In September of this year, Chief Phil Lane Jr. (Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations) asked me to help prepare a document for presentation at the Indigenous World Wisdom Gathering, during the climate conference in Paris. The gathering is being held at Chateau Millemont, west of Paris. The opening statement of the Sacred Circle of Millemont was presented in this video: Convening the People. For the full document, please see “The Critical State of Mother Earth” at Four Worlds International.
For environmental activists, the Indigenous perspective may prove valuable. Some people find the full story of ecological destruction depressing. Of course, these feelings are legitimate, but I notice that most Indigenous cultures do not find this news depressing because they already know, firsthand, that industrial society is destroying the richness of the world their ancestors inhabited, the world that sustains our lives. These communities have suffered five centuries of European colonisation and ecological deterioration. They know that embracing the truth of our predicament helps reveal the genuine path to recovery.
Ta’ah, Grandmother, Tsleil Waututh elder, who participated in Greenpeace action to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tankers in British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Zach Emery.
The introduction to the Millemont document and the proposed actions at the end provide a sense of this Indigenous perspective. Here is Chief Phil Lane’s introduction:
Very Beloved Relatives,
More than 40 years ago during the early years of North American’s “new” ecological consciousness, my grandfather, Vine Deloria Sr. had a conversation with one of his elder cousins on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. As his cousin loved to learn new words in English, he asked my grandfather to explain to him what the word “ecology” meant. “Well,” my grandfather said, “you know, we have places where you can go and learn to read and study books. Then you learn how to write about what you have read about. Finally you learn to talk about what you have learned to read and write about!
“This is how our young people of today learn about life. Some people have learned this way for many, many years. After they have read enough books, written about what they have read about and talked about what they have written about, they are given a piece of paper that says they are a Doctor or a Wise Person of Life. These Doctors and Wise People of Life then get jobs where they earn a lot of money, so they can read, write, and talk some more. They even have invented machines that can look at things that are very small and make them look big. There are other machines they have invented that can look at things far away and make them look close.
“They even put different parts of Mother Earth in containers and pour them back and forth so they can find out more about the truth of Mother Earth. Anyway, they have spent a lot of time and money and studied Mother Earth for many, many years. From all this work they have made a new discovery. They found out that everything is interrelated. They found out that when you pollute the air which all living things breathe and pollute the water which all living things drink, you pollute all living things. What do you think about that?”
My Grandfather’s elder cousin smiled knowingly and shook his head. “I was wondering when they would get around to this understanding! Just look at what we do to our beloved Mother Earth. We cut her hair where it should not be cut and rip up her skin where it should not be ripped up, and then we drill holes inside her and suck all of her blood out and put things inside of her and blow her bones up.”
Then he looked deeply into the eyes of my grandfather, shook his finger and said, “And what would happen if you did that to your mother? She would die! And this is exactly what is going to happen to all of us if we do not learn to respect and understand the Spirit and Sacredness of our Mother Earth.”
Fast forward more than forty years and it is clear to see that what our wise elders and visionaries have prophesied for so many years is now upon us. Our sacred Mother Earth – who gives life to all living things – is critically wounded, degraded, poisoned, and depleted by the activity of our Human Family. Colonialism, industrialism, consumerism, warfare, and a lack of spiritual understanding are primary drivers of this growing, relentless assault on our beloved Mother Earth. Our ancestors have long understood and wisely shared, that these destructive forces are, in turn, driven by greed, selfishness, ignorance, fear, and materialism.
In recent decades we have heard repeatedly, from the best of our world’s scientific, educational, social, and environmental institutions, that our collective human activity is threatening the future generations of our children and rapidly destroying our Mother Earth.
A tsunami of evidence
The 2009 Planetary Boundaries report in the science journal Nature, showed that human activity has pushed nine critical systems – biodiversity, temperature, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, land use, fresh water, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosols, and chemical pollution – near or beyond critical tipping points. They found that four systems – climate change, species loss, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles – have already crossed the safe, tipping point boundaries.
In 2012, Nature published “Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere,” by 22 international scientists, warning that human activity is forcing a planetary-scale transition, far beyond simple global heating, with the potential to transform Mother Earth “rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.” Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers, said: “humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst. My colleagues … are terrified.”
Dr. William Rees, creator of “ecological footprint” analysis at the University of British Columbia, has compiled data to show that humanity has overshot Earth’s productive capacity, using at least 50% more resources annually than Earth systems can replenish. In “The Way Forward” in Solutions Journal, Rees warns: “Climate change is just one symptom of generalised human ecological dysfunction. A virtual tsunami of evidence suggests that the global community is living beyond its ecological means.” Rees points out that the human community is now living “by depleting natural capital and overfilling waste sinks.” He warns that genuine solutions require that we change our economic system to “replace a culturally constructed economic growth fetish.”
The effects of overshooting global habitats are now well known, including the critical case of climate disruption. The current crisis of forced migration and war refugees is partly due to degraded ecosystems that cannot support human communities. Over 1.2 billion members of our human family lack adequate water every day. Over 2.3 billion people, 1/3 of our human family, lack fresh, clean drinking water.
Warfare is the greatest single source of ecological destruction. The wealthy industrial nations spend some $2 trillion each year on weapons and military destruction, at the cost of millions of lives, destroyed communities, and devastated ecosystems. Imagine if these resources were instead expended on uplifting our human family.
