a new environmental ontology

Forgive me for the harshness and melodramatic tenor of this post. I will just tell you right up front – I’m sorry/not sorry. I’m enraged. Discouraged. Struggling. So, consider yourselves forewarned and read on, having been fully disclosed.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been intentionally making the time to nurture the living relationship between myself and my more-than-human relatives. I have been singing and praying with nbi. This has been a powerful experience for me, and I hope for those who come into my sphere, including all more-than-human relatives. I have been the recipient of some profound lessons. One of the more powerful ones was coming to understand the danger of anthropomorphization of our more-than-human relatives – aki, giizhig, ziibii, nbi, mitigoog, awesiinh.*

Anthropomorphizing is understood to be the act of talking about our relatives as if they were human (a good example is the easter bunny – the anthropomorphization of a rabbit). Ascribing human characteristics and psychologies to the water or the trees is anthropomorphizing them. To interpret our world this way is a somewhat normal behavior, but we must be wise enough to see that these relatives have distinct behaviors which are different than ours. They possess wisdom and knowledges which are distinctly different from ours that we can learn from, but we must listen to them without ascribing our distinctly human characteristics in the receiving and application of that wisdom and knowledge. There is some amount of interpretation that takes place, of course, but the quality of that interpretation is directly influenced by which organ you use to do the interpreting and how close your relationship is to these relatives. Meaning, are you interpreting through your heart or your head? Are you basing this interpretation from a pool of personal relational experiences? Being wise enough to separate out what is uniquely ‘ours’ and what is uniquely’theirs’ comes with spiritual maturity and with a dedicated practice of listening/learning.

So – that’s something I have learned and am still processing. Now I’m going to engage in an activity that is contrary to that whole paragraph.

This morning I read a report that the Army Corps of Engineers has refused to heed the words and desires of people whose lives (and who are concerned about the more-than-human relatives) will be severely impacted by a proposed pipeline.

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on several occasions in the past year in hopes of convincing them to deny permits. All water crossings along the pipeline’s path needed federal approval. The Corps would have had the power to stop the pipeline from crossing the south-flowing Missouri River near the Cannon Ball community on Standing Rock’s northern border. This crossing point poses a particularly dangerous threat to the Standing Rock community as a pipeline break would contaminate the Missouri river, damaging the entire water supply of tribe, destroying land and creating a public health disaster for the reservation.”


Now – I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by this kind of crap. Honestly, I’m more than surprised. I’m angry – I’m morose – I’m distraught. It’s not just this story, though, that has pushed me into this space. There is a river in Saskatchewan that is overrun with an oil spill. My city’s more-than-human relatives are under attack from corporate interests and the municipal managers are doing everything to aid in that attack, all while trying to prevent those who would protect from even participating in the conversation. I still can’t see the pictures of Northern Alberta, where I visited as a youngster, turned into the largest oil sands factory in history without angry-crying. (I told you this was going to be melodramatic).


During my meditation this morning, I began to realize that these situations are similar to that of having a family member who has been fighting cancer for a long time. The fight has been valiant and tough. The family has been torn apart. There have been moments of hope, when it looked like maybe the battle was going to be won. This news from Indian Country Today was the final realization that the battle is finally lost. It’s time to put the patient in hospice and provide palliative care. It’s time for everyone to start making preparations to say goodbye and to put things in order. The cancer has taken over and there is no cure.

To be clear….I absolutely despise my entertaining this metaphor. I do not give up. I do not give in to hopelessness and fear. Rarely. Cynicism is a drink I drink rarely and sparingly. It serves a purpose, but one must not become addicted to the tastes of cynicism for it’s effects are extremely detrimental.

I spent a bit of time this morning battling with myself, questioning the wisdom in posting such dark and dismal thoughts. I don’t really believe that our more-than-human relatives are in the last stages of a fierce battle that won’t be won. In fact, I know that their survival is more assured than the survival of the human relatives. But I can’t deny that we are doing some ridiculously insane damage to them, and many are doing so gleefully. Which is equally infuriating. We don’t learn from each other, let alone from our more-than-human relatives, the ways to have a healthy living relationship with each other.

We are not permanent. What is permanent – is the energy of our souls and the quality of our living relationships with each other and our more-than-human relatives. I post this piece with the hope that we can start to realize the absolute seriousness of the dire straits which we find our relationships in.

I leave you with a little piece of knowledge that hopefully helps balance this dark post. 13606938_1628727244112531_7554084402495514997_n

*(Aki – earth,land, soil; giizhig – sky; ziibii – river; nbi – water; mitigoog – trees; awesiinh – wild animals)

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Twylia (the 'i' is silent)

~ I am Anishinaabe-kwe with Scottish heritage and Sami DNA. I speak on the behalf of no one but myself. My ancestors inform and guide me. My voice is but one of many who are calling for change. We have much work to do to create a good space for the real human beings who are waiting to be born.

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