Being Part of the Land: The Responsibility-Based Yucatec Maya Land Ethos

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Sioui, Miguel Paul Sastaretsi




For millennia Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have had spiritual relationships with their lands and the beings on them. Today, a variety of political, social and environmental factors are redefining many Indigenous groups' land-based sustenance practices and livelihoods. Through these changes and new developments, however, scholars have found cultural continuity. My doctoral research describes the land ethos of the residents of the Mayan community of Xuilub (Yucatan), Mexico, and explains how it is understood and put into practice by its members. This project, informed by postcolonial theory, Indigenous geographies, and Indigenous knowledges (IKs) research, is part of a broader attempt to decolonize colonial histories and understandings about Indigenous peoples and their relationships with their territories. Through experiential learning and interviews over five trips to the area from 2014-2016, I have come to understand the Mayan land ethos as "being part of the land." I argue that this land ethos is guided by the cultural precept of 'responsibility-based thinking.' This ethos reflects a non-hierarchical view of the place of humans within a larger society (or Circle) of all beings on the land, and speaks to the importance of ceremony, offerings, and reciprocal relationships. Furthermore, this worldview is not static, but is well suited to integrating new knowledges and innovations and adapting to changing social and environmental conditions, and is strongly connected to cultural identity and place. The Maya land ethos can be described as a spiritually informed way of seeing the world that informs and mediates personal and collective conduct by instilling in an individual and, by extension, a community, a sense of duty or responsibility to be part of the land, rather than a sense of having rights to or on it.

This dissertation contributes to broader scholarly efforts to achieve deeper understandings of IKs, from a more Indigenous-centred research approach (and research questions), with the ultimate goal of expanding the disciplinary perspectives of postcolonial scholarship and Indigenous geographies. Such a responsibility-based mindset has the potential to enhance current mainstream (rights-based) environmental policy frameworks.


Native American Studies




Carleton University

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