By Danny Beaton; Turtle Clan Mohawk Nation
The Living Rainforest in England invited me to participate in discussions and presentations for ten days to promote the protection of our sacred Mother Earth from a Native American perspective. My old elders instructed me to go to England and help the people heal. They said I could do no wrong, that I would be welcomed and respected for what I would do to help their situation.
Offer their ancestors tobacco for a gift and make sure to ask their permission to speak on their homeland. Sing when you are tired, my teacher Robertjohn Knapp told me. Sing when you are not sure of yourself, sing when you are hurt. Sing when you need peace. I put tobacco down whenever I could to the spirits of England, for the people of Stonehenge, to the ancestors of the stone. I honoured them and asked for their permission to speak out. And I asked for their protection, wisdom and guidance.
Throughout my talks in England and at the Living Rainforest, sharing teachings and songs, I stressed that I was told to honour their ancestors, and I would remind people that Stonehenge was one of the seven wonders of the world. And that their ancestors were like ours, honouring their grandfathers, the stone people, and the natural world, and all our relations.
There is a powerful movement in England that aims at educating children and society of the beauty and importance of protecting our sacred Mother Earth, and the need for society to return to spiritual values. There is also an intellectual movement in England for solving the problems of autism. The British Empire has intellectualized its ideas of religion, philosophy, humanities, economics, law, geography, and education and exported them to the world for generations.
The descendants of the British colonial experience in superiority in India, Africa, Canada, Ireland, and other countries around the world are trying to solve problems created by Western thinking/ ideology and centuries of exploitation. Many academics and intellectuals are using the struggles of indigenous peoples and environmental destruction around the world to portray themselves as leaders in the fight against injustice.
But in fact, the result of their rhetoric is the denial of leadership of the original people on their territories and their way of life. People with financial status or academic or political status have no right to put themselves above the peasant or indigenous peoples. Nor do non-indigenous peoples have the right to make laws or set standards for indigenous nations to live by or under. True leaders and educators do not seek to gain status from people. But true leaders have compassion and work for spiritual leaders of the land.
“In the final analysis, the survival of Native America is fundamentally about the collective survival of all human beings. The question of who gets to determine the destiny of the land, and of the people who live on it – those with the money or those who pray on the land – is a question that is alive throughout society.” (Winona Laduke).
Common goal with no plan
Many academics are completely sincere in their concerns for justice, equality, peace and harmony. Many academics and intellectuals will sincerely honour our true leaders, chiefs, clan mothers, healers, singers, firekeepers, faithkeepers, and do everything possible to bring honour, respect and restoration to the indigenous cultures that have been assaulted by Western domination.
There are non-native educators who are struggling to find ways of learning, who have a reverence for the ones who have maintained a way of life with the natural world and laws by traditional native ceremonies. There are non-native people around who will voice their stand with us, and do everything possible to honour our way of life on our territories, which we call Turtle Island, and who will admit to the failings of their ancestors. There are some people with outstanding values who will struggle with keeping the facts and truth alive by denouncing broken treaties and stolen land in North America.
Peter Matthiessen wrote Indian Country, one of the greatest books I ever read about the state of Indian affairs and struggles since the white man set foot on American land. Our white brother has viewed the wilderness as something other, as a hostile or beckoning landscape he could shape to his own ends. But the American Indians view this very differently. In Indian country, the land is sacred and man is at one with it.
Environmental desecration in the name of progress and spiritual transgression are the same thing and will invite the same eventual destruction. The Indian cannot love the Creator and desecrate the Earth. The Indian existence is not separable from Indian culture, which is not separable from the natural world. By seeking to dominate it, non-natives set themselves in opposition to a vital healing force of which they were a part, and thereby mislaid a whole dimension of existence. Respect for nature is reverence for the Creator and it is also self-respecting since man and nature, though not the same thing, are not different.
Father Thomas Berry, a true elder of non-natives who has participated in native justice, said Christians should listen to native elders for the next hundred years and put away our bibles if we were to learn anything at all from history. The great work before us, the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign, healing presence, is not a role that we have chosen. It is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves.
We did not choose. We were chosen by some power beyond ourselves for this historical task. We do not choose the moment of our birth, our particular culture, or the historical moment when we will be born. We do not choose the social status or spiritual insight or political or economic conditions that will be the context of our lives. We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and perform our assigned role.
The crusaders might be considered the beginning of the historical drive that has led European peoples in their quest for religious, cultural, political and economic conquest of the world. This movement was continued through the period of discovery and control of the planet into our own times when the western presence dominates politically in the United Nations and economically in such establishments as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. We might even interpret this western drive toward limitless domination in all its forms as leading eventually to the drive towards human domination over the natural world.
Wounded need to heal
The struggle to solve problems and to heal is of the utmost importance. We must be ready to admit that we are wounded, and learn to heal ourselves and protect ourselves the same way for our sacred Mother Earth. Life cannot survive with the continual minimalization and marginalization, abuse and exploitation of indigenous wisdom, culture, resources and territories. England is no different from the Americas, and the Americas are no different from anywhere else in the world. We are all wounded. But in America, natives are the first to admit that we are wounded and for native peoples we have our sacred ceremonies to heal ourselves.
People need to join forces and strengths together and support the native elders, indigenous wisdom-keepers of the world, spiritual leaders of the world, and give them their voice, let them have their power with the universe. Let their wisdom be heard. They cannot be told how they’re supposed to live and how things are going to be. The ceremonial elders have an insight into the problems that western society has created. Native people of the Americas are the leaders of their own country, even after colonization.
