This morning, I am utilizing symbology as a tool for processing all that took place on my trip to Supai. I still lack confidence that my words will do any justice to the spiritual and emotional impacts the trip has left on me. Heck, I’m not even sure that I have fully processed all that happened.
Our trip took place over Easter weekend, although that wasn’t intentionally planned. It is interesting to me that Easter for the last few years has involved meeting/being with Indigenous people. We flew into Vegas. Oh, my gosh…Vegas is so weird to me. On the flight in, I began diving into “Should Trees Have Standing” by Christopher Stone. This book is challenging in so many ways. I also read a couple of chapters of “Native Science” by Greg Cajete while down in the Village.
We were fortunate that our friend who invited us on the trip grew up in Supai, so we were able to see and be part of the community. The grace and generosity of her friends and relatives have left a lifelong impression on me. There are many things for me to put into perspective: being there at that time, meeting beautiful people, hearing all that could be heard (not just with my ears), seeing the beauty and life of this place, feeling peace and trying to understand the paradoxical experiences.
Returning home meant driving back to Vegas. It was evening when we finally started coming down into the valley, approaching that city in the desert. Some 40 miles out of town, you can already see the glow from the lights of Vegas. I couldn’t help thinking, “is this really why we let salmon and lamprey die?” What kind of land ethic is this? If we are going to harness the power of the river, shouldn’t we be wiser with how it is used?
Greg Cajete’s chapter “A Sense of Place” (chapter six) speaks very powerfully about the right relationship Indigenous peoples have developed with the earth. Interestingly enough, the words he used pointed me to a book I read for my undergrad studies: “Soulcraft” by Bill Plotkin. Such is the path of my research. <humor>
“The inner archetypes in a place formed the spiritually based ecological mind-set required to establish and maintain a correct and sustainable relationship with place.” (Cajete, p. 187)
He goes on to describe how the different Indigenous Nations developed the relationship to their land, and based on that relationship, they were able to avail themselves of the gifts of the land in responsible and sustainable ways. One amazing example was his discussion of the ways in which the various tribes of Pennsylvania were able to make use of the petroleum that seeped through to the surface for medicinal purposes, as well as helping to develop petroleum jelly for lubrication of tools.
I had never heard this before. I knew that the idea that Native Nations were somehow not technologically advanced was a barrier to understanding native science. I underestimated the lengths to which people have gone to de-legitimize and romanticize the true value and depth of the technological knowledge held by Native Nations. The Havasupai people are constantly having to adapt and change their relationship to the canyon. As recently as last year, a terrible flood swept through the village and caused a lot of destruction. However, it also changed the landscape in the canyon. What I heard on several occasions was “it wasn’t like this before the flood, and look how beautiful it is.” The water is life. The canyons are life. The rocks and the trees, all are relatives. It takes work, a maturity, a willingness to listen to ‘establish and maintain a correct and sustainable relationship with place,’ as Cajete says.
This idea of a land ethic is not new. It’s been ‘discussed’ for decades. We need to get serious about taking this to a new level. To my mind, that means giving space to Native science and letting the western paradigm of science (which has not served us well, in my opinion) to take a back seat to a Native understanding of our relationship to the land.
Nearly four years ago I was given a gift when I was accepted into the grad school program at The Evergreen State College. Nearly a year has passed since I graduated. I am always determined to not let that knowledge sit idle. As I was reading Cajete’s work, and tried to put all this into context, it dawned on me….we don’t need more words. We do need to begin to develop words that are actively engaged in relationship, that contribute to the ensoulment of our relationship to all our relations. It’s time to grow up, as a species, and have a mature, ethical relationship with our natural relatives. In the spirit of ‘not needing more words’, may my words land in a way that encourages others to become ‘entangled’ and ‘ensouled’ with our relations.