Global warming. Overpopulation. Civil war. Economic depression. The list of conflicts that our species is facing in this modern age could go on for days. One may feel at times that everything is going wrong, that the world is upside-down and inside-out, that we are trending more and more towards devastation. Yet we strive to remember that there is so much beauty in the world to appreciate. Still, the question remains: how did we get here? And how can we make progress in a better direction?

Our proposed expedition, from Alaska to Argentina, will seek to further understand these problems. We feel that the root cause of most modern problems lies in the separation of local ownership and responsibility over communal properties. When distant forces control the actions of local people, elements of adaptability are lost. This prevents the people from being able to effectively manage their situation in times of change. As the times are clearly always in a state of change these days, more and more humans are experiencing the ill effects of macro-management. An alternative way of living is to reinvest in the familiar, to work towards independent organization of communities. We believe that the people we meet along our journey will have answers to these conflicts, and will be able to show us techniques of local living that may be applicable to a wider audience of citizens. We hypothesize that the communities that exhibit these qualities will not only be more sustainable, but will also contain individuals that are actually happier than the average person.

We see examples of this type of conflict everyday in our homeland of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit are the native people of our region, humans who inhabited this land before the European and American explorers came to claim territories. Prior to colonial contact, the Tlingit lived in direct communication with the landscape, subsisting by taking what they needed and in return enriching the environment with their culture. When the Euro-Americans arrived, the Tlingit were influenced and in many instances forced to develop a more restricted relationship with their home places. The newcomers to the area over-harvested resources and did not respect the wisdom of the people who belonged to the place. This coerced the natives to significantly alter their lifestyles in order to survive. The adopted changes put the people at an immediate disadvantage, as they became the least experienced participants in the new system. Today, modern Tlingit continue to show the effects of this history, as a large proportion of the population still live in relative poverty. However, those that are fortunate enough to engage in traditional subsistence techniques and cultural practices often demonstrate a high quality of life.*

We believe that if local people can maintain an intimate relationship with their location, then the community will be much more resilient to challenges and therefore more satisfied with their given situation. Thus the solution to global conflicts lies in the empowerment of independent communities. In our travels, we hope to find examples of groups along the Pacific coast of the Americas that are demonstrating elements of self-sufficiency and love for location. We plan on learning what each group is doing to improve their connection to the local place, and then sharing their story through writing and film. Additionally, engaging in this style of travel will promote the concept of developing meaningful relationships with foreign communities, as opposed to the high-speed, get-the-photo, check-it-off-the-list approach of modern commercial tourism. We hope to benefit everyone involved with this project, from the financial supporter, to the person we encounter along the way, to the viewer of the film, to ourselves. By traveling internationally to document the growing localization movement, we will be doing our part to contribute to the global happiness and advance the human condition.

Thanks for checking us out. See you out there.

*Read Thomas Thornton’s Being and Place Among the Tlingit for more information on this situation.