For Original Instructions book group: do the assigned readings before you come to class on the date listed; enter your reading homework for these three questions here (be sure to add useful comments on your topic page).

2/28 3/14 3/28 4/11 4/25
Read Preface, Intro & Ch 1-6 (p. 52) Read Ch 7-12 (p. 115) Read Ch 13, 14, 15  & 17and post responses for Preface, Intro & Ch 1-17 (16: optional)(p. 167) Ch 18, 19 , 21,  23, 24, 25, 26, 27 (20&22: optional) (p. 250) Ch 28, 29, 30, 31 & 33  (32: optional) and post responses for Ch 18-33
  1. Explain how one idea in the reading relates to other topics already covered in class or something you learned elsewhere (another class or life experience).
  2. List what you think are the three to five most important points made in the reading.
  3. Write a question to provoke discussion among others who read the same passage.

40 Responses to “Original Instructions

  1. mtcaldwell Says:

    Indigenous people do not see themselves as masters of the world. They try instead to be in tune with it and adapt.

    They have learned how to “get along” with their region of the planet by observing the way nature works. This is the opposit of our developed world. We pride ourselves on our ability to control or manage our environment. We consider ourselves masters of our universe.

    As we have seen from the latest events in Japan,
    this is definitely not the case. Not only that but we seem to learn very little.

    All of the efforts to go slow or careful with nuclear power development were of little use in the face of corporate desire. Now it seems that there will be a real slowdown in development due to the reluctance of wall street to invest in nuclear power rather than listen to the public.

  2. abellac Says:

    In Original Instructions this week, a strong concept of “ga no ya,” which is an opening speech to find what everyone is on the same side as and what everyone in the meeting agree on, John Mohawk finds that more and more people are beginning to see the environment in the same way. He claims that many people want to “…make the food the way it was, to make the water the way it was, to make our bodies and everything on the planet the way they were, the way nature intended them to be. I can now see that scientists can help us do that. I can see now that there are scientists that think that way too, and in that regard it seems to me tht the natural-world people and scientific people- all kinds of people, even buisness people- can be on the same side as something”(51).
    This statement really touches me because I feel that the science world can help teach people (inform) and help tranform that world back into its natural self. I have strong hope for the earth being a happy, healthy place. My parents, aunt, uncles, and cousins are scientists and I can see in this generation that they want to restore and protect what is natural.

    1. abellac Says:

      The most important parts of this reading to me are:
      1. Seeing more than one holy land. Not seeing lands far away that have natural resources and wishing we had those resources, but seeing that all land is holy…. “[F]ailing to aknowledge the whole earth is sacred” and that no part of the world will preveil more than another (Leslie Grey).
      2. Trying to find a way to define and express the deep and emotional connection to the environment, to one’s place, and to one’s culture. (Discussed pg. 97-102).
      3. All of us have to be the environment. We are all from: plants, air, soil, insects, animals, eachother, we all share molecules and we all are part of the earth’s re-cycling system.
      4. “Humans are not innately destructive…it has to do with culture, it has to do with a way of relating to the land that implies both spiritual and ecological wisdom…”(Denis Martinez).
      5. “A key to any kind of restoration is to think about the traditional diets of communities. Once these diets are returned to the community it means that these people are living sustainably with their environment. The diet does something else then, it’s returning a form of nutrition that is unique to the specific place”(Enrique Salmon).

    2. abellac Says:

      Like the Raramuri clan (Tarahumara), who are children of the corn and look at their stories, dances, and rituals as metaphors for their lives and their cycles on the land, what metaphors do you have from your culture?

    3. megmem04 Says:

      Iya i loved how you pointed out Dennis Martinez’s point that humans are not innately destructive. He was right on when saying that the modern generations of humans feel as if nature is better without humans and it is a black and white issue. That we have and always will be destructive to the earth. I think if we realize that we have not always been these destructive peoples and there is a way to live in peace with the natural world we could be so inspired! I would hope to a point where people are willing to give up their modern lifestyle in order to make sure there is a future generation of our species.

  3. mtcaldwell Says:

    I interpreted the greeting “Be Well”
    as a possibility that we are indeed our brother’s keeper. We are all interconnected in one way or another. The success or failure of others in our social circles can affect us in many ways.

    1. mtcaldwell Says:

      To continue my comment, the present disaster in Japan shows that even a rich highly developed tecnological nation can be overwhelmed in a minute with a disaster that it cannot cope with. Even with massive help from other countries, it wil take years to recover. And this country is perhaps the best prepared in the world for a large easthquake. We all need each other.

  4. As I read this book and listen to all of the topics covered in this class, I am struck by the simple truth that as we look to the future to create solutions to the challenges we are facing in this world today, the many of the answers that we seek lie in the wisdoms of many cultures of the past, as well as the numerous past cultures continuing to practice and live these wisdoms today, which have been passed down for thousands of years and have allowed these peoples to survive, adapt and thrive in balance with all life, throughout the many major world changes that have ensued during the course of their existence. And as we speak of systems thinking, creation and production based on using nature as a model – utilizing their key design principles –run on sunlight, -use only what you need, -recycle everything, -local expertise, -diversity, and cooperation, etc…, I see once again that we need look no further than the wealth of Indigenous cultures in existence throughout the world who through their Indigenous Knowledge, defined by the Canadian International Development Agency as “(IK) represents the accumulated experience, wisdom and know-how, unique to cultures, societies, and/or communities of people, living in an intimate relationship of balance and harmony with their local environments”(Settee 45), have been a living example and model these principles and types of thinking we need to embrace in order to survive our future.

