Lecture: First Peoples’ Day: What Can We Learn from Indigenous Cultures?

Lecture: First Peoples’ Day: What Can We Learn from Indigenous Cultures?

By Cliff DuRand


October 12 is First Peoples’ Day, formerly known as Columbus Day. This day has been repurposed to honor the original inhabitants of this hemisphere rather than the Europeans who conquered their lands and carried out genocide against them. There is little to celebrate here. But there is much to be remembered. Before Columbus, multiple cultures lived on the commons of this hemisphere. The English came for their land. The Spanish came for their gold. Both found the original peoples to be in their way and conquered or exterminated them. 


Nevertheless, their descendants today are often bearers of cultural identities alternative to the world created by the European conquerors—our modern world with its individualism, materialism, and domination of nature. Now that modern world is beset by multiple crises: a deadly pandemic, climate catastrophe, economic collapse, and a dispiriting malaise. Perhaps we can learn from the First Peoples—from their values of buen vivir (a good life), from living in harmony with nature, from their communal societies. 


Their continuing struggles will be discussed by Gustavo Esteva, a leading public intellectual in Mexico, and economist David Barkin, a “distinguished professor” at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Unidad Xochimilco. They will highlight some of the values and visions of a good life that are part of societies that many indigenous cultures, and others who share their ideals, offer as alternatives to the dominant values of Western culture. 


This webinar is part of a weekly series featuring thought-provoking speakers on a variety of social issues. The Center for Global Justice is devoted to research and learning for a better world. We offer these webinars every Monday at 1pm. Upcoming webinars will be on “United States Foreign Policy,” “Toward a Better Society,” “Crisis of Liberal Democracy,” Radical Responses to the Environmental Crisis, Commons/Public Goods,” and a panel assessing the way forward after the November election. Tune in at www.globaljusticecenter.org. You can also view past programs there.