“Gratitude is a radical act.” Dr. Robin Kimmerer

Boozhoo. I’m wiping tears from my eyes after having finished watching Dr. Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s presentation at the Bioneers conference last fall. Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass I have deep admiration for her work and her spirit. In her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants“, I found a kindred spirit. I cherish and honor that book for the many gifts it brings me: the affirmation of my values and inner knowings; the inspiration to keep speaking my ancestral language; the motivation to keep talking about a land ethic, even when my thoughts and words are dry and wilted. (Dry and wilted sometimes makes good kindling, but knowing when to set it afire takes wisdom).

When Dr. Kimmerer talks about the ‘honorable harvest’ in her presentation, I’m reminded of the values that I have lived by for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if they were given to me by my elders, or if I came to the Earth with this wisdom as part of my DNA. It may be a little of both. In her presentation, she talks about the ethical protocols of an ‘honorable harvest’ and I see how these protocols can be applied in human interactions as well as those interactions with our ‘more-than-human’ relatives.

The elements of the protocol are: never take the first one, ask permission, listen for the answer, take only what you need, minimize harm, use everything that you take, be grateful, share what you’ve taken and reciprocate the gift.

I am thinking of how I am going to reinforce this protocol in my everyday interactions. How will that look, in reality, when I am speaking with a friend? Most of the protocols are easily transferred, but what will it mean to ‘not take the first one’? In Dr. Kimmerer’s example, you never take the first plant that you see. The wisdom behind that is that you always leave something in place. That means you also don’t take the last plant. I have some work to do here in how to apply this principle in my human interactions.

Dr. Kimmerer states “It’s not the land which is broken, but our relationship to the land.” I am convinced that we must do all we can to re-create a healthy relationship with our human relatives AND our more-than-human relatives. Further, I am convinced that we CAN re-create this relationship. I believe that the right people are here, in this moment in time to do this work. Along with the wisdom traditions that Walter Echo-Hawk described in his recent presentation, this “honorable harvest” protocol is one of the most powerful tools I have yet to find.

“Gratitude is a radical act”, she says, in this age where the line between defining what is a ‘need’ and what is a ‘want’ drives our consumerism. This makes me think of the sacred land of the San Carlos Apache in Oak Flats. There are too many examples where blind consumerism has convinced us that we ‘need’ to take everything, and that we can’t get what we ‘need’ without making a huge mess. Oak Flats is especially troubling to my heart. The government-to-government relationship and honorable agreements between nations to protect that land as sacred has completely been usurped. By chicanery and deception. It causes me grief on many levels. Bitterness seeps into my heart.

I recently unlocked a piece of inner wisdom that I hope I can train myself to use more often. Here’s the wisdom: when these situations arise (chicanery of Oak Flats), it is more powerful to see with kind eyes than a bitter heart, if the goal is for a correction to be made. Kind eyes that are fully open, mind you. We can be angry and upset about the situation, and we should allow those emotions to fully unfold. However, before we take up a fight, we must switch to kindness and settle our hearts into our innate wisdom about what is the honorable and ethical resolution. It is possible to be fierce and kind at the same time. We know what the honorable and ethical resolution is. It lives in us. Even those who are practicing chicanery.

I believe that learning to be kind AND fierce represents a critical paradigm shift in how we approach restoring justice in our communities. We are living in a time where we have a long history behind us of good works, done by good people, but the outcomes are not as great as we had expected. So, if we take a critical look at what has been done, in relation to where we are in this moment in time, what can we learn in order to effect greater outcomes? This is not a rhetorical question, and I don’t believe that one person has THE answer.

In order for us to answer these types of questions, there’s something I believe we need to contemplate further. We must not allow ourselves get side-tracked into making judgments or naming a single thing as the cause of all our grief. It’s not enough to point to greed as the root cause and stop there.  Yes, greed is involved, and it’s a powerful human component contributing to many of our griefs. But let us change our minds about calling greed the sole source. Let us also change our minds about how to overcome greed. Greed is but one of the components of the human psyche, my husband reminds me. When enough people are able to overcome their own greed, we will see our way to a more equitable experience. I’m going to quote one of my favorite tv shows now. #nerd “When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you find it in yourself.” Henry, from Madam Secretary  We can’t afford to be disillusioned and bitter.

