By Peter d'Errico
Where else do attorneys pledge, as a condition of admission to practice, that they will “make life good”? The phrase filled me with a sense that life is good, that humans have the capacity to acknowledge all our relations and commit ourselves to this good life. The Navajo oath of office is built on a way of life completely different from the dominant view of Western civilization: It expresses commitment to life rather than to self-interest. Chief Justice Yazzie emphasized in his remarks that the commitment to good life is for all people, not just the individual.
This basic commitment is not only Navajo. It is common to a diversity of Indigenous peoples around the world. It is a key element—perhaps the key element—differentiating Indigenous worldviews from the extractive, individualist, dominating view that characterizes colonial and capitalist regimes.
Referring to this aspect of Indigenous communities in the Andes, Brian Davey points out in his report on the 2011 Beyond Growth Conference in Berlin that “the summary words, ‘Good Life’, nowhere near adequately convey what is meant” by the indigenous “cosmological visions and ancestral traditions” that “decisively break from western concepts of development” by putting the “relationships of humans and communities to Nature as their central point.”
The Indigenous understanding of Good Life “involves striving for harmony and balance rather than dominance.” It is “the very antithesis of the idea of consumerist wellbeing—which is largely focused on material possessions so that people can profile themselves in a status hierarchy over and above others.”
He adds, “It will be noticed that this is not ‘sustainable development’, nor can it even be described as designing and arguing for a ‘green economy.’ Neither is it the same as putting decarbonising the economy into focus as a central aim. It puts into question, something deeper—the value…or otherwise…of all our European concepts of modernity in which nature is ‘out there’ as an external store of resources and a sink, available for human use. This is a different voice, coming from a different cultural viewpoint that is not part of the western tradition.”