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We are each responsible for bringing our piece into the great story of our species, which is a long and complex story… It can be confusing to determine what stories are real, what stories actually impact our lives, what is worth our attention, and what, once heard, we are accountable for acting upon… Our future depends on being able to turn and face what is, and to be honest about what we are going to do to survive.”

ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN
Writer and Social Justice Facilitator
















In the time of the Seventh Fire, New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the Elders who they will ask to guide them on their journey.”

EDWARD BENTON-BANAI
Wisconsin Ojibway of the Fish Clan
and Spiritual Teacher
















Everywhere was now a part of everywhere else… Our lives, our stories, flowed into one another's, were no longer our own, individual, discrete.

SALMAN RUSHDIE
Novelist



























Only stories will help us to rejoin human to humility to humus, through their shared root (the root that we're looking for here is dhghem: Earth).”

RICHARD POWERS
Novelist
















If a particular society's cultural world – the dreams that have guided it to a certain point – become dysfunctional, the society must go back and dream again. We must reinvent the human… by means of story and shared experience.”

THOMAS BERRY
Cultural Historian












































This is work in the context of lifetimes across generations, bringing all generations together in one re-generation.”

SUSAN V. BOSAK
Legacy Project Founder and
7-Generation Strategist
















The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don't know yet whether they will have any effect.”

REBECCA SOLNIT
Historian and Author

























































































































































































































































































































































































































Greater Tkaronto (Toronto) Bioregion

7-GENERATION ON THE GROUND

"Regenerative design can bring a river back to life. It can restore the health and vitality of an individual and their family. It can transform grief and trauma into vital pathways of healing for people, community, and ecosystems. Combining Indigenous lifeways with the best scientific knowledge about human behaviour, cultural evolution, and the dynamic Earth, a path can be made by walking it throughout the rest of this century and beyond."
Joe Brewer



To help launch 7-Generation GTB, Joe Brewer is visiting the Greater Toronto Area January 30 to February 4, 2023. Click here for an events listing.

We all know we can't keep doing what we've been doing. This regenerative, systems complexity, 7-Generation ground work is different, aligned with many similar quiet yet determined efforts around the world. It may feel unfamiliar and confusing, because we're not working in straight lines. It's grounded in evidence – and then takes an intuitive step beyond.

The blunt fact is that we're in a polycrisis – converging climate, environmental, economic, political, technological, social, health crises.
Complexity
We can't stay in an isolated room at a white board using
a simplistic,
straight-line problem/solution mindset and ignore the messy, complex reality just outside the door. From the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019): "We require transformative change – a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values."

Says Thomas Homer-Dixon in Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril: "Anyone who grasps the severity of humanity's predicament and tries to figure out how we might respond with something like a new organization, technology, or social movement to make things better – not just for ourselves narrowly, but for all of humanity – confronts an unforgiving conundrum, which I've come to call the enough vs. feasible dilemma. On one hand, changes that would be enough to make a real difference – that would genuinely reduce the danger humanity faces if they were implemented – don't appear to be feasible, in the sense that our societies aren't likely to implement them, because of existing political, economic, social, or technological roadblocks. On the other hand, changes that do currently appear feasible won't be enough."
Hard Things
The Legacy Project
is interested in ecopsychosocial wellbeing in lifetimes across generations.
To face enough vs. feasible head on, in a way that meets the polycrisis at a reasonable scale,
our 7-Generation work in the "Greater Tkaronto (Toronto) Bioregion" (GTB) is part of the newly-created global Bioregional Activators.

This is a deep systems approach of cultural and ecological regeneration, from the ground up and fractally scale-linked. Said another way, we're helping multiply meaningful impact across silos – from health and education to climate and economy – through right relationships with each other, especially across generations, and the land.

THE DESIGN PATHWAY


The Pathway

The approach to bioregional cultural and ecological regeneration draws on the work of
Joe Brewer, a complexity researcher and transdisciplinary scholar. He outlines his research in The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth.

Every bioregion is unique in its context, with bioregions designing locally while learning globally.

In a powerful North/South collaboration, GTB will prototype real-world action together with Brewer's Living Laboratory in the 500,000 hectare bioregion (corresponding to the regional climate system) of Barichara, Colombia.

Nestled high in the mountains of Colombia, Barichara is home to a population of 7,000. It's registered as a national monument, with beautiful vistas and classic local architecture.
Barichara, Colombia
Located in the heart of Indigenous Guane territory, it's the only "High Andes" tropical dry forest on Earth. There is a network of small landowner farms providing food to the town, which depends on tourism. Many of the river systems have dried up. More than 90% of the native forest was destroyed to make room for monoculture crops like tobacco, beans, and squash.

