Category Archives: New Attitude to Nature

Hard Truths: Climate Change and Indigenous People

 

The second speaker at the Climate First Tour rally in Winnipeg was new to me. Apparently she is a frequent commentator on TV. I guess I either don’t watch enough or watch the wrong programs. She was Dr. Dr. Pamela D. Palmater a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick.

Today I learned that she was a passionate speaker and ardent advocate for those urging us to do something significant about climate change. She said that she was pleased to be sharing the stage today with 2 of Canada’s Warrior Grandfathers,” as she called David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis  Well, that might be true, but she fit right except that she is obviously much younger than her partners today. Later when I did a little research about her, I saw a picture of her with a shirt that read, “She Warrior.”

Today she told us, “I need to talk about hard truth.” The truth she wanted to convey was this: “Canada is killing its own people and the planet and we must do something to stop it.” I think she meant to refer to the conclusions of the recent Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That report concluded that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Canada was guilty of genocide against Indigenous women and girls (it did not actually say Canada was guilty because such a statement is legally significant and ought only to be made, it is thought, by a court of law). That is a hard truth. Many Canadians, including many of my friends resist that conclusion. It is hard for me to accept. Secondly, her comment refers to the fact that Canada is participating in the active destruction of human life and many other species on the planet by permitting greenhouse gas emissions to rise unchecked. This is another hard truth though not as difficult for many of us to accept. It is still a harsh indictment of Canadians, though we are far from the only ones facing such indictments.

Palmater also said that these are “the only two issues we should be talking about in this election are ecocide and genocide!” Everything else pales into insignificance. I accept that too.

Palmater also argued, “the pain of climate change is felt first in the north and first there, to indigenous people.” I think that is difficult to dispute as well. Even though indigenous people are the first and perhaps worst affected, this is rarely discussed when climate change is discussed. Just like the unfortunate fact that the people first affected by climate change, around the world, are often the ones who have done the least to cause climate change, it is true this climate injustice is seldom faced with any rigour or sincerity. Our attitude really can be summed up by the expression, ‘It sucks to be you.’ Hardly the most rational response.

According to Palmater, it is time we also faced the ugly truth that “We can’t live without the planet, but the planet can easily live without us.” As a consequence of this uncomfortable truth, we must face the fact that if we are facing a climate emergency, we must change our ways to save not just our descendants, but our species. If we think our species is worth saving.

To really face up to this challenge we have change our system of exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, and convert to working with nature, rather than against it. The colonizing system of which we are an integral part shapes transforms all human systems, and all human interactions with others. That system is so totalitarian it cannot be escaped.

We have to realize, Palmater said, “the planet is crying too.” I always think that if the planet could talk it would speak like the broadcaster in the film Network, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This really should be the motto for the earth rather than the populists.

According to Palmater, we also have to realize that the issues of genocide and ecocide are closely. This is the same position taken by others such as Anthony Hall in his magisterial  2 volume history of the relationship between European invaders, Native Americans (in the broad sense) and the natural world in the western hemisphere. I will return to this subject later. As Palmater succinctly put it, “Damage to Indigenous Women and Girls is damage to the planet too.”

All of the three speakers tonight agreed that we are much past the time when we need to debate policies.” It is too late for that. We have to act and we have to act with speed. We can’t allow debate to slow us down though we have to think critically about what we are doing. We can’t plunge ahead blindly. I wish we had more time to debate policies, but we have been dithering around for two many decades. Partly those delays were caused by the energy sector’s very successful decades long policy of spreading doubt about the science. Now we have to live with the consequences of that delay. It sucks to be us!

The problem with emergencies is that they often require a quick action. They leave little time for reflection. You can’t mull your way through an emergency. Or as Palmater said, “Best intentions don’t matter anymore—only action.” At this stage I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with her hard truths. But she wasn’t finished delivering them. She was just starting. This is precisely what Greta Thunberg has been saying. We need action. We have to treat an emergency like it is an emergency. Canada has said this is an emergency but it has not acted like it. If it did it wouldn’t spend $4.5 billion on a pipeline. It would spend $4.5 billion or even more, on transitioning away from fossil fuels. As Palmater bluntly put it, “In the end we either do or we die.”

