NASA looks to native elders to help save the earth


Jan Slakov

Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 07:07:57 +0000
From: Paul Swann <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fwd: NASA looks to native elders to help save the earth

From: Stephanie Bruce <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••

COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

The Nome Eskimo elder lamented that nowadays his homeland in winter is too
warm for the life system to sustain itself -- only 20 degrees below zero
instead of 70 below. His people have learned to live in balance with the
ice and cold. But now the Bering Strait is sick. Sea ice is forming later,
affecting the animals who breed on it. The sea pups aren't ready to leave
when the ice melts, so they die or are abandoned. The hunters say the
walrus are skinny, and they have to hunt farther into the tundra because
the caribou know the thin ice won't sustain their weight.

In the old days, the elders in Alaska could forecast the weather by
watching the stars. But now, says one Siberian Yupek elder, "The Earth is
so fast now. We can't predict the weather anymore."

Many native prophesies warned of a time when the people would be confused,
and the old and the young would die first. The prophesies said the trees
would die from the tops down and the world would be in danger.

Using "eyes" from space, NASA officials have seen that the elders are
right. Its officials conclude that the "Earth is a living system that is
distressed." So now, NASA has turned to native elders for counsel as it
examines the effect of climate change on the U.S. population, environment
and economy. NASA brought together a gathering of several hundred elders
for a five-day climate-change workshop in Albuquerque, N.M., last fall.
NASA is seeking to merge the knowing and wisdom of people who understand
the responsibilities that humans have to the Earth with the knowledge of
nonnative scientists.

The elders who attended the conference, called the Circle of Wisdom Native
Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop, stated: "It is this
spiritual connection to Mother Earth, Father Sky and all Creation that is
lacking in the rest of the world. ... We call upon the people of the world
to hold your leaders accountable."

According to documents issued by the workshop, temperatures will become
warmer in the Northern Hemisphere by 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit within the
next 20 years. The primary source of human-induced climate change is the
burning of oil, gas and coal. The melting of sea ice "affects the exchange
of energy continuously taking place on the Earth's surface," according to
NASA. While it might seem a distant problem to many people in the United
States, all life is interconnected.

We have long said that native prophesies are misunderstood. They not only
are spiritual visions, but often also come from a life-science observation
of the natural world. When people understand that they are not separate
from the natural world, they will seek to honor and understand it. This is
why Chief Joseph said long ago that the Earth was part of his body and
they were of one "mind."

Native people traditionally have understood that the Earth and universe
have a mind and a spirit, a cosmic intelligence that in fact responds to
us, to our intentions. "Earth is a living mother, an organism. I know none
of us would think of abusing our birth mother. She is a spiritual woman
... that gives life. Through our ceremonies, we honor her life-giving
power so that she can continue to nourish us," says Cheyenne elder
Henrietta Mann.

When people no longer live and learn from the land, their disconnection to
it leads to the abuse of Mother Earth. Along with the land, native
people's traditions die: their food, their ceremonies, medicinal plants,
their fibers for making sacred baskets. And much of it has been through
the greed of market economies and the perversions of science and
technology that have claimed or contaminated the land, particularly native
lands, through deforestation, pesticides, industrial waste, radioactive
poisoning and mining. "What good is an economic system if our children die
anyway?" asked a Kanaka Maoli elder from Hawaii. A nearby flip-chart read,
"There is no post-environment economy."

There are myriad things to be done, including requiring companies to
factor the environmental impact of their projects into their businesses,
and demanding that all public projects invest in clean and renewable forms
of energy. But most of all, we must begin to value life in all its

Corbin Harney, a Shoshone elder, says the spirits of the land and the
ancestors are waiting for people to recognize their responsibility to
Mother Earth. "They want to hear us pray so that they can work with us, so
everything can heal."