There is a rich Indigenous culture in Barichara, and a number of regenerative projects. The Barichara work, connected into other bioregions around the planet, includes development of bioregional investment platforms, an approach to integrated landscape and project infrastructure and management, and cultural learning and regeneration. Find out more in this video with Joe Brewer.

Drawing on a structure developed by Commonland, this kind of work results in four returns: inspiration, social, natural, and financial.

Adapting for the Canadian, urban context of the GTB, 7-Generation Strategy adds a dynamic of intergenerational relationships in the context of place and time to nurture ecopyschosocial wellbeing. Particularly in affluent Western societies, we must #ChangeTheStory of who we are, what we value, and how we live with each other on a rapidly changing planet.

The challenges are big and our responses remain small. This is big-picture, connect-the-dots work – across people/groups, generations, regions, issues and ideas. What we do locally has to make sense in the context of global patterns. The ultimate goal of this groundbreaking work is a fractally scale-linked network of activated bioregions in the context of the 1,000 critical global ecological landscapes.

THE FUTURE IS BIOREGIONAL


One Earth

We're used to seeing a world map divided into countries. One Earth has mapped the 185 broad bioregions of the world, which can then be further refined into more localized bioregions practical for bioregional activation.

Bioregionalism reconceptualizes political, cultural, and economic systems as being grounded in place, specifically their bioregion.
Bioregions
Bioregions are defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries, geography, soil characteristics, and weather patterns. Bioregions also take into account cultural and historical connections, including Indigenous land uses.

Each bioregion is unique, so context is important to understanding local human, animal, and plant population relationships and needs. The bioregion directly influences the ways human communities act and interact with each other which are, in turn, related to those communities surviving/thriving in their environment.

Bioregions aren't the same as ecoregions. Ecoregions, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund or the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, are scientifically-based and focus on wildlife and vegetation. Bioregions are human regions, informed by the natural world, with a social and political element.

People and their environments evolve together. When the focus is the bioregion, then one person's backyard makes more sense in the larger ecology – and activities coordinated across the bioregion have more impact.

GREATER TKARONTO BIOREGION


Greater Tkaronto (Toronto) Bioregion

For the "Greater Tkaronto Bioregion" (GTB), we're specifically using the Indigenous name for what's now known as Toronto to reflect the history of this place on the planet. "Most scholars now agree that the city's name comes from the Mohawk word tkaronto, which means 'where there are trees in the water.' As many as 4,500 years ago, native people drove stakes into the water to create fish weirs – enclosures – to catch fish as they swam through Atherley Narrows, where the water moves quickly as it flows between Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. This continued for centuries, and was so successful that the place was considered sacred, a spot where the creator had guaranteed a bountiful source of food."

There's a long history of Indigenous use of the watersheds along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Humans began to migrate into this area following the last ice age, about 12,500 years ago. Archaeological evidence indicates the first inhabitants were the Paleo Indians who moved into the Toronto region after the glaciers retreated.
Carolinian Zone Canada, image © wwf.ca
The GTB is in the Carolinian ecoregion. The Carolinian ecoregion occupies only 0.25% of Canada's landmass, yet is home to a quarter of Canada's human population. We share this relatively small sliver of landscape with over 40% of Canada's native plants, 50% of Canada's birds, and 66% of our reptiles. It's one of our most biologically diverse ecological regions.

The Carolinian ecoregion is the northernmost edge of the deciduous forest region in eastern North America, and is named after the Carolina American states. The climate of the Canadian portion of the region has the warmest annual temperatures, the longest frost-free seasons, and the mildest winters in Ontario.

We're defining the GTB based on the seminal 1992 report by The Hon. David Crombie (Mayor of Toronto 1972-1978, PC Member of Parliament 1978-1988, President and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute 2001-2007), Regeneration: Ontario's Waterfront and the Sustainable City.