    The very definition of sustainability given in the beginning of this course “-Meeting the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” , (an idea of which we as modern Western culture have shown a disturbing and downright humiliating lack of ability to move with a foresight and consciousness of this simple concept of sustainability for future generations to come that should befit a so-called ‘civilized’ culture), is one that could very well be a valid definition of describing the model of how many Indigenous cultures already, and have for thousands of years, think and live (especially during pre-colonization times). The best example of this is referred to by the Cree native, Clayton Thomas-Miller, as the “Seventh Generation Prophesy”, a concept held and continually questioned by Native Americans, as well as many indigenous peoples in different ways, all over the globe, which is essentially “ about thinking ahead seven generations, the actions that you have today will impact your children’s, children’s, children’s seven times over.” (Thomas-Miller 242) This same thinking style, defined as ‘Native American Pragmatism’ in the book of the same name, describes this as “a way of thinking about the world that demands the thinker to look at the outcomes” and “it requires that all elements of an outcome be desirable.” (Mowhawk 130-131) Once again, this shows me the importance as we look to find sustainable solutions for the future, that we seek the wisdom of those still in existence today, who have already been practicing many of the very answers we seek for hundreds of generations, and thousands of years.

    If it is true that we have come so far in western culture from a system that has shown ability to exibit “clear thinking” in terms of “how to obtain the sustainability of our species on the planet” rather than just of “how to enrich the rich” (Mohawk 57-58) then there are two important questions that remain. The first being -Where, in the foundational system of belief that this system is built upon, did we go wrong? And second –What do we need to do, both individually and collectively, in order to change the course of thinking that led us to the global imbalance and crisis that we currently face, and from there, how do we, from this point forth, move forward in a more sustainable way?
    Well, In response to the first question of -Where, in the foundational system of belief that this system is built upon, did we go wrong? I feel that there are many places throughout ‘history’ that we could look, deeper and deeper, as far as and even farther than some of our earliest records contain, but I will for the sake of this particular commentary, begin in the time of the middle ages, beginning in the 1400’s. To use the words of John Mohawk, “ I think that what happened (beginning) sometime around 1450,… is that the whole culture fell into a period of madness. It fell into a period of madness when it went on a murderous rampage against people perceived to be purveyors of magic. It found those people and the ones who did the herbal medicines, and most of those … were women, and they went on a murder and torture rampage against women in Europe that lasted 300 years.
    At the same time, they were expanding around the globe and they ran into other people who were also doing herbal medicines and were connected to nature in many other ways… They went on a murderous rampage against those people, Then they turned to nature and went on a murderous rampage against nature.” (Mohawk 262)
    Even though I believe that the root of this thinking goes back much further, I think that this “age of madness” shows the culmination of the fear thought process that has led us up to this point and of which we have in essence built our so-called ‘civilization’ on. For in essence what Europe and western civilization did during this time was wage a war on anything that they did not understand, the great mystery, and all those connected with it. This is the time in which our ‘great civilization’ waged war on nature, the earth and all connected to the wondrous mysteries that it contains. In this war it tortured and killed anywhere from 50,000 – 100,000 of it’s own people, mainly women over a 300 year period of time. They killed mothers, daughters, and wives in this mad rampage fueled by fear. They also committed near genocides on many indigenous peoples and attempted to destroy many cultural practices having to do with a spirituality connected to the earth and to plant medicines and wisdoms. And then, turning towards the earth itself, they waged a war on the earth itself the likes of which we have never seen, that continues strong up to the present day. And in this war they have successfully, through ought right biopiracy, stolen the natural plant medicines, known and used for generations by indigenous peoples and by women, altered and patented them, and profited outrageously from them, while making many of these plants that grow, or used to grow naturally all over, illegal for anyone to grow or be in possession of, often even to the native peoples that they pirated them from in the first place! We have leveled forests, brought extinction of many species of plant and animal as well as human life, over mined the earth in completely unsustainable and damaging and even toxic ways for every resource imaginable, used some of her most beautiful, pristine, sacred sites and waters as bomb target practice and toxic waste dump sites…. The list goes on and on and on.
    So now, in this madness we can see the foundation of what this culture has been built upon. A fear that fueled a war with nature, the earth and her wisdoms, the very mother which gives life to all creatures that exist on this planet, and on the peoples who have been living in respect, coexisting in balance with the earth, her plant medicines, food, and all life on this planet for thousands of years.
    To briefly look at the thought process that allowed us as a people to support and engage in this madness, and still to this day continue doing so, I will use the words of John Trudell as he speaks on the power of being a human being. “Part of the reason for the situation that we’re in is because almost everything we’re doing is in contradiction to the responsibility of being…There is a difference between spiritual and religious. Religious is about submission and obedience and authoritarianism. Spiritual is about taking responsibility… Submission is not taking responsibility. It is an easy convenient out … programmed into us that’s acceptable. We have been programmed to believe, we have not been taught to think. You cannot believe and think simultaneously… because belief limits thinking. Believing puts thinking in a box. So all thinking that goes on is limited by the definitions of the belief.” (Trudell 321&322) I appreciate these words because I feel that through them we can begin to see how masses of ordinary, every day people could allow and participate in such madness. Like the torture and murder their mothers, daughters, wives. Genocide or near genocide of entire peoples, the holocaust, thousands of children starving all over the world as we throw away enough food in this country to feed them all, and this war that we continue to wage on our planet that gives us life.
    For it is clear that we cannot exhibit clear thinking when we have willingly forfeited clear thinking and the responsibility that comes with is in exchange for a false security and comfortable blindfold. The price of which requires only obediently propagating the beliefs, without question, that have been spoon fed to us since birth.

    Well, I believe that is at least a start at an answer to the first question.

    And so now to the second one – What do we need to do, both individually and collectively, in order to change the course of thinking that led us to the global imbalance and crisis that we currently face, and from there, how do we, from this point forth, move forward in a more sustainable way? Wow. That one is a doosy eh? And one I hope as long as I live, I never see people stop asking it. Well that is a good one that I hope we all continue to put every drop of our creative, clear thinking, inspirational abilities toward, because we sure as light need it.

    Well, in terms of a thought process or consciousness that we could adopt in order aid a shift our thinking into one capable of bringing us back into balance with the planet and a responsible human being living upon it, it seems that a ‘trickster consciousness’ is in order. For “we cannot solve our global crisis with the same thought process that created it.” (nelson paraphrasing Albert Einstein) What is trickster consciousness? From the words of Gerald Vizenor, “Trickster consciousness is a comic liberator that craves chance, surprise, difference. The trickster is a healer in a fragmented world. The trickster denies singularity, monocultures, and completion. The trickster is communal, sensual, erotic. The trickster is going to help us get to our next place.” Melissa Nelson goes on to say that “The trickster is a teacher and reminder of plurality, diversity, paradox, humor, surprise, and humility. Trickster forces us to retain an understanding of all sides of a story by revealing them to be coexisting parts of one greater whole- interconnected and indistinguishable… Trickster consciousness helps to facilitate a paradigm shift in our thinking.”(Nelson 290-292)
    Also doing some kind of significant healing ritual or ceremony, as the Southern Paiute Nation has done with the Salt Song Trail Project (Nelson 294) is something that anyone who needs healing from past injustices our “civilization” has committed, is also a positive step in our journey to be responsible humans and move forward to a better present and future together.

