There Is No Nature. We Are the Land.

There Is No Nature. We Are the Land.

A recent article in one of our local periodicals brought me up short. It was a lovely piece about a local woman and her devoted volunteer work to restore a precious Native prairie in this area. In discussing the history of this prairie the author mentioned how the federal government bought the land from the Potawatomi. Now I know that the truth of how that land transfer came down is not taught in our schools, so I can excuse the author for simply passing on his understanding. But it reminded me just how deep the misconceptions run, and it did give me pause.

Aside from the fact that the land transfer happened under threat from the U. S. Army using tactics no realtor would engage in, the idea that the Potawatomi could sell the land is one only the invading consciousness would buy. For clarity’s sake, the "Potawatomi" call themselves the Bodawadomi and are part of the larger Anishinaabe nation. In times past the majority of people in this area were Anishinaabe, mostly Bodawadomi, Odawa and Ojibwe (also called Chippewa). A primary understanding among traditional Anishinaabeg is that the earth and the beings who move around on the surface are inseparable, both from the earth herself and from each other. We are really all very closely related.

If you think about it, the truth of this way of understanding becomes self evident. When we are eating food grown and harvested locally (which is how it was always done in times past), we are literally consuming the nutrients that Earth in this location has put into the plants and animals. We are drinking the groundwater, river water or both that flow through this place. We place our wastes into the ground (at least in times past) and the nutrients in those wastes go back into the Circle of Life. We are not separate from the Circle of Life in this place, but part of it. I’ve been told that the reason there is no word in the Anishinaabe language for "nature" is because humans and nature are inseperable. Our bodies are constructed from the nutrients of the soil, water and air of Earth, and the more our consumption is local, the more we truly are this place.

I’ve heard that Native people couldn’t imagine selling the land because it would be like selling their mother. I think it’s more accurate to say that selling the land would be like selling a crucial part of your own body, like your liver or your heart. Either way, the idea that the land could be bought and sold is one the invading culture brought with them. The Anishinaabeg here moved because they wanted their children to continue to live, even if it meant learning how to live in a different place. It was made clear to them that if they did not move they would not live. A land transfer under threat of death can hardly be called a sale, even if money and/or goods changed hands.

I have learned to pray in the ancient Anishinaabe way. In the way I have been taught, we sing to the beings in each of the four directions. Next we bend down and sing into our true Mother. We are told this direction is not down, but IN. We then reach up and sing toward all of Creation including the sky and stars. We are told this direction is not up, but OUT. The assumption behind these practices is that we ARE the land, and that we are inseparable from our mother Earth.

Perhaps the effect of the food grown on this continent, the water from this place and the air that flows across this land is making a difference. I sometimes think that these influences are why so many American people are drawn to understand more about the people who lived here before the conquest. There is a curiosity about Native ways and Native perspectives evident among many Americans. It is difficult for these curious people to find good teachers among the Native people, and even more difficult for them to be able to discern the good teachers from the not so good. There are cultural norms evident in people who are walking their talk and following the traditional ways that people from outside that culture have trouble spotting. And there are powerful reasons for Native people to be cautious in their dealings with people from the conquering culture.

Despite these difficulties some evidence of the influence of this continent on the people who live here is apparent. If you ask people from the rest of the developed world to name their most sacred places you’ll hear answers like "Notre Dame Cathedral," "The Taj Mahal," "Westminister Abby," and "the Vatican." If you ask the same question of Americans you hear answers like "the Grand Canyon," "the Everglades," "the Redwood Forest," and "Glacier National Park." We ARE the land and some of us are waking up to that fact.

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