I encourage you to watch Dr. Kimmerer’s presentation, which is only 21 minutes long and a worthy investment of your time. She beautifully details each protocol and what that means. When you watch, think about how this protocol could be applied to interactions with your family, your friends, your colleagues. When it becomes part of our everyday interactions, I believe we will begin to see the world through a different lens. We will have begun to correct our mistakes and re-store our relationships.

I’m grateful for much. Not just things, not just people. I’m grateful for my breath, for my blood. I’m grateful for the wisdom that comes to me during my meditative drives in a car that consumes fossil fuel. I’m grateful for the horsetail growing in my yard, for I see it as a medicine. And the fire weed, I am grateful for the bunnies who have been constantly showing up for me over the last few weeks. I’m grateful for the joy and the teaching they bring. For me, gratitude is a radical act, but I also see it as the master key. Which I guess is what Dr. Kimmerer was pointing to, after all.

Miigwech

“Here’s to justice!”

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Walter Echo-Hawk speak at the Snoqualmie Casino. I have been working to process his thoughts, words and wisdom. I’m mostly interested in how his message contributes to the idea of a land ethic. My intent is to share his message with my audience, from a place of humility of heart and spirit. Not that I am anyone of any great importance, mind you. I have a voice, I have two hands, my Spirit is here on purpose, and if there is an opportunity to add to a knowledge base or create understanding, I will avail myself of that opportunity.

Mr. Echo-Hawk’s presentation was focused on his latest book, “In the Light of Justice”, where he digs into the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. (UNDRIP) As a student of Tribal governance, from a public administration point of view, I was not extremely fond of UNDRIP. Like others I know, I doubted whether the document had been crafted in good faith. Who participated in creating this? What were their goals? Such questions I had about its veracity. I also doubted that this document, a creation of the United Nations, was enforceable in countries where legal precedent vociferously protects the sovereignty of the few while denying the sovereignty of others. I started to read “In the Light of Justice” a few months ago, but as you should know if you have read any of my posts, I momentarily lost my desire to read books about social justice. Hearing Echo-Hawk speak has renewed my interest and desire in applying actions AND words toward a movement for a just society.

Mr. Echo-Hawk engaged in some compelling arguments (as I guess a lawyer is keen to do) about the strength of UNDRIP as a powerful tool for sovereign nations and sovereign people. I will briefly review the notes that I took during this presentation. I am specifically encouraged by his ideas that the implementation of UNDRIP could be a especially effective in helping to redefine our relationship to the land and how we ethically approach resource development.

He stated, on multiple occasions, that he believes that sovereign nations are experiencing a historical moment in time, which he referred to as a jurisgenerative moment. We are finding ourselves in a time when social justice inequities are starting to become a societal norm. However, what is also happening is that more and more people are losing their appetite for those inequities. Many people seem to be asking themselves, what have we to show for over 40 years of civil rights activism? The same question applies to over 40 years of environmental activism? What have we to show? Clearly, we have more work to do. There can be no ‘resting on our laurels’ if we hope to continue as a healthy, well-balanced species living on planet Earth. Our children, their children and so on require us to continue to work.

The whole of UNDRIP is framed within the right to self-determination of Indigenous people. 150 nations, so far, have affirmed and endorsed the standards set forth in UNDRIP. Article 4 of the declaration specifically links self-governance as an aspect of self-determination. Self-governance is a human right. No law or policy crafted that violates human rights should be allowed to stand. Inherent human rights, according to Mr. Echo-Hawk, are the strongest legal right – inalienable, indefeasible, indivisible. He went on to posit that when human rights are viewed as a standard approach for implementing law and policy, UNDRIP has the potential to address and reset the darker side of federal Indian law.

Throughout his speech, I was taking as many notes as I could, trying to stay engaged with him as a speaker, but also capturing, by my own understanding, the words that he was sharing with the audience. Where he really got my attention was when he spoke of UNDRIP as a tool for developing what he called “an American land ethic”. Personally, I think that we should shy away from qualifying a land ethic as “American” and I have any number of reasons for that stance, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s simply accept that UNDRIP has the potential for helping define a land ethic as a foundation for a deeper conversation.

Having stated that, I realize that I’m already near 700 words on this post, and I’m keen on not boring whatever audience might be paying attention. There is a ton to say about a land ethic and how the UNDRIP can help in that social movement. Let’s be clear. Walter Echo-Hawk has called on all who care to view this as a social movement. It isn’t something that will be won overnight. We have 40 years of environmental/social justice activism behind us, but we clearly have more work to do. I’ll leave you with these words. I think they will be a great segue into my next blog post, and they should hopefully give you plenty to think about (and hopefully investigate further).

