Indigenous and First Nation communities tend to be more connected with nature, but this is not the case for other human communities. This has led to non-Indigenous individuals viewing themselves as separate from nature, with less affection, identity, and empathy associated with nature. This lack of connectedness to the natural world impacts environmental action and sustainability. Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) suggests that an immersed and observational experience in nature is important for individuals to be engaged in a deeper understanding of ecological crises.
This study involved two parts: 1) developing an assessment of ecological attachment, empathy, mindfulness, and green action from an Indigenous perspective borrowing from developed assessment tools and validated measures, and 2) a behavioral intervention to reconnect participants to nature using the developed measures to assess for changes. In the first study, the tools and measures looked at empathy and concern for nature as well as intentional behavior towards the natural world. The authors surveyed 450 U.S. adults and analyzed their responses to measures of connectedness to nature and sociomoral capacities such as empathy. In the second study, 93 undergraduate students were assigned to one of two conditions: Indigenous ecological attachment or conservation. They were compared to a separate control group. The first two groups completed pre- and post- surveys and readings corresponding to their condition as well as daily actions that pertained to the two conditions e.g., establishing a relationship with a tree (Indigenous ecological attachment) or turning water off when brushing teeth (conservation). The control group completed pre- and post- surveys, but received no intervention.
The study found that the Indigenous ecological attachment group had increases in ecological empathy scores compared to the conservation group and control group. Green action scores increased for the conservation group compared to the Indigenous ecological attachment and control groups. Both intervention groups demonstrated an increase in ecological mindfulness compared to the control group. There were no changes in stress reduction for any group. Overall, the study suggests that ecological attachment actions can improve ecological empathy and mindfulness.
The authors suggest that further research could examine whether the ecological attachment enhances nature connection via a sense of oneness and reverence, and if these interventions could change personal values and longer-term environmental behavior. Returning to an Indigenous perspective and knowledge might be the way to help reverse ecological crises. Acting with intentional awareness of ecological entities over a sustained period of time may assist in a return to an Indigenous worldview. The authors note that individual factors such as emotions, beliefs, and attitudes alone will not address the ecological crises alone. How such individual dimensions can impact the political and legal levers critical to address the system supporting the climate change crisis needs investigation.