You know how as we all go through life we have those a-ha moments, or epiphanies or revelations, whatever you want to call it. I had one the other day as my wife was reading me an excerpt from the book “Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of the Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer a citizen of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
What caught my attention was the following: “On one side of the world were people whose relationship with the living world was shaped by Skywoman, who created a garden for the well-being of all. On the other side was another woman with a garden and a tree. But for tasting its fruit, she was banished from the garden and the gates clanged shut behind her. That mother of men was made to wander in the wilderness and earn her bread from the sweat of her brow, not by filling her mouth with the sweet juicy fruits that bend the branches low. In order to eat, she was instructed to subdue the wilderness into she was cast.
Same species, same earth, different stories. Like Creation stories everywhere, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness, One story leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment. One woman is our ancestral gardener, a co-creator of the good green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other was in exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.
And then they met – the offspring of Skywoman and the children of Eve – and the land around us bears the scars of that meeting, the echoes of our stories. They say that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and I can only imagine the conversation between Eve and Skywoman: “Sister, you got the short end of the stick.”
For all the times I’ve heard these stories throughout my life this is the first time that I’ve heard them presented from the legacies of these two women. This sets in place the starting point of the deep fundamental differences between our civilizations and Western Civilization. For me, it completes a picture I’ve had in my mind as I’ve worked to understand and express those differences.
For me it began a number of years ago when my attention was caught by the revelation of the source of alcohol as it’s explained to us in our prophecies. We are told that alcohol started out as a medicine because those people (Westerners) had to work so hard. I later learned that one of the punishments the Western God put on Eve and Adam is that for all time they were doomed to have to work hard to have a life.
This is in stark contrast to our Teachings that tell us that everything that is needed for a good life has been provided to us. We are taught that these offerings are gifts that each living being of the living world has decided to provide to us. All that has been required of us is to be thankful and mindful of the generosity of the living world making sure that the seventh generation in the future would inherit the same bounty and goodness.
The other phrase that stayed with me as I’ve thought about this is the one: “…passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.” We have a similar understanding that when our time in the Physical Realm has ended we return to our origin place in the Spirit Realm, the same place our Grandmother Sky Woman came from. The difference in the beliefs arises in the understanding that this Physical Realm was created for us, that it is a physical manifestation of what exists in the Spirit Realm. It is equally as much our home as our place in the Spirit Realm. This is not an alien world to us but rather a place that has been lovingly prepared for us.
The other contrast is that we believe in and honor the living spirit of all life that shares this living world with us. They are not subservient to us nor have they been placed here for our exploitation. In our Creation Stories there are the Teachings of what each of these Beings agreed to do and to provide so that we may have a life here. There is this overriding principle of reciprocity between us and them.
These Teachings and understandings preclude the idea that somehow we can be owners of another living being. Some of them have made great sacrifices so that we may have a life here as seen in the story of the Muskrat who dives to the bottom of the great ocean and died bringing back a bit of mud to begin the transformation of the world.
Then there is the recounting of the agreements made between our first ancestors and each of the living beings who agreed to support us. As one listens to the recounting of these agreements you can’t help be struck by the fact that they are saying to us that they are prepared to give up their lives so that ours may continue. What they ask in return is quite simple: be thankful, don’t over harvest, and do what you can to insure sustainability seven generations into the future.
Simple, but hard to achieve in this day and age. I recently had a conversation about fracking and while I’m against it I also believe we have to do something to address the fact of its existence. In a perfect world we would not have allowed it to occur, but here it is and what can we do to address its existence as well as do what we can to stop its growth. So I’ve put my attention to two things – first, how do we accelerate and grow the use of green, renewable energies, and secondly, what can be done to address the by-products brought about from the flaring of gasses and the insistence on using clean water in this process? What caught my attention was my friend’s lack of willingness to address the situation but sticking to an adamant insistence that there be no fracking.
One is not a priority over the other, they must be addressed simultaneously. And this cannot be done alone it must be done in partnership with others including the other living beings. This doesn’t mean we all have to be on the same page but it does mean that we will each be a chapter in the same book. If the title of the book is Sustainability then each of us have a contribution we can make to the success of this book.
I respect my friend’s position that there be no more fracking and I support their efforts to stop any further destruction. That is their chapter. My chapter is about how do we stop the flaring of the gases into the atmosphere and develop green renewable energy technologies more rapidly to eliminate the insanity of raping and pillaging our Mother?
This may be more easily achievable when you see and acknowledge that you’re a descendant of Sky Woman. The descendants of Eve have a lot of trauma, anger, and fear to get through to be able to see that there is another way to live in this beautiful place. Slowly, I think there are some who are beginning to heal and change but will there be enough in time to insure that there is a future for the seventh generation?
Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network's mission is to support sustainable development and nation rebuilding through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.