ABOUT THE CEDAR TREES INSTITUTE
Around the world, mainstream democracies and the ecosystems that sustain them are in crisis. From populism and rising inequality to war, climate change, and ecological collapse – patterns of exploitation, domination, and violence now threaten the foundations of life as we know it. We believe that the ecological and social components of these crises are inseparable, both rooted in underlying structures that alienate us from the land and from one another in vicious cycles that feed and reinforce one another. We contend that securing sustainable, democratic futures requires tackling specific issues as local examples of broader eco-social problems, understood in an integral, multidisciplinary, and holistic way.
We believe that our current eco-social crises demand alternative thinking about democratic community. Rather than engaging in abstract theory disconnected from the lived complexity of actual struggles, we turn to those communities which are already experimenting with innovative solutions to complex, local eco-social problems. The Cedar Trees Institute is committed to learning-with and supporting these sites of democratic contestation through multi-disciplinary, dialogical, and community-led research, advocacy, and public engagement. CTI therefore brings together the academic and the civic, the local and the global, practice and theory in an innovative approach to eco-social change.
At the heart of CTI is an intergenerational, cross-sectoral, and multidisciplinary network of graduate students, professionals and community practitioners. Together with partner institutions around the world, we offer a suite of services including academic research, education and training, conferences, community engagement work, public dialogues, consultancy, advocacy, legal support and socially relevant art engagement all with the goal of strengthening and learning-with local sites of eco-social transformation. Our work is guided by a shared commitment to integral nonviolence, community engagement, collaborative practice and transformative social struggle.
CEDAR AS A MODEL
We model our Institute on the Cedar Tree because we believe that cedar has much to teach us about how to grow and sustain engaged communities of practice. For example, cedars grow in cooperation with each other and the other lifeforms that co-sustain them. Their branches grow, and as soon as they touch another tree, the cedars redirect the growth of their canopy in another direction – seeking their own growth without suffocating the distinct identities and practices of others. Cedar are also interconnected below ground, using complex networks of roots and fungi to communicate with each other, share nutrients, distribute resources and respond to shared challenges. The cedar’s growth is also conditioned by the soil and surroundings from which it springs, tying the cedar from its inception to the challenges of the local space, and of the wider ecosystem in which it is enmeshed. As the cedar ages, drops its needles, and eventually falls, it also returns to the earth, feeding back into the interdependent processes and struggles that surround it and thus using its own health and independence to provide fertile ground for others yet to come. By modelling intergenerational interconnection and interdependence, the cedar reflects our integral approach to learning and teaching. Dominant conceptions of the cedar tree value only its trunk, as a potential source of lumber and profit, a long silo of isolated meaning. In contrast, our Institute seeks to value all of the interdependent, rhizomatic expressions which allow the cedar to prosper, grow and teach.
Cedar, and its many uses, also speaks to the ways in which traditions can overlap, conflict, challenge, and teach one another. Cedar has been an integral part of the life of the First Peoples on this coast for centuries, used from birth to birth. Yet cedar and the ecosystems it helps sustain have also been central to colonial presence on this land, and have been a driving factor in contact and conflict between these traditions. From the fur trade to the lumber industry, the cross-cultural appeal of the cedar has given rise to a rich and often unjust world of contestation, misunderstanding, exchange, and growth. Now, the study of northwest forest ecology is one of the leading fields in which western and Indigenous knowledge are beginning to converge and enrich one another, still and embedded in broader power relations. In this way, the cedar reveals the irreducible tension between contestation and cooperation, resurgence and reconciliation, difference and unity. At the Institute, we seek to learn-with the cedar, engaging with specific sites of struggle, mapping connections across democratic communities, and intervening in concrete social transformations.
Cedar therefore reflects our academic commitment to cross-disciplinary sharing, our practical commitment to real sites of struggle, and our ethical commitment to working non-hierarchically across traditions to co-create diverse and well-contested communities.