Selected paragraphs from the Interim and Final Reports follow…
Greater Tkaronto (Toronto) Bioregion
The GTB is "bounded by the Niagara Escarpment on the west, the Oak Ridges Moraine to the north and east, and Lake Ontario to the south. The lands and waters in this bioregion share climatic and many ecological similarities. The soils and landforms are based on the glacial deposits of the Lake Ontario plain as it rises from the shores of the lake to meet the gravelly hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine. The watersheds arising in the moraine drain southwards to Lake Ontario and northwards to lakes Simcoe and Scugog. Most of the bioregion now falls within the commuter and economic orbit of Toronto. In this sense it is our home – the ecosystem in which we live, work, and play."
The Oak Ridges Moraine
"The greatest natural force shaping the area was the retreat, starting about 15,000 years ago, of the Wisconsin Glaciers. As they slowly withdrew to end the last ice age, the glaciers carved out the rivers flowing north to Lake Simcoe, east to Lake Scugog, and south to Lake Ontario, and they left behind the fertile soils characteristic of much of the area. In the northern part of the bioregion, the retreating glaciers left in their path the hilly Oak Ridges Moraine, a unique formation of sand and gravel deposits. For thousands of years, rainwater has filtered downwards through the moraine, migrated laterally, and then discharged upwards to form wetlands – the headwaters of virtually all the rivers flowing south and north in the area. As the ice age loosened its frigid grip and temperatures rose, river valleys were flooded and fertile marshes developed at river mouths. Natural forces left us a unique, varied, and complex bioregion."

"There are 16 major rivers flowing into Lake Ontario in the Greater Toronto Bioregion, and approximately 65 river valley systems in the area. Although few of the river valley systems are in a totally natural state, they continue to fulfill important functions for human activity (including recreation) and as corridors or links for the movement of wildlife."

The region is "both literally and figuratively, at a watershed. Not long ago, society believed that the environment was endlessly able to absorb the detritus of a modern, industrial-based economy. More recently, the assumption was that the environment and the economy were inevitably opposed: opting for one meant damaging the other. Today, however, it is clear that the two, rather than being mutually exclusive, are mutually dependent: a good quality of life and economic development cannot be sustained in an ecologically deteriorating environment. The way we choose to treat the Greater Toronto waterfront is crucial. If governments and individuals recognize – and act on – the need to resolve past environmental problems and forge strategies to protect the waterfront now and in the future, we will, indeed, have successfully crossed a watershed."
Toronto on Lake Ontario, image © Anderm | Dreamstime.com
Here it's important to note that Toronto is on Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. The Great Lakes have 84% of North America's surface fresh water, and about 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water.

The Great Lakes basin has nearly 25% of Canadian agricultural production. 5% of Ontario is farmland, with all Class 1 and 2 farmland in the GTB.
Rouge National Urban Park, image © Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic
Included in the GTB is Rouge National Urban Park (primarily in Markham and Toronto), Canada's largest at 7,900 hectares, and the protected Greenbelt lands, over 800,000 hectares. Note that both of these areas are part of the legacy of David Crombie's 1992 report.

The GTB itself covers about 1.25 million hectares, and has approximately 18% (around 7 million people) of Canada's population.

Crombie has a warning: "The Greater Toronto Bioregion has important natural assets: beaches, wetlands, and bluffs along the waterfront; deep, wooded river valleys; the moraine's rolling, pastoral hills; majestic rock cliffs along the Niagara Escarpment; cool trout streams; fertile soils for agriculture; and more. Despite these blessings, there are many signs of environmental, social, and economic stress in the region."
GTB Municipalities/Regions
The region is complicated by the fact that it's "governed by five regional municipalities, 53 local municipalities, four counties,
six conservation authorities, and numerous federal and provincial ministries, departments, boards, agencies, and commissions. In an era when it has become clear that governments cannot solve environmental, social, and economic problems by themselves, the thousands of businesses and [millions of] residents of the bioregion also have a role to play."

Crombie quotes from a 1985 book, Dwellers in The Land: The Bioregional Vision by L. Thomas: "Our deepest folly is the notion that we are in charge of the place, that we own it and can somehow run it. We are beginning to treat the earth as a sort of domesticated house­hold pet, living in an environment invented by us, part kitchen garden, part park, part zoo. It is an idea we must rid ourselves of soon, for it is not so. It is the other way around. We are not separate beings. We are a living part of the earth's life, owned and operated by the earth, probably specialized for functions on its behalf that we have not yet glimpsed."

Crombie notes, "The ecosystem approach is both a way of doing things and a way of thinking, a renewal of values and philosophy. It is not really a new concept: since time immemorial, aboriginal peoples around the world have understood their connectedness to the rest of the ecosystem – the land, water, air, and other life forms. But, under many influences, and over many centuries, our society has lost its awareness of our place in ecosystems and, with it, our understanding of how they function… In the words of Professor Bill Rees of the University of British Columbia, 'people must acquire in their bones a sense that violation of the biosphere is a violation of self'… A key to understanding ecosystems is to recognize that everything is connected to everything else."