The Creed of Cancer

 

At the Climate First Tour in Winnipeg, David Suzuki, who  is always critical of economists and economics said our current economic system is  based on the idea of endless growth. “The philosophy of infinite growth means that progress is measured by growth, constant growth, and this is the creed of cancer. This can end in only way, with death.

Another pet peeve of Suzuki is that economics, the dim science, is out of whack. According to economics, all of the things that nature does to keep the world intact are externalities. They are all irrelevant from the perspective of economics. Everything nature does is irrelevant; it does not count.  From my perspective, this  is the original  sin of economics. If we are serious about tackling climate change, this is the attitude that must be rejected.

David Suzuki thinks that Stephen Harper epitomized this attitude. Harper elevated the economy over everything else. The atmosphere, for example, according to Harper, was an externality that did not matter. As a result of such attitudes, damage to nature is not counted as a cost. The people who caused the damage, whether to the air, the atmosphere or the ocean did not have to pay for that damage, because such costs were externalities. Externalities do not fit into the equations of economics. That attitude leads directly to our current collapsing natural world and our existential climate crisis. Suzuki categorically rejects this attitude: “Holding up human constructs over nature is crazy.”

Suzuki said the essential characteristic of humans is that we can foresee dangers. Foresight was critically relevant for our survival during our long evolutionary history. Now science and computer technology have amplified foresight. Scientists have warned us that we are headed for danger, but we don’t pay attention. As a result we are ignoring one of our most important characteristics and it will be our peril.

In 1992 in a famous public statement  a large group of scientists of the world warned us. They said that human actions and the natural world are on a collision course. This is already affecting our atmosphere, oceans, soil, forests, corals, and species extinction. It is the cause of over population. This statement was signed by ½ the Nobel scientists who were alive at the time. Yet we did nothing about it. We did not heed the warnings. We ignored our foresight that had saved us so often in the past. Had we heeded the warning, we likely would not have this existential crisis now.

In 2017 scientists gave us a new warning. They warned us that unless we changed our ways within 12 years and drastically reduced our emission of greenhouse gas emissions, we would be destroying the life as we know it. Again little has been done. Again  we are lacking foresight. Greta Thunberg’s big theme is that all she is telling us is to listen to the scientists. Listen to the warnings. Use our foresight.

There is one more thing we need besides foresight. We need to work together. This problem we face, this emergency, demands that everyone work together. All parties have to be set aside.

Suzuki said that when he was a student in the United States in the late 1950s after Russia launched the first space ship into space to orbit the world, America was horrified. How could the Russian do it first? What did this mean? The America reaction was clear and simple: we have to deal with this. No one asked ‘how can we afford this?’ They got together and poured money into the NASA space program. Anyone in science who wanted a grant got one.

With an urgent goal, we can perform what appears impossible. When it comes to climate change, we need that sense of urgency now. It doesn’t look like we can do it.

People who know how to live sustainably

 

 

Last week Chris and I attended the Climate First Tour at the University of Winnipeg. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis, 2 elder statesmen were travelling across the country trying to fire up the country about the pressing issue of the times—climate change. They were joined by Pamela Palmater an indigenous spokeswoman. They wanted to make this the critical issue of this election, because it was the critical issue of our time.

The first speaker was David Suzuki. I have heard him many times and read many of his books, but he is always worth listening to.   Suzuki made one very important statement at the beginning of his talk. He said that we should always think about Indigenous People who flourished on this continent for millennia. They did not just survive; they flourished.  They are the only example that we have of sustainability over a long period of time. We should learn from them. We should not do what we always did before, namely, ignore their advice. Who is more qualified to give us advice than Indigenous People?

