Important Announcement to all Indigenous persons involved in Indigenous Knowledge as it pertains to climate change in any way:
Friend and Colleague Tero Mustonen of Snowchange in Finland has announced that submission statements about Indigenous Knowledge are being solicited for the next IPCC report. The call for statements, which may be found in its entirety here, begins:
“The importance and relevance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge in responding to the challenge of anthropogenic climate change is recognized by policymakers and academics. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in itsrecent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services underscores the key contributions of Indigenous peoples and local communities to conservation and fostering of biodiversity. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge (IKLK), the inclusion of non-published IKLK remains beyond the scope of the Sixth Assessment Report. This request for submissions seeks contributions from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to the Global Report of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge on Climate Change 2020. We expect that this report will document, among other things, how holders of IKLK observe, forecast and respond to anthropogenic climate change. In doing so, the report will constitute an invaluable input to be considered in the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.”
If you or your group wish to submit an Indigenous knowledge statement, the DEADLINE HAS BEEN CONTINUED to 15th OCTOBER. (Notice this an extension goes beyond the original deadline of May 31 posted in the linked document.)
Complete instructions for submission are on the Snowchange website linked above, but here is a brief overview:
“We invite all relevant stakeholders to contribute to the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Report 2020. Submissions are especially welcomed from Indigenous and local knowledge holders, organisations and communities. All submissions are following free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Submissions will remain the intellectual property of the authors, but by submitting to this initiative, author(s) agree to share their contributions universally for the IndigenousKnowledgeand Local Knowledge Report 2020. We welcome 2-3 page submissions (max.2000 words) on all aspects of Indigenous Knowledge and Local Knowledge related to climate change. Submissions may include, but are not limited to, oral history, worldviews, observed changes, forecasts, impacts, responses, human and Indigenous rights, ecological restoration, conflict, equity issues, and so on. Submissions should include the location, community, and name(s) as well as communications details of the submitting entities and/or individuals. . . . All submissions should be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org (an email repository accessed only by the report editors). Information can be received from editors at email@example.com.”
The Lakota phrase Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ describes Reality by addressing it as “All My Relations.” All humans, all animals, all plants, all the waters, the soil, the stones, the mountains, the grasslands, the winds, the clouds and storms, the sun and moon, stars and planets are our relations and are relations to one another. We are connected to each other in multiple and vital ways. When one is in pain, all are harmed. When there is justice for one, there is more justice for all.
It is time for the dominant culture to finally learn that its people cannot harm those it deems lesser than themselves simply because it wants to and can. This is, simply, wrong. It violates the fundamental nature of reality. Actions that violate the fundamental nature of reality build tension into the system that eventually causes a loss of balance and a rebound of consequence to those who broke natural law. This is true whether the ones being unjustly persecuted and abused are human beings whose color or religious beliefs are not those of the dominant culture, or parts of the natural world that those of the dominant culture judge as insentient or even not-living. In all these cases, the dominant culture judges these “others” as unacceptable or lesser than themselves, and therefore undeserving of respect and reciprocity.
Being “woke” is not simply a matter of learning what words to speak. Truly right words can only come from a heart that is open to the living world’s grief, that is willing to be broken by the pain of this grief. Such a heart experiences the pain that all the rest of creation has suffered for generations upon generations, and in doing this it helps to share and bear that burden. Only then, once the true heart has shattered from this pain, can Real Knowledge flow into it. It enters through the spaces between the shattered fragments. This is the pathway to true healing, for that heart and the heart of creation itself.
Notes about the translation and meaning of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ:
Although “All Our Relations” is the most common translation of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ — even Vine Deloria, Jr. defines it as such in his books — the phrase actually bears within it rich layers of additional meaning that cannot be easily translated into English. It’s important to point this out because words and ideas, stories and rituals, are bound together into a single reality that must be respected, not misappropriated. In the video below, the late Sicungu Lakota Elder Albert White Hat, a friend who was on Tapestry’s board for many years, explains this matter of language and concept being inextricably interwoven.
But Albert White Hat is not suggesting here that Indigenous wisdom is merely a collection of historical ideas or words. He knew and taught — as do all our Elders — that our ways provide a system of powerful knowledge applicable to the lives and struggles of people right now. The 2017 video below provides an example, showing how Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ informs the Lakota vision of community policing, Akicita.
