In Langscape Magazine Articles

Edges of Transformation: Women Crossing Boundaries between Ecological and Social Healing

January 15, 2016

by Jeanine M. Canty

Everything interesting happens at the edges. As we are moving to restore our relationships with nature, including one another, in an extremely diverse and globally connected planet, the knowledge we need is held by those who are crossing boundaries between fixed viewpoints, restoring relationship with place, holding multiple ways of being, and reintegrating feminine wisdom. With a group of boundary-crossing women, I have been working on a book titled Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural Women’s Voices. The women are prominent academics, writers, leaders, and embodied practitioners spanning Native American, Indigenous, Asian, African, Latina, Jewish, and multiracial backgrounds  —  yet all of them are, to some degree, living amidst the mainstream cultural paradigm of the United States. They express a myriad ways in which the relationship between the ecological and the social has brought new understanding to their experiences and work in the world. Moreover, by working with these edges of awareness, they identify new forms of teaching, leading, healing, and making positive change.

biocultural diversity

Recently Uncovered. Prescott National Forest, Arizona. Photo: M. Jennifer Chandler, 2014.

Biocultural diversity speaks to the intersections between people and place, to the mutually beneficial relationships that develop when people are at home and living in respect within their local ecological communities. Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the natural world for thousands of years and have served as the keepers of the Earth. Their knowledge is pivotal to addressing the ecological crisis and looking at the roles of humans within Earth systems. At the same time, many of our human communities have severed their relationships with nature and are living within a cultural worldview that is destructive to Earth, including humans. We are betwixt worldviews, and the impacts of Western culture and corporate globalization have devastated the Earth.

Biocultural diversity needs to be held by all peoples. In particular, people operating under assumptions of Western domination and corporate globalization need to reorient to views and practices that are supportive of the larger Earth community. It is time for those who have benefited from hundreds of years of domination of people and nature, and have only recently awoken to these injustices, to follow the leadership of peoples who hold deep understandings of a sacred relationship with nature, the workings of injustice, and what it means to live between multiple identities and worldviews. The latter speaks to those who have broken histories and are learning how to take these lessons in order to bring healing and reconnection with people and place.

The term, edges of transformation, has many lenses. Permaculture often claims that everything interesting happens at the edges between ecosystems. Transformative learning acknowledges that our worldviews change from having experiences that confront our identities and force us to make meaning. Edges also represent crossings into liminal spaces  —  stepping into the mystery of nature, spirit, and our psyches, not knowing what one may encounter. Edges are often hard, whether in sensory sharpness or through the psychological fear of transitioning into a different reality. Nor are edges seamless transitions  —  they do not embody the conventional sense of wholeness; edges are often formed when something breaks, such as a rock formation or a held sense of personal identity.

Within Western psychology and more “modern” healing paradigms there is an overemphasis on becoming whole. Both the individual and the collective are encouraged to have a clear identity comprised of a linear, concise storyline. Being whole is associated with being at the center, being intact, unbroken  —  having a fixed reality and clear boundaries of what is me and not me. It encourages a single identity that is untainted, wholesome.


Our waters
Our selves; inside out

— Rachel Bagby

However, our storylines are often comprised of disparate experiences  —  most peoples who are emerging from the devastations of hundreds of years of colonization and globalization hold shattered histories. These stories include ancestral trauma, forced separation from one’s homeland and traditions, oppression, and acculturation. Within the United States and other nations of the global north, the acculturated individual is often heralded as the archetype of wholeness. But this is a homogenized identity that is unrelated to cultural tradition or to a particular landscape. It is an identity of separateness and sterilization. This is the same archetype that was used historically to unite diverse groups of Europeans in order to exploit Indigenous peoples and peoples of color and at the same acquire natural resources.

It is unreasonable to assume we will re-enter a collective state of healing that is based on a common, seamless view. Instead, wholeness and healing manifest when we honor our collective wounding and allow our brokenness and resulting stories and diversities to be seen and held. It is our cracks, our brokenness, our edges that reorder our vision of the world, so that we may see more clearly, from a perspective that is much larger than a myopic view.

The knowledge we need is held by those who are crossing boundaries between fixed viewpoints.

Relating this to biocultural diversity, no healthy ecosystem is homogenized and no healthy culture is colonized. Monocultures of any type are weak and shallow systems. A healthy ecosystem is abundant with ecological diversity — a myriad edges joining infinite, diverse life. An ecotone describes an overlapping zone that joins two ecological communities, such as meadow and forest. Ecotones have elements of each community and, in fact, are home to beings that are not found in either. One may say they yield an emergent property that is the fruit of crossing boundaries, straddling edges.

biocultural diversity

Spaces In-between. Prescott National Forest, Arizona. Photo: M. Jennifer Chandler, 2013.

