Earth Day 2020: In the time of COVID-19

Dr. Henrietta Mann

A message by AISES Council Elder Henrietta Mann

Henrietta Mann, PhD 

Prayer Cloth Woman, Cheyenne-So’taa’e 

Today the planet is observing the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, a time for world citizens to consider the state of our common environment, escalating climate change, and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Regrettably, there is no vaccine, and the number of infections and fatalities climbs daily. Furthermore, this pandemic is creating a climate of insecurity, anxiety, and hopelessness as it spreads around the globe.

To understand the challenges of our contemporary world, let us look to our grandparent generations to ascertain their thinking and coping strategies as they confronted new environmental experiences. They, too, contracted unknown diseases such as smallpox, measles, whooping cough, and cholera that the strangers brought to their encampments, villages, pueblos, and homelands. They, too, saw their populations decline, and mourned their losses. Ultimately, they accepted their changed circumstances as the ongoing nature of life. What sustained them was their unwavering hope for the future.

We love this Earth, and indigenous thinking teaches us to embrace each day as Earth Day. We are expected to acknowledge the continuity of our kinship obligations every day: one to another, and to all life. Those relationships include the Earth, four winds, sun, and water. Our ancestors in their systems of traditional ecological knowledge view this Earth as a comprehensive, interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent complete whole. They existed within one environment and treated this earth and all that exists within it as beloved and honored relatives with whom they were to live in respectful reciprocity. They were to live in mutuality with all life and to walk lightly upon this much-loved Earth.

This cursory look at American Indian history is just a glimpse of traditional ecological knowledge, an extraordinary legacy that advances the basic principle that all life exists within one Earth. Human beings are but a single small part of our Earth, which is made up of a network of egalitarian relationships.

As indigenous youth you are the pivotal generation. You must protect this Earth from environmental degradation, climate change, and pandemics. You must draw upon the gifts of knowledge from your grandparents, and the education you are pursuing in the academy. You must live in sustainable balance with your environment. You must be always ready to confront the unknown.

Remember: Water is life. You are water related to the rain, streams, rivers, and oceans.

Remember: Sun is light and warmth. You carry the fire from the sun within, and you are related to the sun and the sacred fire at your ceremonies.

Remember: Air is the breath of life. You carry this sacred breath of life in your lungs and are related to the winds that blow from the four directions.

Remember: Earth is your only home. There is no place else for you to live. You are Earth.

Like you, I am the Earth. Ho’e Na’Ne’hove

Celebrate this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

Henrietta Mann, PhD
Prayer Cloth Woman, Cheyenne-So’taa’e