    Once again I agree adamantly with the statement “Our connection to the land has to be the foundation of our society” (Sam 40) And that it is crucial, as was stated throughout the book, that we truly need to redevelop a deep respect for the land and all life, not just as an objective idea, but as a deep knowing and understanding that ‘the land is us’ and ‘we are the environment’, releasing this illusory separation we have created between ourselves, the earth, and all ‘other’ forms of life that exist upon it with us. Modern peoples all over the world are finally beginning to wake up to the fact that our very survival as a species depends on it!

    Another crucial thing we need to do in order to help us rebuild this connection with the land is to take back control of our food and to do so with the understanding that “food is medicine and water is life” (Nelson 194) “The Fast Food Nation epidemic is creating a global monoculture of low quality consumers who have lost touch with their unique food practices. This is essentially creating a global health crisis where we have a billion people starving and a billion people obese. From a native perspective, this imbalance is creating a worldwide psycho-spiritual meltdown.” “There has been some strange, collective forgetting of the primary source of our life and vitality” (Nelson 182 & 183)
    As we grow, gather, eat and care for our own food the fog in our bodies and minds begin to clear and we reestablish connection with the land and with the wisdom it holds for us.

    Well, the things I listed are but a drop as we consider all we must do to shift the course we have been traveling on. And they are just a taste of the wealth of wisdom contained in this book, Original Instructions. But I believe they are some of the most basic, fundamental of truths that can help to clear out the weeds and allow new life and ideas to begin to grow again, replacing this despairing wasteland, without purpose, unfulfilled and alone, with the lush garden of our unified collective mind. But let us remember this question (What do we need to do, both individually and collectively, in order to change the course of thinking that led us to the global imbalance and crisis that we currently face, and from there, how do we, from this point forth, move forward in a more sustainable way?) as a mantra of sorts, to carry us every day, and continue to offer our solutions in small ways as well as larger ones. What can we do, right now, in each and every moment, in our thoughts, words, actions and deeds to bring us closer to this goal?

    I will close with the words of John Trudell as he speaks on the power of being a human being, as a call for us all to quit being dumbed down passive observers in this game of life. “Humanfolk are treating the planet as if a better one is coming on the market soon” (Ross 202) Well, there’s not, “So let’s take our clear, coherent minds and use our power and show respect to the Creator. To show respect to the Creator and the creation we should value the gifts and take responsibility for the tools that we were given. This is the power of a human being”(Trudell 321

  5. stacyjae Says:

    So much to say from this book. Indigenous knowledge has been so hidden by the colonial, post-colonial cultural genocide campaign for so long, it takes many pieces put into place to form the mosaic that is indigenous knowledge for those of us who have had the wool pulled over our eyes our entire lives.

    There is so much to say. So much that is beautifully peiced together in this book.

    I am left with the grand question: how do we integrate cultural changes – on a massive scale?
    We are very good about educating ourselves and changing our own ways as best we can. Grassroots movements can make a difference. AND the amount and scale of difference that needs to be made is monumentally larger than anything we have done by this problem/solution, step by step approach. As Albert Einstein is said to have stated: we cannot solve our global crisis with the same thought process that created it.

    Cultural change to a state level society, historically, is mostly caused by crisis (natural disaster or war). The few examples of such large cultural change happening without crisis have involved a common inspiring factor. Something that is inspiring to many. Such as was the case with Juan Diego, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, etc.
    It is great that we put our efforts in to do all we can with our various projects. Tinkering away at global issues. I am so grateful for us all. And it will take something different for the needed shift to happen.

    Some of the points in our book that stood out to me:

    “Humans are the environment” is an essential paradigm needed at the root of our life ways. The loss of this perspective has resulted in the many many mistaken actions causing the current circumstance: our possible demise and the demise of many life forms.

    The very creation (the whole of the web of interdependent creation)seen as sacred makes religious freedom synonymous to the right to live and be well.

    The split from environment and ourselves so deeply sabotages our own existence, even our conservation efforts destroys flora/fauna species.

    Over thousands of years, humans refined their cultural ways to flex along with the climate changes. Annihilation of these ways, these gems of knowledge has left us unfit, unprepared for the coming climate changes.

    The best way to save a food source is to eat it. Ecologically diverse hot spots have humans in them. Humans developed hundreds of food species (by selection over time), especially in the Andean areas.

    Healthy humans tend to be the ones living according to their indigenous ways, as discovered by Weston Price.

    The best way to learn and pass on Indigenous Knowledge is to do it, to live it, to share it (in action) – not on a book on the shelf.

    Spiritual practices and sustainable ways are often one and the same.

    Beyond flexibility in agriculture (permaculture), flexibility in thinking, as represented by the hero archetype Trickster, is essential to over coming/meeting painful situations, fear and the ever changing, unpredictable, spectrum of varied experiences. Decolonization of our minds begins with noticing our black and white way of thinking. This binary thought process is not reflective of the nature of our world. Thus causes the many problems we face today.

    Using our bodies with our minds inculcates the reality of a spectrum of experience; beyond the binary thinking pattern.

    So much more to say. So much more to learn. Let it be written in the story of our lives, in every moment lived.

    1. You said:
      Healthy humans tend to be the ones living according to their indigenous ways, as discovered by Weston Price.

      I totally agree, and I think that there is still a lot that we can learn from indigenous people about diet, environment, medicine, about everything, if we would only hold space for the ideas that we don’t know everything and that indigenous ways are not “primitive” or “uncivilized” in the way that we, as a society, implicitly tend to think they are.