Tapestry Institute lives and works on land that is part of the traditional homeLands of the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne nations. We share the powerful concept of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ with care, in respect for the Land and its peoples.
The Land that’s literally the ground of our existence can support us and give us strength as we grow weary of a crisis that begins to seem endless. Almost a month ago, I pointed out that the title number at the end of “Oklahoma!” speaks with an Indigenous voice, expressing the inherent power of the Land in a way that can uplift our hearts. Today I want to share another piece of music that conveys this same uplifting power in lyrics that speak in an unexpectedly Indigenous voice. A transcription of the lyrics appears beneath the video. The singer is Josh Groban, and the song is titled “Anthem.” Listen carefully, and let the power of the Land lift you in this time of turmoil and conflict, fear and frustration. The Land holds with strong power those who understand where their lives are truly rooted. Ansel Adams (no relation) certainly understood that power, letting it speak through visual image. Music, image, dance, and story are all ways that Knowledge of real relationship can speak to human hearts, bringing a timeless message of hope.
No man, no madness
Though their sad power may prevail
Can possess, conquer, my country’s heart
They rise to fail
She is eternal
Long before nations’ lines were drawn
When no flags flew, when no armies stood
My land was born
And you ask me why I love her
Through wars, death, and despair
She is the constant, we, who don’t care
And you wonder will I leave her
I cross over borders but I’m still there now
How can I leave her?
Where would I start?
Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart
My land’s only borders lie around my heart
We have heard many leaders say they “are deciding” when their people will come out of quarantine or self-isolation, when businesses will reopen, or when children will return to school. Social media is filled with people lamenting their restlessness, insisting they cannot possibly bear another day cooped up with family or isolated from friends, describing the ways they are anxiously pacing up and down the cage bars they see as having unbearably closed on their lives right now. These people are caught in the painful grinding of gears that takes place when Real Time and human time come into conflict. There is only one way to escape this sort of pain, and that is to stop fighting Real Time and float on its currents. Because Real Time is, well, REAL. There is no arguing with it. There is no negotiating with it. It is what it is.
When you were a child, did you ever try to pry open the petals of a flower to see its beauty when it seemed it was taking too long to bloom? If so, you know the surprise and disappointment of discovering that flowers cannot be rushed. Both dogs and cats carry their babies for about 2 months before they give birth. If you were breeding a dog or a cat, what do you think your vet would say if you brought it in after just one month and said, “I just can’t wait any longer for these babies to get born! Induce labor right now so they are born today!” And if somehow you managed to induce labor yourself, what do you think would happen to those half-developed kittens or puppies when they were born? Flowers and babies develop according to Real Time and do not respond to human impatience. The same is true for disease, which is another natural thing. Epidemics move through communities according to their own patterns of ebb and flow, in Real Time. When health professionals caution against making an arbitrary decision to end quarantine and reopen businesses, they are talking about recognizing the Real Time nature of the way COVID-19 is moving through the population. When people ask, “When will this be over?” the true answer — regardless of what anyone does or doesn’t do — is, “It will be over when it ends.” Natural things flow in Real Time, which is something over which humans have no control. When we try to control it by setting deadlines for births and quarantines and other natural processes, we get very unpleasant outcomes.
Thinking about flowers and babies, you might imagine that Real Time is such an obvious concept that everyone can simply step into it and live it out. But attempting to control time is an integral part of Western culture’s efforts to control things in general. I have already addressed Real Time in an earlier blog post about COVID-19 but I am coming back to it now because it’s so hard for people of today’s culture to truly engage with Real Time. They approach it intellectually, but the relentless time pressures of the world around them are so strong that they’re unable to translate what they know with their minds into a practice of real living. Further, the intensity of conflict between Real Time, which is the natural experience of every biological entity, and the human time we are all pressured to march by, is so intense that it leads to dissociation and anxiety.
But the conflict between Real Time and human time has physiological impacts, too. Artificial light has dramatically altered the daily Real Time rhythms that pattern our lives, in ways we’re beginning to realize contribute to health problems such as cancer, obesity, insulin resistance, and cognitive dysfunction. The tremendous increase in heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents that happen the first Monday of Daylight Savings Time every year is a direct result of the conflict between the Real Time our bodies naturally live on and the human time — or perhaps I should call it the inhumantiming — our society insists we adhere to. The sudden displacement of human time by just a single hour disrupts the already-precarious balance of our diurnal cycles so much that it reveals the magnitude of the underlying asynchrony.
Real Time also has seasonal elements. One of the best-known of these, in many Indigenous communities, is the way winter slows things down and tells humans, animals, and plants to slow down, too, and go inside — whether that’s inside a home or under the ground. So winter is traditionally a time for staying in, for telling stories, for being still. It’s not a time for going out and about, for rushing to accomplish things. When there are lots of terrible accidents and deaths on icy and snowy winter roads, it’s because people have been pressured by human time demands — from their jobs, from schools, from gymnastics practice and karate lessons — to buck the natural Real Time flow of winter. You can only buck Real Time so far. You can put snow tires on your car and put studs on your snow tires. But you’re skating, as they say, on thin ice.
Here is a Real Time understanding of COVID-19: The situation asks us to be still and stay in. If we do, the disease cannot spread. The people who have the disease will recover without transmitting it to other people. (The longer we delay the being still part of things, the longer this will take.) After the last transmission happens and this last person recovers, a little more time passes. Then the disease dies out because it has no one else to visit. Without someone new to visit, the viruses have nowhere to go, and they can’t live any longer in a person who has recovered and whose body has learned how to kill the virus. So the viruses in the last person to recover from the disease die out without leaving a new generation behind. When that happens, this event will be over. Then it will be safe for everyone to come out again.
You could picture COVID-19 like a wave of cannon balls flying through the air 5 feet off the ground. If everyone ducks down and is still so they just fly overhead without hitting anyone, after a while the wave will have passed. Then everyone can stand up safely again. But in this example, we imagine that if someone stands up and gets hit by a cannon ball, the people shooting are encouraged to fire a whole new round. So as long as people keep standing up and being hit, cannon balls will keep getting shot through the air. But if everyone stays down, there are no targets to shoot at. So after a while, the people with the cannons quit shooting and go home. If we could have all stopped moving and been completely still at our homes when COVID-19 first came to America, we could have done this fairly quickly. But people won’t stop moving. They won’t be still. They say they CAN’T be still . . . but of course, they can be still if they are hooked up to a ventilator. People seem to have forgotten the difference between “can’t” and “don’t want to.” It’s an important difference.
At any rate, the longer that some of us keep moving, and the more people who keep on moving, the longer it’s going to take for the wave to pass over us and be gone. If people keep insisting on living in human time — on saying “I have to do this now” and “I have to do that now,” it’s possible this hard time will never really end. Health professionals are warning us about that, too, but we don’t want to listen. We want to have our cake and eat it too: we want to do what we want to do now, but also have this wave pass over us and be done. That is, we want to have healthy puppies and kittens we can sell, and we also want to have them after just one month instead of waiting the two months it takes.
Reality doesn’t work like that. And it’s finally time for Western culture to come to grips with Reality.
This week, of all weeks — and this week of this particular year, of all years — is one that should stir into waking life a visceral understanding of Indigenous values, deep within the hearts of people of the dominant culture. For this week commemorates events during which individuals set aside their own personal fears and desires, and did so for the benefit of the greater good of their entire community, understanding that any individual is only as safe and whole as the larger whole of which they are an embodied part — the Whole that is the very source of life.
The original events were occasions when participants learned through spiritual ways of knowing. The stories that tell about what happened then are mythic ways of knowing that bring this Knowledge into our times so we can experience and learn from this wisdom in our own lives. The different ways of knowing are not restricted to any one culture in terms of existence, as they exist in all cultures. But spiritual and mythic ways of knowing are more widely recognized as valid in Indigenous culture than in Western culture — even though, as you can see in the stories to which I am about to refer — mythic and spiritual ways of knowing have had great power in Western culture for millennia. Valuing these ways of knowing in no way minimizes or devalues intellectual or experiential ways of knowing. (In fact, rituals such as those described below engage experiential ways of knowing.)
Wisdom emerges only when all the ways of knowing, learning about, and responding to the natural world and to life itself are integrated. And the systems of values by which communities and individuals live are informed by, and manifest, the wisdom of that community.
