Every Day Is Earth Day: Quotable Native Wisdom About the Environment

Indian Country Today

Every Day Is Earth Day: Quotable Native Wisdom About the Environment

Native Americans have been the keepers of the Turtle Island since time immemorial, Native wisdom should be trusted

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated in New York City; today, the event is celebrated in some 175 countries. It’s a good occasion to reflect on some profound Native sayings and proverbs:

“Only when the last tree has died,? the last river been poisoned,? and the last fish been caught? will we realize we cannot eat money.” —Cree Proverb

“We are the natural nurturers of the Earth Mother. The Earth Mother needs our help, she needs our prayers. We need to educate the women of the world that prayer works.” —Agnes Baker-Pilgrim

“When a man does a piece of work which is admired by all we say that it is wonderful; but when we see the changes of day and night, the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky, and the changing seasons upon the earth, with their ripening fruits, anyone must realize that it is the work of someone more powerful than man.” —Chief Standing Bear

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” —Native American Proverb

“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.” —Crazy Horse

“When the earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear. When that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.” —Chief Seattle

“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” —Qwatsinas (Hereditary Chief Edward Moody), Nuxalk Nation

“I love the land of winding waters more than all the rest of the world. A man who would not love his father’s grave is worse than a wild animal.” —Chief Joseph

“I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds and sheltered by the trees, as other Indian babes. I can go everywhere with a good feeling.” —Geronimo

“The land is sacred. These words are at the core of your being. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies.” —Mary Brave Bird

“The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the blood of our ancestors.” —Plenty Coups, Crow

The Great Spirit is in all things: he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our father, but the earth is our mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us.” —Big Thunder (Bedagi) Wabanaki Algonquin

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents—it was loaned to you by your children.” —Indian proverb

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.” —Luther Standing Bear

On Earth Day, 1971, a television commercial premiered that remains one of the most iconic images associated with then environmentalist movement: The “Keep America Beautiful” advertisement starring the infamous Iron Eyes Cody as the “Crying Indian”. Iron Eyes Cody portrayed Indians in perhaps as many as 200 films during a career that lasted more than 60 years, advocated for Native American causes and basically lived his entire life as an American Indian—but was not, as it turns out, Indian at all.

Still, for Americans of a certain age, the advertisement was hugely effective, and its premise is valid: That the original stewards of Turtle Island have a right to be horrified at what’s been done to the land.