      Learning from indigenous people means first helping them, because their lives and their livelihoods are threatened, and they need our support and care. Our forefathers made agreements (treaties) to the indigenous people of this land and we have not fought to uphold these agreements. A friend said to me once, until we make good with those treaties, we will never be the America that we claim to be. We owe this to them not only because it is the right thing to do for Everyone, but because we have a legal obligation to do so. We the People must stand up for the lives of these people so that the sweetness of life may continue.

  6. Doodá Desert Rock (Absoulutely NO! Desert Rock Power Plant)

    Tues, March 23 – Noon, Cabrillo College Student Activities Center – SAC East Rm 225

    A presentation about resistance to energy development on indigenous land. Speaker: Elouise Brown (Diné), plus short films.


    1. where do you find this stuff?!!
      this is exactly the type of thing i’ve been looking for and it’s been amazingly difficult… any tips?

    2. This one I found because someone put a flier in my campus mailbox. There are some local events listed at (but I’m sure there are way more events than get listed there). I post what I find at

  7. quotes i liked

    “controversy and debate on the commodification of the sacred and othe intellectual and cultural propery rights of Indig. peoples” xix

    “its instructions seem so simple: to be grateful–to practive reverence for community and creation–and to enjoy life.” xxii

    “there are at least 3500 mill people on the earth who id. themselves as IP. This is approximately 6-8 percent of the world population.” 3

    “indian peoples are nations, not minorities.” 3

    “this indig way of learning through observing and listening to stories and recognizing and valuing our learning spirits is quite different from comtemporary forms of mainstream edu where an authority figure usually shares abstracted, so-called “objective” information in a more linear, pedantic way.” 6

    “unlike many classical western and eastern prophecies, indig prophecies do not necessarily revolve around a prophet. maybe a prophet brrought the teaching, but the emphasis is ont he message, and the collective tribal body or community that holds that message, not the messenger.” 7

    “our goals are not to gain political control, monetary wealth nor military power, but rather to pray and to promote the welfare of all living beings and to preserve the world in a natural way.” 8

    “place-based spiritual responsibility and cognitive pluralism are imbedded in most Original Teachings. It is good that each nation, eaach tribe, each community perceives their ancestral lands as the center of the univers, as their holy land…. It is when people think there is only “one place” this is holy or only “one way” that is right that hegemony rears its ugly head and societies get into trouble with conflict and war.” 11

    “to say that american indians were the “first ecologists” fragments environmental matters from other issues of daily life and imposes a modern postcolonial concept onto a historical, precolonial context.” 13

    “when people do not understand things, it is easy to denigrate, romanticize, or exoticize different ways and peoples– to dehumanize the ‘Other’.”14

    ” …’Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder.’ Gross goes on to define his meaning by saying that today’s native peoples are in a ‘post-apocalyptic’ time because after conquest our worlds came to an end.” 15

    “today’s native americans are descendants of survivors of a holocaust. ‘the historical losses of native peoples meet the UN definition of genocide.” 15

    “native americans are disproportionately represented in high rates of suicide, incarceration, and death row sentencing.” 15

    “as the well-known south african social justice activist Steven Biko stated, ‘the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’ ” 16

    “…American society will be not at peace until modern Americans acknowledge the past treatment of American Indians and the fact the this country was built on genocide and slavery. there must be an acknowledgement of the truth, and apology, a reconciliation, restitution, and a healing..” 16

    “natives and nonnatives alike often ask, ‘who is a real indian?’ full-bloods, mixed-bloods, members of a federally recognized tribes, those who speak their language, those who live on their reservations, those who ‘look’ indian–are these real indians?” 16-7

    “neyawenha skannoh. it means ‘thank you for being well.’ The greeting in itself is something of an idea of how Indian people think and how their communities operate.
    what happens to you and what happens to the earth happens to us as wll, so we have, as i said before, common interests. we have to somehow try to convince people who are in power to change the direction that they’ve been taking. We need to take a more responsible direction and to begin dealing with the realities of the future to insure that there is a future for the children, for the nation.” 22

    “we were told that you could tell the extent of the degradation of theearth because there would be two very important systems to warn you.
    one would be the acceleration of the winds. we were told that the winds would accerleate and continue to accelerate. when you see that the acceleration of the winds are growing, then youa re in dangerous times. they said the other way to tell that the earth was in degradation was how people treated their children. they said it will be very important to note how poeple treat their children, and that will tell you how the earth is degrading. so when you open up the newspapers today they talk about exploitive sex and children, they talk about homeless children, and you can count homeless children by the millions. to us, it’s a severe indication of the degradation. society doesn’t care.” 23

    “the spiritual side of the natural world is absolute. the laws are absolute. our instructions, and i’m talking about for all human beings, our instructions are to get along. understand what these laws are. get along with laws, and support them and work with them. we were told a long time ago that if you do that, life is endless. it just continues on and on in great cycles of regeneration….” 24

    “there will come a time, however, when only those that know how to plant will be eating.” 24

    “all communities talk about prayer. we just don’t call it prayer but we do it a ll the time. we sing songs, dawn songs, morning ceremonies, thanksgiving-coming-up-soon songs. Thanksgiving all summer, all spring. All of our ceremonies are thanksgiving. We have thanksgiving twelve months a year…….[!!]” 25

    “it’s true. people are lazy today. they don’t know how to work anymore.
    that’s the way it is and that’s what it’s going to take. hard work will do anything. it used to be common, common law. so i would say that in the ideas of renewing yourself and the ideas of finding peace in our community, you should tell your leaders and you sould tell everybody that there can never be world peace as long as you make war against mother earth. to make war against mother earth is to destroy and to corrupt, to kill, to poison. when we do that, we will not have peace. the first peace comes with your mother, mother earth.” 26

    “we truely are the globalization issue with face, heart, feelings, and soul.” 28

    …oil spill, outlaw sealing, caribou hunting, moose, mountain goat, no bear left alive, no not allowed to fish chum salmon (3% take) …eat dog food…”the people of Port Graham shared every bit of the food they had a that gathering.” 29

    “synthetic drugs such as quinine and aspirin were derived from Indig. Knowledge…” 30

