Indigenous Peoples Day, lessons in environmental stewardship and more

NationalIndigenousMonth

Today is not just the third Monday of my postings for National Indigenous History Month, it’s also National Indigenous Peoples Day.  It’s a day for celebrating Indigenous knowledge and culture, and Indigenous contributions to our planet.  [You can find some wonderful pictures of powwows and community celebrations that take place on this day in non-COVID times at my last year’s post: Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.]

In recognition of this special Day, I’d like to focus on lessons non-Indigenous people would be well advised to take from the teachings, traditions, and beliefs of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and indeed Indigenous Peoples around the world since time immemorial.

Lesson 1: Sustainability.

NatalieSappierFish

From the Assembly of First Nations (AFN):

For countless generations, the First Nations and Inuit people have had unique, respectful and sacred ties to the land that sustained them. They do not claim ownership of the Earth, but rather, declare a sense of stewardship towards the land and all of its creatures. …

Indigenous peoples consider themselves to be caretakers of Mother Earth and respect her gifts of water and air.  First Nations peoples feel a special relationship with the earth and all living things, based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that has guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity through the millennia.  Everything is meant to be taken and used with the understanding of only taking what is needed, and with great care and awareness of how and how much is taken, so that future generations will not be put in peril.

This may sound like just so many words to non-Indigenous people who did not grow up with this view of where humans fit into the world of nature.  It may just sound like just so many words the same way our global leaders’ commitments to addressing climate change over the past several years have been just so many words.  But that’s not the case.  There is a fundamental difference between how Indigenous cultures view the natural world and how non-indigenous cultures have seen it.

EnvironmentalKnowledge
The Indigenous worldview is that human beings are a part of the natural world.  That we’re sharing our planet with the plants and animals, with the forests, the prairies, the seas, lakes, and rivers, and that it’s our responsibility to ensure sustainability.  Take what we need to survive, and survive as well as we can, but never take, take, take just because it’s there for the taking.

The non-Indigenous worldview (certainly the Eurocentric worldview of the past 5-600 years) has been that there’s the natural world and then there are these special animals called human beings, who reign supreme over the natural world (at least the White ones do).  We’re apart from the natural world.  The story goes that God put the air, water, (non-human) animals, plants and trees there for our use.  Oh yes, and all the minerals, metals, coal, and oil.  It’s our dominion and it’s all ours for the taking.  And the selling. And making lots of money, especially for a few people.  This model has worked pretty well for a few hundred years – out of the 100,000 years or so that humans have been around – and many, many people have had vastly improved living conditions, especially a very few of them.  But, folks, look what we’ve done to Mother Earth in that tiny sliver of human history, we’ve brought it to the brink.  Sorry, but that did not have to be the case.

Obviously we’re not all going back to being hunter-gatherers, nor could we.  There are far too many of us, and as well we’ve depleted so much of what we had.  In our greed we’ve neglected to even pretend to work at sustainability.  But sustainability is at the heart of Indigenous tradition and practice; that’s how to show respect for Mother Earth.

Lesson 2:  How to live a good life.

SevenGrandfathers4

Respect is one of the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers (sometimes called the Seven Sacred Teachings), core tenets of living a good life as taught throughout much of Indigenous North America.  You can read about these Teachings in some detail in a previous post of Robby’s called How do we determine what makes a good life? Just ask the Seven Grandfathers.  To summarize here, the Seven Teachings are Wisdom, Truth, Humility, Courage, Honesty, Respect, and Love.  A key component is that each of the seven teachings is equally important; they are meant be used in concert.  You can’t have Wisdom without Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Courage, and Truth.  You can’t be Honest if you are only using one of the other teachings. To leave out one teaching would be following the opposite path from what the teaching means. This holistic approach to leading a good life has merit for us all.

Lesson 3.  Living without an abundance of material goods but within a respectful, egalitarian society is a recipe for a happy life.

Natalie Sappier's (Samaqani Cocahq) mural

It turns out that we have much to gain from learning more about the beliefs and values that have guided Indigenous societies ever since man first walked on Mother Earth so very long ago.  Aside from the critical belief in a sustainable – and respectful – approach to using earth’s resources, and the wisdom of the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, research shows that Indigenous Peoples right around the world share life lessons and values that the rest of us would do well to consider when seeking true happiness in life.  An article by Survival International reporting on lessons from modern-day Indigenous societies are very similar to those I learned from the book Affluence without Abundance, based on experiences with the Bushmen of the Kalahari.

From the Survival International article, Five Lessons for our Selfish Society:

When Indigenous peoples have secure rights to their land and the ability to choose how they live [i.e., self-determination], they tend to be among the fairest, happiest and most equal societies on the planet.

The five simple observations in being happier with less are:

  • Money isn’t the key to happiness. A group of Maasai people from east Africa were found to have a similar life satisfaction rating to those on the Forbes 400 richest Americans list.
  • Spend less time working and more time with family and friends.
  • Grow strong relationships with your community.
  • Give what you can spare to others who are in need.
  • Prioritize peace and equality.

Surely these are good lessons for us all.  It’s our loss that non-Indigenous people didn’t pay more attention long ago to lessons the world’s Indigenous Peoples could have shared with the rest of us.  There’s much wisdom to be found there.  Perhaps we’d be happier; our planet certainly would be.  These enduring values can enrich all of our lives far more meaningfully than just being able to buy the next cool thing.

