Caretakers must renew commitment to Natural World


The guiding principle of the Haudenosaunee, since time immemorial, has been a spiritual communication with the natural world. Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, the Words That Come Before All Else, the oration that opens and closes all Haudenosaunee ceremonial and civic gatherings, are based on a closely held belief that the gifts of the Natural World cannot be taken for granted. They place the human being in the full context of Creation before all other deliberation.

Ancient peoples passed this important teaching through generations, creating a hereditary culture of thanksgiving and acknowledgment of all living things that aligns the hearts and minds of the people with nature. This relationship was meant to prevent us from doing acts of harm to nature, and thus, to ourselves.

The collective knowledge of indigenous people and the scientific community converge on many fronts: medicine, technology, agriculture, astronomy. Now conclusive reports on global climate change have emerged, fully supporting the cry of Native peoples: Earth cannot and will not sustain the environmental and atmospheric damage perpetrated by humankind. Indigenous people have long warned that modern industrialization - conquest rather than co-existence - is devastating the natural balance. When the trees begin to die from the top down, the elders said, it will be a signal that the Mother Earth has begun to purify itself. The dominant culture has ignored and ridiculed these prophesies, to grave consequences.

In early April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, representing the consensus of the international scientific community on the matter, released its findings: It is ''very likely'' that global climate change has been induced by humans. Its definition of ''very likely'' is ''more than 90 percent.'' Predicted within the report are severe tropical storms, rising sea levels and the flooding of low-lying islands and coastlines, melting Arctic sea ice and retreating glaciers, and more heat waves leading to widespread drought and famine.

The perception that the debate over global warming rages on is fueled in large part by bickering heads on cable news programs in a puerile effort to provide ''balanced reporting.'' But there is no credible opposition, unless you count mega-powerful corporate public relations and industry lobbyists that seek to reposition scientific fact as theory. We've all witnessed the beginning of this dramatic shift in nature's balance. Experts no longer have to use models to demonstrate their dire predictions.

Our friend, the late John Mohawk, asked, ''Who would have thought a time would come when the Indian prophets and the scientists would be on one side, and the end-of-nature crowd would direct environmental policy from Washington?'' President Bush, leader of this country's loyal dominion-and-exploitation club, continues to wear his denial on his sleeve. The Supreme Court just ruled the federal government had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Bush's non-response: he put the onus on other major polluters like China to act first, ignoring the fact that the United States produces one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Native peoples have taken matters into their own hands. Grass-roots sustainability projects throughout Indian country demonstrate the notion that small-scale success, when shared and replicated, can lead to tremendous change. Native Wind's Intertribal Council on Utility Policy is a major alliance between tribes. Tribes, working together in four states, are generating energy resources on Indian lands, keeping benefits local and creating paths for energy independence.

To properly address global warming, advises COUP's Bob Gough, tribes must use energy more efficiently and wisely, and seek ways to generate energy from renewable sources. ''More of the energy we do use has to come from renewable sources, not fossil fuels,'' Gough tells us. Doing so strengthens tribal sovereignty by reducing dependence on external and foreign energy sources. There are many ways to become more energy efficient, and we are glad to see tribal leaders such as Billy Frank Jr., Debbie Tewa and others seeking solutions. Tribes, communities, families and individuals can all make significant contributions if given confidence and support.

We are encouraged that tribal entities are beginning to pay serious attention to the multiple energy issues that contribute to global warming and the destruction of the Earth's ability to nurture life, including human life. Recently the Native world's foremost cultural institution, the National Museum of the American Indian, has been gathering forces, in research and public programs, seeking to make an impact. A conference, ''Call to Consciousness on Global Warming and the Fate of Mother Earth,'' is set for this fall and promises to be a focal point for Native peoples throughout the hemisphere.

There is no more time to debate the evidence of climate change. Now is the time to act, and to decide if ours will be the generation of indigenous peoples who responded in a meaningful way to the Natural World's distress call.