to separate us from nature
Before presenting this information, I would like to apologize
to tribal elders for speaking on things of a sacred nature as a
young person. I am still learning. However, I speak these words
respectfully, abiding by protocol, and in a good way. I hope to
build on what Western science teaches the public by using their
tenets and vernacular to show readers how Indigenous knowledge can
help society protect Mother Earth and all life here.
My grandmother told many stories. They were often ancestral
instructions, although I didnt realize it at the time.
scared of rodents. She needed me to understand that even the smallest
creature has value, so she told me about bean mice. When conditions
were harsh and the People were starving, the mouse fed them. These
mice stored caches of beans. The women would visit these food stores
and take what they needed, but they would leave something behind
for the mouse and her family, or replace it with additional nourishment,
like corn. In this manner, different animal nations sharing the
same ecosystem kept each other alive.
Colonization sought to separate us from nature. Yet in the past
century, western science has begun to explore the idea of connectivity
and how living beings interact and affect one another. Chaos Theory
says small causes can have large effects. As species are endangered
and go instinct due to manmade causes, ecologists and conservationists
began to pay attention to the role we all play within our environment.
Some organisms are ideal for biomonitoring. Biologists call
these life forms indicator species, because they reveal the state
of the environment within a given region. The presence or absence
of these specific sentinel organisms, as well as their population
fitness, discloses the impact of pollution, disease, and climate
change. Often these organisms are sensitive to ecological changes
not readily apparent and act as an early warning of things to come.
If indicator species disappear, others will follow. Biodiversity,
or the variety of life forms, is vital to the survival of life on
planet Earth. A wide variety of species makes Earth livable. Biodiversity
provides us with an array of foods, medicines, and materials. Everything
has a job. Various plants clean water and absorb chemicals while
providing us with oxygen to breathe. Biodiversity also allows ecosystems
to bounce back faster from disturbances, like disease outbreaks,
floods, fires, and storms. About 1.9 million species have been identified,
but more are found every week.
Western scientists have studied indicator species to collect information
about the environment for decades. Indigenous peoples have been doing
it for millennia. Our Native ancestors were consummate observers of
the natural world. They were intuitive scientists who chronicled their
understanding of perceived phenomena through oral history that was
passed down through the generations as ancestral teachings.
Unlike western science, Indigenous science is centered on relatedness;
the connectedness of all things- and the spirit world is accepted
as fact. As a result, some Indigenous scientific knowledge is hidden
within spiritual beliefs and ceremony.
Among the Oceti Sakowin (Dakota/Lakota/Nakota), some sentinel
organisms that predict environmental health are not called indicator
species; rather, they are referred to as being associated with wowakan,
Dragonflies (order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera) are welcomed
at summer ceremonies. They signify the presence of wowakan, and
Biologists know that dragonflies are an indicator of a healthy
biophysical environment. The presence of dragonflies signify good
water quality, because they require it to thrive. They are also
a strong indicator of biodiversity and robust aquatic environments.
meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) song is considered a sign of sacred
energy at Sundance ceremonies. Biologists have named the western
meadowlark as an indicator species for prairies and grasslands.
Their population fitness indicates the health of other species,
and therefore, translates to biodiversity. Their presence also reveals
good water quality.
These are just a few examples.
During ceremony, we connect with all our relations. Mitakuye
oyasin. We depend on animals showing themselves to us. Each life
form is important, not only environmentally, but spiritually. This
is why the presence of two legged and four legged creatures is crucial
to the preservation of sacred sites.
We are taught that when these signs disappear, the spirits will
not come. Environmental protection is not only vital to life on
Earth, but our spiritual belief system and ceremonies. Life needs
clean air, land and water. Our spirits require clean air, land and
water. Environmental conservation mends the sacred hoop. Remember
this as we manage our lands.
Regardless of what buzzwords employed, this is certain: we are
all related, and we are all in this together.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa
Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.