During Passover, people of the Jewish tradition ritually eat certain foods that are limited in taste and quality because they commemorate a time the People as a whole were in a time of hardship and facing an unprecedented change in their lives. Not only that, they were hunkered down in their homes during a time of plague, filled with fear as the keening of grief echoed through the night landscape. But we do not read of the most devout members of this group setting themselves apart from their community at that time, insisting they had a right and even a duty to go outside and gather better foods for their holy offerings. We do not read of them violating the instructions they had been given to shelter in place in order to gather for a reading of their holy texts. Instead, we see these people acknowledging and honoring their deep relationship to one another, their social and spiritual and biological contract of kinship and oneness, by setting aside their own individual fears to do what was necessary for the good of All. We know, if we read that story, that the tension between their individual fears and desires and the genuine, desperate need to protect well-being of the whole community was a throbbing source of anguish for many years after this one night. The story paints the struggles clearly, and it’s clear that even so many years ago the community leaders found it necessary to invoke authority, law, and punishment to maintain the unbroken unity that permitted everyone to survive the ordeal. In those laws and punishments, we see the response still visible today, to the value system of “individual rights are the most important thing” that has come to dominate contemporary culture when it rebels against the value system that prioritizes the good of the whole. This is not the time or place where either value system was born, however. Both live within human hearts. It is our responsibility and our joy to work through that struggle within ourselves during each and every challenging moment — the most creatively productive moments — of our lives.
During Easter week, people of the Christian tradition ritually commemorate, first, their great leader’s own commemoration of the Passover tradition just mentioned. In one of the sacred stories told of these events, in the book of John, the story is even told in such a way as to ritually align this great spiritual leader with the lambs killed during the original Passover event to provide not only food to people about to face the most grueling moment of their lives, but the blood with which to paint their doorposts in order to spare them from death by plague. Notice that this blood, which is compared to the blood of the spiritual leader, becomes the blood of the People themselves — a sign of their literal common blood as living beings related to one another and bound by this mark of blood. The death of the leader as the story plays out marks them as being of One Blood — a community — as his blood symbolically marks the doorposts of their individual lives. And again, in this story, we see the same struggle between individual fears and desires on the one hand, and the greater good for the whole on the other. When the leader is arrested, he does not resist though one of his followers responds at first with violence. After the arrest, another follower denies that he knows the leader, out of fear for his own life — not once, but repeatedly. Again there comes a time when the people in the community hunker down to wait things out. Even the leader, who has been killed, hunkers down to wait for death to pass by. And then, in the proper fullness of time — determined by Real Time, not by human decision — the community is reborn and life begins to pulse again . . . in the entire Whole. It can only happen because the people were finally able to set aside their own individual fears and desires, their own timetables of what should happen when, and allow themselves to be carried on the river of Real Time and What Is. This is the river of All My Relations. And it carries everything, not just human beings. As this particular spiritual leader pointed out, it carries even the sparrows, and the very lilies of the field.
The struggle between individual needs, fears, and desires and the greater good for the Whole of which we are all a part exists within every heart. In Indigenous cultures, the value system that is privileged, that is taught to young people and generally upheld in specific situations when important decisions must be made, is one in which the greater good for the Whole has precedence. There are fairly recent historical stories of times when individual young warriors raced out ahead of the rest of a war party because their anger at recent and violent injustice, or their desire for personal war trophies, spurred them into wanting to score an immediate individual victory over an enemy. The war chiefs stopped and abased them for daring to risk the larger victory and survival of the People as a whole for the sake of satisfying personal desire. There is a fairly recent historical story of a leader who was stripped of his authority and honors because he put his own desires for love ahead of the good of the whole People, engaging in a relationship that he knew would create violent animosity between different families and so endanger the whole group. At this time, stories of individual sacrifice for the good of the whole are playing out across Indian Country. They are not my stories to tell, so I do not share them here. But I am filled with pride and admiration for the People as I learn of such stories.
Now, as in the times of these stories I have just told, is a time of great trial for everyone. It is these times of great trial, times of desperate hardship and risk, that the value system of Serving the Greater Whole is most essential to uphold. This is what the sacred stories of the traditions I have shared tell us, even now. It is what the people of two great religious traditions of the world celebrate this very week.