How might Indigenous decolonization agendas inform Anthropocene historiography?

Many Indigenous and post-development commentators view the hegemony of western conceptions of ‘development’ as profoundly implicated in the Anthropocene’s global ecological crises and underpinned by modernity’s extractivist and anthropocentric worldview and sensibilities. Meanwhile, as Kothari et al. note, secular modernity’s defenders persist in the presumption that modern science affords the definitive account of nature and reality, while the worldviews of Indigenous peoples are frequently delegitimised as unsophisticated or mere superstition. Accordingly, many Indigenous critics call for today’s Indigenous movements globally to challenge the dominance of western ‘heteropatriarchal’ styles of thinking. They suggest modernity needs to learn from Indigenous movements and traditions, not least for insights into ethical relationality with the animate Earth. Likewise, Arturo Escobar insists that contemporary academic ‘theory’ needs re-enlivening: bringing it closer to life and the Earth and to the work of those who struggle to defend them. This paper asks how Indigenous decolonization agendas, which struggle in defense of life and the Earth, might inform historiography in the Anthropocene. For example, Beverley Southgate has suggested that history has a utopian and therapeutic purpose – helping us escape the thrall of the past and orientate ourselves towards emancipatory futures. This paper suggests – in an era of ecological emergency – that history’s utopian imaginaries will need to be commensurate with that vivid experience of sensed ethical reciprocity with nature, to which indigenous traditional ecological knowledges (ITEK) bear witness. Some western historians question whether a coherent story for humanity is possible, given how systems thinking suggests global feedback and radical uncertainty condition our future. However, systems thinking also highlights the hierarchical nature of human-ecological systems and suggests that the deepest level for intervening in any human-ecological system is at the level of a society’s ‘mental models’ and ‘worldview’. This is the level at which interventions have the greatest leverage for radical system transformation and is the level that this essay focuses upon.