Crombie quotes a 1986 article on the Great Lakes Basin that draws in the idea of time: "The ecosystem concept recognizes that you are new, yet not new. The molecules in your body have been parts of other organisms and will travel to other destinations in the future. Right now, in your lungs, there is likely to be at least one molecule from the breath of every human being who has lived in the past 3,000 years; the air around you will be used tomorrow by deer, lake trout, mosquitoes, and maple trees. The same is true of water, sunshine, and minerals. Everything in the biosphere is shared."

He points out that "thinking about the whole bioregion helps focus attention on the interdependency and links that exist within it: between city and countryside, natural and cultural processes, water and land, economic activities and quality of life… We view regeneration as a healing process that restores and maintains environmental health, as well as anticipating and preventing future harm. This means striving to ensure that existing land uses and activities are adapted, and all new development is designed, to contribute to the health, diversity, and sustainability of the entire ecosystem: the physical environment, human communities, and economic activities."

Crombie concludes by saying, "There is an urgent need for regeneration of the entire Greater Toronto Bioregion to remediate environmental problems caused by past activities, to prevent further degradation, and to ensure that all future activities result in a net improvement in environmental health. In a region experiencing dramatic economic growth and rapid urbanization, it is crucial to heed the warning signs of ecosystem stress, so that the quality of life that attracted people here can be restored and maintained, for existing and future generations."
Crossing Planetary Boundaries, image © Stockholm Resilience Institute
And now here we are, 30 years later, crossing six of the nine Planetary Boundaries. "Mother Earth has given us nine planetary credit cards to assist in our development. We've charged six of those nine credit cards to the hilt, and are pushing the credit limit on two others… Mother Nature abides by the laws of physics, and defaulting on just one of the loans we've taken out could be catastrophic."

7-GENERATION GTB


The Blue Marble, taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972

The Legacy Project's 7-Generation work has in part been informed by the Principles of Blue Marble Evaluation. "Blue Marble Evaluation is principles-based because to deal with the complexities of global issues and problems we need principles to guide us, not a rule book to tie us down. The principles direct us to view the world globally, holistically, and systemically. This means examining interconnections across the artificial boundaries of nation-states, sector silos, and narrowly identified issues."

The 7-Generation work draws on an Indigenous concept of holistic, long-term thinking across seven generations while at the same time reflects the modern context of a historic demographic shift. For the first time in history, as more people live longer we will personally know (in our family and/or community) seven generations – our own generation; three before us (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents); and three after us (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren). There is comfort, insight, and power in this ability to "touch time," to connect more generations than ever before.

The Legacy Project's 7-Generation work locates people in the place/time (in Indigenous cultures those concepts are often one) of YOU 177 – YOU (also an acronym for Young and Old United) in 1 World crossing a pivotal population of over 7 Billion People across 7 Generations.

7-Generation Strategy multiplies meaningful impact through right relationships with each other, especially across generations, and the land in the context of lifetimes across generations. We're empowering generations to connect the dots and create a bigger 7-Generation story of change – a meaning-making bridge in the midst of a polycrisis – for ecopsychosocial wellbeing. Ecopsychosocial wellbeing = ecological (and by extension economic) integrity, personal wholeness, and social coherence.

7-Generation GTB We've sketched the 7-Generation GTB work. This represents a systems ecology (ecopsychosocial) for cultural and physical regeneration, both intentional actions and serendipitous opportunities.

In the center of the sketch is the coming together of people, place, and time. Generations are the seed, themselves a living manifestation of time. Learning and transformation have the most meaning and impact in an intergenerational context. Young and old can mutually support their own wellbeing, and be truth-tellers, pulling in middle generations. The intergenerational dynamic is discussed further in Generations (Re)United below.

The outer circle is the Doomsday Clock, a "globally recognized indicator of the vulnerability of our existence." We have no time to waste, and our actions now have repercussions far into the future.

The middle circles are the fractal scale-linking of impact – community projects networked into the bioregion, all connected into planetary systems. The community projects – which we frame as legacy projects – can be smaller or larger, each unique yet connected in spirit and action to the larger whole.

Since our emphasis is on #ChangeTheStory, Joe Brewer reminds us to keep Blue Marble in mind. "The Blue Marble creates mental connections between the stories we live out daily in our local environments and the Epic Story of Planetary Change that will accumulate as the local stories influence planetary processes. We will need this awareness built into the ways we perceive, think, feel, and act upon the world around us so that we can direct our collective journey toward a design pathway for Earth regeneration."

