Can Native America Transform The World Again?
Op-Ed by Neenah Payne
November is Native American Heritage Month — a good time to take a look at these ancient cultures that have given us so much and have so much more to share now. For many Americans, the 500 Native Nations are like a Big Pink Elephant in the living room they don’t see. Yet, many of our states, cities, rivers carry Native American names. In fact, the colonists used the name “American” to describe the indigenous people until they declared their independence from Britain and established the United States of America.
Americans know our systems are failing now in life-threatening ways. We are facing the Sixth Great Extinction because capitalism expects endless growth on a finite planet — a physical impossibility. We have driven so many species into extinction that now humanity itself is at risk. We now have just six inches of top soil left — enough to grow food for only for 60 years.
We don’t have to recount the problems with capitalism, our healthcare system, our educational system, our political system, our agricultural system to know that we are on the wrong track. Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Banks, Big Media, and Big Tech rule for the rich not for the betterment of humanity.
Yet, what options to do we have now to correct course? Voting for the “other” party has not worked. Some people think switching to socialism is the answer — but people who have escaped communist countries warn us that socialism is a slippery slope into communism. So, where can we turn to for guidance now to get rescued from this morass?
The answers come from what will seem to many Americans as the most unlikely source — a people we have relegated to the past and long ignored.
We Must Change Our Values Now To Survive
When Chief Oren Lyons of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) in upstate New York spoke at the United Nations in 1987, he summarized the findings of an international group of indigenous leaders with four words: “Values Change For Survival”. However, he did not tell us which values we must change or how to change them!
Fortunately, a growing number of Native Americans are helping us understand where we went wrong and how to correct course now. We simply have to be wise enough to listen and learn. These leaders are reaching an increasing number of Americans who can see the wisdom of their ancient traditions.
The West lost the soul that guides indigenous cultures and connects them to Mother Earth and to a spiritual understanding of themselves, the world, and the universe. Native American cultures have a radically different value system grounded in humility, gratitude, reciprocity, giving back, sharing, beauty, and a responsibility for Mother Earth and all other species for the next seven generations. Their traditional ceremonies and languages transmit and preserve the wisdom of their cultures. The world’s indigenous peoples follow The Original Instructions and may be the wisest cultures on the Earth. They are leading the way back to sanity now.
The only question is how many Americans will be wise enough to follow their lead now.
How Native America Transformed The World
Our debt to Native America is deep — but largely unacknowledged. The US Congress formally acknowledged in 1987 that the US Constitution was inspired by the system of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nation Iroquois) in upstate New York which is the oldest living democracy and was also the inspiration for the United Nations.
Nearly half the world’s leading food crops can be traced to plants first domesticated by Indians. Native farmers introduced Europeans to a cornucopia of nutritious plants, including potatoes, peanuts, manioc, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, and yams. Maize, or corn, was by far the most significant contribution, now grown on every continent except Antarctica.
Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World by anthropologist Jack Weatherford explains:
After 500 years, the world’s huge debt to the wisdom of the Indians of the Americas has finally been explored in all its vivid drama by anthropologist Jack Weatherford. He traces the crucial contributions made by the Indians to our federal system of government, our democratic institutions, modern medicine, agriculture, architecture, and ecology, and in this astonishing, ground-breaking book takes a giant step toward recovering a true American history.
In Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America, Weatherford says:
Conventional American history holds that the white settlers of the “New World” re-created the societies they had known in England, France, and Spain. But Weatherford brilliantly shows the Europeans grafted their civilization onto the deep and nourishing roots of Native American customs and beliefs. Our place names, our farming and hunting techniques, our crafts, the very blood that flows in our veins — all derive from American Indians ways that we consistently fail to see.
Bolivia honored Weatherford for his work. Weatherford taught for 29 years at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he held the DeWitt Wallace Distinguished Chair of Anthropology.
Can Native America Transform The World Now?
When Columbus stumbled on this hemisphere, the indigenous population of the Americas was 60 million. By the middle of the 20th century, it had dropped to 800,000! That’s a holocaust 10 times the one we hear so much about. Why do we hear nothing about this one? The Native American population in the US is currently 4.5 million.
So, it is truly amazing that these cultures are still here after 500 years of attempts to wipe out them out. Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees religious freedom, it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their religions until the 1970s! Native American children were forced in the 19th century to go to boarding schools where the stated goal was to “Kill the Indian to save the man”.
Yet, despite multiple attempts to erase their cultures, they are not only still here, but are restoring their languages and traditions. Even more amazingly, they are willing to help guide the people who tried to wipe them off the planet! Learning from these ancient cultures is now humanity’s best hope for survival as we face the threat not only of the Sixth Great Extinction, but also The Great Reset in which we are to be merged with Artificial Intelligence.
There are several very inspiring Native American speakers now. Mapping a New Geography of Hope With Native America discusses the amazing videos and books of Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer who lives in Syracuse, New York where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She holds a BS in Botany from SUNY ESF, an MS and PhD in Botany from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, bryophyte ecology, traditional knowledge and restoration ecology. As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.
Robin Kimmerer is a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is a member of the Potawatomi Tribe ”People of the Place of the Fire” and speaks some of the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquin family. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the federally-recognized government and represents over 37,000 tribal members. It acts under a ratified Constitution and includes executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Potawatomi are located in the western Great Lakes region, upper Mississippi River, and Great Plains.
