“When a man moves away from nature, his heart becomes hard.” ~Lakota saying
Audiobooks have been a blessing of late, but my current physical incarnation of knowledge gathering is A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki, which posits that slavery shaped a vast majority of our country’s personality today, and as a citizen of the Capitalist States of America, I couldn’t agree more. American colonials–yes, even the Founding Fathers–treated people based on their potential monetary value. They debased men, women, and children to profits and losses, selling futures and ripping pasts limb from limb. How many modern companies treat their employees as simple wage earners? What percentage of sales departments know their clients’ names before the amount of revenue they contribute? My previous job, despite being salaried, required me to record the amount of time it took to do each task of my work day, down to every individual account unlock request I took. Trust me, logging umpteen million tickets for five minutes each was far from the highlight of my day. My powers of Googling aren’t jiving well at the moment (need to go sacrifice another PC on altar…), so I can’t provide hard evidence of how many Americans have been treated like a number either as a client or employee. I bet, however, that it’s a fair amount.
But my point for today goes further. Takaki outlines that started with slaves turned into the Native Americans and their land. All the savages were doing was living in harmony with the earth, never taking more than they needed, replenishing where it was barren, wasting practically nothing from whatever they slaughtered or destroyed. Even after the whites came, never did they look at a forest and think, “Huh. Imagine how much money we could make by clearing this for a tobacco field!” Giving back to the Earth was ingrained in their teachings, religion, stories, every inch of their culture.
So of course, they’re going to put up resistance when a new culture invades under the pretense of peace and exploration and then starts raping their Mother.
Ok, so maybe that’s an extreme view. But think about it. They took something of great, crucial importance, against the will of its possessor (the Earth, not the Indians–they, at least, admitted no one can own the earth). With a human victim, it’s about power; with the Earth, it was about using precious metals or crops to earn money…which, in modern America, is the sad equivalent of power–if you don’t think so, please look at the lobbying industry and then get back to me. Takaki outlines that through strategic financial traps, blatantly breaking treaties and promises, or religious deception, the settlers took land away from the Natives for their own devices. In came a culture based on gold, from second and third sons who saw the frontier as the Land of Plenty. In came a religion that worshipped a miracle worker instead of what truly provided all; they valued the teachings of their Savior and his sacrifice above all else, while the natives valued the ground he walked on. Literally. As much as I would’ve loved to walk with my native ancestors, my heart would’ve suffered just as much as theirs to see their home and lifegiver obliterated and shamed.
But wait! There’s more!
Where have these practices gotten us? By losing the Native American respect for the earth, we don’t think twice about what effect we have on the planet (on the whole. I do accept that there are other individuals and some organization like myself that look to minimize our impact). We’re so wrapped up in money that every moving part on a machine usually has a danger warning, or dozens of people will face lawsuits. We need food warnings about a pack of peanuts containing peanuts. Plastic and cellophane waste is thrown out everyday, poisoning what was once so precious. Granted, these have also taken away almost completely the chance of dying from simple infections, but we’ve no need for Doritos, for plastic covers on bedsheet sets, for styrofoam take out containers, for bags to carry one item out of a store. Why bother worrying about the repercussions? All we have to do is put them in a trash can that gets taken away every week. Out of sight, out of mind.
Y’know what other group used that mantra? I’ll give you a hint: they forced their problems onto trains at gun point to be carted off to death camps and then be buried in mass graves.
Am I saying everything about Native Americans is perfect? Heck no. They took slaves of their own, from enemy tribes too. They used a bunch of medical practices that did more fatal harm than good. They probably wouldn’t have allowed the relationship with my fiancee to even get its start. However, the majesty of seeing vast mountains and gorgeous, untouched valleys inspires much more than anything I watch on a TV. Music I can hear from performers and instruments right in front of me is more appreciated than what comes out of plastic and rubber earbuds. The gift of a hawk feather bestows much more awe and humility than any income bonus I could imagine as a reward. Maybe a society that held these things in high regard wouldn’t be facing fuel resource crises, people who bring their laptops on campouts, hundreds of thousands of lives lost in oil wars, or severe drought and flooding.
To quote one of the wisest turtles I know, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift–that’s why it’s called the present. We need to learn from history and cherish this gift. We can no longer treat the Earth like a back-broken, callused handed, exhausted field worker who won’t amount to anything beyond a number in a blood-smeared, leather-bound ledger. We need to immediately and unwaveringly fight to make this great planet our Mother once again; to respect Her power, heal Her wounds, and rejoice in Her fierce and gentle beauty. Then, and only then, will survival in tomorrow’s world no longer be a mystery.