by Nick Cavanaugh and Jake Eichten
Western peoples' relationship
to the Earth is critically out of balance. Environmental and social issues are
so deeply entwined that they cannot ever truly be separated. In our part of
the world, the people of the Onondaga Nation have offered a Land Rights Action
with the intention of healing past social and environmental wrongs. This Action
stimulates Central New Yorkers to ask ourselves, what is at the root of these
wrongs, and why do we have the perspectives on them that we have? By grappling
with these questions, we can better confront the problems and participate in
the work of healing.
When looking at the roots of current environmental and social injustices, one of the most important stories to tell is that of European colonization. At its root, this story is about the transformations that changed a continent of diverse, land-based tribal peoples into the monolithic identity of "Europe" and "Western Civilization." As Ward Churchill has noted more concisely, in order to colonize the world, Europe first had to colonize itself.
Even as late as 1500 A.D., centuries after the far-reaching conquest of the Roman Empire, life was agricultural and people lived in small, family-based communities. Overall European consciousness still beheld a Creation full of living beings, a great community within a living cosmos. "Mother Earth" was a familiar personage to these European ancestors, the provider from whom all beings derived sustenance and to whom they owed their existence. In such a context, over-harvesting is Greed, and mining - cutting into and digging up the flesh of the feminine Earth - is Lust on top of Greed, both Christian "Deadly Sins."
How did European peoples get from that consciousness to the present? European civilization became driven by its class-divided nature. The interests of the ruling elites - in general, to secure and expand their wealth and power - is at the core of Europe's peculiar path away from Earth's community. Feudalism came about as the institutionalized Church legitimized military fiefdoms to combat the encroachment of both Muslim "foreigners" and also local pagan tribes. By the time of the Renaissance, this polarization of "us (Christian Europe) vs. them (heathens)" had yielded great wealth and power for State and Church elites alike.
Through enclosures of feudal common lands, European peasants were uprooted from their ancestral soils and relocated to urban areas, becoming modern industrial workers severed from their Earthly roots. Mercantile trade was booming, fueled by the "discovery" of the Americas and the enslavement of African peoples. Increased trade required more money, and so commercial mining activities - formerly considered a sacred, ceremonial descent into Mother Earth's womb - became more common.
Just as Indigenous Peoples of Africa and the Americas were stripped of their humanity, the Land itself was stripped of its spiritual dimension, and Renaissance literature portrayed it not as nurturer but as a wicked stepmother hiding her treasures. Natural philosophy - the field of knowledge that eventually became known as Science - supported that view, portraying Nature as a "common harlot" (to quote Francis Bacon) to be overtaken and bound by Man's labors. Recall those centuries of "witch-hunts," and how learned men, legitimized by Church and civil authority, put to death those women who clung to ancient pagan knowledge, or who failed to conform to repressively patriarchal social ideals.
This history informs our present US society, as the patterns that were put in place as colonialism still perpetuate themselves through racist wars, social injustice and environmental degradation.
The Onondagas and other Indigenous Peoples offer a different perspective from a different history, a perspective of a more balanced way to act in and view the world. We in Central New York are fortunate to have opportunities to learn about these perspectives.
One such opportunity will take place in Syracuse on October 16 -17. As part of the collaborative educational series "Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future," there is a day-long teach-in on environmental stewardship, focusing on Indigenous and
Western approaches. There are also presentations each evening. All events are free and open to the public. Please join - listen, learn and share. See below.
Reflections on the Journey from Environmental
Reciprocity to Environmental Exploitation and Back
|BEFORE: A land in balance; cultural ecology
of the ancestral Onondaga homeland
Monday October 16, 7 pm.
Speakers: Robin Kimmerer, Jack Manno, Jeanne Shenandoah and Chief Jake Edwards
|AFTER: Restoring balance: healing
the land and waters.
Tuesday October 17, 7 pm.
Speakers: Chris Amato, Emmanuel
Carter, Chief Jake Edwards, Ed
Michalenko, Jeanne Shendandoah, Rick
Both Programs at Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse
Day-long Teach-In: Finding Common Ground:
Indigenous and western approaches to healing our land and waters
Tuesday October 17, 8:30 am - 4:15 pm
Alumni Lounge, Marshall Auditorium and various rooms at ESF
Keynote Addresses, Wisdom Circle, Women's Circle and 17 excellent workshops
Part of the series "Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future," sponsored by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation/SPC, SU, SUNY ESF and other community groups.
Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation/Syracuse Peace Council, 472-5478, www.peacecouncil.net/noon/index.html