    “winnebago tribe cannot even use their tribal identity in marketing any comercial products because it’s trademarked by the winnebago trailers.” 30

    “the goal of expanded food prod. is used to justify the wholesale displacement of Indig. Peoples.” 30

    “indig peoples wont stand a chance of surviving the 21st cent. w/o everyone’s help.” 32

    “what made trad economies so radically different and so very fundamentally dangerous to western economies were the traditional principles of prosperty of…sharing and distribution versus accumulation and greed. of kinship usage rights versus indiv exclusive ownership rights.” 33

    “what does the finance system tell us about function and form, about our very values, when the same system pays a merger acquisitionist millions of dollars and a teacher $40,000?” 33

    “atoms are aware of other atoms. … ‘our history cannot be told without naming the cliffs and the mountains that have witnessed our people.’ ” 34

    “however, tribal people worship the sacredness of creation as a way of life, not as a philosophy or religions. in facts, none of the native languages have words or terms synonymous with religion. the closest expression of belief literally translates to the way you live.” 35

    “as far as ethics and protocol, what i first need to address is the land. we are from a society that had an abundance of natural resources found within our traditional territory and we are obligated and duty-bound to protect and caretake this land that we belong to. my people are not pacifists.” 39

    “even when a person made mistakes in life, there were peole that would counsel him or her. there was a process of reconciliation. it was done through the oral language…elders. this came about through discussion s about how to get that person back into a balanced life and how to get that person aware of how to focus on what is important in life.” 46

    “on the one hand there are dreams and visions and on the other hand there’s a responsibility to maintain a clear version of reality. those two streams of thoughts and reactions have to live cooperatively together.” 49

    “right after people, earth. then it goes to grasses, waters……those things are actually essential to us, and that’s the rational mind…. some people look at that and say that’s spiritual. …” 50

    “so peacemaker Dekanawidah starts out by saying, ‘when you tell yourself that your enemy can’t think, you destroy your own power to make peace with him.” 56

    “the new americans saw and came to understand our idea of being free. the idea of being independent was everywhere they looked nd they liked it and they wanted to become like us…as soon as more people came, they moved, just like the indians did–it was getting crowded. they, like us, didn’t like being crowded.” 61

    “the Oneidas…kept them alive… this is a part of history that you don’t hear about and a primary reason why you’re sitting here as americans.” 62

    “peace is never acheived until justice is achieved.” 56
    “you can’t have justice without equity.”63

    ” he said, ‘you shall know your nation through the women. they will be carrying the line…because the earth is female the women will be working with the earth…when a girl was born you had a landholder and when a boy was born you had a lacrosse player, a good singer, a good dancer–maybe he’d even be a chief one day. but he gave responsibility to the women; he made clan mothers and gave them the duty to choose all the leaders. he gave us a process of raising leaders that did not involve politics. so at the end of the day you got a leader, not a politician.” 63-4

    “at the end of the days, if he passes all of these examinations on his own merits as a human being, we will bring him forth as the titleholder of that clan. he must simply be a man of good health and courage, a family man, responsible and honest. …and the final word is the people. that is democracy in its full form.” 65

    “in our language, the word for our bodies contains the word for land, so when i say that word, it means that not only is my ability to think and to dream present in that word but the last part of that word also means ‘the land.’ …thus, in my mind, every time i say that word and i refer to myself, i realize that i am from the land.” 67

    “Robert’s Rules of Order, for instance, is thought of as a framework or construct or an understanding of democracy wherein the decision-making power rests with the majority, as opposed to the minority. from my perspective, embedded in that construct is and adversarial approach. it sets up the oppression of the minority, it sets up a dissention. it sets up a construct in which there is always going to be conflict.” 69

    “the minority voice expresses the things that are going wrong, the things that we’re not being responsible toward, the things that we’re being aggressive about or trying to overlook and sweep under the carpet or shove out the door. …our leaders said…that if you ignore this minority voice it will create conflict in your community and this confilict is going to create a breakdown that’s going to endanger everyone. this conflict will endanger how we cooperate, how we use community as a process, how we think of ourselves as a cooperative unit, a harmonious unit, a unit that knows how to work together and enjoys working together and enjoys being together and loves one another. …if we can’t do that in our community then our humanity is at stake, and our intelligence is at stake.” 70

    “when we include the perspective of land and we include the perspective of human relationship, on of the things that happens ins that community changes. something happens inside where the material things don’t have a lot of meaning, where material wealth and the securing of it or being fearful and being frightened about not having “things” to sustain you, disappears. …the realization that people and community are there to sustain you creates the most secure feeling in the world.” 72

    “the whole point of it is to preserve the social figber because i think they realizez that’s where their wealth lies. that’s whre their strength and their safety is. they don’t have the kinds of more artificial safety nets that we do, with money, with health insurance, and with social security and so forth. they’ve to to rely on the goodwill of living people, because what else sthere? …i think that is a lesson the western world can take [:] …we’re going to have to depend on each other because those illusory safety nets we thought we had are disappearing one by one.” 76

    “the san bushmen ancestors have obviously honed, to f ine point of artistry, that methosd of getting along with each other. there are some very important components to this. …” !! 76

    ” ‘social technology’ is on eof the oldest and most important human technologies for survival.” 83

    “seeing only one place as holy, and by inference others as not holy, is a great source of problems. there is a very high cost indeed for failing to acknowledge the whole earth as sacred.” 87

    “the elders say that if you don’t care for the plants and animals, they don’t take care of you. that’s reciprocity.” 90

    “…the landscape becomes a moral landscape.” 100

    “…humans are actually good for the landscape…” 101

    “we have to talk about things like global warming and climate change, not as an environmental issue, but as a human health issue.” 102

    “humans are keystone species where they have been involved in ecosystem dynamics for millennia…humans are not innately destructive, innately exploitive; it has to do with culture, it has to do with a way of relating to the land that implies both spiritual and ecological wisdom…”107

    ” called ‘God Is Not a Noun in Native America.’ ” 108

    “it’s no accident that tricksters like coyote and raven were often a tribe’s original Creator because they’re very sneaky and they combine both the worst and the best in human character. Unfortunately, the Babylonians also had a God that combined those two things, but who was basically ignored when the Jews, the Israelites, were in Babylon. They chose to separate that one God that had two faces–into one black God and one white God, one good and one evil– and to this day, just look at the current political situation. we have the same kind of dichotomy facing the world due to religious ideology.” 109

