Introduction: meeting the Ocean [for the first time]
On the 20th March 2017 the New Zealand government enshrined into law that the Whanganui River is a legal entity, having rights and responsibilities just as a human person. This was perceived as a massive victory for Ma¯ori in getting their understanding of the river recognized in a contemporary Common Law system, and points to the central question of this preface—who is the Ocean from Indigenous and traditional viewpoints? It points to acknowledgement of the Ma¯ori worldview for not just the rivers but the Ocean and all life on Earth. The Future Seas 2030 initiative and associated research is starting from a profound new point of departure—Who is the Ocean? This Preface captures the voices and knowledge of the involved Indigenous and local-traditional peoples, communities and authors who are working together with marine practitioners to assess, study and ultimately save our Mother Ocean. Following the late, great Pacific thinker, Epeli Hau’ofa, instead of conceiving our island nations as ‘small-island states ‘, we see a sea of islands, the vastest interconnected ecosystem of the world—our seas.
Unlike most research in the past, Future Seas 2030 positions its work so that we begin from a (new) beginning. Whilst our seas have been studied for centuries, the central understanding of them as living entities interconnected all across the planet, and forming sentient relations with the Indigenous and local coastal communities, has not been the starting point of such studies within these waters in the past.
Past centuries following colonisation have entailed massive plunder, conquest, dissemination and detached intellectual analysis from a far-away vantage point that has not understood the lifeblood and depth of these sentient waters. Whilst these colonial practices in extraction and research still persist, Future Seas 2030 and the courage of a potential new start adds a new and positive dimension to ocean research and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2020–2030).
The Karelian peoples of the north east corner of Europe and present-day Russia have a traditional song:
tule Meren ema¨ tuulessa tuiskamah vihurissa viuhkamah /
Come forth, Mother of the Sea, Blowing in the Wind, Swept and Seen in the Gales
A related peoples, who only have three individual native people speaking the language, the Livonians of Latvia, a Baltic Finno-Ugric Indigenous people, have centered their culture around Mer jema, the Mother of the Sea, who controls the fish catches, weather and the destinies of people. Nothing happens without her knowledge, her benevolence and kindness. No fish or seals can be caught and no good weather guides the people back home if she is angered or mis-treated.
Similar understandings of the sacred and profound relationship between coastal peoples and the seas around the world constitute the Indigenous and traditional governance of the ocean that used to exist prior to the large-scale colonisation process which transformed both the maps and the minds of all peoples. There are still remnants and rebuilt examples of this type of governance even today.
In this preface, we represent those coastal Indigenous and local-traditional communities that contributed to the Future Seas 2030 initiative and the subsequent workshops and papers. We are from Greenland, Finnish coastal communities, Indigenous Taiwanese peoples, New Zealand Ma¯ori, Haida Nation, and Quandamooka Country and Trawlwoolway Pakana (both Australia). Additionally Future Seas 2030 invited the international Snowchange Cooperative, an organisation representing Arctic, boreal and fishing communities globally to record messages and key knowledge throughout 2019 to be included in the special issue to allow the voices of those women and men who could not join the events to share their voices using Free, Prior and Informed Consent. These people included the Skolt Sa´mi of Finland, Kawawana community in Senegal, Unalakleet, Alaska, USA, Nibela, South Africa, and the Chukchi of North East Siberia.
We understand that we do not represent all coastal and marine Indigenous and traditional communities and do not speak on their behalf or have a right to do so. We are only speaking and sharing from our own home communities and represent our respective nations and cultures. We are humbled to be able to contribute to the international scholarly process of a new start for the oceans and welcome all Indigenous and traditional communities to join the process where they can. We recognize and validate all of these communities and their knowledge, rights and life.
We also recognize and highlight the role of the (Palawa, Pakana) Indigenous Tasmanians of Lutruwita, where the Future Seas 2030 project began, who’s culture and traditional practices have, against all odds, survived and grown following an attempted massive genocide. Thank you for hosting our delegation on your homeland and country and sharing your knowledge.
In this Preface we are sharing observations, knowledge and oral histories as said and recorded directly to contribute to the framing of the issues and papers that follow. For the papers within this special issue we have worked alongside scholars on specific issues related to the UN Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our paper on ‘‘A fair ocean future for earth’s First Peoples’’ contains Indigenous and traditional knowledge referenced for the issues and ocean questions (Fischer et al. 2020, this issue).
Indigenous knowledge however does not use referencing of the academic style—it is often based on oral histories, narratives, sharing and events that matter. Therefore, this Preface follows and honours the Indigenous way of communicating issues about the oceans. A profound example of an oral exchange of two marine Indigenous women on climate change can be found in the short film ‘‘Rise’’ by Greenlandic woman Aka Niviaˆna and Marshall Islander Kathy Jetn˜il-Kijiner (at https://350.org/rise-from-one-islandto-another/ and reprinted here in part with a kind permission from the authors) and partially shared here:
we demand that the world see beyond
SUV’s, ac’s, their pre-packaged convenience
their oil-slicked dreams, beyond the belief
that tomorrow will never happen, that this
is merely an inconvenient truth.
Let me bring my home to yours.
Let’s watch as Miami, New York,
Shanghai, Amsterdam, London,
Rio de Janeiro, and Osaka
try to breathe underwater.
You think you have decades
before your homes fall beneath tides?
We have years.
We have months
before you sacrifice us again
before you watch from your tv and computer
to see if we will still be breathing
while you do nothing.
From one island to another
I give to you these rocks
as a reminder
that our lives matter more than their power
that life in all forms demands
the same respect we all give to money
that these issues affect each and everyone of us
None of us is immune
And that each and everyone of us has to decide