Skip to main content

Red and 'green' makes sense


As inheritors of indigenous knowledge and original instructions regarding the proper care for our Mother the Earth and all our relations in the natural world, Indian people seem the most likely of messengers for conservationism and ''green'' practices. On this we can agree. But Indian people tend not to use the popular terminology associated with the current movement to fight global warming. As a result, the critical messages delivered by our elders continue to go unheard amid the voices of hipper, younger darlings of pop culture.

So it appeared for those not actually present at the Mother Earth concert, sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., July 7. The event kicked off the United States' leg of the 24-hour Live Earth concerts to rally global action on climate change. The surprise appearance by former vice president Al Gore, chair of the Alliance for Climate Protection and a partner of Live Earth, brought international attention to the museum's excellent program of Native elders, scholars and musicians that otherwise would not have garnered such substantial media play. Kudos to NMAI for landing Gore. We offer gratitude to the speakers, including Dr. Henrietta Mann, Katsi Cook, Dr. Daniel Wildcat and Tim Johnson, who delivered to the world messages of love and Thanksgiving on behalf of Native America.

We hope those critical words did not fall on deaf ears. If the movement toward a sustainable future does not emphasize the traditional lifeways of the world's indigenous peoples, it will become about little more than fashionably ''green,'' eco-friendly consumerism. There is still much work to be done by Indian peoples to ensure our message is at the forefront, informing the entire movement on indigenous concepts of consciousness. Take one blogger's description of the Mother Earth show as an illustration: ''... judging by its sub-spiritual name and the American Indian museum location, we expect we'll be in for an hour or two of interminable chanting of some kind.'' To paraphrase Wildcat's ''Red Alert'' speech, the stereotypes of Indian people must be discarded before our ancient prophecies and teachings can be appreciated.

As a step forward in the movement, it is critical that the indigenous concept of the First Environment is embraced. Championed by Cook, a Mohawk midwife and activist, it is the idea that ''reproductive justice and environmental justice intersect at the nexus of woman's blood and voice, at the very centrality of women's roles in the processes and patterns of continuous creation.'' Humankind survives but for the health of women's bodies, thus making pollution and toxic contaminates everyone's problem. From this standpoint, it becomes clear that enjoying a healthy environment is a human right.

Finally, awareness of global warming must couple ''green'' living tips with a deeper sense of cultural outrage for the harm done to the natural world by the policies which allowed industry to become more important than the delicate relationship we share with the Earth. It is the way of indigenous peoples; it must be the way for all peoples.