, more harm can be done with the solutions that are thought of.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

For example in 2018, Seattle passed a ban on plastic straws. This meant that restaurants or any places could no longer provide plastic straws and they had to provide either paper or other recyclable straws. However, with this ban on plastic straws, disabled individuals no longer had access to an essential tool and material they needed. Alice Wong wrote the following testimonial on why plastic straws are essential to disabled individuals in the article “The Rise and Fall of the Plastic Straw”:

A plastic straw is an access tool I use for nutrition as a person with a neuromuscular disability. When sipping a latte at my favorite cafe, I use a plastic straw because I am unable to lift a drink to my mouth and it is safe for hot liquids. Plastic straws are now seen as harmful and outmoded by environmentalists who are in favor of “safer” products (e.g., compostable, biodegradable plastics made of polylactic acid, silicone).

Wong’s testimony reveals the nuances and intersectionalities that are often dismissed within this systems thinking. The systems that came into play in this decision aimed to reduce the impacts of plastic straws, yet due to not linking the system of disability justice, they ended up causing more harm. Therefore, eliminating plastic straws is not an equitable decision given that it further harms a marginalized community. This is why environmental solutions are not as inclusive because we all know who these systems are primarily governed by. They are governed by those who hold on to power and privilege provided within the systems under settler colonialism that the United States operates under. Given this, it is also important to mention that as long as every system is influenced by and operating under settler colonialism, it will never be equitable or just toward Indigenous peoples. This is why many Indigenous peoples do not think within this system’s framework and everything is rather holistic. If we were to try to integrate systems thinking into Indigenous ways of knowing, I will say that we think within one system that encompasses everything. As my father recounted in his interview, it is hard to fully explain how we as Indigenous peoples think, but we know that everything is interconnected with our environments. This is why our worldviews as Indigenous peoples are distinct from Western worldviews.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

Everything is interconnected, even during our environmental and climate justice movements. We do not just advocate for our rights and natural resources, as it should be if we were applying this systems thinking into our ways of knowing. We also advocate for language, gender, spirituality, and everything else that is integral to our identity as Indigenous peoples. Everything is interconnected ultimately to our environment through our cultural values and ways of knowing.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they