Restorative revolution

Our ancestors fought through genocide, they fought through that trauma. And not only did they survive this trauma they passed down knowledge that built the societies that we are built on today.

So this knowledge, that has been passed down for thousands of years, can be accessed and it can be applied to a daily life no matter where you are, no matter where you are from. Because industrial revolution is over now if we want to survive, if we want to carry on life on earth we need to be a part of the restorative revolution. And whatever that looks like for you – just make sure you get your hours in.

These words are spoken by Sammy Gensaw in the documentary film ‘Gather’, one of several individuals featured in the film who are, in their various ways, reclaiming food sovereignty – traditional food culture and life-support systems tied to the land – for native peoples of North America. He also says at one point, the apocalypse has already happened. He’s a young man, a sequoia sapling in the clear-cut devastation of an old-growth forest, and his words carry authority. As does his call to action.

The film gives us a glimpse of how Sammy and the others are carrying out restoration. It moves, inspires, and sometimes hurts to watch — and it asks: what does the restorative revolution look like to you? What will your work be?


Restorative is a good word, full of positive intention but somehow humble too. Here in the UK the criminal justice system increasingly offers opportunities for ‘restorative justice’. The approach brings measurable benefits for the system – it is said to reduce recidivism among other things – but at its heart it is about healing. Victims and perpetrators are invited into a space for safe, consensual communication, with community mediation, to soften some of the damage that has been caused. The original harm can’t be undone, of course, but the wound can be helped to heal over. For the victim, for the community, and hopefully even for the perpetrator. By restoring justice, we heal for the future. Restoring is healing, bringing back into balance something that had fallen out of balance.


So where do we begin restoring? Do we heal the world? Heal our people? Heal ourselves?

Maybe some of us are up for the challenge of healing the world. For many of us, though, the balance today is tipped too far from the heartening towards the heartbreaking. Observe Myanmar over the past few weeks, and too many other places around the globe, where armed, uniformed, salaried attackers — unleashed by demons in suits — slaughter people of peace, recalling Orwell’s image of industrial-era tyranny as “a boot stamping on a human face—for ever”. Observe the global community with our collective knee on the neck of our very own Earth Mother, eight minutes in and counting…. How on earth do we begin to…? No, Let’s pass over healing the world, for now.


Healing our people though. This is happening. Sparks of solidarity all over — it’s part of the rebellion against hierarchy and oppression that has always been an undercurrent to the civilizational project and which is now accelerating, in real time before our eyes — albeit in the 59th minute of the 11th hour. ‘Gather’ shows great examples of it in practice: individuals and groups working to restore nearly-broken lands and nearly-broken peoples with the help of cherished foods from cherished sources prepared in cherished ways. And everywhere in our cities, where most people in the world now live, we find ways to pull together and restore communion with nature in the face of the extractive, runaway neoliberal economic system which is eating up and soiling this living world. The notion of ‘sacred civics‘ helps illuminate this process – restoring cities as webs of relationships, a shared commons accountable not only to all of us but also to our Earth Mother and to the 7th generation after us.


And healing ourselves? Restoring balance, with compassion and gratitude — towards ourselves — and finding out what it means to decolonize our thinking, because there are different ways of thinking, or of “coming to know” (Melanie Goodchild), and as it turns out, the default ways of thinking that many of us inherited turn out to privilege the wrong values and perspectives. Which is to say, values and perspectives that do not favour the harmony and humility we really need right now.

Learning compassion and gratitude towards ourselves may sound easy but it’s not. It takes humility and courage. It makes us vulnerable. It may involve wrestling a monstrous, hypertrophied ego — in whose grandiosity we are deeply invested — down from its plinth and dunking it in the drink. Learning compassion towards ourselves certainly asks us to face down demons, many of which may be connected with the hurt we have caused others. We may have to re-learn how to be kind and respectful to ourselves, so that we can be kind and respectful to others, to the world. We need to practise and lock-in the attitude of gratitude (“We start off by acknowledging that this morning we had the opportunity to open two gifts, which was our eyes. As we got up from our bed then put our feet on the floor, we connected to the foundation which is connected to the Earth…” – said Kevin Deer recently in a Haudenosaunee thanksgiving address, or Words That Come Before All Else, for the launch of the Journal of Awareness Based Systems Change).

This is hard work but it is legitimate work and it needs doing. Dan Longboat, quoted in Melanie Goodchild’s paper on Relational Systems Thinking, says it’s about “revitalization of human  spiritual integrity…. This revitalization is really about rebuilding human beings from the inside out. It’s connecting that human being to themselves, to each other, to a sense of place, to a physical and spiritual world, and there’s a system that is involved, a process, to be able to do that.”

There is a system there, or rather, there are systems, deep wells of knowledge among millennia-old indigenous traditions all around the world, but those of us locked into conventional Western thinking, the civilados, have to put in extra hours to bridge between systems and find our way across. We have to come to new ways of coming to know, with humility and respect. And through that, learn to heal ourselves and each other.


The wounds we bear probably can’t be undone, but then, it’s not all about us.  It’s also about all the other kinds of ‘people’ we share Creation with — the tree people, crow people, stone people — and it’s about the cascade of future “us”, to the 7th generation and beyond. Healing ourselves is “having a piece of the path to the future, and we polish that and we hone that, and we place that in the pathway that we are building. And of course as we build that pathway, it changes us as the builders of the path, and it also shapes the destination that we are going to.” (Aboriginal Nyoongar Elder, Dr. Noel Nannup). If there are scars on that stone then they are there to remind future pathmakers of how to live and how not to live.

If healing ourselves is what the restorative revolution looks like to us, we must go for it.

Just make sure we get our hours in.

4 Replies to “Restorative revolution”

  1. Ohhhh, this is so great, Chris!! I love every bit of it! Just the simple idea of getting our hours in, in whatever way seems best and appropriate for wherever we are is so wonderful – kind-hearted, flexible, and yet pragmatic.
    This is such a gift! I’m going to re-gift it!

  2. Thanks Michelle. I hope you get a chance to see the film. The speaker behind those words is really quite humbling. Very blunt about the reality that he and his peers were brought up on a gas station diet, Doritos and Gatorade, no grocery stores around, and how precious it is to be experiencing a better way of food that comes from deep within the culture.

  3. Chris, great hearing this, the nurturing of self and earth continues here. I’ve literally been building paths here in the semi wilderness here between subdivisions. To connect communities near but far by road. A 1/4 miles stroll thru field and woods connecting to 3 mile distant by road neighborhood. Another path through the woods to a parallel road 1/6 the road distance. Stitching adjacent communities to each other old school. Another 1/2 mile connecting to community gym, walkways by foot without the expense or endangerment of stroll by road. Stepping stones across a marshy area. The reward the occasional adventurer to the nearby. Once before as the way forward

    1. It’s great to read what you’re doing there, Colby. Footpaths must be one of the finest things we can build – gracing nature at the same time as benefitting communities.

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