Native American Land Ethics 8.06.13

Circle of Life Pendleton Blanket

Circle of Life Pendleton Blanket

Copyright © 2015 The Tzó-Nah Fund

People working with American Indians in regard to land management run into problems with a difference in worldviews.  There is a lack of understanding of how American Indians view land.  To say the very least, this has been ongoing since first contact.  “A worldview may be understood as a set of conceptual presuppositions, both conscious and unconscious, articulate and inarticulate, shared by members of a culture.”  (Overholt and Callicott (1982).

Land consciousness for the American Indian permeates to the core.  Somehow, speaking the same language as a non-Indian doesn’t convey any message believable or important for the American Indian.  I have worked with many non-natives in my lifetime in regard to the environment and natural resources.  In spite of my many conversations, and actually teaching a class, non-natives will tell me they understand intellectually but cannot grasp “native think” as important.  This comes from non-natives with degrees in such fields as environmental science, agriculture, and any earth science.

The American Indian has been studied in great magnitude.  It is amazing the American Indian is still not understood.  Even if you take a non-native into the forests for 21 days, you still come back with someone who understands experientially, but does not have enough to understand American Indian worldview.

For the American Indian all and everything in the natural world is interrelated.  Right action is the four directions, a wheel of harmonious balance between the human, tribe or nation (community), the larger world and the earth.   “Our ways teach us that we should try in this time and space what you are responsible for.  Your responsibility is to keep peace within that space around you, within your own space” (Shenandoah 1992).  The community is an extended one including ancestors and those yet unborn, seven generations into the future.  The larger world is the plants, animals, rocks and so on contributing to the sense of place, the geography of the nations and which we are intimately connected.  It is our responsibility to take care of the earth to keep it in balance.

Spiritual beliefs would play a part in how the land is managed.  Everything in the natural world, including humans, are in a circle of life.  There is no hierarchy, an insect is no more worthy than a human.  Water is the lifeblood of earth and must be used carefully for a successful equilibrium of using only what the land can provide, not more.  All is sacred, All is interrelated, Mother Earth and Right Action.

The American Indian ethic of land is different, very different from Euro-American scientific-utilitarian model of land ethics.  American Indian use of the land is based on survival and thanksgiving.  How it is used, without ethics in place, means waste and goes beyond one’s lifetime.  “The philosophy of management must seek to do what is most beneficial for the land itself rather than seeking to enhace our exploitation of it” (1992 Vine Deloria).