From “In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People”.

“Nations are naturally resistant to change, especially when it requires the government to stop doing things it has always done and entails new programs that may conflict with the interests of strong lobbying constituencies.” (Echo-Hawk, p. 221)

And here is what he said as part of his presentation, mostly paraphrased I believe.

‘Americans have a history of self-correcting and UNDRIP gives the framework for self-corrections of human rights violations based in law.’

When Mr. Echo-Hawk signed my book, he wrote “Here’s to justice”. Indeed.

putting away the books…for now

I’m not feeling well, so I may be able to, one day in the future, chalk this decision up to a momentary madness brought on by illness.

This morning, I put away my research books. I haven’t been able to gain any ground with my ‘research’ activities. I haven’t been able to develop a thesis or a compelling research question. All my ‘research’ so far has amounted to is half-assed reading of a bunch of books whose titles seem to fulfill the promise of helping me refine my research methodology, but whose content leave me wanting. Not that it’s the fault of the books. It is my own failing that I can’t decide who my audience is and I haven’t yet found my voice. So, I’m putting away the books. For now.

The recent earthquake that affected Tibet, Nepal and India also has me questioning the value of this proposed research project I have been mulling: a shared land ethic. Mother Nature ultimately has the last say. No matter what we do as humans, whether we work together with the principles and order of nature and our relatives, or we continue to work against them – she will always, ultimately, have the last say. I can not wrap my mind around the devastation, but my heart understands the deep loss humanity is facing.

We live in a world that is in constant change, even though we may not see it. The subtle and the gross are equally important aspects of a deep relationship with our relatives. If we can stop long enough to listen, see and feel the subtle, instead of ignoring it, we might be better prepared for when the subtle becomes the gross. We might find our way to a more reciprocal relationship with our relatives.

I have written before about taking the time to listen, see and feel. And yet, I have not walked my talk. This is one of the reasons I am putting away the books, for now. There is only so much that I will be able to do with only book knowledge. If I am going to find my voice, I must train myself to listen to the subtle.

I recently pulled out “Principles of Tsa’walk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis” (Umeek – E. Richard Atleo) because a friend and I were discussing Indigenous psychology. Before I put it away this morning, I landed on some wisdom I think will help keep me on track while I pursue the wisdom of the subtle.

“The Nuu-chah-nulth word for ‘completed person’ may also be translated as ‘shaman.’ There are many kinds of completed persons, just as there are many accomplishments in many different fields. The major difference between training of the ancient Nuu-chah-nulth ‘completed people’ and the formal training of accomplished contemporary people is that the former integrated the physical and non-physical aspects of the person whereas the latter does not. Moreover, since the Nuu-chah-nulth view of reality is never fixed, frozen, or objectified, the phrase ‘completed person’ must be understood within the context of a dynamic reality.” (Atleo, p. 157-158)

I’m not a fan of the word shaman as it has been co-opted to mean something shallow. However, reclaiming the depth and wisdom of the word by viewing it through the lens of being a ‘completed person’ helps me to feel at peace with putting away my books. For now.

A trip to Supai: enrichment on many levels

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.

I am listening.

My social media feed was blowing up Sunday morning with posts about Gov. Inslee declaring a drought emergency for the State of Washington. There is also a petition, from my friends in the Blackfeet Nation, with a request to convince the Department of the Interior to keep the oil companies out of their territory and off their land. I went to a workshop the other night where the focus was how communities can restore self-government locally and regain decision making authority and power.

More books have arrived. More books are on their way. Scholarly articles are being identified and thoughts are swirling. All this is to say that I feel very pressured to get this research project going. Even though, on a good day, I’m usually able to only crank out one or two salient thoughts on the matter.

Food for thought: It’s not about land management as much as its about the ethics of managing lands. Ethic: (n) a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field or form of conduct. (adj) of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.

Reading  “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,  provides evidence of how Indigenous land management practices, which have been in place since time immemorial, were all but erased from our awareness and usurped by Eurocentric approaches to land management. The difference between the two being immense. One viewing the land as an extended member of the family, with whom you engage, collaborate and cooperate. The other viewing the land as a resource to be tamed, extracted, manipulated and then left degraded and unrestored in the wake of what some would have us believe is ‘civilized progress’. I’m only a couple of chapters into this book, but I’m sure that I will have many more realizations to ponder the more I read.

