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From November 30th until December 6th Theun Karelse of the Machine Wilderness team joined a meeting of environmental advocates, activists and indigenous peoples at Chateaux Millemont near Paris in what in effect became the only alternative public gathering to COP21 in the aftermath of the attacks on the city earlier that month.

Led by indigenous elders and grandmothers this gathering with representatives from all continents was based on indigenous ceremonial practices, with the aim of uniting practitioners of ancient cultures, scientists, economists, artists, youth and more. It became a challenging and incredible week of ceremony.

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I’m going to state the obvious here: ceremony isn’t a goal but a means. The actual shape it takes is not important. It is a means to get beyond your own small circle of concerns and needs and be aware of the vast web of relations that we are part of. So the fire rituals aren’t about the fire and the drumming isn’t about drumming in the same way as the Olympic Games aren’t just about athletic exercise.

The rituals and discussions lead by representatives of ancient cultures like the Alifuru from Indonesia, the Sami from Lapland and the Ojibwa from the Great Lakes in the US, resulted in broadened perspectives. A shift that could be felt somehow even physically. The focus shifted towards very long time-frames and environmental intimacy. In this week the seventh generation since the start of the Industrial Revolution – looked forward to the future of seven generations to come. In that long-term perspective it becomes clear what community actually means.

Healing was a constant factor in various ways with a direct line between personal, to historical and environmental issues. Probably restoration ecology in it’s fullest sense includes all these aspects.

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That is also the kind of reference frame within which Machine Wilderness would like to investigate our relationships to technology and how we go about designing our infrastructures. What can be our role as a species that is ‘artificial by nature‘ (to quote anthropologist Helmuth Plessner)?

During the week, with environmental advocates and activists like John Liu and Douglas Tolchin (restoration ecology) and former director of Greenpeace Rex Weyler, opportumities towards renewed environmental health were clear and tangible. Humans can restore wholesome relationships to their surroundings and they can even do it fast. Even just in this week various new initiatives emerged for establishing sanctuaries and restoration initiatives.

It’s interesting to think about what ceremony and indigenous practices could bring to emerging technologies. What would ecological robotics or biohack-labs look like if they included ceremony and local indigenous practices? I’m thinking this could be a powerful addition to our Machine Wilderness design processes, engaging with local indigenous practices that have grown over the centuries within local landscapes and contexts. So lets see what’s possible..

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The Voices 4 the Earth meeting was initiated by Leo van de Vlist of the Netherlands Centre of Indigenous peoples and Frank Heckman of the Embassy of the Earth.