    ” ‘well, yeah, they’re all coming back! they’re all dancing….’ he seemed kind of upset or distraught by the question and so i asked him what was wrong. he said, ‘ they don’t know why they’re dancing. they’re all coming back from albuquerque and santa fe and Espanola and so on from their jobs, they leave their community and they go take up these jobs. they’re not growing the food anymore…..’ what he was saying was that they may know the words, but they don’t know the context, the metaphors, that reveal these very deep and significant relationships with place.” 115

    ceremony in the river
    ” ‘isleta pueblo’s water quality standards are going to cost the City of Aluquerque $150 million to comply with.’ the next day, the same headline was used except it went up andother $100 million dollars, so it was $250 million that the city was claiming it was going to cost them to clean up the water. our reaction to that was, ‘jeez, if it’s going to cost that much, then it must really, really be filthy, so yeah, we need to have it done!’ ” … “detrimental to the health and environment of our people and our community…religious freedom.” 122

    “…it is like going to church and not being able to have Holy Communion because somebody dropped the host in the toilet bowl and you can’t eat it.” 123

    “windriver associates- how to work w/epa 124
    “snowball earth 126
    “native american pragmatism” book
    “raven steals the light” book
    mandelbrot set/ julius set — photos, films 138

    “pre-Christian Native American thought…did not require you to have faith. in fact, it discouraged it. you don’t need to be a believer but you can be an appreciator.” 134

    “in these places, they had to come up with a culture that not only enabled them to survive in the place, they had to come up with a culture that made them thrive in it. they had to come up with a culture that made them it.” 134

    “the big human relationship to our cultural heritage is on the verge of extinction and we need to change that. there are still enough plants left, but we don’t have enough humans exploring enough relationships with enough plants to ensure that when climate change happens–not if it happens–but when it happens, that we’ll have some plant foods to go on with, from there.” 135


    “the problem is, because of patriarchy, because of monarchy, and because of monotony, we keep thinking there’s only supposed to be one–the Great Mother.” 139

    “the thing about tribal systems, about the old, old stories is that they recognize multiplicity at every single level. it’s always interaction. there isn’t any other way to talk about it. which makes trying to talk aobut our tribal systems–not only in English, but in the Western paradigms and the contexts, like essays, or even poems–so difficult. You always have to have a subject, you have to have a verb, and you have to have and object. …the minute i start doing that with native systems i start telling it wrong. …that’s the problem with monotheism…hierachy…” 139-40

    “we don’t understand that right here standing with us are multiple worlds coexisting, cohabiting, and occupying the same space with us. …in the west [we] walk away from them and say, ‘oh, superstition. oh, devil. oh, evil. we’ve done more interesting things.’ we’ve put military bases on sacred spots…we’ve found the sacred places and we’ve bombed them. not in war, we call it target practice. …there’s a great, great fear of that Other. women, of course, have been identified for five hundred or five thousand years, depending on where you’re counting from, witht that Other. with that evil. with that which is supernatural. with the void. with what you can’t control. with irrationality and hysteria, the energy of the womb. with deconstructing everything and then reconstructing it in new forms over and over again. …’…this earth is fragile.’ he doesn’t mean we better take care of it because, you know, we’re going to run out of resources and then what will we eat. Shame on us for thinking that way.
    i’ve got to make sustainable systems because i worship her. now that’s another thing. …i give back more than i take, because it’s my nature to transform energy through this conglomberate of critters that i like to call my body. energy comes through me so i can energize any place i am. that’s my magic.” 140-1

    “the great mother…doesn’t care. she does what she does. she’s not nice. she’s not pretty; she’s beautiful. and i’m telling you somethingg about the feminine, what the feminine means.

    “there are so many people who are involved in a new form of saving the world. you’re doing it because She told you to.” 142

    “you’ve got to keep everything in balance because that’s your job…you’re supposed to be here to honor the earth, to honor the feminine, to honor chaos, to honor terror, to honor fear, to honor the supernatural, which is what you are. which is what we all are. we go off in search of the miraculous and yet we are it. the very fact that this amazing conglomerate of critters is our body is a miracle.” 143

    “…everything is a package. you cannot erase femaile genital excision without taking the rest of the social fabric into consideration.” 150

    hydroelectric power, St. Lawrence River: “the lifeblood of our community,” dumped, breastfeeding, PCBs found in tissues of fish, in Mohawk mother’s milk…”thus are we part of the landfill, colonized.” 157

    “…the reality is that when Christopher Columbus came there were debates in Spain about whether we were human beings because we didn’t have souls. …As a recovered roman catholic and born-again pagan i see the roots of the mental issues, the though process of my own people coming out of oppression, based on the capacity to believe in who you are and who you came on to this earth to be.” 163

