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Photo: David Rapport, Sierra Terrahumara, Mexico
Photo: David Rapport, Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico

Protecting biocultural diversity — the true web of life.

Terralingua n 1: the languages of the Earth, the many voices of the world’s diverse peoples. 2: the language of the Earth, the voice of Mother Nature. 3: an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to sustain the biocultural diversity of life – a precious heritage to be cherished, protected, and nurtured for generations to come. ¶ From Italian terra ‘earth’ and lingua ‘language’.

sunWhat is biocultural diversity?

It’s the true web of life: diversity in both nature and culture. It’s a living network made up of the millions of species of plants and animals that have evolved on Earth, and of the thousands of human cultures and languages that have developed over time. Languages, cultures, and ecosystems are interdependent. They’re bound together through the myriad ways in which people have interacted with the natural environment. Through a diversity of cultural traditions and practices, in a great variety of natural environments, human communities have acquired invaluable knowledge of how to achieve harmony with nature. Biocultural diversity is both the source and the expression of all the beauty and potential of life on Earth.

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sunWhy does it matter?

First, we are losing the unique ways of life, languages, and identities of the world’s diverse peoples. It’s a matter of human rights. For each one of these peoples, it’s their right to choose their own path for development while maintaining continuity with their own past. It’s their right to “walk toward the future in the footsteps of their ancestors”.

For humanity at large, the loss of cultural and linguistic diversity represents a drastic reduction of our collective human heritage: a profound diminishment of our understanding of what it means to be human—of the thousands of different ways in which we can say, “I am human”. Our horizon as a species becomes all the narrower for that.

The Year in Review

Salt Spring Island, December 2018

Dear Terralingua Friends,

It’s the end of another full year at Terralingua, and as usual it’s time to look back and be grateful for the good things that have happened over the past months. For us it means, above all, the appreciation and encouragement of our growing worldwide network of biocultural diversity supporters like you!

We’ve been working for over two decades to promote awareness of the vital value of biocultural diversity for sustaining all life on earth, and the feedback we receive from all over the world tells us that what we do touches minds and hearts—and often even has a transformative effect on how people see their place in the world! Bringing about that kind of shift in human values lies at the very core of our mission, so there could hardly be anything more heartening and rewarding than to hear that our efforts have made a real difference in people’s lives.

“Having followed your work for decades now, it is continually refreshing to see you turn again and again to goodness, grace, and right-thinking with the earth and all of our peoples. Your struggle is for all of us and I thank you for being willing to place yourselves at the tip of the spear, or perhaps it is a digging stick.” —Will McClatchey, Ethnobotanist and Farmer

For the past few years, the main vehicle for our awareness-raising effort has been our flagship publication, Langscape Magazine. With fascinating and diverse stories coming literally from Siberia to Tierra del Fuego and from all around the Equator, Langscape has become the main voice of Terralingua and of the idea of biocultural diversity. Each time, a cutting-edge theme brings new contributions that vividly illustrate, in words and images, the beauty and critical importance of diversity in nature and culture.

The Summer 2018 issue of the magazine, released in July, was guest-edited by Dave Harmon and focused on on the critical topic of community-led biocultural diversity conservation. It showcased uplifting stories from all inhabited continents that illustrate the variety of creative efforts carried out by people and communities to maintain and revitalize their biocultural heritage and their traditional knowledge, management, and use of the land. People’s power at its best! You’ll find some of these stories freely available on the reading platform Medium.

The second of this year’s two issues of Langscape Magazine was released in December. This Winter 2018 issue, also guest-edited by Dave Harmon, is devoted to another life-essential topic: the biocultural diversity of food. Packed with contributions from North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, it offers—as Dave Harmon puts it—a “smorgasbord of stories” that “show us many ways to truly be together, sharing food, with mindfulness and caring.” What could be more appropriate for this holiday season? We hope you enjoy these stories—several of which we have already shared on Medium.

biocultural diversityFor all the work that goes into bringing you these fascinating biocultural stories that you can’t find anywhere else, and into packaging them in two 80-page, richly illustrated, ad-free issues of the magazine, Terralingua owes a great debt to two exceptionally dedicated individuals: Dave Harmon, Terralingua’s co-founder and this year’s phenomenal guest editor, and Coreen Boucher, our stalwart editorial assistant and online media and communications whiz. Our warmest thanks to both of them!

It is heartwarming to see how the magazine is becoming well known and keenly read in ever-wider circles around the world. Our readers’ and contributors’ comments tell us that, from the living room to the classroom to out in the community, Langscape is increasingly recognized and valued as a unique and eloquent ambassador for biocultural diversity. It is seen as a quality source of information, inspiration, and understanding. It sparks reflection, dialogue, and action. What better measure could we wish for of the impact Langscape is having as a tool for positive change in the world?

Langscape Magazinereflects the intelligence, dignity, perseverance, and beauty that principled humans can bring to life.” —Rose Thater Braan-Imai, (Tuscarora), Director of the Native American Academy

It is exciting to see this community of thought and practice grow and expand around the globe—and even to witness interactions take place among people who wouldn’t have come in contact with one another hadn’t it been for reading the magazine! Take the example of Javier Domingo and Cristina Zárraga, two of our Langscape contributors. Both have been working passionately for the revitalization of Indigenous languages of the southern tip of South America: Javier with the Tehuelche language of Patagonia, Cristina with the Yagan language of Tierra del Fuego. But they didn’t know about each other’s work until each read the other’s article in the magazine. Now they are in touch and, better still, they are planning for unprecedented exchanges of ideas and experiences between the two language communities!

