A Grammar of Animacy

Shamanism Series ||
Beadwork and model: Kelly Michelin

Indigenous languages across the globe share a commonality- our languages make it impossible to speak of living beings as ‘it’.

In English, we would never refer to our friends and family as ‘it’, but, that is how we speak about other beings; animals, plants, water, and even the earth itself. 

It is important to acknowledge that the language we use changes our entire relationship to the land. How we think about our relationship to the world matters deeply.

The English language subtly gives us permission to think about the world, earth, as our property. The English language is noun-based but it’s all in the pronouns. A grammar of animacy could lead us completely new ways of living in the world. A world with equality of species, not a hierarchical and dominated one. 

The cardinal difference between these worldviews is the bond, the relationship. Indigenous view the world as a gift, not a commodity.

Many Indigenous nations understand that whatever is given to us (gifts), are supposed to be given away again. We live in reciprocity alongside the living earth. This is hard to grasp for societies with notions of private property. Private property is understood as a bundle of rights; whereas gift economies holds a bundle of responsibilities. 

When we think of the world and understand it as a gift to us, instead of a commodity, a door opens. What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak of the natural world as a member of the democracy of species? To foster interdependence?  

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