Land rights, equity in development resource flows and life-enhancing epistemologies were among the themes emphasized by churches and faith-based organisations at the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Montreal, Canada from 09-14 August 2016.
“Land creates an ecology of life…It is about relationships”, reflected Bishop Mark McDonald, World Council of Churches (WCC) President for North America, in an event titled “Listen to the the Land” organized by the Oikotree movement at the WSF. “However, the way land is understood in Western thought is completely hostile to the indigenous understanding of land.” For Indigenous peoples, the concept of land stewardship rather than ownership is recognized.
“In the case of Palestine, the Israeli occupation, particularly illegal settlements, have not only dispossessed Palestinians of their land, it has adversely impacted soils and water sources in the occupied territories,” said Nora Carmi. “Our soils and waters are poisoned, our cattle and people are dying of cancers and other illnesses.”
“Land is now subject to the dominant growth-obsessed, profit-oriented paradigm of production, consumption and distribution, intensifying land grabbing in Africa and many parts of the world” said Dr Rogate Mshana, representing Ecolife in Tanzania. “But the Sustainable Development Goals are silent on land-grabbing.”
Speaking at another Oikotree event, titled “Who will bell the cat?”, Stanley William from the Integrated Rural Development of Weaker Sections in India, Ecumenical Commission on Draught and Water Management (ECoDAWM) and the National Council of Churches in India observed that development funding and resource flows increasingly follow the same logic of growth and profit. “The result is that finance and other resources continue to be funneled from the global South to the global North.”
In response to these deeply-embedded problems, “we need a different theological and cultural reflection on land and life,” said Rev Dr Susan Davies at the Oikotree workshop on “Life-enhancing learning together.” “Unlearning life-destroying epistemologies and re-learning life-enhancing ones based on Indigenous concepts such as Sumak Kawsay, Ubuntu and Saeng-sen are critical for building a just and sustainable future,” said Rev Dr Seong-won Park, convenor of the Oikotree movement. “These concepts help us to understand that we are all interconnected in the web of life.”
The Oikotree movement is a faith-based network of movements and organizations striving for justice in the economy and the Earth initiated by the WCC, World Communion of Reformed Churches and Council for World Mission.
“As part of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, churches ought to accompany the struggles of movements for land and life. The World Social Forum – convened as an alternative to the World Economic Forum – is an important venue to do so,” said Athena Peralta, WCC Programme Executive for Economic and Ecological Justice.