I’m currently trying to digest the work of James (Sakej) Youngblood Henderson’s article titled “The Context of the State of Nature” and how our frameworks, or the ways we have constructed our understanding of legal title and ‘ownership’ principles, have come to be. “Indigenous peoples must transform the false assumptions behind the state of nature and its social theories to begin their transformation to a postcolonial order. It is the key to our cognitive confinement. We must clearly understand the disadvantages of creating artificial societies from wrong assumptions.”

Additionally, the thoughts and ideas put forth by John T. Noonan, Jr. in “Narrowing the Nation’s Power” are going to push the limits of my cognitive abilities. It’s not that I will have a hard time believing that the Supreme Court has imposed it’s will in unjustified ways. I have somewhat of an understanding of federal Indian law came to be, after all. What I will have a hard time processing, I believe, is how we might be able to reverse these decisions that have led to an imbalance of power and a dysfunctional relationship to the land, our relative, our sustenance.

I’ve come to realize that the idea of a land ethic is not new. Nor is it something that is untested/untried. This pushes me to revise my approach to the research, perhaps focusing on the who’s/how’s/what’s of land management. Who is doing it? How is it being implemented? What kind of land ethics are being utilized? What’s the difference between a land ethic and a land management philosophy? Is a land ethic enforceable? Is a land ethic singular or is it pluralistic in it’s goals?

I have pulled all my research methodology texts off the shelf and stacked them on my desk. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Being a serious person, and being serious about this research, I know that at some point the reading will have to stop and the questions will have to be refined. I know my voice isn’t the only one on this topic. I am listening to those other voices, not only the ones who are present in this modern time, but also the voices of my ancestors.

some words I’m contemplating – not my own

In support of the spirit from which I am beginning this journey.

“If you have hard truths to offer up to someone, make sure the voice is soft, the language beautiful, and protect the dignity of the other. When the storm clears, make sure you all see sunshine.” Lee Maracle in her essay “Decolonizing Native Women” as published in “Make A Beautiful Way”

Regarding a way to think of our relationship to the land:

“The promise of the spirit-to-spirit relationship with our mother, the Earth, and the waters, is that the plants, animals and all life are here to support us in achieving the good life. All that is required of us is to acknowledge those beings who surrendered their lives to us and to obey the laws we inherited from that which set all life into motion, the great mystery.” ibid

“We are of the Earth. The Earth is the source of life to be protected, not merely a resource to be exploited. Our ancestors remains lie within her. Water is her lifeblood. We are dependent upon her for our shelter and our sustenance. Our lifeways are the original ‘green economies.’ We have our place and our responsibilities within Creation’s sacred order.” “The Mystic Lake Declaration” presented at the Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop II: Indigenous Perspectives and Solutions. Published in “Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis”

Oh Hazel Wolf, environmentalist and activist:

“She experienced as a child what she later articulated as an environmentalist: there is no split between nature and culture. We humans cannot ‘save’ wilderness or the environment as if they were entities separate from us. There is no ‘intelligent’ human fundamentally distinct from other forms of life. We are part of nature, and it is us.” Susan Starbuck in her biography “Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment”

“They talk about grassroots democracy – it never sprouts, it’s trampled. If people knew about caucuses, knew where they were, knew what was involved, this would be a different country. Decisions about who gets to run and what the party platforms are going to be would not be made in smoke-filled rooms – or rest rooms. But they are. The process is concealed from preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, and graduate students – from the American people. The grassroots never gets above ground. But that’s where I stay, at the grassroots, working in organizations.” Ibid

“By watching Emily Haig [Chairwoman, Conservation Committee of the Seattle Audubon Society], I learned you have to make compromises in relation to people that you’re working with. You can’t be really mad at a person, way deep down. You can be angry at a situation, an abstraction, but not at a person. Anger is a consumer passion – it eats you up. Sometimes I’ve looked like I was mad at someone, but I was putting on an act for some purpose. Under the influence of Emily Haig, I developed a kind of quiet and factual way of giving testimony or participating in meetings, and I always add something funny.” ibid

Listening

I have a little story to tell. Not everyone will hear the story. They will read my words, but they won’t hear the message. This is especially for those who have ears to hear.

Saturday morning I rose early, unable to sleep from the pain in my back. I carried my bones downstairs, in the dark, and prepared some coffee. Sometimes, the dark is a comfort to me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s far from gothic. It’s more along the lines of needing dark to balance light. But that’s another story, perhaps.