The work is literally grounded in the land. This is something very foreign to urban dwellers – who often don't know where their water comes from or where their waste goes – and potentially transformational. Land is something you can see, smell, touch. It's a way to ground people in both new ways of seeing their world and acting in that world. Says Brewer, "I'm feeling the depths of change… and comforted to know that the land remains present to be my guide."

As a counterpoint to an often sterile Western consumer culture, the land is also alive. It invites people into the shifting complexity of life of all kinds. Explains Brewer, "When we talk about regenerative design, it is the intentional application of knowledge and tools to create solutions by making use of the regeneration that is inherent in all living systems. Thus regenerative design is collaborative and co-creative. It is a dance with life. More deeply still, it is a dance of life."

The work interconnects across seven broad themes: environment and climate change, economy, community, health, education and lifelong learning, life course and aging, Indigenous worldviews and knowledge. Each of these themes is discussed in more detail in Action Across Seven Themes below.

All of this is personally grounded in story. Novelist Thomas King has remarked that "the truth about stories is, that's all we are."

In this big game of Connect-the-Dots, we're connecting people/generations, issues/silos, to the land, as well as your life story to the story of other lives/life on the planet into the even bigger story of lifetimes across generations.

As discussed in #ChangeTheStory below, this is generations co-creating an ever-evolving Overstory that helps us navigate through uncertain, difficult times.

From Brewer's work and the Commonland structure, you can see this work at the bioregional scale is, in essence, a new kind of "infrastructure" project. It's building the appropriate social and physical infrastructure over a time span of at least a couple of decades.
Meaning-Making Bridge
Working at this scale requires a strategic core team that can hold the process, nurture evolving structures and processes, manage the risk, move beyond silos to holism, and help build a meaning-making bridge. As 7-Generation Strategists, Susan Bosak and Brian Puppa are starting this local work. A 7-Generation Strategist works across organizations for the commons, carefully weaving together a new kind of bioregional tapestry that can, if done properly, rise above some of the politics. Without the "art of hosting" for bioregions, there will be no holistic plan. Nor will there be effective implementation of it. Anyone who has worked on large infrastructure projects knows that nothing less can possibly work with all the complexities involved.

For the 7-Generation GTB work, different levels and types of activities are being woven together simultaneously. This is emergent work.

Drawing on Indigenous worldviews, "weaving is intergenerational, making deep ties visible between generations alive today and their far distant ancestors. Weaving is interspecies, reconnecting us to what makes us truly human – our membership in the community of life as a planetary process… Our collective challenge is to weave ourselves back into the fabric of life… We are the weavers, we are the woven-ones. We are the dreamers, we are the dream. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads… In invoking the archetype of the weaver we are connecting with ancient Indigenous wisdom from around the world."

GENERATIONS (RE)UNITED


Generations (Re)United

In a deeply age-segregated society – children in schools, elders clustered in other parts of the community – we re(unite) generations in support of each other and to mobilize intergenerativity.

Intergenerational connections are valuable in themselves; young and old can help each other's wellbeing. There are opportunities hidden in plain sight.

But there's more to the intergenerational dynamic than mutual support and wellbeing.

In some Indigenous cultures there's an understanding that, if you want to get something done, you bring together a "fired-up youth with a feisty granny." Young and old balance each other and become a formidable force. Science supports this idea. Some brain research indicates that neuroplasticity slows significantly in your mid 20s and then ramps up again after 50 years of age. That means if you want creative innovation, your best bet is those two age groups – even better combined.

These relationships across generations aren't about "buddies" or "mentorship." It's more along the lines of what Indigenous academic and author Tyson Yunkaporta calls "us-two." This is the dual first person, a coming together in a profound way through relationship. Says Yunkaporta, "Solutions to complex problems take many dissimilar minds and points of view to design, so we have to do that together, linking up with as many other us-twos as we can to form networks of dynamic interaction."

Generations enable us to personally touch time. This is a vital human connection for healthy psychosocial development and ecocultural wisdom. Our understanding and experience of time fundamentally influences how we think and act. Anthropologist Margaret Mead asserted that "connections between generations are essential for the mental health and stability of nations."

Connecting Young and Old We often praise the young, saying "the future is in good hands." The future isn't in the hands of the young. It's in all our hands, right now. The young bring energetic potential, and the old lived experience. One without the other is only one side of the coin.

Says educator and systems thinker Nora Bateson, "The future lies in the relationship between the generations. What kind of education will they need? And how can we as adults open our minds to thinking in new ways with them? Intergenerational learning is not a new project, it's as ancient as time."

