Here are some excerpts from “The Wisdom of the Native Americans,” by Kent Nerburn, that relate to the development of a sense of community – which is seen as increasingly crucial during difficult times or when feelings of fear are more pervasive. While the quotes come from a different culture and an earlier time in our country, the underlying principles are still quite relevant – especially to sustainable living. I’ve cited the page numbers, and will add a few comments afterwards.
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(P.60) “Once I was in Victoria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank, and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back, with interest.
“We are Indians, and we have no such banks; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them, with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.”
“The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.
“There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities, no place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insects’ wings. Perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand, but the clatter only seems to insult the ears.
“The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, the smell of the wind itself cleansed by a midday rain, or scented with piñon pine. The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath – the animals, the trees, the man.
“Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench.
(P.85) “Is there not something worthy of perpetuation
in our Indian spirit of democracy, where Earth,
our mother, was free to all, and no one sought
to impoverish or enslave his neighbor?”
(P.89-90) “As children of nature, we have always looked upon the concentration of population as the prolific mother of all evils, moral no less than physical. It was not, then, wholly from ignorance or improvidence that we failed to establish permanent towns and to develop a material civilization. We have always believed that food is good while surfeit kills; that love is good, but lust destroys; and not less dreaded than the pestilence following upon crowded and unsanitary dwellings is the loss of spiritual power inseparable from too close contact with one’s fellow men.
“All who have lived much out of doors, whether Indian or otherwise, know that there is a magnetic and powerful force that accumulates in solitude but is quickly dissipated by life in a crowd. Even our enemies have recognized that for a certain innate power and self-poise, wholly independent of circumstances, the American Indian is unsurpassed among the races.”
(P.108-9) “A sense of honor pervades all aspects of Indian life.
“Orphans and the aged are invariably cared for, not only by their next of kin, but by the whole clan. The man who is a skillful hunter, and whose wife is alive to her opportunities, makes many feasts, to which he is careful to invite the older men of his clan. He recognizes that they have outlived their period of greatest activity, and now love nothing so well as to eat in good company and live over their past.
“He sets no price upon either his property or his labor. His generosity is limited only by his strength. He regards it as an honor to be selected for a difficult or dangerous service, and would think it a shame to ask for any other reward, saying rather, ‘Let those I serve express their thanks according to their own upbringing and sense of honor.’
“He is always ready to undertake the impossible, or to impoverish himself for the sake of a friend.
“Where the other person is regarded more than the self, duty is sweeter and more inspiring, patriotism more sacred, and friendship is a pure and eternal bond.”
(P.132-3) “When I reduce civilization to its most basic terms, it becomes a system of life based on trade. Each man stakes his powers, the product of his labor, his social, political, and religious standing against his neighbor. To gain what? To gain control over his fellow workers, and the results of their labor.
“Is there not something worthy of perpetuation in our Indian spirit of democracy, where Earth, our mother, was free to all, and no one sought to impoverish or enslave his neighbor? Where the good things of Earth were not ours to hold against our brothers and sisters, but were ours to use and enjoy together with them, and with whom it was our privilege to share?”
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As I read these quotes, understanding they come from a different time in our North American civilization and in our technological advancement, I still have pause to think about basic values and what we might consider “underlying truths.”
In our sustainable development, hearing the sound of a breeze coming across our central pond is considerably more restful and satisfying than the sound of engines. And the sound of a rake gathering fallen leaves is more comforting than one of those deafening leaf blowers. In fact, I’ve noticed the quiet of our electric car has been making the sound of deep-tone mufflers on pick-up trucks more irritating to me.
And I have found that the dense, lush, textured and colorful landscape of our trees and shrubs seems to positively impact everyone in our sustainable development – especially as they recall their former times of mowing flat plains of grass, day after day … which are visually barren, in contrast. Perhaps most important was my discovery that our residents felt a strong “sense of community” that they feel has most impacted their lives here – which actually reflects many of the above quotes – though my focus in creating the development was to be Net Zero in heating, cooling, power, water, etc.
I think we can adopt many of these principles in our own way and in our 21st century lifestyle.