Once the dawn started to break, I moved outside. To put my feet on the soil. To listen. To sink my pain in the earth. The silence was brilliant. No city sounds, very little bird song. Just the sound of a breeze every now and again. Then, quite suddenly, I heard what sounded like something moving through the brush, quite loudly, but not in a disconcerting way. I looked up and noticed that the branches of this tree we’re moving very energetically, up and down, side to side; dancing, to be honest.

This felt very different from just watching wind move through a tree. The movements were elegant and graceful. So, I checked to see if any of the other plants or trees were moving in such a manner. Nothing. No breeze near me. Just this dance, for what seemed like ten minutes. Then, It stopped and I noticed that the birds had started singing.

There were no buds on this tree yesterday. Today, it is alive with new growth. I am fairly certain that I witnessed a moment of a life affirming awakening yesterday morning. This afternoon, as I realized how differently this tree looked, it dawned even further on me that I may have been in the right place, at the right time, to have had an opportunity to hear the land in such a profound and magical way.

I whispered giizaagiin and miigwechto the tree, on the wind.  And made a promise to keep listening.

churning through the thoughts

I promise…I’m not slacking. I am processing thoughts, ideas, energies around this Land Ethic proposal. Nothing is really gelling yet, so I have been hesitant to post anything.

I’m re-reading “Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment” by Susan Starbuck, because Hazel’s approach to creating dialogue and organizing disparate stakeholders to engage in a civil and meaningful way really inspires me. Plus, I like to think I have her sense of humor and her passion.

Here’s a quote I think we could chew on.

” National security can no longer be defined in terms of military security, only in terms of environmental security.” p. 214

I would encourage you to interact with me on this topic. It can’t be just my voice. It can’t be just my thoughts. We all have a stake and a place in this conversation. “many hands make light work.”

Getting busy….

“And they say, ‘Don’t forget where you come from,

Don’t die holding on to your words.

Cause you know you got a whole world to change,

but understand who you got to change first.'”

Macklemore, “Victory Lap”

I’m reading, thinking, observing, worrying, reading, thinking. We need a better lens with which we can see the world: a lens that shows us our errors with crystal clear clarity, so that we can develop better strategies to correct those mistakes. It’s a scary errand, trying to find/develop a better lens. I find it’s too easy to spit words filled with anger. Too often, I pull concepts out of my soul that are wrapped in a cocoon of cynicism. It’s much harder to see through a lens of love, hope, faith, truth. One wouldn’t think it would be so hard. Perhaps that is only my experience and it is a task that gets easier with repetition.

I recently read an article about developing the skill of listening. Deep listening. Listening to the words, the emotions of a speaker, and letting them sink into you without jumping to the pre-determined argument or rebuttal. This too is a skill that requires practice and repetition. We can all learn to listen better, with more integrity, including me. So, as I contemplate being a better listener, but having a ton of words in my soul that I don’t want to die holding on to, I have to look more deeply at what it is I am intending to do with my words.

What is my errand? Is my errand to change people’s minds? Is it a fool’s errand to expect that we re-craft hundreds of years of policy and law as it pertains to lands which are held sacred by Tribal communities? At a point in time, even Vine Deloria, Jr. didn’t think it a fool’s errand. “In those days we really believed that it was possible to re-create nations but only if people, Indian and non-Indian, honestly dealt with the facts. in this context, law and policy depends on the appearance of morality,  if not it’s substance.” (“Spirit and Reason”)

Ah. The facts. You know, the history. Those historical stories that no one seems to know. The facts about federal Indian law and policy that most people don’t know and can’t seem to understand.

This topic I have decided to focus on – the care and preservation of lands for future generations – this is not a new issue of concern. The underlying problem is not that the challenges we face are new: the problem is that we can’t continue to ‘solve’ these problems with the same thinking that has led us to policies and practices which continually degrade and poison the land. Which means that we have to have different conversations. Conversations which are based on truly listening. The same old argument between developer, legislator, politician and conservationist cannot be counted on to make any progress in the dilemma. We must learn to listen. More succinctly, we must learn to involve other voices; those whose words are rooted in generations of holistic land practices. I also think what this really means, if you dig in and break it down, is that some of the stakeholders whose voices have dominated the ‘conversations’ really need to learn to be quiet. They need to shut up for a time. I don’t say this to be disrespectful, but I do mean for it to be provocative. It also means that people need to be willing to hear the truth of how lands have been taken away from Indigenous nations.

Broaden the conversation, deepen the listening. Think more critically about the decisions we are facing. Tell the truth. Be willing to hear the truth.