Like each of the other speakers that came after him, Suzuki started with the assumption that we are in fact in a climate emergency. The Canadian Parliament acknowledged it and we should proceed on that assumption. I agree.

He also agreed with the other 2 speakers that this issue is not partisan and we all must address it accordingly. Too many people, and too many political leaders are avoiding the uncomfortable fact that we must dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing less than that is acceptable. It is too late for puny measures.

Suzuki also said that he and Stephen Lewis were elders who had both made many mistakes and a few successes. Elders are required to speak the truth. Elders have a responsibility to share what they have learned. Elders have no need to suck up to power; they are in a unique position to tell it like it is, for they have nothing to lose.

Suzuki said, “We are at a critical in the history of human life on the planet. We need unity like we had when the Toronto Raptors were winning the NBA championship.”

Suzuki was very critical of media coverage of the issue of climate change. I know many people are sick of hearing about it, but it is the critical question of our time. They should be devoting a lot of time to climate change or they would not be doing their job.  Suzuki had one glaring and shocking example of their failure. He said that the recent United Nations report on species extinction was completely swamped by the media attention given to the report of Harry and Meghan’s baby. I think that baby is 6th in line to the throne. Is that important?

Suzuki pointed out that “for 95% of our existence as humans on this planet, we have been hunter-gatherers deeply embedded in and dependent on the natural world for everything and during all this time we had an ecocentric way of seeing the world.” In other words we did not have an anthropocentric view of the world, in which we see everything as if its purpose was to fulfill our needs. Being ecocentric means that humans are part of the natural world like all other creatures.

The first European explorers of the Western Hemisphere had a very different attitude. They were looking for resources and saw them everywhere. According to Suzuki,  “the European explorers saw Indigenous people as an impediment. As a result they did not appreciate the priceless knowledge the Indigenous people had that enabled them to flourish in this hemisphere.  From then on, starting in about 1750, we shifted to an anthropocentric way of seeing the world.”

         Suzuki added, “Ever since about 1750 our legal, political, and economic systems have been based on this anthropocentric way of seeing the world.” It undergirds everything. This reminded Suzuki of what Greta Thunberg said to the world leaders at the UN, “How dare you?”  In other words, “How dare one species arrogantly usurp all rights for itself?” Where is the right of the river to flow? Where is the right of the birds to fly? Where is the right of the forests to grow?

According to the anthropocentric ideology and that is really what it is, we are the superior species entitled to dominate the earth. But that is precisely the attitude that has got us into our current predicament.

The key question of our time, he said, is to shift from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric. I agree with this completely. We need a new attitude to nature. Or rather, we need an old attitude to nature. There are people who already have this worldview. They are all around us.

Many Indigenous people already have this worldview. We should listen to Indigenous people. They have known for thousands of years, how to flourish here. The anthropocentric view has only been on this hemisphere for about 500 years. We have to respect their knowledge. As Suzuki said, “the indigenous point of view that is shared by many Indigenous people is deeply ecocentric in origin, and remarkably, they still seem willing to share it.”

The famous Brundtland Report published by the United Nations in 1987 taught us the word “sustainability”. It really was based on this Indigenous attitude. That report said we should take advantage of that vast source of knowledge from Indigenous People. As Suzuki said, “We have been destroying the only human culture that has managed to thrive on our continent.” It’s time to change direction.

No Nature

 

 

Dandelion: friend or foe?

On the last day of our trip, listening to CBC radio I heard about a scandal in Regina. Apparently they have a local bylaw there that if the “lawn” on your yard is more than 15 cm high it must be cut down. What a draconian rule! If you don’t do it the weed inspector will come down and do it for you and send you the bill.  No wild flowers permitted in Regina.

It reminds me of the war that most of us who reside in towns have waged on dandelions.  Such beautiful little yellow flowers. Some say the problem with dandelions is that they take over. They invade the lawn. That is true. Nature hates  monoculture. If we didn’t insist on creating monocultures on our property,  dandelions would have no place to invade. People forget that in nature there are seldom vast fields of yellow dandelions. Dandelions enter where nature has been destroyed. People in towns don’t want nature. So they get dandelions and want to use various horrid chemicals  to defeat them.

