As I look at the world that my generation is handing down to you…you, the first of the next seven generations and at your future, I grieve. But, I also see with this great challenge, great hope. I want to give you some advice to consider as you choose your fields of expertise and lifestyle. Our Mother Earth is in trouble…my generation has made it this way. If you don’t do something differently, you will continue the systemic evils that haunt our planet. While I cannot imagine the earth ceasing, I can imagine an earth surviving without humans. This would be tragic since it is our responsibility to maintain life’s harmony, but we have not done a good job of it. (Note: This applies directly to the US but Canada is not far behind).
In my book, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, I set out a simple thesis concerning how the earth is responding to our abuse and neglect. (This is a long quote but please read it):
Americans tend to be pragmatic people except when they are held captive to a false ideology. I wonder what it will take for us to hear the sound of the alarm going off in our world right now. I will leave it to the dozens of other books out there to explain the specifics of our impending disaster and only note that topsoil is disappearing…forest are shrinking…desertification is advancing…coral reefs are dying…plants, fish, insects, birds and animal species are all going extinct… and our fresh water sources are being depleted! Serious concerns exist at every level from local to global.
For millennia, the whole of creation has been producing enough energy to allow limited consumption. Humanity, in just a few generations has accelerated consumption exponentially. Mother Earth is now trying to re-balance the overuse through random “acts of nature.” She is reclaiming her territory, “spitting out the inhabitants,” in order to restore harmony. With the advent of each new season bringing increased natural disasters on us such as global climate change, acid rain and serious global water shortages, we have apparently blocked the Creator’s blessing in some significant ways.
Looking at the problem from a global perspective, the normal energy supplied by Mother Earth through producers such as Phytoplankton, are being consumed too rapidly and disequilibrium has occurred. Under normal conditions (i.e., pre-modern), humans are only tertiary consumers of the earth’s energy behind more primary consumers like zooplankton, and secondary energy consumers like fish. Humans have moved recently from tertiary consumers to becoming primary consumers. Such a change is beyond the earth’s natural cycles and re-charge rates, creating imbalance and disharmony on the whole planet. In order to restore balance, the earth is being forced to “consume” the primary consumer, moving her temporarily to confront humanity with the only defense she has, namely, natural disasters. In a very real sense, the top of the food chain is now the earth herself. But hopefully, there may still be time to repent and change…
The blessings of a healed land seem to follow when there is a re-marriage between the people and the land. The current marital status between modern humanity and the land is similar to a state of divorce. Today, the earth is clearly speaking to humanity but in terms of our national and global policies, we are ignoring her message. What is needed in order to reconcile the marriage, is a marriage counselor. And that is the role that indigenous people can play in this serious breach. Before colonialism eventually alleviates the most precious gift that indigenous people have to offer their world, which is their view of the land, non-indigenous people (those who currently wield the power), need the opportunity to change their worldview and save the planet. It is time for the younger brothers and sisters on the land to learn from their elder brothers and sisters, just how to fall love with the land once again. If we cannot reconcile this marriage, the effects may be irreversible and it may be sooner than we think.
The apostle Paul captures the intimacy of the relationship between the people and the land where he says, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22 NLT). Earlier, Paul described the same expectation, using the same language for humans. The point is, both human beings together with all the rest of creation, await a better way of living than they may be experiencing now. Certainly, we are already behind schedule.
The worldly philosophy dictating direction at this time is based on imperialism and dualism. You, as Indigenous young people must fight it with every breath you have if you are going to change the world you leave your children and grandchildren. The only way to battle this evil is by understanding the values that helped your ancestors thrive well on the earth. You must set your mind to learning and owning these values which are often reinforced through our traditions, stories and ceremonies. These ways were a gift from Creator to our people and they show us how to live life well. Some of these values include generosity, respect, living in community, extended family and adoption of strangers, a life governed by harmony and balance, courage in adversity, tenaciousness, adaptability, intuitiveness, ingenuity, holistic thinking, inclusiveness, sacrifice, loyalty, tangible and reliable spirituality, humor and a real interconnectedness to the land and with all creation. To carry our ways forward, you must, in this sense, be men and women who are cultural warriors.
But, not only must you maintain our ancient ways, you must find careers that advance these values. I would never presume to tell anyone what to do for a living but as you think about career paths, please consider how you can use your giftedness of a holistic worldview to help restore harmony on earth. The problem in modern science and technology is that they, by and large, see life through fragmented lenses. For the Western mind, these extrinsic categories dictate their ways of thinking. You, however, have the gift of seeing more possibilities; the whole picture; more options; and greater solutions to modern problems. You understand how the many insurmountable problems we are facing are related to each other. It will be up to you to come up with models of living in community; healing the earth; and restoring harmony.
