From the Editor's Desk: Environmental stewardship is our legacy


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


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


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.