Insights into Native American Wisdom, Beliefs, and Teachings
Beyond Wisdom, 2

It is time to Re-evaluate the Modern Notion
of Progress and Development

The teachings, wisdoms, and ancient perspectives held by indigenous peoples worldwide have always been of Mother Earth as a living entity that must be nurtured, cared for, and protected ... for the benefit of the children.  In fact indigenous peoples have been quoted as saying, "We did not inherit the earth from our fathers; we only borrow it from our children."  While it is not clear where the original quote actually came from ... it is clear that there are immense implications to the issues of sustainability on a global scale.  Environmentalists, economists, policymakers, and concerned citizens seem to be at odds over how to reach our varying world economic goals while also addressing the environmental issues these growing economies can and do create.

In the mean time indigenous cultures are telling us that our insistence on economic growth, our plundering of the earth's resources, and our rampant consumerism must take a backseat to the planet's need for balance.  Of even more immediate concern are the growing mountains of waste and toxic chemicals that are piling up ... polluting our air, water, and soils.

The indigenous approach is not a religious doctrine, as one might expect.  It conveys a simple truth that tribal elders believe is common to all living things.  When the earth formed it was a lifeless clump of molten rock.  Over the ages it cooled and slowly the waters formed, and then came the plants and the animals.  For however long it took, the living environment we enjoy today is the cumulative effect of the interactions of every leaf and rock, of every tree and bush, of every breath of wind, and of every living thing that ever existed from the beginning of time until the present.  This cooperative effect created the only environment we know of in intergalactic space that supports life.   We simply cannot afford to squander its riches and we cannot permit our toxic wastes to pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the soil from which we grow our food.

 The Lakota words, "Mitakuye O'Yasin" typify this belief system among indigenous peoples.  It means "all my relations" and it refers directly to those relationships and inter-dependences that exist between every physical aspect of the earth, sentient or non-sentient.  Is it any wonder that they refer to the earth as our mother, the sky as our father, and the plants and animals as our brothers and sisters.

It seems there are things basic to community and to ecological values that define, perhaps in a very spiritual way, what it is to be human.  But this is spirituality as it relates to our many interlacing connections to earth and not as an expression of any religious system of beliefs.  It maintains a purity which eliminates the judgmental and embraces the community aspect of existence.  For example; modern society sees a forest and begins to calculate the value of the wood it can harvest.  Indigenous cultures see a forest and understand its value lies exclusively in its cohesion; exclusively for the habitat and balance of life it sustains.  Its value exists because it is "there" not because any part of its essence (like the wood) can be removed for profit. 

In Native Cultures "profit" was not an incentive at all; in fact the concept was unknown.  The cosmology of their spiritual life dictated sharing rather than accumulating.  The most admired member of the tribe was not the one who accumulated the most but the one who gave away the most ... thereby demonstrating the lowest measure of "need".   The important relationships were among the people and were based on a communal understanding of the welfare of the tribe and the welfare of the environment from which they drew sustenance.  In Western societies the value of a person is seen in terms of what they have accumulated ... whereas in Native society the value of an individual was secondary to the value of the group.  In the hunter/gatherer setting the wide range of skill sets needed for survival was paramount and that made each tribal member dependent on all the others for the skill sets they did not have themselves.  So in many ways the tribal "economic" model was fashioned after what was witnessed in nature; an interdependence with each participant fulfilling a roll ... interactive by need ... and cautiously frugal toward natural balance.

They took from nature, only what they needed for survival, and nothing more.  Their cultural cosmology was expressed, not through harvesting surplus resources, but by preserving those resources.  For every other living thing had an equal right to draw its sustenance from nature too ... and in the end all living things shared the environment they took part in creating.  When there is a personal relationship like that with nature it is easy to look down at the soil and know that it provides the medium for the roots of the plants that become our food.  It is easy to realize that the organic material we call soil is the deposited remains of every living thing that came before us ... even our own ancestors.  It is easy to hold such thoughts of respectful reverence when the web of life is witnessed daily ... on a personal level.

Today we live in an artificial world created by our technology; our thoughts sequestered by the need to make money and acquire worldly goods.  The heart of humanity has been lost to technology and unlike the interdependent web of natural things ... technology owes allegiance to no one.  Whereas nature at one time protected all things through balance, technology does not know when its influence has gone too far and becomes toxic to (all) life.

The one who understand these principles of Native Culture understands the past ... and therefore will recognize that bringing back the balance in nature ... is our only hope for survival as a species.  It is not a religious, economic, governmental, military, or new age argument.  It is demonstrated throughout archeological history and in the fossil records; wherever and whenever a sustained imbalance occurs ... nature adjusts ... nature prevails.  The lessons that come from the grandfather stones are among the hardest to learn.

Indigenous peoples have always respected the children, who represent our future, and the grandfathers who teach us of the past.  They embrace the concept that everything that exists has both life and energy and is deserving of proper respect.  Progress and economic development simply do not serve us ... they serve only the money merchants and, for now, ignore nature ... but their influence will not be sustainable.

This is Native Wisdom, this is Native Belief, this is Native Culture, and this is the best of Native Teachings ... to recognize and acknowledge the living spirit that exists in all things.