FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE: WEEK OF JANUARY 15, 1999
COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patricia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
NASA LOOKS TO NATIVE ELDERS TO HELP SAVE THE EARTH
The Nome Eskimo elder lamented
that nowadays his homeland in winter is too warm
for the life system to sustain itself -- only 20 degrees below zero instead of
70 below. His people have learned to live in balance with the ice and cold.
But now the Bering Strait
is sick. Sea ice is forming later, affecting the
animals who breed on it. The sea pups aren't ready to leave
when the ice melts, so they die or are abandoned. The hunters say the
walrus are skinny, and they have to hunt farther into the tundra because
the caribou know the thin ice won't sustain their weight.
In the old days, the elders
in Alaska could forecast the weather by
watching the stars. But now, says one Siberian Yupek elder, "The Earth is so
fast now. We can't predict the weather anymore."
Many native prophesies warned
of a time when the people would be confused, and
the old and the young would die first. The prophesies said the trees would die
from the tops down and the world would be in danger.
Using "eyes" from space,
NASA officials have seen that the elders are
right. Its officials conclude that the "Earth is a living system that is
distressed." So now, NASA has turned to native elders for counsel as it
examines the effect of climate change on the U.S. population, environment and
NASA brought together a gathering
of several hundred elders for a five-day climate-change workshop in Albuquerque,
N.M., last fall. NASA is seeking to
merge the knowing and wisdom of people who understand the responsibilities
that humans have to the Earth with the knowledge of non-native scientists.
The elders who attended the
conference, called the Circle of Wisdom Native
Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop, stated: "It is this spiritual
connection to Mother Earth, Father Sky and all Creation that is lacking in the
rest of the world. ... We call upon the people of the world to hold your leaders
According to documents issued
by the workshop, temperatures will become
warmer in the Northern Hemisphere by 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit within the next
The primary source of human-induced
climate change is the burning of oil, gas
and coal. The melting of sea ice "affects the exchange of energy continuously
taking place on the Earth's surface," according to NASA.
While it might seem a distant
problem to many people in the United States, all life
We have long said that native
prophesies are misunderstood. They not only are
spiritual visions, but often also come from a life-science observation of the
When people understand that
they are not separate from the natural world, they
will seek to honor and understand it. This is why Chief Joseph said long ago
that the Earth was part of his body and they were of one "mind."
Native people traditionally
have understood that the Earth and universe
have a mind and a spirit, a cosmic intelligence that in fact responds to
us, to our intentions.
"Earth is a living mother,
an organism. I know none of us would think of abusing
our birth mother. She is a spiritual woman... that gives life. Through our
ceremonies, we honor her life-giving power so that she can continue to nourish
us," says Cheyenne elder Henrietta Mann.
When people no longer live
and learn from the land, their disconnection to it
leads to the abuse of Mother Earth. Along with the land, native
people's traditions die: their food, their ceremonies, medicinal plants,
their fibers for making sacred baskets.
And much of it has been through
the greed of market economies and the
perversions of science and technology that have claimed or contaminated the
land, particularly native lands, through deforestation, pesticides, industrial
waste, radioactive poisoning and mining.
"What good is an economic
system if our children die anyway?" asked a Kanaka
Maoli elder from Hawaii. A nearby flip-chart read,
"There is no post-environment economy."
There are myriad things to
be done, including requiring companies to
factor the environmental impact of their projects into their businesses,
and demanding that all public projects invest in clean and renewable forms of
energy. But most of all, we must begin to value life in all its manifestations.
Corbin Harney, a Shoshone
elder, says the spirits of the land and the ancestors
are waiting for people to recognize their responsibility to Mother Earth.
"They want to hear us
pray so that they can work with us, so everything can heal."