Nature Needs Half is giving Mother Earth the second chance she deserves.
Ilarion Merculieff has more than forty years experience serving his people, the Unangan (Aleut) of the Pribilof Islands and other Indigenous Peoples locally, nationally, and internationally in a number of leadership capacities. Ilarion is an independent consultant/president of the Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways (GCILL) and serves as a Senior Advisor to the World Wilderness Congress and advisor to the Native Lands and Wilderness Council. His passion is speaking of traditional Elder wisdom for modern challenges, particularly about restoring women to their place as original healers and balancing the dysfunctional masculine. He is working on a third book. The working title is Tuunam Awaa, which means the “Work of the Land” in Unangan.
Merculieff agreed to speak with Nature Needs Half about the role of traditional and contemporary science and leadership in the campaign to protect Earth’s life-giving wilderness.
NNH: What was the first indication to the Aleuts that something was wrong in the Arctic?
IM: In 1977, we began noticing very unusual things happening to the animals. After removing fat from the animal’s hide, we noticed that you could see light through the animal’s skin. This was never something that we had seen before. Chicks were also falling from the cliffs much sooner than they had normally done. Immediately, we knew that the animals were facing a food shortage and a dramatic change to their environment.
NNH: When you informed scientists and land management authorities working in the region, what stopped them from taking immediate action?
IM: Knowledge without wisdom is useless and maybe even dangerous. We have a global collective wisdom that is literally thousands of years old about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth. We’re finding that more and more people are recognizing that native people have critical wisdom on how to repair our damaged relationship with nature. We must move from the mind to the heart. The mind’s job is to implement what the heart is telling us to do.
When we act from the mind, we are focused on short-term solutions. Indigenous Peoples are focused on long term solutions.
NNH: What are your thoughts on protecting half of Earth’s land and seas?
IM: Nature Needs Half was the first time that I had heard of any environmental organization having the courage to step forward and recognize that nature does in fact need half. Back then this was being driven almost entirely by the WILD Foundation. What they’re doing is extremely important as world events unfold. We need to act and we need to act now. Nature Needs Half is giving us a chance for the future.
NNH: How can conservation work more effectively with Indigenous Peoples?
IM: Every single person in the world is needed now. We are each given a gift that can help the world. When you go to your heart, it’ll tell you exactly what you need to use individually to help this planet.
We must be aware that what we choose to focus on becomes reality and if that’s reacting to the negative things that surround us, we are pouring our energy into those things we are actually fueling the very things that we are trying to stop – it gives it more energy.
The global population of Indigenous Peoples number 370 million and is dispersed across 90 countries and hundreds of different cultures. Combined the individuals in these communities total 5% of Earth’s human population, and yet they steward a disproportionate amount of the world’s remaining biodiversity (80%) and natural lands (37%).
Attempts to halt the Sixth Mass Extinction or address climate change would likely fail the natural world without the partnership, knowledge, and leadership of this critically important population. They would certainly fail humanity and our global commitment to human rights.
From its inception, Nature Needs Half has prioritized collaboration between a variety of cultures and groups recognizing the crucial leadership and value offered by Traditional and local communities.