ANCESTRAL WISDOM Nathalie Kelley
Written by Nathalie Kelley, Imogen Peacock & Maria Ottmann - 19th November 2023
Meet Nathalie Kelley, an activist and storyteller paving the way for a new approach towards global challenges and how by empowering indigenous communities we can create a more stable and thriving climate & environment. Nathalie invites everyone to tune into their own indigenous heritage, however far back this may be. Learn from ancestral wisdom and re-establish ourselves as a beneficial keystone species and presence to the eco-system.
WHAT DOES ANCESTRAL WISDOM MEAN TO YOU?
Ancestral wisdom, for me, is the culmination of knowledge accumulated by our ancestors over thousands and thousands of years, based on millennia of observation of the natural world, observation of relationships between all living beings, the interconnectivity of all living beings, and as humans deepened their observation of these things, knowledge systems were created. Innovations in agriculture, astronomy, and engineering: this is what I would call ancestral wisdom. And it is very much a science and technology as well. For example, weaving clothes. On one level it's practical and it's a necessity to cover our bodies with clothes. But my ancestors, the Quechuas, took it to another level. They said, we are going to weave the clothes we wear. In these clothes, we're also going to weave in our language, our cosmic vision and our stories.
And I just love the idea of 'ancestral wisdom', not being something that is exploited today, such as plant medicine and indigenous spirituality. Yes, that's a part of ancestral wisdom, but also the
weaving, agriculture, farming and building of bio construction. These are also very necessary and practical knowledge systems that the modern world needs today.
So this is the point I'm trying to make, that when we say 'ancestral wisdom', we're talking about thousands of years of accumulated knowledge that indigenous people have gathered through observation of the natural world, and the relationships of all living beings within the natural world. This ancestral wisdom is beyond just spiritual and is very much a practical application of knowledge systems and can manifest in things like technologies around agriculture, astronomy and building engineering.
WHAT MADE YOU SHIFT YOUR FOCUS FROM ACTING TOWARDS ACTIVISM, AND HOW DID THIS IMPACT YOUR APPROACH TO SOCIAL MEDIA?
The fires in Australia in 2019 and 2020 were so apocalyptic. They impacted me in a way that I knew that I could never be the same person again and that I had to use my platform and use my voice in order to point people in a different direction. I have been using it to promote the things that are causing great harm to our planet.
Consumerism, a lifestyle
that should not be aspirational. And then I started to shift my focus towards Indigenous people, Indigenous-led solutions, Indigenous technologies, and the importance of returning land to Indigenous people so they could steward it. The importance of implementing Indigenous wisdom back into land management and water management, such as, for example, using fire is an Indigenous
technology. We know how to use fire to regenerate the land instead of fearing fire and its connotations with destruction. Because we haven't learnt to use fire as a technology, as a regenerative force.
I started to focus my messaging around this.
I really believe that indigenous wisdom and technology is what's missing in the conversation right now when we talk about climate solutions and how to avert the climate crisis.
And that's why my platform is so focused on that, not just because I am also indigenous, but because I know that if I have a lot to learn from this, imagine what the rest of the world will be able to get from it.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR INDIGENOUS BACKGROUND AND HOW IT INFORMS YOUR WORK AND LIFE?
So my mother and grandmother are Quechua, and my grandmother still speaks Quechua. I was born in Peru but raised in Australia on Gadigal lands (that's the indigenous Aboriginal Australian custodians of Sydney, Australia). My whole life has been deeply influenced by Indigenous history, by the trauma of colonization as well, which is something very heavily felt in Australia as well as Peru.
My mum always raised me very aware of the injustices that Indigenous people felt in Australia and in Peru. As I was growing up, I realized that I wanted to be involved in justice, in restorative-justice, not only making sure Indigenous people are fairly compensated for the injustices that have been committed against them in the last 500 years, but also not centring them as victims but as protagonists of this new story.
Yes, we were on the receiving end of grave injustices, but we're going to turn that story around and show the world that we are actually also the heroes of this story as well, because one of the biggest injustices is the world not acknowledging the wisdom around indigenous knowledge systems and technologies. And now we have the opportunity to say; 'oh, we missed that, that's actually a vital piece of the puzzle that we need right now'.
How can we empower these people and their knowledge systems and admit that this is actually what has been missing this whole time from the conversation.
