Keepers of the Central Fire: An Ecology for Indigenous Peoples

Nov 15th, 1999 | By | Category: 11-2: Teacher Education, Media Reviews

KEEPERS OF THE CENTRAL FIREby Lorelei Anne Lambert Colomeda
Jones and Bartlett, Boston, 1999
250 pages

Review by Michael Price

I never regarded environmental managers and policymaker as healthcare professionals until I read this book, Keepers of the Central Fire, An Ecology for Indigenous Peoples by Lorelei Anne Lambert Colomeda, Ph.D., R.N. The overall theme of this work is health: land health, animal health, water health, and human health. Colomeda also associates mental, emotional, and spiritual health with ecology. She considers tribal foresters, aquatic biologists, storytellers, and activists, as well as physicians and nurses, to be health care professionals.

Keepers of the Central Fire is a unique blend of poetic prose, science, and history, which reflects the worldview of First Nation peoples of this continent. The beauty and significance of this work come from the words of tribal elders and community people, whom Colomeda gives as much weight as scientific evidence and legal definitions. Ceremony and storytelling are as much a part of reality as chromatography and quantitative analysis.

Colomeda defines environmental health according to ancient tribal beliefs, socio-economic status, and medical terminology. She hopes that systemic change will occur in the way we, as humans, view ourselves in relation to the Earth Mother. She wants us to see mining and clearcutting as the infliction of wounds and disease on the very entity that provides our well being.

Keepers of the Central Fire also examines the culture collision between Euro-American and indigenous worldviews. The health of indigenous communities and families was disrupted by the invasion of a foreign belief system. This invasion set in motion two parallel dynamics: environmental degradation and tribal community disintegration. On tribal lands, it is not uncommon to see land fills and abandoned open-pit mines coexist with substance abuse and teen suicide in the nearby communities. Colomeda highlights and gives credit to the many warriors—women and men—who are actively defending their communities from environmental and societal degradation. For those who want to delve into the complex fabric of science, culture, and politics, I highly recommend this book.

Michael Wassegijig Price is chairman of the Leech lake Tribal College Department of Science and Mathematics. Colomeda teaches environmental health; social and environmental ethics; and personal, community, and tribal health at Salish Kootenai College.

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