The ability of human beings to survive in the future will depend on a great many things. With over seven billion people inhabiting the planet Earth, there is a need to conserve precious natural resources while providing opportunities for economic growth and employment, ensuring access to healthy foods and water and minimizing the amount of pollution and damages to the environment. In historic times, Métis were able to utilize natural resources without these staggering pressures and yet had strict protocols around resource management. Ancestral traditional beliefs and practices were adapted to Métis life in the past and continues now.
Ceremonies conducted by Aboriginal Peoples honour the original instructions given by the Creator to all things in Creation. According to oral tradition of some Aboriginal Peoples, human survival depends on the continuation of ceremonies. Survival also depends on extensive environmental knowledge and careful harvesting to ensure natural resources will always be available in the future. For example, when Aboriginal Peoples harvest plants for medicinal or ceremonial use, it is essential to identify areas where a particular plant grows through direct knowledge or through knowledge of the kind of habitat supporting a particular type of plant. Medicines and ceremonies require specific plants. Part of maintaining ancestral Aboriginal traditions is the continued use of the same items. Some Aboriginal Elders share traditional teachings such as not harvesting too many plants from one area, leaving a good portion of the plants intact so that they re-seed for the following year, and the importance of knowing and carrying out the spiritual ceremonies that go along with harvesting before any plant or other item is taken from the natural world.
Today, there are fewer Aboriginal people who have extensive environmental knowledge or the ability to apply that knowledge for sustainable resource use. Traditional Aboriginal environmental knowledge systems have been weakened from the loss of access to land for traditional activities that would provide the educational context for transmitting cultural knowledge and value systems about life. Canadian schools include little or no Aboriginal content in science education. Across the Métis Homeland, there is a wealth of natural resources such as forests, diverse plants and animals, fresh water, minerals and petroleum which are valuable commodities in today’s modern economy. Pressure from internal and external community sources to facilitate natural resource development in the interest of wealth generation and employment create situations where Aboriginal people holding traditional views feel helpless to resist the development or to assert their own traditional cultural values and principles as cornerstones to future development.
For over 20 years, scientists have been warning of imminent global ecological disasters resulting from unsustainable human activities. In 1987, the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Bruntland Commission, described the urgency of addressing deteriorating human environments and natural resources and the implications for social and economic development. In the report, the concept of sustainable development is identified as “… meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987). In 2007, the United Nations released “Global Environmental Outlook 4” another comprehensive report outlining the state of the environment around the world, a framework for necessary change and the consequences of inaction (United Nations Environment Programme, 2007). Yet, youth continue to learn about the natural environment only through Western Eurocentric education, which excludes the holistic learning experiences that can be gained through Métis traditional environmental knowledge. We are left to wonder what the next United Nations report will say 20 years from now if we do not find it within ourselves to explore new ways of knowing the natural world.
Sustainable development can only occur as an outcome of human lifestyle choices. These two concepts are indistinguishable from each other; separating them implies that we are not responsible for sustainable or unsustainable development impacts on the environment or human societies. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) describes sustainable development as
…a very inclusive term, encompassing environmental, economic, and social themes such as poverty alleviation, peace, democracy, justice, human rights, gender equity, social equity, cultural diversity, rural and urban development, environmental protection, and natural resource management. (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, 2007 a, p. 4)
The way we live our lives, the choices made each day and the relationships we build, or do not build, contributes to how we address sustainability. CMEC goes on to say,
In order to ensure that sustainable development becomes integral to societal values, education for sustainable development must be offered through lifelong learning opportunities, especially at all levels of the education system. (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, 2007 a, p. 18)
In order for learners to cultivate a sense of personal and collective responsibility toward sustainable development, there must be an opportunity to learn how to do this from an early age. Eliminating the exploration of sustainable development as an integral value of society within the study of science infers it does not matter within the context of industrial or other forms of development occurring within the discipline of ‘science’ as it currently exists.
Métis traditional environmental knowledge can provide a basis that supports sustainable development. This is relevant in that Métis traditional environmental knowledge is important to all learners, not just Métis learners. Contemporary education needs to help learners think about the why we do not have sustainable lifestyles and what might be learned from traditional philosophies and processes to overcome this loss of foresight.
Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. (2007 a йил October). Report to UNECE and UNESCO on Indicators of Education for Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2008 йил 15-April from UNESCO: http://www.unesco.ca/en/activity/education/documents/FINALCanadaESDReportOct2007ApprovedEN_000.pdf
United Nations. (1987 11-December). United Nations General Assembly A/RES/42/187. Retrieved 2008 11-June from United Nations: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/42/ares42-187.htm
United Nations Environment Programme. (2007). Global environment outlook 4. Retrieved 2008 йил June from United Nations Environment Programme: http://www.unep.org/geo/geo4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf