Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality

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"Despite increased interest in sustainability, its popularity alone is insufficient to shift our culture and society toward more stable practices. Gary Holthaus argues that sustainability is achievable but is less a set of practices than the result of a healthy worldview. Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality examines several facets of societies - cultural, economic, agricultural, and political - seeking insights into the ability of some societies to remain vibrant for thousands of years, even in extremely adverse conditions and climates. Holthaus looks to Eskimo and other Native American peoples of Alaska for the practical wisdom behind this way of living." "Learning Native Wisdom explains why achieving a sustainable culture is more important than any other challenge we face today. Although there are many measures of a society's progress, Holthaus warns that only a shift away from our current culture of short-term abundance, founded on a belief in infinite economic growth, will represent true advancement. In societies that value the longevity of people, culture, and the environment, subsistence and spirituality soon become closely allied with sustainability." "Holthaus highlights the importance of language as a reflection of shared cultural values, and he shows how our understanding of the very word subsistence illustrates his argument. In a culture of abundance, the term implies deprivation and insecurity. However, as Holthaus reminds us, "All cultures are subsistence cultures." Our post-Enlightenment consumer-based societies obscure or even deny our absolute dependence on soil, air, sunlight, and waterfor survival." "This book identifies spirituality as a key component of meaningful cultural change, a concept that Holthaus defines as the recognition of the invisible connections between people, their neighbors, and their surroundings. For generations, native cultures celebrated and revered these connections, fostering a respect for past, present, and future generations and for the earth itself." Ultimately, Holthaus illustrates how spirituality and the concept of subsistence can act as powerful guiding forces on the path to global sustainability. He examines the perceptions of cultures far more successful at long-term survival than our own and describes how we might use their wisdom to overcome the sustainability crisis currently facing humanity.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is story-telling as learned from [Holthaus's] Indian and Eskimo friends and mentors in Alaska, with a brilliance that is refreshing because it is rooted in experience. Anyone interested in sustainability will find this book engaging and different." — Craig Gerlach, Agricultural History

"For Holthaus, the 'spiritual task' is to learn to love the universe, including all the creation and the destruction, the health and the disease. Holthaus does a wonderful job of communicating this task throughout Learning Native Wisdom, as he describes how engagements in the continual effort of creating a sustainable culture require that humans learn to tell each other stories, learn to love the universe, learn to practice self-cultivation, and learn to participate in the relationship and reciprocity that entwine humans and the natural world." — Worldviews: Environment Culture Religion

"[Holthaus] challenges [readers] to be mindful of their words, to shape them according to a larger vision of the sorts of persons they wish to be."— Agricultural Environment Ethics" —

"With the foundational stories of many spiritual belief systems and the work of certain spiritual leaders, Holthaus assesses how traditional and non-traditional spiritual belief systems might exist in contemporary culture." —Hilary B. Booker, Department of Environmental Studies, Antioch University" —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813124872
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Series: Culture of the Land
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Holthaus is the author of several books, including From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture and Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West.

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Table of Contents

'Axe Handles;' Gary Snyder Snyder, Gary 1

Introduction Why Subsistence, Sustainability,and Spirituality? 3

Back to Basics

Music and Story 15

Habitat for a Sustainable Culture 38

Functional Cultures and Structural Cultures 50


Exploring Subsistence 67

Education for Subsistence 84


Education for Sustainability 99

Imagining Sustainability 111

Defining Sustainability 122

Stories for Sustainability 130


The Power and Pragmatism of Language 153

Rectifying the Names 174

A Spirituality for Our Time 189

Conclusion: Creating a Sustainable Culture 219

"For Those Who Love Nature' C. J. Taylor 229

Acknowledgments 232

Notes 237

Bibliography 246

Index 252

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