White Privilege Awareness Week: What Would a New Relationship with Land Look Like? by Rita Sinorita Fierro

Rita Sinorita Fierro, Ph.D.

I’m Rita Sinorita Fierro of Fierro Consulting, LLC. We specialize in the bridge between organizational culture and results. In other words, we support organizations to cultivate the internal culture that can generate their external results. As such, a great part of my organizational development and evaluation practice is being able to: envisioning something new and aligning the culture to that so we can live into what is possible and results simply flow.

I’m excited to introduce one of seven blogs this week by white people who are working on undoing our internalized white supremacy by cultivating relationship at a lot of different levels of relationship: with land, with unlearning, with self, with others in conflict, with country, with time and life, and with maleness.

Last year, I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants. It’s a gorgeous, soulful, deep book by indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer where she weaves indigenous knowledge and western science in a poetic and impactful way.

When I heard this more or less–I can’t find the original quote–I stopped in my tracks. White people move around too much to get the impact of our actions on the land we inhabit. If white people want to decolonize, we must choose a land we can devote ourselves to, and do it.

Just so happened, I was on my ancestral land, in Italy when I read this—a land that was calling me home. I had a deep yearning to see the seasons change here, to watch and learn the minimal changes over time. I wanted to shift my understanding of this land from a romantic fantasy—after 27 years living in far away cities, to being in tune with it, understanding its pains and sorrows. My parents are phenomenal guides. I’m the first generation not raised on a farm. They know so much. My Mom feels the yearnings of the land, the need for water in the summer heat, the aching of the chemicals we humans use to manipulate production. She is teaching me to pay attention to what the land needs.  My mother pays attention to the land, my Dad to the animals that populate it.

A few weeks ago, someone introduced me to Willie James Jennings’ outstanding work on the connections between white supremacy and Christian theology: 

“The conquerors as pastoralists established a new system of relating to the land and a new point of evaluation for indigenous agriculturalist practices: themselves.

This meant that the skills and abilities of native peoples to work the land were rendered null and void even as the Andean peoples tried to continue their own pastoral practices. It also meant that they were forced to place their “products”into new economic networks alongside new alien crops and produce. (pg77)”

This means we shifted our relationship with land from one of belonging and stewardship to property: evaluation meant shifting to judging reality instead of belonging to it.”

Indigenous evaluators have been denouncing our mechanistic relationship with land as property and communities as opportunities. I’m hearing this in a new way. If I cease to see Land as property, how does my relationship with land change my practice? If I increase my sense of belonging and commitment to the land my projects are operating on, how does this change my practice, my choices? Does it mean I evaluate only projects on land I feel I belong to? How does it shape the questions I ask?  The community we’re willing to impact? The long-term commitment we are willing to make? The long-term impact we’re willing to track?

What would it look like, if like for the First nations of this land we measured our actions by the impact on the seventh generation down the line?

This is not a good-doer intervention. Belonging to the land improves my quality of life, too. There’s a steadiness, a calm, and a joy that comes from returning to the land as my belonging to it, along with my brothers and sisters of this place. There’s a knowing that comes from being able to read it and move from fantasy to authentic relationship. It’s not something I do for indigenous people. It’s something I do for me and the next generations. It’s the way my liberation is bound to the liberation of people of color.

References: 

Jennings, W. J. (2011). The christian imagination: Theology and the origins of Race. Yale University Press. 

Jennings, W. J. (2020). After whiteness: An education in belonging. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


The American Evaluation Association is hosting White Privilege Week with some of our colleagues who are working on undoing internalized white supremacy. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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