I love what Dr. Dan Wildcat recently cited as one of seven things he believes we need to do to advance the rights of Mother Earth. His non-negotiable position is that we must base all our work on the belief that “this planet and the life on it constitutes a spiritual universe.” That was my rough attempt to quote him from the presentation he made in January to the Bioneers Indigenous Forum. If we listen deeply enough, if we think more critically, we might be able to remember that we are part of a huge, symbiotic universe; that our lives are really as fragile as the planet’s; that what we do to Mother Earth, we do to ourselves; that we can better manage the gifts that our Mothers offers us for a good life.

Here’s a link to his presentation. I highly recommend it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz25Velw6cE&list=PLcrF8lYZY144VBdB-deo9dUxznTlLSG1N&index=8

We need a land ethic. We need a return to a belief in the value of an undisturbed environment that sustains and perpetuates life. All life. Dr. Wildcat reminds us, in his presentation, that there is plenty of work to do. And we all must get busy.

In my next post I hope to lay out some points about why we should engage Tribal and Indigenous principles, knowledge and wisdom in the decisions about land development / management issues. I’m hoping that the more I do this, the better organized and clear my thoughts can be expressed.

I’ll leave you with the words my friend Jessica posted that her mom, Wanda Wilson, had spoken to her. I had the honor of meeting Wanda in January of 2014 and we keep in touch via social media. I admire her greatly.

“We have to understand we are all different, but we share one goal. If the earth is polluted these beings won’t exist anymore, and we lose our gifts. We all share the earth, the water, the air, trees and soil to grow our food. We all want to be loved and to give love, we all want to be friends. But we are all born, special and unique. What is that one goal we all share? Go and do it.” Wanda Wilson

Developing a land ethic

My most recent research project focuses on Tribal management of federally held lands. Not just lands held in trust, but lands which are managed by a federal agency but considered sacred by Tribal people. As a result of the recent appropriation of lands held sacred by the San Carlos Apache, my worst fears about the agendas of politicians are confirmed. Not that this is new information in Indian country. I’m just catching up to the party.

In an effort to explore this issue, I have to acknowledge that the majority of Americans are woefully unaware of the political, legal, genocidal history of government interactions with American Indian Tribes.They THINK they know, but they don’t.

I know that place. I was there. I thought I knew the history and the extent of the damage we had done. I thought it was all ‘in the past’ and that the recovery process had begun. Then I started reading, studying, and listening which led to a lot of crying and soul-searching. Now, I can’t stand silent. I won’t stand silent. I will do what I can, with what I have, from where I’m at, to shine light on the atrocities still being committed.

I’m reading several books. Vine Deloria Jr’s Spirit and Reason. Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian. Robert A. Williams, Jr.s Savage Anxieties. Walter Echo-Hawk’s In the Light of Justice. To name a few. Daniel Wildcat’s Red Alert is also very informative.

What these men (interestingly) all seem to point to, either outright or subtly, is the need for a land ethic. This concept is where I think I will launch the dive. What would it mean to have a land ethic? Whose ethic would that be? Is it possible that we could agree on an ethic? Whose voices would be heard?

My fears are that money and power are so out of balance in the application of law and policy that the only voices that would be heard would be those of corporate entities. We are 5 years into Citizen’s United and there seems to be no will to change it anytime soon from a policy or legal viewpoint. Honestly, without the groundswell of average people making significant noise, policy makers aren’t going to stand up to their corporate patrons. There is a swelling, but it ebbs and flows. When it ebbs, the corporate patrons enact strategies that they have spent years perfecting and staging. Cynicism aside, it really means that we have to understand what the obstacles are, at every level.

In the spirit of hope, with a belief in the goodness of people, and a knowledge of the criticality of the task of developing a land ethic, let the work begin. My voice is just one. “Many hands make light work.”

Perhaps we begin by developing the idea of a land ethic, with the politics and the wolves ‘parked’ to the side until we are clear about what we want our forests, streams, lakes, seas and air to look like moving forward. That is, to not ignore the impact of the politics and corporate patrons, but to put them in the hallway while we set the dinner table. Who will be at the table initially? To my mind, Tribes are first on the list. Mostly because the lands we are talking about are critical to their daily lives, not only spiritually but practically.

I have a lot of work ahead of me. Not the least of which is maintaining focus, organization of thought and stamina. It’s not going to be pleasant, and I must work diligently to not become overly-cynical. But I know that I must follow through with this work.