We are not living on universal land where we are subservient to people of financial, educational or political status. Indigenous peoples did not create the world’s problems. There is a great beauty when non-native people do everything they can to create justice and respect for our elders, for indigenous elders and cultures who have survived five hundred years of culture shock.
As Chief Oren Lyons states, “devastation on a scale of unimaginable injustice. I’m amazed at how tolerant our people are of history. And how we think of your children, not just our own, how we talk about the future, the Seventh Generation, we don’t just talk about Onondaga children or Six Nation children, we talk about all children. Our instructions are that every man is an uncle and every woman is an aunt or a mother to every child. And any child that asks a question must be respected and answered as a human being.”
Elder Ted Strong says, “This enslavement and impoverishment of nature is no more tolerable or sensible than enslavement and impoverishment of other human beings.”
England no different than Americas
The peoples of England are suffering like most countries of the world. In America and Canada, there are still many native peoples with traditional culture and ceremonies to heal from. I truly believe England has lost their healing ceremonies. One of my greatest experiences that I had when I was in the UK was my chance to meet and speak to hundreds and hundreds of elementary schoolchildren who opened their hearts and minds to native culture. They were filled with excitement when they heard the sun was their brother and that he made things grow and that without our brother we could not see each other as we travel about, that our brother keeps us warm throughout the day.
I told them that our elders were our wisdom-keepers and that we were the protectors of our Sacred Mother the Earth, and that our mother gives us her sacred nourishment and all her beauty for us to see. I mentioned that the moon was our Grandmother and the night sun. Our grandmother is a special lady – she controls all the great oceans and tides. The flowers are our sisters, the animals our brothers. I shared with the children all that we are taught by our old elders. I told the children the leader of the birds was the eagle because he flew the highest and he would warn of danger when danger was near. The leader of the forest was the deer, I told them, because he could run the fastest and warn all other life of danger when danger was present. I told the children that we were no better than the animals, and our elders taught us the natural laws and we belong to the natural world just like their ancestors used to live.
I brought along my turtle rattle, drum and native flutes and shared songs that some old elders had shared with me. This to me was amazing, singing and drumming and planting the songs into their little minds, being able to plant seeds of our knowledge into their little minds. It felt good knowing at least one of us, of my people, was able to remind them of the sacred, and that we must respect all of life with our actions and thoughts. I shared with them that our elders teach us to work with the life-giving forces, that our old elders teach us to honour and be thankful to the air, the waters, the fire, and our Mother the Earth. That we were taught to talk to Creation, animals, birds, insects, fish, plants, and that we all have duties and responsibilities.
When I showed my film The Iroquois Speak Out for Mother Earth at Oxford University, I realized then that there were no native studies programs in the UK for the students to learn about our way of life, of thanksgiving and respect. A life with a spiritual foundation, with ceremonies to communicate with the natural world, and healing ourselves with the sacred fire, water, air and earth. North American native people have influenced most aspects of education and justice here in Canada.
Our elders teach us that our ceremonies are not for ourselves but for all Creation, and for everyone’s benefit and safety. In Canada and the United States, native peoples still maintain sacred ceremonies to honour and give thanks to the life-giving forces and the natural world. Our old elders say that our ceremonies are for honouring and maintaining peace and harmony. My heart is sad because I see the people in England that want to heal and need ceremonies. I feel they are a wounded nation.
In Canada, we know we are wounded. We are hurt inside. Our minds and our spirits, even our bodies, are hurt from colonization and dominant forces. We need to heal together. We need to put our forces together so that all of life benefits. So that life ceases to suffer. Our way of life must be honoured and respected, not forgotten or hidden in some agenda. In America, our old elders are the true lamas and cardinals of our continent.
Our ancestors were disrespected and raped. But we must continue the struggle for truth, justice, Mother Earth, and our children’s future. Our way of life is to share. We have never stopped sharing. We have always shared, we have always been respectful to our brothers and sisters across the great waters.
Hope for the future
I told the children, we have a way of life with all the animals, birds, insects, fish. We talk directly to the rivers and plants, and that the cosmos is our family. We are connected to all of life and we understand Creation has a right to be happy.
I am honoured to work with my elders, and I am honoured to work for our people. The way we are taught and we do not just pray for ourselves, we pray for everyone. To all of life, so life continues.
The director of the Living Rainforest is my brother Karl Hansen, and I travelled to the Amazonia with him fifteen years ago. Part of the mandate for the Living Rainforest is to give indigenous peoples the same respect that the plants and animals receive. Our old elders agree that the lungs of Mother Earth is the Living Rainforest.
My greatest hope is that organizations like the Living Rainforest will continue to maintain a working relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada and the world. My journey to the UK was amazing because the people who came to hear me were England’s most beautiful for their love, compassion and interest in native people and culture and their concern for a better world.
In this world, we have moments of awakening, in this life we have moments of deep thought, sometimes by pain and sometimes by beauty. We have chances to do great deeds with action that has a direct connection to all the life-giving forces and forms, the spirit world. Overwhelming destruction is threatening the elements of life on our sacred Mother Earth.
Here in Indian country, we have ceremonies to bring balance and respect to everything that moves from the four directions. Our truth is the way with the natural world, not the unnatural. Our minds, body and spirit need to be connected to a way of life that responds and respects Creation and our sacred Mother Earth, and that we become one mind, one force, one smile. In the spirit of our ancestors, and our sacred Mother Earth.