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INVOKING INDIGENEITY TO REIMAGINE THE KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICE OF ANTICIPATION

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

By Shermon Cruz and Nicole Anne Kahn-Parreño

For the historical futurist, Yuval Harari in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, he writes: “If we want to understand our future, cracking genomes and crunching numbers is hardly enough. We must also decipher the fictions that give meaning to the world.”

Decolonization through Dreaming

In 1889-1890, the Filipino national hero and patriot Dr. Jose Rizal penned an essay, The Philippines a Century Hence, in which he shared his anticipations about the future of the Philippines. His essay served as an early warning signal about the eventual American colonization after the Spanish cession of the Philippines to the U.S. in 1898 and offered policy recommendations to his countrymen in the hopes that they would be better prepared for a freer nation.


Rizal emphasized the importance of heritage and the collective memory of the past, and embedding cultural identities and narratives in studying and in shaping alternative futures. According to Rizal, when a person or a community’s spirit is broken, and they are made to feel fear and shame for their own ways of knowing reality, the future seems incomprehensible, distant, and foreign. Ancestry, heritage, indigenous culture, and tradition inform and broaden our perspectives of what is transformational and expands the edge of our understanding, which opens a vast field of opportunities to fuel our imagination.


Correspondingly, Poka Laenui's framework for people's decolonization incorporates dreaming as the third stage, calling it “most crucial” as colonized people are able to reimagine the structures and social order which “encompass and expresses their hopes.”


HARNESSING COMMUNITY DESTINIES

Embarking and drawing from the epistemic narratives of the Gaian injunction, “To think like a mountain,” the Engaged Foresight approach empowers the human agencies’ capacity to undefine the future. Indigeneity plays a critical role in questioning our assumptions about the future. This concept is encapsulated in Laura Harjo’s book, Spiral to the Stars: Mvskoke Tools of Futurity. Harjo proposes that indigenous values and contexts in the practice of foresight can heal communities experiences of colonial trauma and reimagine our ways of anticipating and shaping futures.


Indigenous ways of knowing and worldviews question conventional and colonial perceptions of the future. They invoke radical imaginaries that shake up and reveal new identities, pathways, technologies, and horizons, according to Marcus Bussey.


Existing futures thinking tools and foresight methodologies are heavily influenced by Western and Eurocentric paradigms and experiences. Indigenous ways of knowing have been typically excluded from these narratives (Cruz, et al., 2016). Current context and practice rarely make room for indigenous and nonWestern ways of knowing, doing, and being (Bisht, 2020).


A Scenario Workshop and Interface-Dialogue on Indigenous Community Foresight in Sarangani Province, Philippines, with the Muna’To Indigenous Peoples, Maharlika Sunrise Festival. Image: The Center for Engaged Foresight

Engaged Foresight scenario workshop in partnership with the East-West Center for the Province of West Java’s Futures of Disaster Management 2040 that embeds a conversation about local mythologies and ways of knowing resilience and understanding crisis. Image: The Center for Engaged Foresight

The perspectives of indigenous communities on the future differ in that they incorporate a deep sense of community, and connection with the aspirations of past generations. Indigeneity in futurity relies heavily on the narratives constructed with intergenerationality, local mythology, indigenous arts and culture, spirituality, and values at its core. For example, a Filipino pre-colonial greeting Hiraya manawari, which means, “May the wishes of your heart be granted,” is an expression of good will and divine blessing as well as wishes for the fulfillment of your heart’s dreams and aspirations, which are held sacred. Thus, the future in the context of Hiraya manawari is understood as a blessing. Hiraya represents the communities’ shared aspirations, collective identity, and destiny.


INDIGENOUS FORESIGHT IN PRACTICE

Using the Engaged Foresight approach developed by the Center for Engaged Foresight, futures tools and methods, such as shared history, dreams and disruptions, dragon dreaming, experiential questioning, scenario prototypes, intimate futures, regenerative city x, and causal layered analysis, allows workshop participants to question their assumptions of potential and probable futures. The quest for emergent imaginaries is encouraged to help communities and organizations confront their fears and disowned futures by peering inward to sense the known and unknown conditions of change that influence how they imagine, create, and weave the future.