  8. I had the great opportunity to live for a time in a beautiful community in Maui, on 38 acres of land with 7 waterfalls, where I was blessed to interact on a very regular basis with 2 incredible Elders, a couple Will and Kalima. It seemed that they would always appear out of the forest at just the most synchronistic, perfect moment, where I or a group of us in the community would be experiencing some sort of challenge or obstacle, either physically with the land that we were working with, or in different interpersonal dynamics or communication blocks, or just with some personal internal consideration or obstacle of mind, body, spirit, or otherwise. They would appear, aiding us with whatever we would be doing, and randomly share a story with us, usually about themselves or other potent stories they had been taught, that revealed some challenge, conflict, or obstacle they had come across and how it had been resolved or the lesson that they had learned from the experience. Then they would go, often as quickly as they appeared, leaving us all in deep contemplation of the simple and yet profound messages that were revealed. Each time this happened, whatever story they shared seemed to be directly relevant to exactly what the obstacle was in that moment, even though many times there was no way for them to know, and every story always seemed to have many layers of meaning revealed like layers of onion, with each layer going deeper to the core. And as we continued to work in the gardens, on the land, interacting with others, and sit alone on that beautiful land in meditation, those messages seemed to seep into me, deep, profound pearls of wisdom, whispered again in the wind, in the rustling of leaves, reaffirmed rumbling through me from the earth beneath my feet, and washing over me and seeping into my soul through the waters of life.
    These two beings were master storytellers, dancers with the weavers of the pattern of life, open channels, harmonizing with the intelligence of the universe, and subtly dancing with and allowing their voices to offered as a tool to the wisdom of life.
    And through these stories, with the aid of the natural world around me, those subtle whispers of the voices of all living things, I believe I learned more about
    -how to live, coexist, survive and thrive in abundance and in harmony with all life,
    -how to listen to, as well as find the courage to speak for, those voices,
    -what it truly means to be a human being on this planet in this time,
    -as well as how my own small thread is woven into the grand tapestry of life and my understanding of where I fit within it, and what role I have come to play,
    -and the ruthless compassion, honesty, empathy, wisdom, courage and love that has been given through these lessons, and is required of me in order to play,
    than I believe I had ever learned before and possibly even since. And as a human being allowed the incredible experience of life as a conscious, sentient being on this planet, given the opportunity to coexist with so many breathtakingly beautiful and diverse forms of life, I cannot see any form of teaching and education of more crucial importance in this time.
    I share this story as a powerful verification and example from my own life of of the potency of the “Indigenous form of education… usually based on storytelling” (Nelson 4). It is “more about observing things in action, understanding things in their context, and listening to the reflective rhythms and inherent wisdom that spiral through a story.” (Nelson 2)
    This form of education includes “teaching bundles” and “learning bundles” and there is a “great emphasis on learning”. We are asked “How do we awaken and sustain the learning spirit?” (Henderson) and urged to “…follow our passion… listen to the deeper meanings… or watch for the hidden patterns…”(Cajete)(Nelson 5). This “way of learning through observation and listening to stories and teachings and recognizing our learning spirits is … different from … mainstream education where an authority figure usually shares abstracted, so called “objective” information in a more linear, pedantic way” (Nelson 6).
    “Our connection to the land has to be the foundation of our society” and ” the study and interpretation of these… stories… give… frameworks for how to live and interact with this land… how to settle disputes and how to get along with one another.”(Sam 40)
    From “these cultural metaphors”,(stories)”the way we think and talk about place is activated, it’s changed. The landscape becomes a moral landscape. As we move across the landscape, it is not as if we go across thinking of these stories all the time,… but it is just sort of an automatic, subconscious connection to all these things in our environment… as a result our morality is directive, or comes directly from a landscape. Consequently, we find a way to interact in a kind way with our landscape.”

    This type of education and storytelling land based connectivity and consciousness is important for this time.This style of education is based upon a living knowledge and by sharing stories that are not put forth as “so-called objective facts” in a linear way. The “facts” are not simply laid out before the student, in order to memorize and regurgitate, only as a set of intellectual concepts and a heap of dead information, with no requrement in this process for the student to develop any personal living relationship with the information, but rather is put forth through the delicate art of story telling through metaphors and words woven with many layers of meaning that may only truly be discovered by searching within, for the hidden meanings, and allow a body of knowledge that brings the speaker and every listener on a journey within and through the collective whole, and thus is a learning wherein we become the story and our relationship and understanding of it is based on full awareness of the truth of it on every level, body, heart, mind, and spirit, and upon how based upon that learning, we now move forward to dance with life.

    I also greatly appreciated the history lesson in Chapter 8, from Chief Oren Lyons, giving information about the basis for our democracy and governing system as originally coming from the democratic model of Haudenosaunee (the Six nations Iroquois Confederacy). Considering that we have based much of our democratic system on the wisdom of the native peoples that came before us, it seems only to our detriment that we have denied so much else that we could have already learned from and applied to our world now that could have aided us in avoiding some of the very perils that face humanity now. It seems as if we have taken the parts that appeal to our ability to have the freedom to govern ourselves, but set aside some of the most crucial and fundamental parts that actually hold us truly responsible and accountable for those choices.

    This truly is the nature of, and lies at the very heart of the imbalance and challenges on a global scale that we face today. This imbalance comes as a result of single – minded thinking, or focusing on a system designed to serve the needs, wants and desires of the individual rather than the whole. Or even part of the whole. For as long as we leave even one part out, we might as well throw it all away. Because that is exactly what we have done thus far. This truth is now evident to us everywhere we look in all of the environmental as well as other global problems we now face.

    It is quite a task we have before us. To recognize the massive imbalance that we have created from this type of thinking and to do everything in our power to “change direction” in time that even a portion of the future generations of our species may survive the damage we have already done.

    There are a few guiding points in this book that give us great ideas and tools as to how we may possibly begin to accomplish this task.
    One of the most basic and fundamental of these points is, as stater earlier, “Our connection to the land has to be the foundation of our society” (Sam 40) It is absolutely imminent that if we are to alter the course that we are currently heading on, than a holistic approach is necessary, one that acknowledges and cultivates an “understanding of the land… that it’s not just that we’re part of the land, it’s not just that we’re part of the vast system that operates on the land, but that the land is us.” (Armstrong 67) and that this understanding is applied not only to the land, but to all people, and to all life on earth.
    Also it is of absolute importance that we unite the wisdoms of both the men and the women of our world. An example of this that Rebecca Adamson has given us from “within my own heritage, within the Cherokee Nation, we always had a white council, which was the women’s council, which ruled during times of peace. And then we had a red council, … the men’s council, which ruled during times of war. The goal was balance, the harmony, the bringing together of both wisdoms and both energies for the good of the Nation.” (Adamson 27)
    Also, whatever governing system we have, if we do, should be based on a “basic communal principle: Everyone in a community needs to have the same access to the basics, and the same access to the joys and pleasures of life.” (Armstrong 69) “Clear thinking” lies at the root of this basic principle. As John Mohawk states “The Peacemaker said…. the problem humanity faces … is that the absence of peace on this planet will lead to the end of human life on this planet.” And that ” Injustice is the big disturber of peace…. So long as there is injustice, the people of the planet face the possibility of extinction.” He says also, “How people are treating one another in the world (today) has no relationship at all to thinking about how we sustain human life on the planet – not in terms of pollution, food supply, ….the oceans, …. the air…. not in terms of anything.” In relation to ‘clear thinking’ he says that “Neither(Socrates or the Peacemaker) would have thought that clear thinking is prevailing the world system that is, at this very moment, deciding who gets to eat and who does not get to eat, who has a place to lay down and who does not…, whose children will survive even their infancies, and whose will not. ” To alter this obvious lack of clear thinking he proposes that ” If our thinking changes from the question of how to enrich the rich to the question of how to obtain the sustainability of our species on the planet … we would be engaging ourselves in an enormous revolution.” (Mohawk 57-58) To add the words of Jeanette Armstrong on the related topic of bringing the minority needs and voice “into balance with the majority,” she says, “If we can’t do that in our community then our humanity is at stake, and our intelligence is at stake.” and “There does seem to be insanity in the world because of what is missing inside in terms of our humanity with each other. When we start to take care of that, everything else will naturally follow.” (Armstrong 70, 73)

