Indigeneity, land ontologies and ‘development’

The Daily Guardian

I had ended the last piece on the note that one of the fundamental distinctions between the European colonizer and indigenous peoples who were colonized was the difference in their land ontologies. In the case of the former, his Christian Onto-epistemological and theological (OET) framework informed his land ontology whereas a spiritual land ethic, scholars believe, shaped the very OET of most indigenous societies. The nexus between the subject-object cartesian dualism of the colonizer’s OET and the Lockean position on ownership of land/creation of a proprietorial interest in land is not that difficult a connection to draw. In stark contrast, most indigenous societies, until afflicted by “modernity” owing to the European colonizer’s advent, shared a sacred and harmonious relationship with nature which was not seen merely as an object of conquest and possession. It is this distinction in attitudes that brings out in stark relief the devastating impact that universalizing Europeanism has had on nature across the world.

That the colonial attitude towards nature has a direct bearing on metrics of “development” is supported by several scholars of coloniality. A colonialized and hence homogenised approach to development has resulted in every society aspiring for the same way and quality of life regardless of its local conditions. Hypothetically speaking, it is as good or as bad as Uttarakhand, an eco-sensitive zone, aspiring for the same degree of road connectivity and “infrastructure” as Delhi notwithstanding the environmental impact of ceaseless “developmental” activity on its fragile ecological balance. Also, scholars have underscored the convenient categorization of former colonies as underdeveloped or developing countries while the former colonizers serve as benchmarks, the developed countries, whom the rest of the world, specifically the “Third World”, must catch up with. The ones who benefited from colonization became “donor countries” and the ones whose societies were destroyed became “recipient countries” with their arms outstretched for alms in the form of “development aid”.

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