Looking for new solutions to global threats: The Cedar Tree Institute


Can nature teach us about education, knowledge acquisition and mobilization? Can nature teach us about solving the global threats when it comes to political systems or environmental politics?

A new initiative at UVic is trying just this:  At the Cedar Tree Institute (CTI), we draw inspiration from the ‘cedar tree’. On the Northwest Coast, it represents an interdependent, symbiotic and cyclical way of life that sustains itself and all the other lifeways with which it co-inhabits the living earth. Known by many as the tree of life (arbor-vitae), the cedar first appeared in the Lower Fraser Valley around 6600 years ago, and only 500 years ago, it accounted for nearly fifty per cent of the vegetation of this territory. Indigenous communities on this coast, speak of the cedar as “Long Life Maker” and/or “Rich Woman Maker” (Hillary Stewart), and at the institute, we try to learn with our hosts how to emulate the qualities of such a marvellous tree. We attempt to grow in the resurgent and reconciliatory spirit of the cedars in these old growth forests that surround us and give us life.

When we look at our ecosystem from within (and as a whole), we see how cedars grow in cooperation with each other. Their branches grow, and as soon as they touch another tree, the cedars redirect the growth of their canopy in another direction. When we look at the huge red cedars surging and growing upward to the sunshine, we soon realize that the trees as they grow communicate with each other, share nutrients through fungi networks, care, and help each other, and warn each other of dangers coming. While we can observe the cedar asserting its own truth in its growth, we also see how it helps its neighbours by being healthy and strong and taking good care of itself. Throughout its life, the cedar reveals the irreducible tension between resurgence and reconciliation, and at the institute, learning-with the cedar we seek to introduce nonviolent forms of engagement that can combine these two dispositions and unite humanity (Barbara Deming).

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