Native Spirituality vs. Industrial Thinking {Sacred, Spiritual Nature}

Native American perceptions of the human relationship with nature coincide in many ways with deep ecology. Their relationship with the natural world was a livid reality prior to the incursion of white European cultural beliefs, and many tribes still honor these older beliefs on how humankind should participate with nature. Eunice Baumann-Nelson, a Penobscot elder from a reservation in Maine, explains that what we now think of as “Native spirituality” was not a religion as generally understood, but a way of life. That is to say, “it permeated their lives to such an extent as to be inseparable from everyday living. …

Manitou was not a supreme being but rather a way of referring to that cosmic, mysterious power existing everywhere in nature…”

American environmentalist and writer {and the first Native American woman to receive an electoral vote for Vice President} Winona LaDuke discusses nature from a Native American perspective, dividing the two approaches to our natural resources: indigenous thinking and industrial thinking. “… I believe the primary challenge, which we face collectively as people in North America, is the challenge between these two worldviews. …And I’m going to suggest that an industrial worldview is not sustainable. And that perhaps we should look at an indigenous worldview.”

A primary tenet of indigenous thinking, wherever one goes in indigenous communities, she says, is the central belief that natural law is the highest law, higher than any laws made by humans. We discern natural law over thousands of years by observing the natural processes and cycles of nature. Spiritual knowledge also informs natural law, and the freedom to practice this spirituality is central to indigenous people’s knowledge of how to live one’s life.

Industrial thinking, on the other hand, teaches human’s dominion over nature – the idea of a divine right to everything around for our own benefit. In this worldview, she points out, we define progress with indicators like economic growth and technological advancement, and this way of thinking finds ways to justify the exploitation our natural resources. Corporations tend to see timber, not forests, or as she puts it: “So while the Hopi will tell you that the Black Mesa coal field is the lungs of Mother Earth, what Arizona Public Service will tell you is it’s worth $20 a ton.” The essence of capitalism, LaDuke says, is taking more than you need, and not being mindful to leave anything for others.

Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, makes note of Chief Seattle, a Suquamish and Dkhw’-Duw’Absh {Duwamish} chief, and his impassioned speech to President Washington regarding the purchase of tribal lands. “Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.”

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