Some town folks even think golf courses are nature at her finest! Those wide fairways where golf superintendents apply vats of carcinogenic substances to kill the weeds are what they think is nature. They actually consider that nature. Just goes to show how far they are removed from nature, they have forgotten what nature is like. The only difference between a wild flower and a weed is a public relations firm.

On the way home from British Columbia I saw another example of our war on nature. This was actually a big example. Just after we crossed the Alberta/B.C. border we lost nature.  After we left Banff National Park we saw no nature until we arrived in Steinbach other than rain clouds. That was about 1,000 km.! Not one single animal other than an occasional cow. I don’t think cows were native to North America. The prairies that we took the better part of 2 days to travel through used to be grasslands.  Less than 1% of the tall grass prairie remains. Less than 30% of the remaining grasslands are gone too. Actually, to me it looks like more than that has disappeared. We saw none other than in occasional sloughs or river banks. The grasslands seemed to have vanished.

The first European explorers were stunned when they encountered what they saw as an ocean of grass. They had never seen anything like it. After all, the grasslands of Europe were all but gone before they arrived. Most of that grassland is gone.

We have destroyed so much of nature in the holy names of progress.

I have also been told that the wildlife in North America, before contact with Europeans,  was even more abundant than Africa. To me having been to Africa and having seen their depleted wildlife that makes ours pale into insignificance , I find that hard to believe. It is an awful desecration.

For two days,  we saw virtually none. That is a pity. As the Red Rose Tea commercial used to say, “a dreadful pity.”

I even like dandelions when they have gone to seed. I think there is a beauty in old age.

“Nevergreen” in the Rockies

 

 

I have already blogged about this amazing place, but wanted to make one more comment. This is a photograph of my favourite place in the Rocky Mountains. Chris has a better photograph of it than I do. But she will have to post her own blog. (Yes I am jealous). I loved the fact that the sun was coming out and flooding this small island with light.

This  island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, or more properly, Ĩyãħé Nakoda First Nation who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors. The Indigenous people have 8,000 years plus of ecological knowledge of the lake and island. They knew the land and creatures and organisms on it intimately. As a result they knew long ago that it was important for the area to be burned from time to time. They practiced controlled burns, long before modern conservationists and ecologists realized their importance. It is surprising how often traditional knowledge of Indigenous people, disregarded by whites for centuries, and dismissed as superstition or foolishness, has proved to be right.

As we saw throughout the Rockies we saw massive devastation caused by Mountain Pine beetles. Everywhere in this area the forest were largely red and green. Even on this tiny island, some have called the “Jewel of Jasper” and some have said is the most beautiful place in the Rocky Mountains, you can see the red trees that should be “evergreen”. Well they will never be green again! I wonder how soon all the trees on this tiny island are red. I hate to think of it. Until recent times when the twin forces of climate change and a lack of burns created perfect conditions for the Mountain Pine beetle they existed in the west but never posed pestilential problems as they do now. Because Indigenous people practiced regular controlled burns and did not cause climate change they never had a problem with Mountain Pine Beetles. Now they are a serious problem and it is all thanks to forces unleashed by modern white society.

Policies of non-Indigenous people have led, Indigenous people believe, to a lack of balance in nature. The natural balance is out of whack. Nature needs to be healed. We need a new attitude to nature. No let me rephrase that. We need an old attitude to nature. An attitude that respects nature, rather than seeing it as a resource to plunder.

Non-indigenous people, who for so long thought they  were better than Indigenous people, and as the Eagles said, “raped the land, ” and “put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and called it paradise,” have a lot answer for. Or as they also said, “Call it paradise, and kiss it good-bye.”

The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Ĩyãħé Nakoda (Stoney Nakoda) people.

