Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How a Land Inhabits Its People

People fall into the rhythm of their land; cultures grow organically from there.

Key points

  • An alternative to the view that we inhabit land is the view that the land inhabits us.
  • The rhythm of a land seeps into people's psyches, constraining how they live, how they create, and the cultural practices that evolve there.
  • Acknowledging a land’s previous inhabitants may reinforce the notion that what matters most about a land is the humans that inhabit(ed) it.
  • Other species have dwelt longer on any given piece of land (and more harmoniously) than humans.

In recent years it’s become common practice to precede any cultural event with an acknowledgement of the previous inhabitants of the land, and the statement that the land was unceded.

While the intent is to show respect, which is honourable, this sometimes strikes me as posturing, and a little anthropocentric. Why not acknowledge the multitudes of other species that have called this land their home, in some cases longer, and more harmoniously, than humans? Why not acknowledge that the land belongs to itself, and that to dwell upon it is more a responsibility than a right. (Indeed, this may even be more in keeping with the spirit of indigenous thinking.)

 Liane Gabora
I painted this for my grandmother (my Baba), Liliane Gabora, who instilled in me a respect for nature and the land we live on.
Source: Liane Gabora

Acknowledging a land’s previous inhabitants could reinforce the notion that what matters about a land is the tribes of humans that inhabit (or inhabited) it.

An alternative view is that the land that inhabits its people. People fall into the rhythm of the land upon which they dwell, which both constrains and enables how they approach survival tasks, how they create, and how they entertain themselves.

Their cultures, and ways of life, and perhaps their beliefs and perspectives as well, grow organically out of the rhythms of the physical world. Perhaps it is because we are increasingly removed from such environmental influence that so many of us feel disconnected. Social connection is great as far as it goes, but in my view it cannot take the place of a sense of connection to the land that sustains us.

As my geologist brother reminds me, the surface of our planet is continuously changing and unfolding with no regard for human conceptions of land ownership. We weren’t always around, and like all species, we won’t be around forever.

More from Liane Gabora Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Liane Gabora Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today