Loving voices for Mother Earth
Indigenous peoples of the world have compelling observations and ancient, traditional knowledge in regard to the environment. They are able to document in oral histories and written records the Earth’s changing ecosystems, shifting weather patterns and even altered behavior of animals and plants. To them, climate change goes far beyond exploitation of natural resources. It is felt closer to home, literally, and in a more personal way. Adaptation and survival go hand-in-hand for indigenous people, who have been living in accord with the natural world since time immemorial.
A perspective offered in Indian Country Today at the beginning of this decade of great change is worth appreciating again. Today, these words by Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook are still relevant, and may resonate with another generation of Native peoples wrestling with their intimate relationship with industry and local ecology:
“Women are the first environment. We are privileged to be the doorway to life. At the breast of women the generations are nourished and sustained. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of those generations both to society and to the natural world. In this way the Earth is our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are Earth.
“Science tells us that our nursing infants are at the top of the food chain. Industrial chemicals such as PCBs, DDT, and HCBs dumped into the waters and soil move up through the food chain through plants, fish, wildlife, and into the bodies of human beings who eat them. These contaminants resist being broken down by the body, which stores them in our fat cells. The only known way to excrete large amounts of them is through pregnancy, where they cross the placenta, and during lactation, where they are moved out of storage in our fat cells and show up in our breast milk. In this way, each succeeding generation inherits a body burden of toxic contaminants from their mothers. In this way, we, as women, are the landfill.
“Realizing that mother’s milk contains an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals is discouraging stuff. Every woman on the planet has PCBs in her breast milk. Even in the circumpolar region of the north, our Inuit relatives of Nunavik have the highest documented levels of breast-milk PCBs in the world. Community leaders there state, ‘We will continue to do as we have always done,’ and consume an average nine fish meals a month, including sea mammals such as whale and seal. The essential fatty acids of this subsistence diet are highly protective of the cardiovascular system.
“… It is well-established that the integration of valued lifeways and cultural acts such as midwifery and breast-feeding into health care delivery systems are fundamental steps toward good health. In creating how we live, we also create how we die.”
In step with a gradually shifting international perspective, the United Nations officially designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day. Acting in consensus, the assembly proclaimed, “Earth and its ecosystems are our home” and stressed that in order to achieve a just balance economically, socially and environmentally it is necessary to promote “harmony with nature and Earth.”
Echoing what many feel has been the cause of the world’s environmental crisis, Bolivian president Evo Morales, Aymara, noted that Western thought has long viewed the Earth as a commodity and not as a “living being that has rights.” Citizens of all Indian nations will recognize this philosophy as the root of their peoples’ very existence.
Because of their deep connection with ancestral lands and waters, indigenous peoples are particularly susceptible to the affects of climate change. Theirs are the voices which matter most now, and this sustained international attention is a good indication that they will be heard, and heeded.