The island is called Spirit Island. I love that name.  They call this area, for good reason, the Hall of the Gods. What will they call it when the trees die? I suggest never green.

 

Forest Bathing

 

 

Stef, Charli, Chris and I had most pleasant walk through the temperature rainforest called, most appropriately, Cathedral Grove MacMillan Park B.C.  I could not help but think about forest bathing. Many people, like me, believe that there is a power in nature to heal. This is not heebie jeebies stuff.  Nor nude walks through the forest. While this is not yet scientifically proven, there is growing evidence that there are healing powers in nature that are becoming increasingly well documented.

In Japan there is a interesting notion that they call Shinrin-yoku.  This refers to walking and/or staying in forests in order to promote health. It is a major form of relaxation in Japan; however, its effects have yet to be completely clarified.  There was a scientific study there whose aims  were: (1) to evaluate the psychological effects of shinrin-yoku in a large number of participants; and (2) to identify the factors related to these effects.

Shinrin-yoku means literally forest bathing and the activity has become a recognized stress management and relaxation technique.

Some people, like Richard Louv who wrote the book The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, points to research that shows that the diminution of life in the world of nature has been one of the causes of increased rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (‘ADHD ‘) as well as other mental health problems. He is the person who coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe what happens when virtually a generation of young people is disconnected from nature.  The result is an illness—a disorder.

Louv says that it is a short hand way of describing what people knew was happening but had no short way to describe. It is related to the increasing alienation between children and the natural world.  That is the alienation or disconnect that humans feel toward the natural world. He points to recent studies that show that the symptoms of attention deficit disorder frequently are minimized with just a little contact with nature. There are other studies that show childhood obesity is partly caused by the absence of a natural connection between children and nature. Some of those studies also show the extraordinary benefits of connecting to nature  for both children and adults.

Frances Kuo is the Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois where they studied the relationship between green spaces and human health. She said that the range of outcomes related to deprivation of nature were staggering. Everything from earlier mortality in adults to general ailments in the population, ADHD symptoms, cognitive functions, mood issues and social functioning were often related to this deprivation of nature that many of us too often experience. The symptoms of this deprivation are vast.

On the 2011 CBC radio series The Bottom Line Professor Kuo said “just everything across the board,”  is improved in nature.  According to Kuo the presence or absence of grass or vegetation in a landscape is a huge predictor of whether or not people will like a place. People like nature. They want to see it. They want to be in it. They want to be a part of it. And if they do not feel that connection they often react adversely. They may not understand why, but that feeling of disconnection from nature is uncomfortable. It is literally disconcerting.

Kuo also studied the effect of nature on cognitive and emotional functioning. Her group went to homes in the inner city of Chicago. Some had more green areas than others. They looked at verbal and physical aggression and they found that people who had more grass or more shade trees were significantly less aggressive than nearby neighbours without any green space. Even a tiny green space helped a lot. She was surprised how such a small space could have such a remarkable effect.

Kuo points out how people often feel rejuvenated or refreshed after a brief walk in nature and she said, “It turns out that refreshment effect is quite documentable and quite consistent.”  Her research shows that the part of the brain that deals with effortful activities gets a respite when one walks in nature or is around nature. “By giving that part of the brain a little vacation it gets rejuvenated and is able to operate better afterwards,” she said. It really is resting and then recharging the brain. It is good for us to be in nature. I know this is exactly how I felt after our brief walk through the woods in Cathedral Grove this afternoon.

Kuo also pointed out how there is research that showed that people in prison with no connection to nature had more self-aggression than people who have some connection to nature. They get aggressive with themselves because often there is no one else they can be aggressive towards. That research also showed that the nature deficit prisoners tended to have all kinds of illnesses more frequently than those better connected to nature.

She said that when we design cities we have to recognize the importance of nature to community health and stop thinking of trees and parks as “merely pretty.”  They are much more important than that, though that is very good too. One of her colleagues calls it “the parsley around the pig.”  According to Kuo, “nature in the city is functional. It helps to provide a healthy human habitat and it is as essential as providing vitamins.”

