“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.


“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.

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.