The Land may move us, the Land may teach us

Hamish Lindop
3 min readMar 26, 2024

A book that had a huge impact on me was “Sandtalk” by Tyson Yunkaporta. he lives in Australia and draws on his own people’s indigenous knowledge to critique mainstream whitefella dominated culture. He discusses the knowledge and understanding of his people as a people that for thousands of years had a mobile lifestyle, moving to the right place for the right season. Here’s a short video of him talking about it.

It’s been a while since I read it, but as I recall he critiqued cities as these huge masses of built up, stuck, resources and dwellings. And he said, in a way that feels almost prophetic “if you don’t move with the land, then the land will move you”. I didn’t see how that could be true, but I was listening to a big kōrero from some awesome community sector folks from Waitakere today. Early last year we had a big emergency when there was massive flooding through Auckland, especially in the west and south, and this was particularly intense in Waitakere. Many homes have been red stickered, huge amounts of property damage. This creates a huge amount of suffering and challenging situations for ordinary people who live there and my heart goes out to them.

But frankly, none of it should really be coming to us as a surprise. We declared a climate emergency quite a while ago in Aotearoa, but it didn’t feel like much of a one if you walked outside the day of the declaration. Not much of an “all hands on deck” vibe to meet the challenge of the world’s slowest moving emergency. Slow moving, that is, until it started moving very quickly, doing huge amounts of damage and displacing many people during our floods. But what was heartening was to hear how they saw that citizen agency shifted; people shifted from being annoyed that the big systems were too slow to save or help them, to starting to think about how they could help themselves collaboratively with their neighbours, and do that. Participation culture was emerging out of a crisis, and people in communities were figuring out how to respond, more effectively, faster, more responsively than our big stuck systems that arrived late to the party.

When I was in Ausy for the ALIVE symposium recently I heard from some first peoples, and their first descriptor of their identity was environment based: I’m a salt water person. I’m a river person. How did we get to this point of being in these big, overaggregated, blunt, slow, clumsy things called nations, with two simplistic sides weaving and unweaving each other’s work in periods that last in multiples of four years, and everyone watering their proposals down to what the average Joe finds acceptable? What if we got back to relating ourselves to our land sea and sky contexts, while retaining some of the global information flows that allow good ideas to spread acrossways, adapting themselves to different contexts?

I also heard a talk about homelessness, which climate emergencies like the flooding are contributing. More and more people are finding themselves without set abodes or in housing precarity. “If you don’t move then the land will move you”. I don’t have the answers here, I’m not suggesting that 2 million Aucklanders up and become mobile humans, and I’m not sure how that would work. But it does seem like our house of cards is teetering and maybe that’s a bad good thing. And it does seem like the Land is trying to teach us something.

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Hamish Lindop

Sharing insights from community building and social innovation, and reflections on ways of (well) being