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is another person who understands the profound importance of nature on health. In particular she concentrates on the value of our relationship to trees. What better place to think of her than Cathedral Grove? She is a botanist who describes herself as “a renegade scientist.” Her latest book is called The Global Forrest.

Even in Victorian times they recognized the “forest as a spa”. They knew how it could rejuvenate and heal a person. First Nations people thought along those lines too when they initiated the sweat lodge system. They used the natural antibiotic fungicides from a forest to help heal people. Walk in to a pine forest when the temperatures are about 60º C and the air is rising, the pine trees produce a huge chemical factory from the needles, which are really modified leaves. From a distance you can even see a slight bluish haze rising from a pine forest. This reminds me of the Blue Ridge Forest, which was mainly deciduous. Chemicals are literally exhaled from the trees. They help breathing and provide a mild anesthetic.

Beresford-Kroeger says that in Ireland where they do deep meditation in forests they can actually “hear the trees”. Like children who have much better hearing than adults, can sometimes actually hear the tree. Her theories have not all been scientifically validated at this time. Yet, perhaps, it makes sense to hug a tree.

Many of us realize that nature infuses us with an inexplicable calm. Without understanding why, many of us find refuge in a park, even if just for a short stroll. That was how I felt at the Cathedral Grove.

This was forest bathingat its finest.

Clovis People

 

The first people known and identified people to occupy the western  Hemisphere have been called Clovis. It is believed they crossed into the western hemisphere from Asia by travelling through Beringia the land bridge. After that they spread south and east and evidence of their existence has been found in many places.  It is believed that it took less than 2,000 years for them to reach the southern tip of South America. That is why many call them the first Americans, even though there is tantalizing but uncertain evidence of prior human occupation. The people were called Clovis after an archaeological site in New Mexico. I have driven near to Clovis but have not yet been there. Another pity.

Scientists have learned a lot about Clovis people from archaeological sites, particularly mammoth kills dating from about 9,500 B.C. (or 11,500 B.P.) to about 9,000 B.C. (11,000 B.P.). Scientists have discovered thousands of artifacts from those sites. In particular they found “Clovis” fluted spear points that were used for scraping cutting. These were tools of stone and some of ivory. Although elephant ivory is the most important source of ivory, it also comes from mammoths, walrus, hippopotamus, sperm whale, orca, and wart hog.

Most Clovis sites that have been discovered were near water. These people lived lives on the endangered species list, or at least would have if such a list had been created 11,000 years ago. As David Hurst Thomas said, “Clovis men and women faced extinction every day.”

North America at that time was a tough neighbourhood. If a Clovis hunter made one mistake and suffered serious injury he would die and his family would likely starve. They often “competed one-on-one for food with fierce predators and scavengers.” At the time North American still contained ferocious giant bears and sabre-toothed cats. People that survived in that  environment were extraordinary.

Hunting during this time required enormous skill and knowledge, but they also had important attitudes. As David Hurst Thomas explained,

“As boys grew up, they discovered the nature and needs of their homeland—how to stalk, where to hide, how the wind worked, how animals behaved when startled. They accepted that mammoths and long-horned bison willingly made themselves available to humans, but only in exchange for a measure of deference. Disrespect was an affront that not only sabotaged the hunt, but also threatened the success of other hunters. Religious specialists were sometimes required to ensure appropriate etiquette toward the supernatural.”

Although Clovis people disappeared these respectful attitudes toward  nature and animals did not. They resurfaced in many other Indigenous people of the Americas. For example similar rites were later found among the Naskapi indigenous people of Labrador! When the Clovis people hunted the huge mammoth’s spirit by entranced drumming and singing. It is speculated that before the kill the Clovis hunter would address this enormous beast that stood 14 feet tall at the shoulders by calling out the prey and its kinship names. Perhaps the hunter apologized for what came next and asked the animal for understanding  and promised to treat it with respect. As David Hurst Thomas said, “The carcass was butchered in a special way, with some parts placed on display or disposed of ritually. It was important that the animal’s life force return home, regenerate its flesh, and come back another time.” Such respectful attitudes to prey were in stark contrast to the attitude of European migrants that came centuries later.

