Indigenous Group Keeps Ecology All in the Family

June 29, 2006

For the Raramuri people of the northern Mexico region of Chihuahua, conservation is a family affair (map of Mexico).

The Raramuri (also known as the Tarahumara) speak a language that has no concept of—and thus no word for—wilderness, says ethno-ecologist Enrique Salmón.

Wilderness is a European word that connotes a separation of the land from humans, said Salmón, who is Raramuri.

Instead the Raramuri relate to the land with the same energy and affection as they do their own human family members and neighbors.

Salmón calls the concept kincentric ecology.

"[We] are immersed in an environment where we are at equal standing with the rest of the natural world," he said.

"They're all kindred relations: The trees and rocks and bugs and everything is in equal standing with the rest. We are caretakers, stewards, of all this around us."

Thinking What You Speak

Salmón is a program manager at the Christensen Fund, a grant-making organization in Palo Alto, California, that supports biological and cultural diversity projects.

He says that language is the foundation of cultural identity, giving shape to the way people think and act.

"Language and thoughts work together. They can't be separated," he said.

"So when [a people's] language includes words like 'wilderness,' that shapes their thoughts about their relationship to the natural world.

Continued on Next Page >>


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