Professor Kimmerer often speaks of the choice between two paths. In many videos and her books, she shares the wisdom of the Native American perspective. We are very blessed to still have these ancient cultures.
Professor Kimmerer at Yale: The Teaching of Plants
Dr. Robin W. Kimmerer, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, SUNY-ESF In traditional ecological knowledge, plants are regarded not only as persons, but as among our oldest teachers. If plants are our teachers, what are they teaching us, and how can we be better students? In a rich braid of ecological science, indigenous philosophy, and literary reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, Dr. Kimmerer will explore the material and cultural gifts of plants and our responsibilities for reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.
2022 Bioneers Conference
The videos below are from the 2022 Bioneers Conference which took place on May 13-15. One questioner pointed out that since more and more plants and species (including human beings) are being genetically modified, coming generations will not inherit Nature as it has evolved over billions of years.
Bill Gates is proposing replacing meat with fake meat. We are encouraged to eat bugs instead of meat. The film Soylent Green in 1973 was set in 2022 and envisioned a day when people no longer had real food. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum says that in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, humanity will be merged with Artificial Intelligence to create Humanity 2.0.
So, this fight for life and nature is not one that affects only indigenous peoples. However, they are perhaps in the best position to defend all of humanity now.
Indigenous Peoples already do “green jobs,” integrate cultural values into business activities, and protect 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. In order to transform our economies through Indigenous-led solutions, we need to uplift movements and stories inspired by Indigenous resistance.
To do this, we must change the culture of philanthropy and “impact investing,” which still largely circulates in privileged circles. In this panel, Sikowis (Plains Cree/Saulteaux), Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), and Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yupik) discuss colonial-capitalism and how Indigenous-led strategies can offer us a pathway towards an equitable and regenerative future.
This talk was delivered at the 2022 Bioneers Conference.
The “Rights of Nature” movement seeks to protect rivers, mountains, and entire ecosystems and the life forms supported within them by recognizing and enshrining their rights in formal legal codes and constitutions. This legal framework offers a radically different worldview from current legal premises. Instead of being seen as property, nature as a whole and its various components would be formally recognized to have inherent rights to exist, persist, flourish and evolve, and these would be protected under the law.
For over 15 years, the Rights of Nature movement has caught fire across the U.S. and the rest of the world in some of the most and least expected places, from tribal lands to “progressive” cities, to coal country, to Latin American nations. In this session, activist attorneys leading the movement in Indian Country and beyond give an update on their successes and the challenges ahead. With: Frank Bibeau; Thomas Linzey; Samantha Skenandore. Moderated by Alexis Bunten.
This talk was delivered at the 2022 Bioneers Conference.
Lyla June Johnston’s Call To All Nations
Putting Native America Back On The Map To Re-Discover Ourselves includes several videos with Lyla June Johnston who was raised in Taos, New Mexico and is a descendant of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineage.
Lyla is an anthropologist, educator, musician, public speaker and internationally recognized performance poet. Lyla graduated with honors from Stanford University in 2012 with a degree in Environmental Anthropology. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in American Indian Education at the University of New Mexico. She is pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Lyla is a fellow with the Original Caretakers Initiative at the Center for Earth Ethics. She is a co-founder of The Taos Peace and Reconciliation Council which works to heal intergenerational trauma and ethnic division in the northern New Mexico. She is a walker within the Nihigaal Bee Iiná Movement, and is the lead organizer of the Black Hill Unity Concert. She is the also the founder of Regeneration Festival, an annual celebration of children that has occurred in 13 countries around the world.
Lyla’s most recent book is a poetic rendition of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Lifting Hearts Off The Ground Declaring Indigenous Rights in Poetry. Lyla’s current work involves working with Diné peoples to create and sustain their own traditional education systems free of colonial fetters.
Lyla calls on Europeans and European Americans to discover their own indigenous roots. She explains that in supporting indigenous cultures in the Americas, they are rediscovering themselves. Johnston explains that Westerners are slaves to capitalism and indigenous traditions are like the “Underground Railroad” during slavery that provided safe houses for escape to freedom.
We Can Transform Ourselves Now
You are invited to celebrate a National Day of Transformation instead of Thanksgiving Day which a growing number of Americans are rejecting now in recognition that it is a Day of Mourning for many Native Americans.
Note: The National Day of Transformation Flip Book provides an easy way to get started.
The National Day of Transformation site is designed to assist Reconciliation by providing information on topics not covered in the legacy media or our educational system.
Putting Native Americans Back on The Map
Whose land are you on? Find out at native-land.ca.
Film: We The People 2.0
American citizens who are normally marginalized, forgotten and left to fend against toxic dumps and other violations, come to understand that frontally challenging the oligarchy that has destroyed democracy in the United States is the only way to survive.
For more information:
- Water Is Life Festival: September 4
- Native America’s Gifts To The World
- Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
- Why We Must Be Honest This Thanksgiving
- Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
- 100 Year Anniversary of Santa Fe Indian Market
- Native American Day: Learning The Way of Earth
- How Reconciliation With Native America Can Save Us
Top image: Enchanted Mountains