OF ANCESTRY, ROBOTS AND FIREFLIES

Consider, for example, the Visayas State University’s new mythology of Langga (jackfruit), a story of the “fruit that healed my beloved.” The stories and myths about the future of langka were reframed when participants drew on folklore, indigenous proverbs and metaphors to reimagine the future of food and food systems as written in the unpublished research of Shermon Cruz and Toney Hallahan on Regenerative Cities. Here is the story:


“Once, there was a Visayan princess who owned a forest that grew a precious tree. Rare as it is, it could only bear fruit every seven years. The tree's fruit was magical as it could heal all diseases or sickness that a person might have. “
One day, the princess got sick. She called a babaylan (Filipino shaman) to cure her. But the babaylan said that there was no other cure but the tree that bore a magical fruit. The tree has not borne fruit yet. Frustrated, the princess’ husband wanted to cut the tree. But before he was about to wreck it, a Diwata (goddess) in the form of a firefly appeared before him. The Diwata told him to be patient and wait for the tree to bear fruit.
“But the princess was dying. So, he called all the babaylans and healers to help the dying princess, but nothing happened. The Diwata firefly appeared again, this time with a message that gave the prince a compelling insight. And so, the prince mobilized the entire community to find a babaylan protoscientist who knew how to merge science and studied the nature of trees, chants, and spirituality.
The best proto-scientists in his village and other villages came forward, and they brought with them their robots and drones capable of scanning the genetic make-up of the tree, capable of learning and discovering the mystery behind the tree and the fruit’s healing power. By applying the science of genetics and artificial intelligence, they understood what it was and how the tree and its fruit could heal diseases and illnesses.
“They employed the science of regenerative medicine and biomimicry to recreate and mimic the fruit of the tree’s healing properties. As these proto-babaylan scientists continued their work, the local community constantly chanted and prayed for the divine intervention of the gods and goddesses.
“Miraculously, the tree bore fruit even before the proto-scientists could finish their project. The prince learned about this. Excited and with indigenous incantations, he picked several fruits from that miraculous tree and gave them to the princess. The princess began to heal and recovered from her illness in a matter of weeks.
“Learning about this, the prince instructed the babaylan scientists to reproduce the tree and spread it all over the Visayas. The scientists would succeed as well in developing the medicine from the liquid extracted from the tree. So happy, the prince shouted “salamat kay naayo ang akong Langga!" That was when the term "Langka" was derived, and it meant "the fruit that healed my beloved (langga)."

CHARTING INDIGENOUS FUTURES

Several insights stood out from this workshop:

  • an immersive and broad participatory approach to futures unlocks a wealth of new imaginaries and perspectives that create diverse and different kinds of deep futures;

  • decolonizing the future is an empowering exercise that unleashes the potential of individuals and communities to imagine unthinkable futures;

  • our cultural backgrounds influences and affects our perceptions of what is possible and unknowable, visible and obscured;

  • reinventing our local myths and beliefs lends them new meanings, which can empower and drive novelty, improvisation, and ownership; and

  • placing nature and the planet in futures narratives integrates and moves forward the broadening of our identification with the natural world and the larger community of living beings and non-living things.

DECOLONIAL LOVE

The Friends of Foresight, Spiral to the Stars event, conducted by the APF, invited indigenous foresight practitioners, professional futurists and academics to a polylogue of indigenous ways in finding tools and methods in futures thinking and practice. Notable insights on the role of decolonial love in eradicating colonial currency in our future imaginings include:

  • community caretaking;

  • epistemic community building;

  • sacred knowledge of spaces and places;

  • radical sovereignty;

  • family as our first contact for futures thinking;

  • finding, mapping, and minding; relationality;

  • seven generation planning is better than 100 years of abstraction;

  • intergenerational virtual spaces; and

  • developing community knowledge.


Visual notes from the APF’s Friends of Foresight: Spiral to the Stars Image Source: Association of Professional Futurists

A grounded approach to conscious anticipation encourages individuals and communities to explore genuine alternative futures and ways of knowing. Futures and foresight as a process of collective dreaming puts the well-being of people, ethics, and indigenous values at the core of their preferred and emergent futures. Indigenous values-based, ethicsbased, and cultures-based foresight, which includes empathizing with the members and outsiders of our communities, can set the contexts and narratives for an inclusive and transformative practice of anticipation.


 






Shermon O. Cruz

Shermon O. Cruz (he/him) is the Chair of the Association of Professional Futurists, Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Foresight, Chair of The Millennium Project Philippines Node, and UNESCO Candidate Chair for Anticipatory Governance and Regenerative Cities, Northwestern University, Philippines.








Nicole Anne Kahn-Parreño

Nicole Anne Kahn-Parreño (she/her) is a winner of the 2021 Next Generation Foresight Practitioners Award, Futures Learning Adviser of the Center for Engaged Foresight, and Secretary to the Chair and Board Liaison of the Association of Professional Futurists.

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