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biocultural diversity

Left: Cristina Zárraga and Cristina Calderón working in Ukika, Navarino Island. Photo: Oliver Vogel 2014. Right: Javier Domingo with children displaying the Aonekko flag, which represents Mount Chaltén and the Southern Cross constellation. Photo: José Kopolke, 2016

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Langscape may have been the most visible aspect of our work this year, yet it was only the “tip of the iceberg” of what we’ve been up to. Behind the scenes, we’ve also been busy with a big project that will come to fruition in early 2019: the complete redevelopment and redesign of our website. Bringing together our two current sites, terralingua.org (our original site) and terralinguaubuntu.org (the home of Langscape Magazine), it will showcase all of our past and present work, publications, and other outputs in a handsome, useful, and user-friendly format. We believe it will prove to be one of the richest resources on biocultural diversity to be found anywhere. Stay tuned!

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biocultural diversity

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Speaking of resources, those of you in search of comprehensive academic treatments of biocultural diversity may be interested in two extensive review articles on biocultural diversity that we contributed to two major scholarly reference works—further evidence that the concept and the field of biocultural diversity have come of age! The article “Biocultural Diversity” appeared in the International Encyclopedia of Anthropology and the complementary article “Sustaining Biocultural Diversity” in the Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages.

biocultural diversityQuicker, non-academic reads that touch in part or in full on our ideas appeared this year in online media: “Terralingua and biocultural diversity,” an interview by Nejma Belarbi for Voices for Biodiversity; “Endangered languages, endangered ecologies,” an article by Debra Utacia Krol for The Revelator; and “Camels and compliments: How language, culture and nature are interconnected,” an interview by Alex Walls for the University of British Columbia’s Language Sciences Initiative. The latter is complemented by the video of an invited talk on biocultural diversity that Terralingua’s Co-founder and Director, Dr. Luisa Maffi, gave at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver last November. Check out this video if you’re curious to learn about the origins and history of Terralingua and our past and current work!

This year, we’ve been especially proud to “soft-launch” our newest project: the Indigenous Youth Storytellers initiative, linked to Langscape Magazine. The idea is to encourage Indigenous youth’s efforts to (re)connect to their languages, cultures, and lands by inviting them to contribute their stories to our magazine—be it in the form of written essays, poetry, photography, video, or artwork—and rewarding them with publication and a small prize.

The pilot test we conducted with the Winter 2018 issue of the magazine (which was released earlier this month) yielded two engaging and insightful articles written or co-written by Indigenous youth: Lina Karolin, an Ot Danum Dayak from Central Kalimantan, Borneo, and Manju Maharjan, a Newar from Nepal. Both of them expressed their enthusiasm for being able to share their stories through Langscape Magazine and their appreciation for the support we offer to Indigenous youth.

We will officially launch and run this project throughout 2019, to honor the International Year of  Indigenous Languages. We are really excited to make this contribution to fostering Indigenous youth’s pride in and identification with their ancestral languages, cultural traditions, and land-base knowledge and practices, and look forward to bringing you more great stories year-round!

“I feel fortunate to be part of Langscape Magazine and really appreciate your support and encouragement to Indigenous youth.”  —Manju Maharjan

The year concluded, sadly, with a totally unexpected and destructive event: on December 20, a near-hurricane-force windstorm tore through our region, southern British Columbia in western Canada, leaving a lot of devastation in its wake. On Salt Spring Island, where Terralingua’s office is, literally thousands of our beautiful, tall big trees came down, taking power lines with them, falling across roads, crashing on homes and infrastructure. The damage was vast, and much of the island was left crippled. Nobody could remember seeing anything quite like this in this part of the world before! Thankfully, Terralingua’s office was not damaged, but there was a lot of disruption, and the aftermath may be lengthy before things go back to (more or less) normal.

A stark reminder of the fragility of this planet that we call home and of the magnificent biocultural diversity it hosts. More than ever, we need to learn to take better care of this life-giving gift! And that’s why, more than ever, we’re grateful for the support of our friends! All we’ve done this year and over the years would not have been possible without that support. In sending you our warmest wishes for the new year, we are comforted by the knowledge that we have the embrace of such a strong worldwide network! We heartily reciprocate that embrace, and look forward to interacting and working with you next year!

Langscape MagazineLooking Ahead

In the past two decades, Terralingua has had a major role in establishing and promoting the concept of biocultural diversity in research, practice, and policy. In recent years, we have increasingly focused on education and outreach, through three projects that complement and enhance one another. Voices of the Earth connects us to the on-the-ground realities of Indigenous communities and their efforts to maintain and revitalize their languages, cultures, and links to the land. Langscape Magazine and the Biocultural Diversity Education Initiative allow us to bring our educational and transformative message to an increasingly broader audience around the world.

We are deeply grateful to the many people, organizations, and foundations that have believed in and supported our work, and who continue to encourage us in the pursuit of the life-affirming mission we gave ourselves in 1996. Our sense of purpose and determination are no less strong now than when we moved our first steps 22 years ago.

With heartfelt gratitude and warmest wishes for the new year from us at Terralingua,

Luisa Maffi
Co-founder and Director, Terralingua

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