Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Mother Earth's Laws vs. Empire's Practices

b2ap3_thumbnail_mother-earth-day.jpgConsidering the shocking events of the past months in the United States, particularly in relation to the Earth, I believe we need to talk about Mother Earth's laws versus the practices of Empire. They are radically different. Mother Earth's Laws are Life-centered and honor all people and all life on Earth; Empire is death-centered, favors a narrow demographic of people, and believes the Earth should be plundered for her resources for individual gain. Empire exalts social Darwinism and believes "those who have are those who deserve"; to the contrary, Mother Earth's Laws function from the reality that everyone here deserves to have their needs completely met and everyone matters.  The highly-evolved, sophisticated cultures of Native Americans historically and currently function at every level of engagement (governmental, socioeconomically, and in gender practices) in ways that reflect and honor the inherent laws of this planet, Mother Earth's Laws. These Laws come from a profound and ancient relationship to the Earth. There is no "food chain" that functions from a belief in human exceptionalism, no hierarchy that allows humans to take and all other beings and elements expected to give. There is no one-way "Giving Tree" relationship (like Shel Silverstein's book), where human beings constantly take and Mother Earth gives, to the ultimate sacrifice of her very life.That's Empire.

Mother Earth's Laws do not function from a twisted belief that some human beings are more important than other human beings. Mother Earth denies no one anything, ever. She has never said, "You cannot drink from my river because of the color of your skin" or "You cannot breathe my air because of your religious beliefs" or "You cannot dig medicine because you are poor". That is not how this planet works, and Native American nations functioned from that reality for millennia before the Europeans arrived and started individual ownership of land, killing Native people and animals, and pillaging the Earth. Tragically, these beliefs and practices of Empire set up the system that defines the United States now, despite vehement opposition by people of all identities.

b2ap3_thumbnail_earth.jpg"Water is Life" has become a popular slogan that emerged from ancient teachings promulgated by the Dakota Access Pipeline activism movement, but I want to emphatically add that EARTH is Life, AIR is Life, FIRE is Life, and the Luminaries around our Earth Mother are all also Life. Human beings are responsible for this life. When human beings break the Laws here on Earth, Laws that expect and only properly function from reciprocal relationships, life on our planet gets out of balance. Though a tiny percentage of human beings may have made those decisions, everyone is going to reap the consequences. That's how this planet works.

Mother Earth's Laws make it clear that human beings cannot "take-use-discard" in an endless cycle of consumption--of resources and of actual people. That is a death cycle. All human beings matter and are in relationship with each other and the natural world. This is not a political position, a "liberal" perspective, or a hippie-bunny-hugging slogan. These are the Laws of this planet, and Indigenous peoples live by these laws today and structured their nations around them.These concepts are not new and are not negotiable.

If someone argues that they are not in direct relationship with the natural world at this very moment, ask them to stop breathing and not drink any water for a day.

b2ap3_thumbnail_7813297bed457a23320ad07b7b9251d2--native-quotes-native-american-quotes.jpgMother Earth's Laws always ask us to consider the legacy of our Ancestors (what will they think of the decisions we are making now?) as well as the needs of the rising generations, i.e. how will the decisions we make today impact them? These approaches assert a Life-Based paradigm that respects the whole. Empire only looks at this moment and how decisions will benefit them, which is great if you're practicing Mindfulness and are living in "Now", but this is not the way to enact social policy that will have long-term consequences.

Anishinabe/Jewish activist Winona LaDuke, along with many other Native Americans, point out that Empire is based in these values: Supremacy (gender, race, class, geographic), Quarterly profits rather than the needs of the next 7-Generations, Disposable Waste (objects, land, and "worthless" people like the poor and prisoners), and a belief in Armageddon and a savior who will arrive to fix our mess. Native American nations never believed or functioned from any of these beliefs....and we don't have to either.

b2ap3_thumbnail_NDVA-painting.jpgBelonging to one another. Responsibility. Considering the Rising Generations. The term "Mother Earth" is present linguistically in some form in every Indigenous language of the Americas and is the oldest most continually-practiced form of human governing that has ever existed. For all those who openly reject the tenets of Empire, know that we CAN turn its story back upon itself. Followers of Mother Earth's Laws far outnumber the pushers of Empire....Native Americans have been organizing their communities and thriving despite incredible hardships for 500 years and they are still going strong! Let us turn to our Elder siblings and work to protect Mother Earth. Don't let the daily news get you down, but let it raise up your fire!! Together, I have no doubt we can do it and Mother Earth is rooting for us! Above is a painting from Galilee Blockade, an environmental activist organization.

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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.

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