Indigenous peoples globally, although tremendously diverse in the expression of traditions, do share some similar foundational values, based on the relationship with the Earth. Expressions of traditions are determined by the local environment. For example, my nation, in Anishinaabe centered philosophy, water holds great spiritual significance. We, Anishinaabeg are surrounded by water in the Great Lakes Territory. Indigenous thought always perceives the Earth as a living, breathing, conscious being, whose sacred duty it is to care for the ones living in, on and in relation to her, including humans. In Indigenous thought, humans are considered to be part of creation, not above it, as in the “dominion over all things” foundation of westernized philosophy.
All Indigenous Peoples have our own creation stories, our own genesis. These stories consist of two elements: 1) How we were created, and 2) How we are to live on and with the living Earth. This is commonly referred to as Original Instruction. Original Instruction involves concepts of reciprocity, always giving back, gratitude and caring. This assumes an intelligently caring creation, where all parts are aware of and care for all other parts. There are succinct spiritual statements within Tribal Nations that express these philosophies. Among the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, “Mitakuye Owasin” means “All My Relations” and is a call to remember the relational precepts of Original Instructions. Anishinaabeg have “Mino-Bi-Maadiziwin” which translates to “The Good Life”. These are calls to remember Original Instruction and to remember the responsibility of our place in Creation.
In these philosophies, Indigenous knowledge is profoundly expressed. We are the Original Peoples of the land. We all trace our lineage to creation. We are made of the Earth. Our blood and bodies have gone back to her generation after generation, until the Earth is also made of us. This is why environmental degradation is so painful to us. We actually feel the pain in our bodies and spirits when we see any violation of the Earth as all. Because Indigenous Peoples are forced into the global market with only our resources and labor to negotiate with, we often find ourselves in the “either-or” conundrum of economic development or cultural survival. It is the ultimate irony that since our cultures are dependent on our relation with the land, and we must sell the resources in the land, we become economically dependent on our own cultural destruction.
Nevertheless, we remain connect to the expressions of cultural life and economic subsistence lifestyles everyday. We are who we are, the Original Peoples of this land with the encumbent responsibilities and obligations to her. Our cultural teachings and heritage live in each of us through our genetic memory which some of our elders refer to as “blood memory”. This identity is the source of knowledge and spirituality, which we can call upon to guide our values and ethics in all that we do.
Even though our access to our own Indigenous knowledge has been violently interrupted by colonization of the Western Hemisphere and its’ accompanying brutality towards us, it lives in us still. There are many people who carry and hold the specific teachings for us. The knowledge is available. For example, many Indigenous Nations have prophecies, such as the Seven Fires of the Anishinaabe (each fire representing a period of time), which foretold of the situations that we find ourselves in currently. Within the teachings are also the ethical responses that are available to us to guide us through our complex environmental and economic situations.
To operate from the cultural identity and Indigenous knowledge is always a position of strength. It is movement toward sustainability, healing, integration of wholeness for Indigenous peoples as well as models for all people of our beautiful Earth Mother.