All of this may appear to us overwhelming. Where do we begin? How do we change these dangerous trends? The Indigenous traditions can teach us about genuine solutions. Those solutions will involve a new modesty, not the ability to manage nature, but to become students of nature. Ecologists and environmental activists may find an important perspective in the following Indigenous recipe for change, which starts with recognising the sacredness of all life. This action plan was presented by Chief Phil Lane and others to The Sacred Circle of Chateau Millemont, December 2015, in Millemont, France:
1. Restore the sacred: We must remind ourselves and our human family, through living ritual and ceremony, that Mother Earth is our sacred provider of life, not to be treated as an endless storehouse and limitless dump for our waste and to satisfy our appetite for the material dimension of life.
2. Reduce consumption: This reduction of consumption must start in the rich nations, among the wealthy and comfortable. We must restore the values of simplicity and humility. Our Human Family can live much happier and more rewarding lives with less consumption of Mother Earth’s body and energy.
3. Restore Women’s rights to stabilise human population: Human population cannot grow forever. Our ancient relatives knew that their communities had to fit their habitat. Over a billion of our human relatives now live in daily hunger, and ten million of these human relatives starve to death every year. We must stabilise our Human Family. The best way to achieve this is to achieve equal rights for all women everywhere. Wherever women have rights over their own reproduction, and where contraception is freely available, the birth rate naturally declines. Universal education, social justice, and ecological justice will allow communities to limit their own population growth.
4. The energy transition: We must take every action to reduce and eliminate hydrocarbon energy use — coal, oil, gas — and build the renewable energy infrastructure: solar, wind, and hydro power. We must learn to use energy modestly and carefully, to minimise rather than maximise energy consumption. Nation Sates need to remove all taxes and tariffs on solar technology. In addition, carbon taxes need to be increased, subsidies to the Petroleum Industry eliminated, and those revenues used to subsidise renewable energy research and installation.
5. Replant and restore the sacred forests: We must reverse the decline of forests, replant, restore, and protect the wild forests of Mother Earth, to provide natural species diversity to grow again, and to supply human communities with materials and energy for modest lives that are connected to productive living systems.
6. Organic, traditional farming: We must end the industrial farming methods that have destroyed soils and spread toxins throughout our environment. For our people, organic farming is traditional farming.
7. Public transportation: Eliminate cars and restore efficient public transportation systems, light-rail, electric trains, and trollies. We must rebuild communities so that people can access their needs by walking and bicycle.
8. Build Peace: War is the greatest consumer of oil and energy, the greatest contributor to ecological destruction, and the most destructive force among the Human Family. War benefits only the powerful, the wealthy, and the weapons industry. We must make peace a global priority, refuse to fund war machines, refuse to participate in war-making, and glorifying war, and we must work to eliminate the weapons industry that lives off the misery of the victims among our relatives. The realisation of World Peace can only be established on the full spiritual awareness of the Oneness of the Human Family and the elimination of prejudice in any form, anything that causes a human being or society to feel superior to another.
9. Restore and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The industrial economies have consistently pushed Indigenous communities from their productive land. By restoring the rights of all Indigenous communities, of all members of the Human Family, who know how to live in harmony with the natural world, we take a major step forward in healing our Mother Earth. This includes the full legal implementation of the UN Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
10. Recognise One Human Family: Since we are all part of the Sacred Circle of Life we are all Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth. This makes every Human Being responsible for the well-being of one another and for all living things upon our Mother Earth. We need to fully understand that even in the best of circumstances Governments and Corporations can only accomplish a small fraction of what is needed to stop the destruction of our Mother Earth and restore the harmony and balance of life. The majority of the work to Protect and Restore the Sacredness of Life remains with each and every one of us.
The New vision is an ancient vision
Finally, the Sacred Circle of Chateau Millemont Wisdom Gathering adds this closing statement:
It is clear that piecemeal ecology isn’t working. We must recognise, as our wise Elders who walked the Path before us, that we are all parts of a dynamic, interrelated, living system. Our reckless industrial activity now disrupts these natural systems at their fundamental core. We are unraveling the very web of nature itself. Our Mother Earth is resilient and will endure, but our careless actions are destroying life for millions of other species and ultimately for ourselves. We must remember that the “Hurt of One is the Hurt of All, and the Honor of One is the Honor of All!”
We have critical decisions before us. Will we continue to walk the destructive path that has brought us to these growing global challenges, or will we choose to walk the life enhancing, principle-centred path of protecting and restoring the Human Family, our future generations, and our beloved Mother Earth?
The path we choose has clear consequences and the choice is ours. Our Mother Earth is in a Critical State. We can choose to urgently take unprecedented unified action to protect and restore our beloved Mother Earth, or we will witness the end of life as we know it, for ourselves and our future generations. As the age-old realisation of the Oneness of the Human Family and all life returns with greater understanding, it is clear to see that by choosing to walk the Red Road of love, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation, and by standing up for our beloved Mother Earth, we will fully realise the fulfilment of the prophecies, long foretold by our Wise Elders and Spiritual Leaders.
Chief Phil Lane, Jr. (middle, left), Tsleil-Waututh Sundance Chief Rueben George, and Brazilian Indigenous leaders at the Rio Climate Conference, 2012. Photo courtesy of Phil Lane.
Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.
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