Can young and old create a meaning-making bridge across generations into the future? "Much of today's media coverage on the climate is fixated on youth movements, but handing over the reins to untrained and untested youth risks wasting the progress and learnings painfully built over decades. Youth activists and old-hands need to find a way to build intergenerational movements that integrate the skills and passions of both groups… Campaigns that involve activists of several generations hold an advantage."

Because the two ends of the age spectrum are closer to birth and death (a beginning and an end), more vulnerable, and less invested in the status quo, young and old can be truth-tellers. They remind us, show us what really matters, often simply by being.

Generations working together can become a kind of "super organism." The two ends of the age spectrum can effectively capture the attention of middle generations. For example, a team made up of a high school student and an older adult doing energy audits together in homes has been shown to be more effective in prompting home owners to make changes.

Social change research has several examples of the young influencing adults for societal shifts, like the use of seat belts and the social acceptability of smoking. Recent research shows children can shift adult attitudes on climate change. The results suggest that "conversations between generations may be an effective starting point in combating the effects of a warming environment. This model of intergenerational learning provides a dual benefit. [It prepares] kids for the future since they're going to deal with the brunt of climate change's impact. And it empowers them to help make a difference on the issue now by providing them a structure to have conversations with older generations to bring us together to work on climate change… If we can promote this community-building and conversation-building on climate change, we can come together and work together."
Don Jesus and Elise
This can start with something as simple as an elder and a young child planting together. Shares Joe Brewer, "Perhaps the most important community support we have here in Barichara is the elders who care for the forest… [As Don Jesus and my daughter Elise planted a cactus], we were immersed in a cultural structure of exchange between an elder and a child… We were immersed within a living metaphor – the elders standing over our children and guiding them into a safer future… Find your elders. BE an elder. Bring contact between children and elders."

#CHANGETHESTORY


#ChangeTheStory

A society is very much about the bigger story we all share over time – the meanings, values, and structures that guide us collectively. As our stories crumble, we crumble – individually and collectively. People are feeling fear and uncertainty about what the future holds for themselves and even our human civilization. Deep narratives from our past are breaking down and we're trying to recraft them.

Story is not a trivial thing. From an article on Relational Systems Thinking: "Most of us trained in the Western traditions of the academic world have been taught to rely on our chronically overdeveloped reason… [But Indigenous understanding] lives in stories… These stories are of course archetypal, they are dynamic, there is always an unfolding going on, whereas Western culture which has largely displaced other cultures over the past several hundred years, particularly the last 75, privileges abstractions; succinct, clear, de-contextualized characterizations. 'Tell me what you know; don't tell me a story.' We go from lived experience, something you can touch and feel and tell stories about, to an abstracted description and we consider that a higher form of knowledge. We consider that more refined, which is kind of bizarre in a way. They both have a function… The danger of the Western approach is that all you get is abstraction, you end up with almost no lived experience. Somebody is considered an expert because they can talk a lot about something, or they've written books about it. In the social science or the domain of human living, the consequence of this disconnected abstracting is that we struggle and struggle with how to 'implement' ideas, how to do it, because we start off thinking that's a lesser kind of knowledge. This creates a false dichotomy between knowledge of the head and knowledge of the hand."

Story is the most effective way human beings have to navigate through the world, find psychological cover, nurture healing, imagine possibilities, pass values on to generations that follow us. Stories bring mental order to chaos, some meaning to the seemingly meaningless. Says author Virginia Burges, "A story is a fundamental system on which to create an experiential palette, an understanding of life. Stories are the nearest thing we have to a map of the soul's journey."

Stories also provide us with a collective decision-making matrix.

But just as a map is not the territory, a story is not the thing that the story is about. In a relatively stable system, there will be a number of standard stories we can use to guide collective decisions with some reasonable expectation that outcomes will be positive. The biggest problem with stories is when we substitute telling them for meaningful action to deal with the real issues the stories are about, especially in a dysfunctional system. When the overarching system is breaking down, one by one the stories that were reasonable become more and more clearly absurd – and we're increasingly left to face a void of meaning, alone.
Overstory
In the 7-Generation work, the intent is what master storytellers call a new Grand Narrative, an Overstory, meaningfully and vitally connecting us in the context of all other living things on this planet at this moment in time that holds past, present, and future (long now). This is as vital as water – and just as difficult to grasp.

To be clear, this isn't a single, written story with a beginning, middle and end. It's a living, multifaceted story that really has no beginning or end, only an evolving middle. It may be expressed and take shape in many ways.