Spaces In-between. Prescott National Forest, Arizona. Photo: M. Jennifer Chandler, 2013.


You gave what
You got; I shall not.
Hushed daughters
God privileged sons
You gave
What you got
Fathers; I shall not.

— Rachel Bagby

We currently have generations of peoples who straddle multiple edges  —  varied identities that consist of unique combinations of the Indigenous and multicultural, the colonized and colonizer, the displaced and the reclaimer. We represent the joining of multiple communities, histories, and identities. Indigeneity is a process of restoring the human connection to culture and land. It is about being at home within our ecosystems and living a respectful, sustainable relationship with the more than human world in the places we inhabit. Indigenous cultures have enacted this relationship throughout human history. If we are to, collectively, transition to sustainable relationships, all peoples must become Indigenous to place. Learning about local ecosystems, learning from the peoples native to place, and drastically changing our patterns of consumption and worldviews are all a part of this. Yet the places we live within are populated with broken histories of the land and peoples, and many of us are embedded within these stories of brokenness. It is not enough to return to what was Indigenous in the past, we must honor our stories of brokenness, reweave our various and disparate experiences to our present relationships with place, including one another.

By holding an identity that crosses multiple cultures, histories, and communities, one develops the ability to embody larger perspectives, as one is not situated in a single worldview. Living in deep relationship with a landscape teaches us to identify with the beings around us. Living within multiple cultural identities teaches us to relate to many points of view. This ability to both understand and empathize with a larger, varied whole creates greater potential for healing that is inclusive. That is especially true when these identities are embedded within our collective painful histories.

The Indigenous, peoples of color, and women are disproportionately affected, both historically and in the present, by the ecological crisis. The oppression of these groups and the oppression of nature have gone hand in hand. While “marginalization” typically holds a negative connotation, from a broader perspective marginalized peoples often hold greater power, through experiences that cause them to question the mainstream. If we accept that our current ecological and social crisis is caused, to a large extent, by the problematic Western paradigm and its damaging enactment, having an off-centered worldview is extremely powerful in transforming the dominant paradigm. This seems particularly true when one holds an identity that comes from multiple intersections of race, culture, gender, class, and other distinctions that do not permit one to sit solidly within a single grouping. By being off-center, a person who has many experiences of identity that do not fit within the majority possesses the power to hold multiple, often conflicting lenses.

Indigeneity is a process of restoring the human connection to culture and land. All peoples must become Indigenous to place.

The process of healing the human relationship with the rest of the natural world is a process of reclamation and restoration. Many of us are reclaiming our earth-based ancestries and restorying our connections with all of life in our present communities, whether rural or urban, within our native lands or within our displaced homelands. The wisdom needed for this rests within paradigms that embrace Indigenous and feminine wisdom. Women hold a prominent role within this work. The Earth is often beheld as feminine, as she is the giver of life, an embodiment of deep receptivity and support. The living world is in constant relationship and continually adapting to change. Listening, observing, and responding to others lead to strong, harmonious, life-affirming relationships. As holders of feminine wisdom coupled with experiences of marginalization under hundreds of years of patriarchy, women are emerging as leaders in the transition to a resilient society.

Even further, as we witness and tell the stories of our individual and collective brokenness and enter into healing actions and new visions, this movement may encourage others to embrace their own stories of brokenness. No one holds a single story, and most have diverse lineages and experiences with displacement from their traditional cultures and homelands  —  even those who appear to benefit most from structural oppression and corporate globalization. In allowing our multiplicity, we move away from binaries and single-pointed views, creating the conditions for many forms and narratives that can support one another. Nature is abundant because of cooperative biodiversity. Edges create fertile ground.

Our book is rooted in these ideas and speaks to an “edge awareness or consciousness”  —  in essence, to the power of integrating multiple and often conflicting views and the transformations that result. As women transiting the edges between the ecological and social, we have powerful experiences that are creating new forms of healing. The narratives provided by our group of women cross the boundaries of place, history, trauma, worldview, restorying, compassion, and healing. Our aim is to break the patterns that keep us separate from our ecological homes and from one another, and moreover to create power in a collective revisioning of our future.


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Jeanine M. Canty is a core associate professor of Environmental Studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, USA. A lover of nature, justice, and contemplative practice, her work intersects issues of social and ecological justice and the process individuals go through to reach heightened awareness and to translate this into positive change.

Further Reading

Canty, J. M. (Ed.). (2016). Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural Women’s Voices. New York, NY: Routledge.

Canty, J. M. (2014). Walking between worlds: Holding multiple perspectives as a key for ecological transformation. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 33(1), pp. 15–26. Retrieved from

Griffin, S. (2015). Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. New York, NY: Open Road Media.

Nelson, M. K. (Ed.). (2008). Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.

Simons, N., & Campbell, A. (Eds.). (2010). Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.


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