May 17, 2011

People & Nature. Relationship Status: It’s Complicated ~ Sasha

Photo: Woodbine Ecology Center

The folks at the Woodbine Ecology Center graciously offered me free admission to a workshop they were hosting a few weekends ago. The focus of the workshop was on sustainability and indigenous peoples, and Woodbine’s mission and program lineup was impressive. I was initially dubious about how much I would get out of it. At this point, I feel as though I know a great deal about the challenges we face today as far as sustainability goes.

To my surprise, I was energized and inspired by my visit to Woodbine; the speakers who attended the event were incredibly knowledgeable, and most were activists achieving results in their communities. The workshop’s attendees were intelligent and conscientious, asking important questions and sharing bright ideas.

Among many different revelations (which I plan to share in the coming weeks here on elephant journal), I was particularly moved by Woodbine’s guiding principles. Since attending the workshop I find myself calling upon the principles often these days; they’re simple, logical, and if practiced widely, could have a great lasting impact on our society and our environment.

I’d like to share these guiding principles here with you:

The seventh generation principle, which attributed to Iroquois tradition, encourages us to think not only about how the way we live affects the world around us today, but how it will affect the future seven generations. To me, this concept expresses that the world around us doesn’t belong to us, we are simply sharing it for the time being.

Photo: Dalliedee

Walking Softly on the Earth is a belief supported by several indigenous peoples (among them Lakota, Algonquian, and Anishinabe), and promotes “living in a respectful balance with all life.” Why should my impact on the earth be any more than that of a beaver or a pine tree? A beaver is a great example, actually — in building dams, beavers have a negative impact on the forests around them. However, their harm ends there. Beavers do a great deal of good for the eco-systems that they inhabit; it would be great to say the same about humans.

Respect, Humility, and Tolerance

We must respect the interconnectedness of all living things, and treat ourselves, our environment, and our fellow man with high regard. With humility, we open ourselves to the wisdom available in all around us.

…A Bit More

Photo: Woodbine Ecology Center

Another enlightening nugget that followed me out of Woodbine is a challenge to our contemporary manner of thinking about the environment.

In our Western culture, the prevailing power paradigm is a hierarchical one; someone must be on top — and thus someone is relegated to the bottom. Conventional society places humans above nature. Conventional environmentalism places nature above people.

Woodbine subscribes to the indigenous paradigm, which is circular. Everything and everyone is equally important and unimportant. And we’re all interconnected. This simple shift in perception is easy to make because it’s not based in guilt (unlike, for example, radical environmentalist movements that can make you feel like you have to constantly compensate for simply being born as a human – we’re part of the natural world too!). The paradigm merely asks to respect the right of the natural world to thrive unharmed, in the same way nature (usually) extends that privilege to us.

The speakers present at the Woodbine workshop were:

Dr. Debra Harry

David Bartecchi

Winona LaDuke

If you are interested in sustainability, indigenous rights, and indigenous principles, these are fantastic people to get behind.

One issue of particular interest to me in the wake of the workshop has to do with sustainability and meat. Look for it in the coming weeks!

For you Colorado natives, and other people who are interested in planning a vacation with a purpose, here’s a link to Woodbine’s upcoming programs.


Sasha Aronson has a degree in Literature from Colby College. She worked for publishers in the Big Apple, but prefers living mindfully and adventurously in Boulder, Colorado.

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