Are We Connected to the Earth or Even Our Word?
“A treaty, in the minds of our people, is an eternal word. Events often make it seem expedient to depart from the pledged word, but we are conscious that the first departure creates a logic for the second departure, until there is nothing left of the word.”
-Declaration of Indian Purpose (1961) American Indian Chicago Conference
“How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”
-Black Hawk, Sauk
How can a person who lives in an urban environment connect with the earth or the values associated with embracing a reverence for the planet’s health and well being? I mean-it seems unlikely to expect anyone who has had little or no connection with the soil to understand nature’s value…or the value of clean air…or clean water. Many urban dwellers have grown up knowing that the air and water is polluted. If we pay attention to historical data we learn that most of the environmental degradation that threatens the survival of many species, including our own, has occurred in less than one hundred years. The facts regarding environmental degradation make it apparent that the preservation of our environment, or respecting our resources as something more than a means to make a profit, seems undesirable, or for that matter, is not a priority.
When we examine the origins of a contemporary “value set” we may come to understand that the ancestral western European culture disassociated from the earth as an organism when a socio-economic decision pre-empted “native-wisdom-intelligence”. Somewhere during a lengthy gestation period, societal development excluded the planet as a necessary ally for the Homo Sapiens species survival; for if we consider that monetization structures outweigh the importance of sustainability, it becomes self-evident that we have forgotten that we are, in fact, profoundly related to (and dependent upon) the organism we call Earth.
Organization vs. Organism
The arrogance of a predominantly left-brain focused human culture has negated the reverence for life itself. Assessments and assumptions have created a “perception context” which concludes: A human organization that excludes the sustainable principles of Earth-care and resource management is a superior model for human welfare.
This disastrous model asserts by default that a “sustainable” model which includes the well being of the planet and the natural resources that make life possible is somehow inferior to the monetized constructs of barter and trade with it’s components-exploitation, extraction and dominion. The Western cultural paradigm has chosen “monetary survival” needs, which are narrowly defined as a purely economic routine, as superior to the long- term needs of the collective well being for the entire planet. Subsequently, a Western dominant consciousness worships itself in a narcissistic ritual of dominion over indigenous peoples and the planet. The historical facts illustrate the manner in which a Western dominant (left-brain oriented) strategy to maintain authoritative control creates economic poverty and hardship in order to remain unchallenged. It is a deviously manipulative scheme fraught with hypocritical assertions. It is valuable to revisit many “agreements” made by monarchies and governments in order to witness the gross inauthenticity and dishonesty delivered in order to maintain an elitist economic dominance. To cast off such assertions as “Machiavellian” or as ”Human Nature” is to miss the point. These inauthenticities have trickled down over hundreds of years to bring us to a point where the “word” is truly meaningless. As president, George W. Bush made an offhanded comment once: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face! It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
Those words may have been some of the most authentic utterances of his career when we consider that most of the principles of our constitution have largely been ignored. Consider the constitutional statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The working class understands this all too well. In fact, “inequity” probably resonates with greater authenticity than any tenet found within the Declaration of Independence for a majority of American citizens. Along with inequity-the plight of economic class-ism also includes disenfranchisement and its relative, alienation. We are confronted with hypocrisy of such magnitude that it nearly renders the rest of the constitution a mere pipe dream.
After the Revolutionary war, a white man could vote only if he had a certain amount of property. All American women would not be allowed to vote until 1920. Slaves had no voting rights or until after the Civil War.  Even after the 15th amendment was passed in 1869, there were efforts to obstruct an African American’s right to vote by henchmen who physically blocked or threatened the newly freed slaves if they tried to vote. The archaic “Jim Crow” laws of a segregationist culture supported these thugs. It would not be until 1965 when the “Voting Rights Act” created a national mandate that would allow all blacks to vote. The voting privilege for the Native American is also rife with injustice and twisted irony. According to the “U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division,” Native Americans were only allowed to vote once they became U.S citizens and gave up tribal affiliations. Many Native Americans would not become citizens until 1924. Today a person cannot even run for political office unless they are very wealthy or have powerful corporate sponsors. We are still enslaved by archaic economic principles that have origins hundreds of years ago. Strangely, we seem to accept what we have created by default, or complacent non-activism.
