Indigenous Space Protocols and the Final Frontier.

Humans have long had an affinity with space and the night-time sky. Stories have been shared across nations and cultures in attempts to solve the age-old question/s: What is our purpose? Why are we here? More recently, questions have arisen from various scientific fields such as astrophysics and biology which ask: Is there intelligent life somewhere other than Earth? Can complex life evolve on other planets the way it has here, or are we simply a biochemical anomaly? If the chances of us finding life in other solar systems is indeed probable, then  where are they?

These are some of the great unknowns, and as discussions continue to unfold today, the notions of interplanetary exploration and potential intergalactic space travel become more of a reality. Thus, despite still having a ways to go, we are getting ever closer to finding solutions to some of these questions.

But while we are fixated on such future ventures right now, we seemingly have forgotten or refuse to acknowledge how exactly we got to this point, and just how these notions of space travel have been shaped by our past, in ways which are both good and bad.

Of course, it is a monumental achievement over the past 400 years to be able to master and apply the forces and physical concepts of flight dynamics in the first place, along with the encompassing material, physiological and technological barriers. There is no question that this is quite remarkable and unprecedented in human civilisations.

However, from an Indigenous perspective, one can’t help but observe familiar patterns in how this society intends to go about making the voyage, and the possible outcomes of such a voyage, including the impacts on interplanetary terrains and possible lifeforms if indeed they are found (or they find us). Even the notion of “space exploration” in itself is a misleading term when viewed from any perspective other than a non-Western one.

Much the same as European explorers in the not so distant past set out to “discover” and “explore” entire continents; mapping out and surveying distant lands; entering into the vast uncertainty that travelling great lengths across supposedly ‘uncharted’ waters and territories, and encountering foreign peoples from foreign landscapes residing within polarised cultural contexts. Waves of “settlers” migrating to these new lands and taking up a new lease on their lives. As these communities grew with each incoming wave, the dynamic edges of each settlement became known as “The Frontier”, with every group of settling Europeans pushing the boundaries further and further into the territories of Native peoples and places who pre-existed them for tens of thousands of years.

Some 200-400 years later, we as global Indigenous communities refer to these events less as “explorations”, “expeditions” or “expansions”, along with cultural euphemisms such as “settlement”, but rather, we refer to them in accordance with their own dictionary definitions as invasions, colonisation and imperialism. The so-called Frontier was not a place of infinite possibility for Indigenous peoples on the brutal end of colonial imposition, instead, it was a place of violence and disregard of their humanity. In fact, within a century, as early settler communities moved from egalitarian states to stratified class distinctions, this was also the case for many settlers who were brought in as slaves to work the land for a powerful upper-class of white landowning gentries.

This pattern should heed warnings for any future extra-terrestrial development. Of equal concern and consequence, is the blatant disregard for and neglect of Indigenous protocols and opportunities to forge positive relationships with Native peoples and environments when they’ve entered them, both in the past and today. From impermissible encroachment into native territories to the destruction of sacred sites and land formations. These can have hugely detrimental impacts on people and places, along with interconnected and interrelated terraforms and landscapes which pre-date European occupation.

In some way or another, there is ample evidence to suggest that pro-relational acts, adherence to fixed cultural protocols and framing actions and behaviours around prescribed Laws of the Land are important for successfully navigating the complex geographical and sociopolitical terrains that are not only here, but maybe somewhere “out there” too. Therefore in the context of setting out to answer the recent queries being posed within the mainstream, suppose that we find complex or intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe, how might our forerunners greet or respond to them?

One would hope that we have learnt our lessons from anti-relational and unethical conduct in colonial or pre-modern encounters between various human communities on Earth. In fact, this arguably must be so, because while our ambitions to move beyond an “Earth-bound” society is merely speculative at this point, it may well be true that our future interactions with other complex beings could hinge on relatively simple introspective or external inquisitions, such as: “What is your purpose, and why are you here?”.

These questions are fundamental to an Indigenous way of life and especially in locating ourselves within social, regional, national and cosmological networks. They also serve as a critical feature of many Indigenous introductory protocols and serve to orient unfamiliar parties with one another while identifying positionality within socio-political community contexts and levels of ethics and intention. This is unfortunately where some colonisers or invaders have failed miserably in the past, and where many displaced or re-placed settler-colonials continue to fail today.

In this regard, there are many Indigenous peoples and communities who would argue, rather convincingly, that any one of us who cannot effectively answer these questions of ourselves before venturing to new lands or territories, is not ready to have them asked of them by others. This may be especially the case in an interplanetary context, let alone more proximal zones. So, perhaps it goes without saying, that the real discoveries and explorations are waiting to be uncovered here, within ourselves, and within our own planetary domains, before – and only before – they can occur somewhere, elsewhere, or anywhere “out there” in space.


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