As I look at many of the problems we face like constant wars, water shortage, food distribution, poverty, etc. I understand they are all related. For example: We have surpassed the point of peak oil. The US uses 25% of the worlds oil supply but only as 2% of the world’s reserves. In order to continue this addiction the US must attempt to “democratize” all countries with oil in order to keep the supply flowing. This means worldwide domination, at least in philosophy. It means constant wars. It means mostly the poorest young people will die in both countries. It means the propaganda in schools about our colonial empire must be maintained. It means laws will be bent towards the wealthiest people and corporations and fewer subsidies will be invested in science and enterprise developing alternative energies. Coal, oil and natural gas will continually be tapped in our country, much of which lies underneath Indigenous lands. Pollution will increase. Laws and fines against corporate fossil fuel thieves will not be enforced. Injustice will continue to prevail and national lies will continually be made to look like truth. Etc. This is just one scenario for one industry. We can continue to expand this to the chemical industry, Big Pharma, Agriculture, etc.
As Indigenous people what can we do? We have never been big in numbers but, we don’t need numbers to change the world. We need new models, new discoveries and new paradigms. If we can create new models of harmony way living, the rest of the people will rise up and begin using them in other places. In this sense, all we need to do is come up with local solutions. Just take a look at the impact of one city in Brazil has had. The city is called Curitiba. Look it up.
Edith and I are creating a model farm for small acreages to show people how to live organically and share with others. We believe our principles can be used in urban farming as well. But even if every empty plot in every city were used for growing food, the demand would far outweigh the supply. This means new models for cities must be developed. Buildings must be re-designed to grow food on them and in them. Communities must be re-oriented. Suburbs must be redesigned to shared cooperatives. Water catchment systems redesigned for everyday use. Solar and wind energy incorporated. Mass transportation and other means like bike cites rethought. City ordinances changed, etc.
Behind the intervention and re-design also lies the science and technological possibilities. Water engineering, quantum physics, urban forestry, etc. all hold possibilities for you and your generation. Also, politics come in to play when development occurs. Here are just a few of the many paths you could choose:
- Community Activists, Organizers
- Water Use Research
- Alternative Technologies
- Urban, Rural and Suburban Land Use and Planning
- Mayors and City Councils
- Urban or Suburban Farmers
- Urban Forestry
- Historical Societies (markers are symbols of power/empire)
- Theologians (understanding Creator/Christ in new/old ways
- Historians (never forget your past-it guides you)
- Spiritual Leaders
- Quantum Physicists
Well, there are many things I have not considered, but I think you understand what I am saying. Please pray and consider how you will help bring this earth and our Indigenous ways, back in harmony, for all people’s sake. Thank you…I’ll close with a story from my own Keetoowah people.
As it was told to me, many years ago the sun took on the human form of a beautiful woman. She traveled each day across the sky. The Sun’s daughter lived in the center of the sky, and daily, the sun would stop to visit her. The Cherokee people loved the sunshine and the ability to see all of the beauty Creator had made. As time went on, the sun stayed longer each day, lingering until the visits began to cause a great drought. Things were in a terrible mess! People were having heat strokes, the springs, creek and rivers all began to dry up and all the crops died. People, and animals alike, all began to starve. The Harmony Way had been broken.
The Cherokee came together with the animals to discuss their serious concerns over the Sun. After days of discussion they could not agree on an answer so they decided to go to the Little People for their advice. The Little People told the Cherokees, as difficult as it may be, they must kill the sun.
The Cherokee discussed it and tried to decide who would carry out this monumental task. They first asked the rattlesnake to kill the sun for them. Grandfather Rattler agreed he would do it so coiled himself up by the door to the Sun’s daughter’s house. When the daughter opened the door for her mother, the snake struck. The Sun’s brightness had blinded him though and he had by mistake, struck the daughter and she died.
The Sun could not be consoled. She shrouded herself in the clouds as she was mourning her daughter and eventually she stopped shinning at all. Soon, the rains came. At first the rain was a welcome sight. The Cherokee and all the animals thought their problems were solved and that harmony would once again be restored. But the rains continued day after day until they caused tremendous flooding. Soon, no village nor any kind of shelter for even the smallest creature would be safe. The Cherokee sought the Little People once again for their advice. The Little People told the Cherokee that they must travel to the West, the land of the spirits and bring back the spirit of the sun’s daughter. That was the only way to restore Harmony.
Seven of the most courageous and most spiritual warriors, armed only with sacred Sourwood stick and Eagle feathers, traveled West, to the land of the spirits. When the warriors found the spirit of the Sun’s daughter she said she would not return with them. They tried to convince her to come back to Cherokee country with them but no matter what they said, she was determined to stay in the land of the spirits.
Finally, one of the warriors got an idea. He struck the spirit seven times with his sacred fan and she collapsed. The warriors put her in a large box to travel back home to the Cherokee country. On the way back, the spirit of the Sun’s daughter awoke. “I am thirsty,” she said, but they ignored her request for water. She yelled from the box again, “I am so hungry,” she said, but again the warriors ignored her request for food. Then suddenly, with a more serious tone in her voice she suddenly cried out, “I can’t breathe, I am going to die!”
The Cherokee warriors became concerned for her and they opened the box a tiny bit. The spirit darted out and in mid-flight, became a Redbird. With her song the daughter began calling out to her mother. Upon hearing her daughter’s song, the Sun pushed back the clouds to see her daughter once again. The Sun was very happy to see her daughter in the beautiful form of a Redbird so she allowed her to remain that way. Now, when we see a Redbird, we are always reminded that no matter how out of balance things can become, there always awaits a return to beauty.