The legacy and law of Western European left brained influence has left a vast paper trail that means very little in the end. The words mean little because they have been imbued with so little integrity or honor. When one reviews the language and wisdom of the Native Americans, the evidence for the U.S. founding fathers’ lack of integrity is immediately apparent. Black Hawk, a Sauk Indian, said, “What do we know of the manner of the laws and customs of the white people?” Four Guns, an Oglala Sioux, said, “Many of white man’s ways are past our understanding…they put a great store upon writing; there is always paper. The white people must think that paper has some mysterious power to help them in the world. The Indian needs no writings; words that are true sink deep into his heart, where they remain. He never forgets them. On the other hand, if the white man loses his papers, he is helpless…” 
How can we collectively deny or disengage from our sense of humanity to such degree that we as a nation take no responsibility for the heinous acts of the Native American genocide perpetrated in the name of, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” It is a great lesson and transparently instructive when we recognize that the Indigenous Americans were operating from the “context” that the spoken word is the measure of a man’s integrity and honor. They understood the principle that the most valuable thing a human being has is “ones word.” There is no need for lawyers or written documents when we operate with integrity of this magnitude. In Toltec wisdom, one of the four agreements is to be “impeccable with ones word.” The invaders- who stole the land from the Native peoples of this continent, did not even have the integrity to honor their own “Western” doctrinal law.
Anyone who ever considered that there might be an American Dream has to come to some type of “Aha!” moment when they review the organizational foundations for the American Empire. I mean, isn’t it apropos to label the American Dream a Nightmare of epic proportion? Within an “organization” context, the constitutional tenet, “…all men are created equal…” has been a farce. Therefore, it would seem unlikely that we (the collective culture of these United States) would honor or revere our planet’s resources. If we do not even honor our own word, and we diminish the value of our fellow human beings, why would we then choose to honor the planet that sustains us? Over time we have collectively chosen to denigrate the sanctity of human life and as a result are incapable of honoring the planet that sustains us. As a culture we have become energetically detached from the earth. We have become detached to such degree that we feel that it is normal to apathetically accept the tenets of corporate exploitation and dominion we have inherited by default. Few question the so-called ”system” that sustains us. We are numb and choose denial rather than reinvention or active engagement. Even our language and the words we use have become worth less.
Watershed and Deluge… a new Ark and Covenant
If the words I now write are relatively useless (considering that the word is not the action) to what end is this treatise of value?
I realize that for many of us observers and scribes that we are trying to work through the minefield of left-brained-dominant conscious thought. The mire is thick and deep with many faults and chasms. I realize that we Western “Left Brainers” are easily amused by the written word. I also realize that the written word is an effort to “organize” thought and confusion into a semblance of sanity and order. What I am left with of ultimate value though, has little to do with intellect or academic merit.
I come to a place where I must “be” my word. I must “walk my talk” in the vernacular of our Native American ancestors. If my word is aligned with integrity and healing, perhaps I might become clear about a specific set of actions that are worthwhile.
What is worth my while?
Recently, I was studying with a Teacher who was trained in the Native People’s way of seeing, and heard her say that if we develop gratitude for all we have, we may then pass down all that we have today to seven generations yet to be. This wisdom has been watered down to the degree that most political candidates espouse the value of our future generations as something we should be accountable for; and yet as each passing election illustrates, we are witness to a lack of integrity in honoring any promise to insure our children’s future let alone the children who are seven generations down the road. As I have meditated upon the values that promote integrity and accountability I have come to the profound conclusion: gratitude is missing. Unless we are grateful for all that we have now- the water we drink, the land that feeds us, the air that makes life possible, we cannot appreciate the sanctity of life. If we do not honor the sanctity of life we dishonor the planet and ourselves. If we do not understand that we are integrated with the planet to such degree that we are connected rather than exclusive, we will continue to defile and denigrate the very life support that sustains us.
What do we do?
Every day that we drive our gas fueled cars we send the message: getting where I need to go is of greater importance than the quality of air I breathe. I send out the message: I support the wholesale defilement of our planet… I support the wholesale destruction of wildlife and food sources for my fellow human being. I send out the message: I am powerless to change, and am addicted to oil to such degree that even a twelve-step program is of little consequence. Every time I consume anything in plastic I send out the message: convenience is more important than my health or the health of future generations, and I will support the extraction of oil even when it’s killing all of us. I send out the message: I support war in order to continue this oil extraction process and in order to maintain military mobility, even though my religious doctrines teach that it is wrong to harm another human being. I send out a message: “Thou shalt not kill”…but killing is alright as long as it isn’t me personally pulling the trigger.