This is also a story that should slide in time. As we re-evaluate stories of history (e.g. North America was "discovered"), three narrative opportunities are in play: the story of what happened (rethinking historical stories, who told them and from what perspective), the story of what now (if we change our understanding of history, how does that change what we see/value today), and the story of what next (can we find the imagination and courage to see and pursue new possibilities). We have a chance to reconceptualize the past, present, and future.

If the ultimate goal is at the scale of an Overstory, then the storytelling has to be both intensely human in the current moment and timelessly mythic, co-created across generations. In the words of Nobel-winning poet Octavio Paz, "The myth is not situated on a definitive date, but on a 'once upon a time,' a knot in which space and time are intertwined. The myth is a past that is also a future."

A 7-Generation Overstory, by its very nature, is a complex story. Journalist Amanda Ripley wrote an insightful piece on complicating the narratives. How do we respond effectively to the different stories different people hold, and move forward collectively in some way? We must "go beyond the clichés and name-calling and excavate richer, deeper truths, at a time of profound division… Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason… The lesson for anyone working amidst intractable conflict: complicate the narrative. The natural human tendency is to reduce that tension by seeking coherence through simplification. Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don't fit the narrative – on purpose. First, complexity leads to a fuller, more accurate story. Secondly, it boosts the odds that your work will matter – particularly if it is about a polarizing issue. When people encounter complexity, they become more curious and less closed off to new information. They listen."

Human beings, through relationships with each other, create stories of meaning. Professor, author, and ecophilosopher Dr. Roy Scranton writes, "The human ability to make meaning is so versatile, so powerful, that it can make almost any existence tolerable, so long as that life is woven into a bigger story that makes it meaningful. It's at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation… if we're willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful – on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what's worth living or dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it."

MAKING SENSE


Three Guiding Questions

In a polycrisis, very little "makes sense." Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." We need to exercise that ability.

To help all ages, as well as various local groups, build relationships and develop their ability to think in complexity, we're using Warm Data, developed by Nora Bateson of the International Bateson Institute in Sweden. Says Bateson, "Developing an understanding of the patterns and processes of interdependency in complexity is the single most practical capacity that we can support in ourselves and each other."

More possibilities open up through the practice of Warm Data. Explains Bateson: "Thinking in complexity requires the ability to perceive across multiple perspectives and contexts. This is not a muscle that has been trained into us in school or in the work world. Warm Data Labs are group processes which illustrate interdependency and generate understandings of systemic patterns for ordinary people with no previous exposure to systems theory. Warm Data Labs enable new societal responses to complex challenges."
Making Sense
As youth, adults, and elders develop their complexity muscles, they become community sensemakers. Systems work can only happen if there's a continual, "alive" flow of human information.

We're using the sensemaking work of Dave Snowden (Cynefin Centre, UK), who recently released a field guide on Managing Complexity (and Chaos) in Times of Crisis for the EU. A citizen sensemaking network is important in times of crisis and change.

Community sensemakers take stories from their own life and connect them into a bigger context of stories. The emphasis on "story" opens windows to perceive differently and imagine possibilities – to make new sense.

Particularly in the GTB with such a large area and large population, we need to know what's going on and where the work needs to go in any given moment. Cynefin's SenseMaker software translates the stories of individuals into visual sensemaking patterns.

From the Cynefin website: "Imagine the rich, sense-making, actionable insight gained from diverse, individual meaning, motivation and reason at scale. Imagine the compelling, empowering decision-making support gained from hearing the whispers of change, the stories from the streets, the out-of-earshot coffee-break conversations and other weak currents of social stirring. Then, imagine how real-time tracking of the impact of decisions with continuous data gathering enables the ability to pivot and adjust interventions proactively. SenseMaker combines the best of both worlds: numbers and data analytics with stories and human wisdom."

Making sense ultimately becomes a function of sharing stories and acting together, an ongoing, mutually-informing process.

ACTION ACROSS SEVEN THEMES


Action Across Seven Themes

The GTB is large and complex in land area, population, and politics. Equally, it's crucial to the people who live here, and to both the province of Ontario and Canada as a country.

We're in a polycrisis. Difficult challenges will continue, increasing in intensity. Systems are already crumbling and people are already suffering – as the pandemic, floods, fires lay bare. Says systems thinker and climate scientist Dr. Elizabeth Sawin, "Losses that can't be fully prevented can still be honored. They can be honored by making meaning out of the experience and by applying lessons learned in ways that could prevent future suffering and loss."

The 7-Generation GTB work is a very different systemic, intergenerational, land-based approach. Grounding in the real world of the land across time is important. The work opens possibilities for different structures and processes. There's a shift in focus away from organizations, issues, and ideas in isolation, or even in competition, to weaving them into coherence and multiplying impact.

