We All Must Learn to Live Respectfully

Nov 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 20-2: Native Green, Editor's Essay
By Tina Deschenie


When I sat down to write this essay on sustainability, I didn’t know where to start. This month’s theme has opened my eyes and ears to so much information. Everything is connected to the environment – how we live, what we eat, what we wear, what we drive, and how we build. It all matters.

During a panel presentation at the UNITY Conference, sponsored by journalists of color in Chicago this August, I was riveted by the comments of environmental activist Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe). She discussed globalization, economies, and the role of the media. LaDuke has twice been the Green Party vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader.

LaDuke asked us to recall who opposed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people when the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept it last year. Those “no” votes were cast by the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. She called globalization an extension of colonialism – a means of taking others’ resources in uranium, coal, and water. She said these issues are marginalized, even in the media.

The United States has the world’s largest energy economy, she says. “We’re junkies when it comes to oil and climate change. We hang out with dealers of bad stuff.” She asked us in the Native media how we’re preparing communities to be “at the table and not on the menu.”

When James Makawa, her African-American co-panelist, talked about needing to get “a piece of the pie,” LaDuke responded, “We’re not fighting for a piece of the pie — we want a whole other pie.” She also talked about re-localizing the economy by supporting communities’ efforts to grow food for their own use, as opposed to “exporting locally grown food to a gourmet economy.”

She questioned the effect of the media on our consumer lifestyle. As she put it, “We’re into really stupid stuff… We need to figure out how to live in dignity.” I could quote her entire speech, but instead I suggest that you read her in “Voices” this issue.

One of my doctoral classes this fall involves reading essays written by Dr. Daniel Wildcat (Euchee) from Power and Place: Indian Education in America, which he co-wrote with Vine Deloria, Jr. (Lakota). A diagram in one of the essays is particularly powerful so I’m presenting it here:

Wildcat points out that we Native people have clans and relationships that include animals, plants, and features of the landscape. As a Diné and Hopi woman, I am Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle), born for Tó’aheedlíinii (Water flows together), and of the Hopi Tewa Corn clan. My clans are plants and water so that I talk about myself as being of those elements, of those beings. Among Native people, our clan systems foster respect for all living beings around us.

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