Hopi Spirituality

The San Francisco Peaks are the hugest mountains in Arizona and they can be seen from nearly everywhere in Northern Arionza. The Peaks are sacred to the Hopi, an Indigenous People of the American Southwest.

The Hopi Reservation is entirely surrounded by Navajo lands.  The landscape is harsh and barren, so at least it appears. Actually it is far from barren. The Hopi have cultivated crops here for a thousand years.

The Hopi are deeply religious people. Their religion is a big part of their ordinary lives. Their religious ceremonies often focus on kachina which are spirit figures that symbolize nature in all of its forms. Carver wooden dolls, called kachina are ubiquitous in gift shops in the area. During the growing season kachina dancers get in on the act by representing the spiritual figures.  Through the kachina the Hopi worshipped the living plants and animals that they believed arrived each year to stay with the tribe during the growing season.

Most of the Hopi villages are on or near three of the three flat topped mesas. They are name First, Second, and Third Mesa. We drove by the first two. When we were in the area a couple of years ago we drove by 2 of them and took note of the homes at the top but we had been advised it would not be a good idea to stop and photograph them from in town as friends of ours who had lived with them for a year had told us we would not be welcome. We did photograph them from a distance and I included a photograph in an earlier post.

Currently, the Hopi  continue the agricultural practices and many of the ceremonies of their Anasazi forebears.  Hopi villages still contain underground chambers called kivas which are said to represent the hole in the ground through which it was believed people emerged into the world.  There is also a  Hopi legend, that makes a lot of sense to me, that  humanity has 3 times led to the destruction of the natural world by failing to honour the Creator’s divine  laws. However, 3 times humanity has come back into being. Let’s hope they (we) do a better job this time around.

 

Pueblo People of American Southwest

 

There are many beautiful places in the American Southwest. It is easy to feel connected to them.

One of the things I learned from the television series Native America, was that the Pueblo people of the American southwest were doing the same thing as the Indigenous People of the Amazon Rainforest thousands of miles away. As Robbie Robertson the narrators said, “The Pueblo people seek the same thing: to find their place in the world. They discover it in America’s Southwest.” Many times living out there, I thought I found it too. This is my place too. Maybe not my only place, but certainly my place.

The Hopi have a very complex religion with a rich mythological tradition. Just as it is with so many other religious groups, including Christians, it is not easy to find any customs or beliefs that all Hopi accept. Each village or mesa may have slightly different versions of their central myths. Some also suspect that stories told to outsiders are not genuine but merely told to tell curious people something, while holding the real versions close to themselves. Hopi people are often reluctant to share their sacred doctrines. Hopi are also often syncretic. They are willing to adopt sacred practices or beliefs from others when they find them helpful. For example if a practice helps bring rain why not use it?

Many Hopi creation stories revolve around Tawa, the sun spirit. Contemporary Hopi continue to petition Tawa for blessings for their newborn children. Tawas is the creator who formed the “First World” and its original inhabitants.

They also have interesting accounts of Masauwu or Skeleton Man who was the Spirit of Death and Master of the Upper World, or Fourth World  so that people who escaped the wickedness of the Third World could be safe in the Fourth World. Sometimes Masauwu was described as wearing a hideous mask. At other time Masauwu was described as handsome.

Maize or corn is central to Hopi subsistence and also religion. It is a central bond among people. In essence Hopi often see corn as physical sustenance, spiritual renewal, ceremonial objects and instruments of prayers. Often corn is seen as the Great Mother. In a literal sense this actually true. People who take in corn convert it into their own flesh inside their bodies.