As we work to help navigate the polycrisis, we're doing a complex dance between mitigation, adaptation, and seeds.

7-Generation GTB interconnects across seven broad themes: environment and climate change, economy, community, health, education and lifelong learning, life course and aging, Indigenous worldviews and knowledge.

We've brought together a local Group of Seven big-picture thinkers as guides in this work.

Weaving together effective action across the themes, in the specific GTB context, is a process held over the long term by the core team and guided by those working on the ground.

Below is an introductory overview around action areas for each of the seven themes. Keep in mind that each action is designed and implemented to multisolve across more than one theme/issue (i.e. it's all interconnected to multiply impact).

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE


Graham Saul, Environment/Climate Change, Group of Seven

"If you ask me, it'd be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other."
Amory Lovins, physicist and Founder/Chief Scientist,
Rocky Mountain Institut
e (RMI)


ECONOMY


Ann Armstrong, Economy, Group of Seven

"The economy used to be about livelihoods and the provision of a household, but we've lost that purpose. An economy should be about fairness and equity. It should be for the wellbeing of your people and the sacredness of creation. You take care of your place because it provides for you. And the place provides for you because you're protecting it."
Rebecca Adamson, Cherokee, Founder of
First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide


COMMUNITY


Janelle Hinds, Community, Group of Seven

"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden."
Goethe
, novelist


HEALTH


Gary Bloch, Health, Group of Seven

"As aspiring doctors, students think they are getting into the business of making people healthy…
[But] the most important factors that determine people's health are social, and the most effective solutions are political. Health services – the response to ill health – have much less effect on ultimate health outcomes than social determinants… What the students learn is that, while they can indeed have the power to heal, they cannot act alone. The response to illness is not limited to one profession or sector: it must be societal."
Ryan Meili, physician and politician


EDUCATION AND LIFELONG LEARNING


Carol Campbell, Education and Lifelong Learning, Group of Seven

"We move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. And separating one from the other… knowing the limitations and the danger of exercising one without the others, while respecting each category of intelligence, is generally what serious education is about."
Toni Morrison, novelist and professor


LIFE COURSE AND AGING


Peter Whitehouse, Life Course and Aging, Group of Seven

"There are timeless elements which can connect us to the universal ground where nature renews itself and culture becomes reimagined. Youth and elder meet where the pressure of the future meets the presence of the past. Old and young are opposites that secretly identify with each other; for neither fits well into the mainstream of life."
Michael Meade, author


INDIGENOUS WORLDVIEWS AND KNOWLEDGE


Dan Longboat, Indigenous Worldviews/Knowledge, Group of Seven

"I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass, as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother's back. But it is not mine to give, nor yours to take. Wiingaashk belongs to herself. So I offer in its place a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven from three strands: Indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service of what matters most."
Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass


LET'S PLAY IN THE SANDBOX


You're Invited to Play in the Sandbox

We started with the assertion that we all know we can't keep doing what we've been doing. We must face enough vs. feasible head on, in a way that meets the polycrisis at a reasonable scale. Come play with us in the GTB sandbox – not tinkering at the edges but getting right into the middle of it all. It's time. It's the only direction that makes sense.

The starting "place" for 7-Generation GTB is Markham (population 350,000; most diverse city in Canada with 78% of its population having a place in a minority group). We're already doing work, with initial funding for a small core team to get things rolling and rippling out. The local collaborative includes the City of Markham, Markham Public Library, Social Services Network, and York University. We're working with York University on planning a Bioregional Learning Center. We're exploring new structures for regenerative financing, and weaving together a portfolio of regeneration projects. We're also collaborating closely with the Barichara, Colombia bioregional work, as well as others around the planet, so that we can learn with each other.

We're working toward ecopsychosocial wellbeing in lifetimes across generations.

The 7-Generation GTB work is hard. There are no guarantees. This is the slippery, messy, vital work of our time. As hard as it is, it's also life-affirming.

If this work resonates with you, we need you. This isn't "ours." It belongs to all of us. This isn't a project or a program, a whim or a one-time thing. It's the challenge of y/our lifetime.


Regenerative action is legacy action. As a profound connection across time, legacy can be either a burden or a gift. It's where the power is. Weave your life story into the story of the land and into building a meaning-making bridge in the context of lifetimes across generations. Our legacy, the things we do and say and think every day, is creating the future right now.

Curious about 7-Generation GTB? E-mail us to find out more, and feel free to reach out to Brian Puppa, Executive Director at the Legacy Project, at (905) 852-3777.