The Moon, indigenous philosophy, colonialism and heritage

This article was first published on Alice News


The Moon is a territory of colonial interest for the most powerful countries on Earth; it is the new territory to be “discovered” through a process that reflects the colonisation made by Europe on other continents over the last five centuries, driven by political and economic interests and led through scientific means. From a sociological perspective, it may be considered that the colonisation of the Moon is unrelated to social justice concerns, as the Moon is not populated, however tensions between state powers reflected on Earth can be seen to perpetuate practices of exclusion and subjugation.

The cold-war era’s Outer Space Treaty, and other related United Nations (UN) resolutions, do not oppose the colonisation of the Moon, but rather attempt to attenuate it and direct to a peaceful process. Attempts to designate the Moon a common heritage of mankind can be found in the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, which currently lacks any ratification by powerful states. While international law is mainly concerned about maintaining the geopolitical equilibrium in relation to space powers, conversely, an indigenous philosophy unveils reasons leading to environmental and social justice at the root of international efforts to recognise the Moon as a World Heritage Site. Even if just for anthropocentric interest, indigenous claims for the Moon deserve to be considered as presenting an oppositional view, in the face of historical silencing by colonial thinking.

It is necessary to underline that heritage is a disputed political space, it can serve to protect precious sites and traditions as well as to erase them from the political narrative. Let’s consider the case of the permanent exposition of the Stewart Museum of Montreal, Canada, entitled “History and Memory”, it showcases the settler colonial process of Quebec, starting five centuries ago. The exhibition celebrates the “European civilisers” and their “discovery” of America through political, scientific and cultural events. The website of the museum explains: “Our collective past is a mosaic of the history of Aboriginal peoples, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and society’s major discoveries, among others. All have fed our imaginations and will forever be part of our individual and shared memory.”  The permanent exposition occupies the best part of two floors of the museum. The first is dedicated to the beginning of the colonial process – it’s wars, conquest, and occupation of indigenous land. The second floor is dedicated to the unfolding of the new European nations and the conflicts among them. There is no trace of indigenous people on this floor, only Europeans and their descendants characterise the second part of the collection. This may indicate that the role of indigenous people in the portrayal of the cultural and political heritage of Canada belongs to the past, while the present is merely Eurocentric. Aside from this permanent exhibition, from 26 September 2019 until 7 March 2021 there is a temporary exhibition entitled “Nights”, that is “Inspired by original stories from Quebec authors”, all four are white people of European descent. The symbol of the exposition is the Moon and it is surprising to discover that no space for an “indigenous original story” has been granted in this exposition, in view of the importance of the Moon in indigenous philosophy, and as recognition that also indigenous people also feed the Canadian imagination.

Around twenty kilometres away from the Stewart Museum, lies the Kahnawake reserve, one of the few territories left to the Mohawk indigenous people, in what they refer to pointedly as “so called Canada”. Stuart Myiow is a community leader promoting “culture, values and traditions” representing the Mohawk Traditional Council of Kahnawake. Myiow has produced a number of contributions in relation to his people’s “culture values and traditions”, including a project named “Moon teachings”, started in 2008. These are a series of video lectures explaining the Mohawk philosophy in which the Moon has a unique and unescapable relevance.

In this philosophy the Moon is the mother of the Earth, the grandmother of humanity, she regulates the cycles of life, she is the heart of the Earth (this short video helps explain further). The Mohawks asked the United Nations to declare the Moon as a world heritage site, and to oppose its colonisation, militarisation and industrialisation for the sake of extraction of resources. If we consider this request in a XV century context, this would be akin to indigenous people requesting Europeans not to conquest their territories. For the Mohawk, the Moon defines the blood circle of the Earth, with water being to the Earth what blood is to the human body. Myiow argues that colonisation of the Moon is a big mistake, it’s impacts easily imaginable by revisiting the consequences of the colonisation of the Earth.

Mohawk’s criticise the role of human beings in the destruction of “their mother”, the land that gave them life, the Earth. They have an anti-capitalist critical reading of the reasons for the destruction of their lands and the subsequent effects of climate change. Myiow affirms that indigenous traditional wisdom has retained knowledge to heal this situation, and the values written in the Kaianere’kó:wa the “Great law of peace” upon which life is based, could harmonise life on Earth. This form of indigenous philosophy entails that each being encompasses both female and male parts, the female represents creation and the male represents maintenance and security. Colonialism has denied and oppressed the female side, and with it, the creative spirit that allows life to regenerate, privileging the male protective spirit and attacking other lives with the intention of accumulating power and security. This is the main dynamic leading to destruction.

Myiow does not believe that a solution to colonialism, social injustice, climate change, or any major global issue can be generated within Eurocentric discourses on democracy and human rights. Myiow suggests this is due to the fact that ideas of democracy and human rights, as they have emerged in the global North, give precedence to individual happiness over collective interest. Historically, this corresponds to colonial inventions that have assigned human rights to some (white Europeans) and oppressed and violated the rights of others (colonised peoples). Indigenous philosophies, like those of The Mohawk, affirm that the Earth, trees, rivers, all living beings and the Moon have rights that human beings have the responsibility to protect, something that requires a different, non-anthropocentric, political approach. Myiow points out that NASA clarified plans to colonise the Moon in 2009, when they identified the need to extract Helium3. A gas that is rare on Earth, but thought abundant on the surface of The Moon, with the potential to be a powerful energy source, where a few kilos of Helium3 could possibly provide energy to a city like Huston for one year. Is Helium3 the new gold that will drive space colonisation?

Eurocentric democracy creates schizophrenia, it is based on the division of society into interest-led-parties, the production and management of conflicts and power elitism. Decisions taken through democracy are taken from the part that has more power in the collective schizophrenic mind, which inevitably ends up generating oppression and the extermination of life. Myiow says that Eurocentric democracy is proposed as a solution, but it is historically based on colonialism and slavery. It is like the mafia, Myiow says, it poisons the mind even of native peoples.

Modern science has the potential to support human development. However, when economic interests drive a primary aim of accumulating goods and resources, then subsequent exploitation can be detrimental to human development. The indigenous perspective aims to discharge the colonial mind-set that have historically benefitted of scientific knowledge, and change human behaviour in sight of a dialogue between peoples and within the cosmos.

The United Nations have a central role in relation to the colonisation of the Moon and defining it as a World Heritage Site may serve to protect it. However, heritage is a territory of political disputes generally associated with the political narrative of those in power. For Stuart Myiow, the colonisation of the Moon would imply a definite step forward in the destruction of the Earth and of humanity. Is world politics ready to listen?

Meet the author

Cristiano Gianolla studied Computer Science, Philosophy (BA), Political Philosophy (MA), Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA), Sociology and Political Science (PhD) in Italy, Germany and Portugal. He has been a junior researcher at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and he integrated the ALICE Project (ERC). Since 2017, he is a researcher in the same institution where he currently integrates the ECHOES project (Horizon 2020). He authored two books and a number of scientific articles.

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