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From the Editor's Desk: Environmental stewardship is our legacy
Friday, July 10 2015
 
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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alfredwalkingbull-web.jpgMy father was a man of great faith. Whether he expressed it in traditional spiritual practices, what we now call Wolakota, or through his Protestant Christian understanding, faith is what guided him by a set of principles of always being prepared.

Once, when new cable and pipes were laid on the reservation, he clicked his tongue and explained that is how it would all end for us: through fire. Reading Genesis, my father accepted the Judeo-Christian belief that this world was born from water, but that god would inevitably judge us and bring about our end in fire.

His love of eschatology notwithstanding, my father had a way of bringing our own lives into the perspective of something greater. His understanding was through theology, our generation's understanding is through science and culture.

As Native people, we often tout ourselves as the previous guardians of the environment because of our simple manners of living. But what stands out in Lakota thought and philosophy is the concept that everything is interconnected and related to one another. We honor the animals we use and consume, the land we keep, the trees we shelter ourselves with and the water we drink because we understand we all depend on one another for continued existence; and everything has a right to exist. As human beings – just another form of life on this planet – we are reminded to take only what we need to survive and utilize it to its maximum usefulness.

Along the way, through colonization and settlement, we lost our way. We became caught up in the consumerism and economic web of capitalism that insists we consume for the financial wellbeing of everyone else. The message is that the more we consume, the more money is made for others to support themselves and what could be more Native than uplifting others.

Unfortunately, it is a perverted understanding of our tradition, the layers of consumerism and capitalism add barriers toward giving meaningful support of our friends and relatives. We give money so we don't have to pick up trash, we pay others for the work that we can do ourselves so we can feel good about ourselves. Our responsibility is not just to one another, as human beings, but to our home and our relatives of the animal nations, we are all related.

In the opening words of his encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home,” even Pope Francis has touched on this responsibility as the leader of millions of Catholic Christians, the world over.

“'LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore' – 'Praise be to you, my Lord.'” In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. 'Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.'”

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

Science tells us that we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm. It seems insurmountable, but we must begin thinking beyond our own, limited perspective. Our self-obsession with how modern conveniences make our lives better robs from the basic existence of future generations. Or, if we must envision our stewardship in terms of our own comfort, we look back.

In his cover piece, Jon Lurie writes about the closure of the Upper Saint Anthony Falls Lock, giving the history of Owamni Yomni, the whirlpool where generations of past Dakota people recognized the natural balance of the water ecology and where 19th century industrialists saw only a natural resource to plunder. By an act of Congress, it now returns to a shadow of its former self to defend against the growing threat of invasive carp.

By all of this, we mean to remind ourselves as a community of Native people, that stewardship of this planet is ours to reclaim. Whether we reclaim it by faith, as scientists or activists, we have an absolute moral responsibility to protect and defend the survival and prosperity of future generations.


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