Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Indigenous Wisdom" #CleanWaterWednesday

Water is often described as following the path of least resistance. These days the same may be said about oil, or at least oil pipelines. The federal government rejected the Keystone Pipeline; in Minnesota, Enbridge's Sandpiper pipeline proposal has been withdrawn; the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL] is encountering fierce resistance, especially from Native Americans. An interesting and worthwhile perspective on what's happening at the Missouri River DAPL camp, and why, has been written by a North Dakotan and published here. Clay Jenkinson, the author, includes a list of books he recommends we read to gain some perspective into the Native American perspective on the issues at Standing Rock. I would respectfully suggest at least two more books be added to that list.

Sweetgrass at Minnesota Goose Garden
Sweetgrass at Minnesota Goose Garden
Photo by J. Harrington

If you really want to make a contribution to a sustainable future for all who live in the US, and that's what I believe is at stake in North Dakota, read Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. In one of the later chapters, she highlights why what we have seen, and seen accomplished, to defeat Keystone, Sandpiper and, we hope, DAPL, is so critically important.
"Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth. Environmental despair is a poison every bit as destructive as the methylated mercury in the bottom of Onondaga Lake. But how can we submit to despair while the land is saying 'Help'? Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It's not enough to grieve. It's not enough to just stop doing bad things."
moss on a decaying log
moss on a decaying log
Photo by J. Harrington

The other book I would add to the list is Kimmerer's  Gathering Moss. In it she notes:
"...In indigenous ways of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names, It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways we humans build relationships, not only with each other, but also with plants."
Minnesota is recognizing its need for a new, more vigorous water ethic. We will need to show respect for each other to be successful. The values being shown by Native Americans at Standing Rock, and reflected in the quotes above, should help Minnesotans develop that ethic and others respect the value of a Missouri River without additional contamination from pipelines that shouldn't be built if we hope to have a world in which our descendants can thrive rather than just survive. A similar argument applies to unnecessary and unduly risky copper-sulfate mines proposed for northern Minnesota.

Eagle Poem


By Joy Harjo


To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.


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