"Indigenous communities make up 5% of the world's population, but protect and restore 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity"- HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN GIVE POWER TO THE INDIGENOUS, THE TRUE DEFENDERS, IN RESTORING OUR WORLD TODAY?
Two words: 'land back'. If Indigenous people have done such a good job stewarding biodiversity and protecting lands that they currently own. Imagine if we could
restore all land rights claims in the world. We would be ensuring the protection of these biomes for future generations because Indigenous people have proved that where they are in ownership of land, there is more reforestation and increased biodiversity.
We also have to talk about not just returning land back to them but working hard to preserve their languages and their cultures. Because the UN is only now proving that there is increased biodiversity wherever there is an increase in Indigenous languages spoken and in cultural diversity. This is called bio-cultural heritage. Meaning that saving the land goes hand in hand with saving their cultures, their languages, their songs, and their myths. And so, we need to recognize both as equally important.
Furthermore, we all have to become indigenous... which is possible. We all have indigenous roots to some place. We can't just leave it to Indigenous people to steward and protect land by themselves. We all have to tune into our own Indigenous ancestors, however far back these may be, and realize that for most of human history, we have actually been a beneficial keystone species and a beneficial presence to the ecosystem. It is only recently that we've started being so destructive.
That's why a lot of people are turning to Indigenous wisdom because they never stopped being a beneficial and positive part of the ecosystem. And so, they still retain some of this knowledge that we have all lost along the way. It is now on us to re-learn and reinforce indigenous wisdom within ourselves. Robin Wall Kimmerer says;
"We can all become indigenous to a place if we care for the land as if our children's futures
depended on it".
I think it's really important for us not to sit back and let the indigenous people do it. We have to learn how to be a keystone species again, a beneficial presence to the land and the animals, waters and trees.
AS A STORYTELLER, WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO ENTER THE STORYTELLING WORLD AND USE THEIR VOICE FOR POSITIVE IMPACT?
Speak with love. Come from love.
The only way we are going to break through this dominant programming of today - a narrative that wants to divide us. A narrative that feeds on violence, extraction, consumption, oppression, and jealousy. The only way that we're going to break through that is with a new narrative that is rooted in love, joy and justice.
The intention is everything. So, if you make love your intention in all your messaging, then you have already made a big step towards being part of this global consciousness shift that us artists are so desperately trying to usher in.
HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY RE-CHARGE AFTER BEING BOMBARDED WITH WORRYING CLIMATE INFORMATION FROM NEWS OR SOCIAL MEDIA?
Everyone has to re-charge themselves with tools to be grounded and release trauma. I personally do a lot of work
with my fascia. I do a lot of fascia release on my body as I have learnt that trauma is stored in the body. So, I dance. Dancing is my medicine. I'm learning to use my voice and use sound vibrations as a way for healing. I pick up a phone, and call a friend. Community is so essential, and we cannot do this without togetherness. We have to make sure that we are not isolating ourselves and going down rabbit holes of doom and gloom, living in echo chambers. We have to break out of that. We have to find human connection.
Other than talking to my friends, I talk to the elements. The trees, water, sky and wind. I think building those relationships will help us realize that we are not alone in this and that our interdependence and our understanding of this interdependence with all other living beings is what's going to give us the hope to get us out of this mess.
WHAT DOES 'SISTERHOOD' MEAN TO YOU?
Sisterhood means to me... a rising tide of women rooting in feminine wisdom. What is the feminine, and what is feminine wisdom? The feminine is stillness. It's silence. It's receptivity. It's compassion. It's healing. It's nurturing. It means saying no to nonstop working. It means saying no to the hustle, no to the need and desire to make more, build more, spend more, and do more. It means putting up clear boundaries and saying 'today I will rest', or 'no I am not available for that' or 'because my body says no'. Listening to our deep intuition, not being afraid to go against the grain of the dominant collective culture that tells us we always need to be producing. We always need to be
making more and more.
The feminine says 'no'. In fact, today I will not buy anything. I will plant, I will grow, I will nurture, I will tend, I will heal. And that, to me, is a sisterhood. It is a growing movement of women recognizing that the 'feminine' is so important to this big puzzle, and the indigenous people represent this kind of right-brain feminine wisdom.
It's a knowledge rooted in intuition.
We are the guardians of that kind of lunar right brain knowledge, that place beyond practical logic, that wisdom that lives in our hearts and in our guts.