The Hopi found their center in the American Southwest. It was the end of their migrations. They believe they are doing what Masauwu told them to do–connect to the world. Be a part of it. Indivisible from it.  This is a theme I shall return to over and over again as I discuss Indigenous religious experiences or doctrines. By finding the center place Hopi believe they have honoured the commitment they made when they entered the world.

Along the way on their spiritual journey Native Americans created Chaco, balanced between the underworld and the heavens. They found 6 directions aligned to the movement of the sun and stars all aligned to the cosmos. This is another central concept of many Indigenous religious beliefs and practices. That was why Chaco drew people from thousands of miles away. Visitors brought hallowed objects like turquoise stones, tropical bird feather, seashells, and chocolate.

In the television series, Patricia Crown said, “Both cacao and scarlet macaws are tropical species that were brought from a great distance into Pueblo Bonito. There’s no question that there was this very large area of shared beliefs in ritual activities.” Chaco was a place where people came from vast distances to share with each other what they had learned. What could be more holy than that? “People share knowledge and beliefs based on thousands of years of observing their world. They have ceremonies to influence the very forces of nature that are still practiced today.”  Hopi traditions say that Chaco was a special place to study the forces of nature. “It grows out of a deep connection with the earth, planted in time immemorial, developed over tens of thousands of years and shared across 2 continents by the pioneering people who created this world. They are Native Americans. Their teachings remain as relevant today as ever.”

Zuni

 

Jim Enote is an elder of the Ashiwi Nation, a Pueblo group in what is now New Mexico and Northern Arizona known as the Zuni. He says that when his people come to water they lift it and splash themselves with it and then they throw it in the direction of Zuni to encourage rain. They have a name for this very large area in Northern Arizona. They call it the place of emergence.  It includes what we now call the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon. I visited large parts of the area on a number of occasions. It is incredibly beautiful. Perhaps the most beautiful on earth.

 

I don’t know the exact boundaries of Zuni territory but I believe these photos are from in or near their historical territory.

Monument Valley is in my opinion one of the most beautiful places on earth and I am surprised how few people who winter in Arizona never visit it or haven’t even heard of it.

 

In that region the Zuni produced petroglyphs that have been there for more than a thousand years. To the Zuni this is not just art; it is history. One of them shows a row of sheep descending to the water. It is an ancient lesson. To find water follow the animals.

Jim and the Zuni have been using ancient petroglyphs, images from pottery, and from tapestries, and have considered their thoughts and prayers and together with all that have been making unique maps based on these images. Those maps are unlike any other maps in the world. “Not limited by lines or topography, they depict cultural landscapes and living memories.” Jim Enote put it this way,  in the documentary series Native America that I watched this past winter, “The Zuni maps represent the world without defined boundaries.”

Many people are familiar with maps that contain streets and roads. But there is another way. The Zuni have found one of those other ways. As Enote said, “When they see Zuni hand painted maps, they realize there is a different way of looking at the world.” Isn’t that what travel and education are all about, finding different ways of looking at the world? Isn’t this why we converse with people of different cultures? Is this not what the world of ideas is all about? This is why I watch television shows like this one.

This different way of looking at the world is shared across North America. It is a reverence for place. Sacred caves, underground sanctuaries, grand canyons, real physical connections to earth. Its why many call it Mother Earth.

People like Enote when they visit a place like the Grand Canyon, with its steep walls of red rock, like those I saw at Canyon de Chelly, or Monument Valley, both in the same area, get the feeling that they are in a womb. They are inside Mother Earth. That is a deep and powerful connection! Enote said, in front of an incredible film of Horseshoe Canyon where I stood 2 years, “This is the place we came from so the river is like an umbilical cord. It’s all part of the Mother. The Mother is where we begin. Its our ultimate reference point.” Now that is a real connection to the physical earth.

I took this photo of Horseshoe Canyon getting as close to the edge as a person who is deathly afraid of heights could get. When he said that, I could not help but recollect the words of Paul Tillich that profound German theologian who defined God as our ultimate concern.