    To end with the famous quote by Chief Seattle, “What happens to the earth, happens to the children of the earth. Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. The environment is perceived as a sensate, conscious entity suffused with spiritual powers through which the human understanding is only realized in perfect humility before the sacred whole.” (Adamson 34)

  9. abigailbacon Says:

    In the face of global environmental collapse, the book is trying to help us see the big picture behind what needs to be done. When I look at everything happening in the world today, it is clear to me that the changes that need to be made are big, and involve a shift in the way we look at the world.

    A few things I took from the book are:
    That we are part of a living system, just one part, and it is vital to recognize that and try to live in balance with the world. The book is trying to remind us “that it’s not people who are smart. The real intelligence dwells throughout the natural world and in the vast mystery of the universe,” (Ausubel, xxiii).
    To get to the root of our problem we need to change the way we think. We need to rethink the way things work. Obviously, with all the problems we face, we have not been doing a very good job. It becomes obvious that “clear thinking is not prevailing in the world system,” (Mohawk, 57).
    While we find ourselves in a rough time in human history, the message keeps coming up that humans are not innately bad. The systems have got us down, the way I see it. It is suggested that
    ” The greatest healing that needs to be done is the healing of the European idea of the separation of people from nature and it’s modern counterpart, which is that humans are bad,” (Nelson, 108).

    1. i’ve given some thought to your last point. i don’t think that appreciating and valuing native cultures for their common relationship to sustainability amounts to romanticization.
      and, when i remember that even my european ancestors, going back far enough, were also “native” peoples, in the sense that they also had a symbiotic relationship to the land, it is easier to remember and accept that i, as a human, am not inherently bad.
      if i am thinking holistically, it becomes easy to recognize where the theme of the Other is what really separates us. And “Other” is no more than an idea. (i.e., what is good for me is also good for you as opposed to the more common modern perspective of more is better, bigger is better, if i give you half then i will have less…it–sustainable living–really doesn’t work that way)

  10. SInce the beginning of time, “primitive” cultures have risen and fallen. One unique essence that most have followed is their ability to coexist with nature. Only taking what they need. With no need to mass produce like our culture, these different groups of people were able to sustainably live.

    Some key points I observed were:

    1) The idea that when you poison and take advantage of mother earth, you’re committing treason against your greatest ally and in return, going to war with it.

    2) These primitive cultures can show us something we cannot see because of our biases towards ones culture. We tend to have a ethnocentric point of view when it comes to criticism on our culture.

    3) We need to as a society begin excepting that our ways are in no way the greatest or best. Once we do this we can begin to look at other societies and cultures that have lived on this earth for a long time. From there, hopefully we can learn some of their ways to help change some of ours.

    Question: How can we begin to integrate some of their values into our own society?

    1. in response to the question,
      ideas are
      developing a relationship with nature as individuals and communities…
      more community projects, gatherings, support, occupations, what have you…
      be grateful…

  11. stacyjae Says:

    How can we handle this enormous eco system disruption without the knowledge of many generations inherently expressed by Indigenous Cultures? Don’t answer that because the answer is that we cannot.

    It would take millions of science experiments, than we are capable of, to catch up to the indigenous knowledge of each bioregion. It is knowledge so well understood by the practitioners because it has been passed down and tested through many generations by living it. Not reading it in a book and memorizing the concepts, methods, science and scope.

    “This knowledge of natural surroundings and biodiversity has been developed over millennia and through a careful process of observation, listening, experimentation, and adaptation.” Priscilla Sette, p44
    She also mentions on the bottom of the next page that some see indigenous knowledge as the key to our survival.

    This point is further expressed in the discussion (chapter 12) where Dennis Martinez gives examples of fatal modern “conservation” efforts. Because of the prohibition of Indigenous Knowledge practices and the lack of knowledge pertaining to these particular bioregions, governmental agencies caused extinction and further environmental degradation. (90-92)

    It is in my experience that to claim to know nature (not excluding humans) is an opportunity to be disproven. Once the perspective is changed, most things “known” also change. This is the limitation of science which we try to compensate for with the scientific method. We kind of know we can never know. However, we still act like we know. This book illustrates how Indigenous cultures are embodiments of this knowledge science seeks to gain; as knowledge is lived out, as opposed to simply memorized. Total immersion in a bio region, over time, gives a know-how science can only compliment and investigate; not out measure.
    “In our culture we’re scolded for being so arrogant to think that we’re smart. An individual is not smart, according to our culture. An individual is merely lucky to be a part of a system that has intelligence that happens to reside in them.” John Mohawk (p52)

  12. ” ‘Indian peoples are nations, not minorities.’ ” p3

    I would like to know how other people respond to this idea.

    I find this statement interesting because I don’t think that most people in this country would recognize its validity. There are treaties signed between the US government and sovereign native groups that recognize this. And then there are laws that we vote on in California, for example, that ask us as Americans what regulations we should put on those sovereign nations’ casinos.

    1. stacyjae Says:

      I think this is a very interesting observation.
      Most people do not even think about native people or their communities as a distinct group with valid voices. These Communities are often brushed off as simply, sadly problematic minorities.
      The quote illustrates that native cultures are their own entity just as any other culture – not a subcategory of a “greater nation”.

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