As long as I take no responsibility as being accountable for the way the world in which I live operates, I have no power. I have no integrity. I am worth less. My word means nothing.
So that’s the bad news.
What’s the good news then?
We have the power to choose. We can practice offering gratitude by way of the example we live. What will we do? What can you and I create as a solution? What will you do with your community-at work-with your neighbors. When we do nothing everything stays the same — at least for a little while longer. As the popular observation goes, “Insanity is defined as doing the same thing again and again expecting a different outcome.” One day though, the price we pay now for our complacency will bring about the extinction of our species. How do any of us who feel this way know for certain that we are bringing about extinction?
Perhaps “knowing” is not an intellectually contrived data-collecting process. Perhaps we “know” by accessing both brain hemispheres and also what the Eastern mystics (and the Native people’s of this continent) refer to as “heart intelligence.” When we feel anxious or are concerned when we hear about mega oil spills, I believe we all know that something has happened that is truly terrible. I don’t think we need to hear the facts about sickness and dead animals to understand the implications. We might consider that our Native American ancestors were on track with regard to our connection to our life source-the Earth. Chief Seattle of the Suqwamish and Duwamish tribes, observed:
“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.”
This man who had no degree in science understood our connection to our planet earth. What amazes me is how often native wisdom was prescient. Many of these indigenous Americans knew that the way of the white man was not in alignment with the laws of nature. Many of us now turn to our intuitive self in order to make sense of a world that is out of balance; a world and culture that is “un sane.”
As we speed down the road to our collective destinies do you think it might be wise to slow down, perhaps park the car for a few days, or weeks, or months, or years?
Or perhaps drive an electric car? Or ride a bicycle? We can encourage local farmers by buying from them. We can support organic farming by buying organic. We might plant a garden if we have a yard. Many already have adopted these habits. What else can we imagine? Can we learn to accept it that we are all intrinsically related and interdependent with an organism we call Earth? Could we create an organizational model that mirrors our relationship to Earth as: a sustaining life support organism? What if our education, political and socio-economic models were holistically aligned with the rhythms and seasons of the planet? If we might understand the importance of life as a process rather than a set of short- term goals to achieve, what might we create as a culture? How could our urban environments reflect our appreciation and gratitude for the earth that sustains us?
How do we teach our children that life is sacred?
Who are we?
What will you do once you realize who you are?
We are the children, men and women, sons and daughters, of our Earth mother.
How will we honor our eternal parent and provider? How will we live in peace and grace? If we can imagine a transformed culture, we can create it.
“Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” – “All My Relations”
I am deeply indebted to Kent Nerburn’s wonderful book-The Wisdom of The Native Americans.
It has been a source of inspiration and profound insights, and perhaps most importantly, a reminder that Native wisdom is truly timeless. The law varied state to state prior to the Civil War, and in some instances a slave might be set free in accordance with a particular states constitution. In such cases, these ex-slaves or, “free men”, were sometimes allowed to vote. Massachusetts is of note for a judicial decision in 1783 that ostensibly set a precedent that would later lead to the abolishment of slavery- “Commonwealth v. Jennison”.
 The Wisdom of The Native Americans, compiled and edited by Kent Nerburn~ MJF Books.
Richard Dinges is a free lance writer whose focus is cultural anthropology and streetwise philosophy. His current range of projects includes a screenplay about a 20th century prophet and ongoing research regarding this nations recession based economic model.
A proposed documentary is in the works that will introduce new economic models that are holistically aligned. The pervasive issues for everyone are of concern: social justice and equity. He has been working to produce a body of work that explores the sociological connections between economics and consciousness. The ideal is to work for the manifestation of holistic well- being for everyone.
He worked with a national nonprofit for 10 years. The objective of that organization was to promote literacy and the arts. Currently he is affiliated with a non-profit org: United Community Access Media (UCAM) whose mission is to document the progress of the community. Also, he has co-written and directed a series of dramatic shorts that contemplate the effects of the recession.