Image credits: The two river paintings are by New Brunswick’s Natalie Sappier. The second one, “Teaching Along the River”, is the mural located at UNB’s Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre. It was created by Wolastoqi Indigenous artist Samaqani Cocahq-Natalie Sappier, The Water Spirit, artist-in-residence at the UNB Art Centre in 2019. The middle image of a woman in nature is an illustration from Yale’s Native knowledge, what ecologists are learning from Indigenous people.

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Other June posts in recognition of National Indigenous History Month, and in the wake of the horrific findings of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former Residential School in Kamloops:

Map Monday: Indigenous history around the world pre- and post-colonization
Canada’s day of reckoning is here: we have the Truth, let’s get serious about the Reconciliation
Indigenous History Month: what do baby steps in reconciliation look like

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24 Responses to Indigenous Peoples Day, lessons in environmental stewardship and more

  1. fgsjr2015 says:

    There has been discouragingly insufficient political courage and motivation to properly physically address the cause-and-effect of manmade global warming thus climate change. Greta is quite correct about the prevailing BS given us by the world’s top leaders, a number of whom are still largely puppeteered by big fossil fuel interests. ‘Liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ (etcetera) are overly preoccupied with boisterously blasting each other for their politics and beliefs thus diverting attention away from the greatest polluters’ moral and ethical corruption, where it should and needs to be sharply focused.

    It’s difficult to imagine an indigenous systems approach to the climate-change crisis being any worse than the still-much-wanting non-aboriginal approach. If I read correctly, the indigenous method of strategic/controlled burns of forest dead wood, in order to significantly reduce the risk of wildfires, was supposed to be formally tried by the B.C. government (announced a few months after the election of the Green-party-supported NDP minority government).

    Besides the indigenous systems approach, there could be further hope for spaceship Earth and therefor humankind due to environmentally conscious and active children, especially those who are approaching/reaching voting age. In contrast, the dinosaur electorate who have been voting into high office consecutive mass-pollution promoting or complicit/complacent governments for decades are gradually dying off thus making way for far more healthy-planet-thus-people minded voters.

    P.S. I may be wrong, but I believe it was, ironically, then-president George W. Bush Jr.’s vice-president and big-oil-firm man Dick Cheney who somehow managed, via PR manipulation professionals, to get the more euphemistic terminology “climate change” into mainstream utilization, in place of the rightfully more alarming “global warming”.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Fgsjr, thank you for these significant observations. You and I are on the same page, and it is one that leaves us gravely concerned about the future sustainability of our planet. As you say, the lack of political courage in not proactively moving away from a fossil fuel based economy and instead bowing to the greed and money is shameful. It took decades and decades for govts to have the courage to say no to the tobacco industry, even though they knew the products were purposefully addictive and deadly. They know that our current economy is killing our planet and changing EVERYTHING we know, but the money and votes still reign. Greta is right indeed. Thanks for adding your voice.

  2. Pingback: June 2021: non-Indigenous Canadians now understand only too well why we need National Indigenous History Month | Robby Robin's Journey

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    Isn’t it all so clear and obvious when explained as you have done Jane. Instead we have the universal concept of the ‘property ladder’ and we all must strive to get onto and, once on, strive to climb higher. And – as you quite rightly say – we are never any happier the higher we go.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It’s clear to you and me, but unbridled capitalism seems to have turned mindless consumerism and the money that enables it (and enriches the corporations) into the prevailing societal “values” of western countries. Pretty sad evolutionary path we’re put ourselves on! 😏

  4. Wonderful lessons, and I believe so much in the concept that abundance has little to do with material things and money. Great post, Jane!

  5. BernieLynne says:

    Today the newest citizens to Canada took an oath that included respecting the treaties and the indigenous peoples. That seems like a good step forward. I have no close indigenous friends and so lack knowledge in their spiritual and cultural beliefs and I am learning more each day. Thanks for the educational post and all the links as I followed them as well. Bernie

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I love that addition. I agree that it’s a good step in the right direction. Our newest Canadians may have a better foundation in Canada’s full history than many of us educated here a few decades ago.

      • BernieLynne says:

        We never questioned what we were being taught and why would we but even my children in the 90’s at school did not learn that history. We need to share the truth so that we can take the next steps towards reconciliation.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          I know. And the what and how of what history is taught has been ever thus. Just ask the Acadians here in NB and elsewhere in the Maritimes. To read school history until very recently you’d have thought the United Empire Loyalists had arrived in a pristine wilderness. No native peoples, no Acadians. Hopefully the changes that have started will be kept up.

  6. Jean says:

    This is Buffy St.-Marie, the Cree Canadian folk singer in 1996 in her convocation address at the University of Regina. Probably 1 of the rarer songs re residential schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qeAkiMNCyU

    And finally City of Calgary has just installed large local indigenous permanent art in the public atrium in our headquarters municipal bldg. Long overdue. It’s primarily the Blackfoot Confederacy in our area:

    About 2-3 yrs. ago, municipality renamed a historic steel road bridge from Langevin (who supported residential schools) to “Reconciliation” Bridge.

  7. barryh says:

    Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    This post by Jane Fritz gives an excellent summary of some key aspects of the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the earth, who knew how to live sustainably on the earth. Our current societies in all the countries of the world have so much to learn from this. Let’s start with the humility to recognise that such earlier generations actually have much wisdom to offer us about living a good and sustainable life. It is the hubris and arrogance of modernity to discount the value of this wisdom, in favour of modern more materialistic concerns. It is apparent that this is leading to massive destruction of our natural environment, soiling the only nest we have, so to speak.

  8. annemariewatson says:

    Valuable information we can all use to be better residents of our planet.

  9. So much ancient wisdom.

  10. Wise words. Reminds me a little of Buddhism.

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