Indigenous People and the Environment

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Indigenous people lead the world as Defenders of Mother Earth and Water Protectors. We have always been on the front lines—stopping the damming of our rivers, standing up to the mining of our sacred lands, fighting pipelines. We are clear about what we are for: clean air, clean water, clean soil, respectful relationships with all of life, and a good future for the generations to come. By standing up against greed, overconsumption, and desecration of the land and water, we inspire people everywhere to step into thoughtful, prayerful, powerful action on behalf of the environment and sustainable energy.

Because our connection to the land and to our traditional knowledge is mostly intact, we have a great deal to share with the world about a gentler way of living on this earth. We know how to share. We know how to grow food in ways that do not deplete the soil. We know our forests and our medicine plants. We know how to live in a way that does not contribute to climate chaos. We are not easily confused about what really matters.

Our long histories of living respectfully in balance with the natural world have been guided by our “original instructions,” which reminded us to be generous, reciprocal, and respectful in all our relationships. We have honored the water, the land, and all of life. Many of us live on our original homelands, as our ancestors did for many, many generations. Our ties to the land and our languages and traditions have remained intact, protecting us from consumerism and greed. In human relationships, we have always known of the power of listening and sharing. Our traditions of sharing our stories in community have helped us to heal our hurts.

Over time, many of us have been pushed off our land. The places we’ve lived have been invaded and targeted for environmental destruction. The things we love—the mountains, rivers, plains, tundra, special plants in our forests; the ground under our feet— have been seen as “resources” by the oppressive society and exploited by the fossil fuel, energy, pharmaceutical, and mining industries. The fossil fuel industry has often located its extracting and refining activities near to our homes. Our traditional areas for hunting, fishing, and gathering are endangered, and because of the extractive economy all water is threatened.

We have a long history of resilience and resistance. Policies of genocide have attacked our languages, our way of life, our traditional governments, our families, and our homelands. However, even in the worst cases, we are just a few generations away from our connection to the land. One of our great strengths is how we hold on to our sense of place and connection to the natural world, despite brutal oppression. We know how to heal the land and ourselves. We are powerfully taking back our languages, our traditions, and our homelands.

As Indigenous people, we need to heal from the effects of genocide—from the many ways it has hurt our communities, our hearts, and our minds—so that we can move forward together in creative, effective ways.

We need our allies to heal from the damage to their hearts and minds enough to notice that we are still here, that for many generations we have been leaders in the care of the environment.

This work is not new to us. We need our allies to heal so that they can join us and back us in thoughtful, respectful ways. We have so much to share about how to live gently on the earth.

Many of us have found the tools of respectful listening used in Sustaining All Life very helpful. They resonate deeply with our values and with our healing traditions. We have learned to use these tools and now teach them. They have helped our communities work together more effectively to protect the land and the water. They have also been helpful to our allies—they have helped them show up and work with us in a good way.

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