Sustainable Attitude

Here are excerpts from this book about Native Americans that relate to the overriding frame of mind that truly helps foster Sustainable Living. I’ll add a few comments afterwards.

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of the

Native Americans

                                                                                              Kent Nerburn


(P.x) But they (the inhabitants of this land) shared in common a belief that the earth is a spiritual presence that must be honored, not mastered.  Unfortunately, western Europeans who came to these shores had a contrary belief.  To them, the entire American continent was a beautiful but savage land that it was not only their right but their duty to tame and use as they saw fit.


(P.xv) Even though he had come to believe that white civilization was, at heart, “a system of life based on trade,” he still felt it as the task of the best people, both Indian and non-Indian, to help America find a shared vision.


(P.3)  “All things are connected. Whatever befalls

            the earth befalls the children of the earth.”

Chief Seattle


(P.36-7) From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things … the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals … and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man.  Thus all things were kindred and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.

Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them.  And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.

The animals had rights – the right of man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved an animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.

This concept of life and its relations was humanizing, and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living;  it gave him reverence for all life;  it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all.

The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood, made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery. In spirit, the Lakota were humble and meek. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” – this was true for the Lakota, and from the earth they inherited secrets long since forgotten.  Their religion was sane, natural, and human.

Chief Luther Standing Bear


(P.73) “Continue to contaminate your own bed, and

            you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”

Chief Seattle


(P.88) We believe that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree;  though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself.  The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied force, and as such an object of reverence.

We Indians love to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with our brothers and sisters of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls hold for us something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent and irresponsible child.                                                                              Ohiyesa


(P.94) This is the spirit of the original American.  We hold nature to be the measurement of consummate beauty, and we consider its destruction to be a sacrilege.

“Ah!” explained an old man, “such is the strange philosophy of the white man! He hews down the forest that has stood for centuries in its pride and grandeur, tears up the bosom of Mother Earth, and causes the silvery watercourses to waste and vanish away.  He ruthlessly disfigures God’s own pictures and monuments, and then daubs a flat surface with many colors, and praises his work as a masterpiece!”                                                                         Ohiyesa

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From an Environmental Ethics class I’m taking come some useful terms …

“Anthropocentrism” is a sophisticated-sounding term essentially meaning that man is the highest of creatures and the rest of nature is there to serve us. Plant and animal values are measured by how much they provide us.

“Eco-centrism” says we are one part of a larger system of life on Earth, and that no one entity is higher or lower, better or worse than any other. All have intrinsic value, and need to be respected accordingly.

The two perspectives provide a useful framework, and both are detailed in the very first passage I took from the book.  While the quotes come from a time and culture different from our 21st century lifestyle and technology, the thoughts seem germane.  I think our society has primarily lived in anthropocentric ways, and needs to shift to an eco-centric perspective to achieve true “Sustainable Living.”

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