- The State of Indigenous America Series: Earth Mother, Piñons, and Apple Pie
My name is Tom Goldtooth. I am the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) was established in 1990, formed by community-based indigenous peoples (American Indian/Alaska Natives and Canadian First Nations), including youth and elders, to address environmental and economic justice issues in North America, or Turtle Island. IEN is an indigenous-based, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working on environmental protection, environmental health, conservation of natural resources, protection of sacred areas, and the promotion of sustainable development within indigenous territories. In recent years, we have expanded our work on energy and climate justice as well as water and food security, or in today’s terms, food sovereignty. Our work is now global, working with indigenous peoples both internationally and domestically.
Indigenous peoples are confronting many challenges. Changes in the environment, economic globalization, and a continuation of Western forms of development threaten our communities. The survival of indigenous cultures, languages, and communities continues to be affected by the modern industrialized world which lacks respect for the sacredness of Earth Mother. As “caretakers” or “guardians” of Earth Mother, it is our historic responsibility as indigenous peoples to protect the natural environment, to generate awareness of traditional ecological knowledge, and to promote models for sustainable development based upon our indigenous values. [End Page 11]
In 1998, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we participated in the first Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop Summit and drafted the following preamble section of the first collective statement of indigenous peoples of the United States concerning climate change:
Our prophecies and teachings tell us that life on earth is in danger of coming to an end. We have accepted the responsibility designated by our prophecies to tell the world that we must live in peace and harmony and ensure balance with the rest of Creation. The destruction of the rest of Creation must not be allowed to continue, for if it does, Mother Earth will react in such a way that almost all people will suffer the end of life as we know it.
A growing body of western scientific evidence now suggests what Indigenous Peoples have expressed for a long time: life as we know it is in danger. We can no longer afford to ignore the consequences of this evidence. We must learn to live with this shadow, and always strive towards the light that will restore the natural order. How western science and technology is being used needs to be examined in order for Mother Earth to sustain life.
Our Peoples and lands are a scattering of islands within a sea of our neighbors, the richest material nations in the world. The world is beginning to recognize that today’s market driven economies are not sustainable and place in jeopardy the existence of future generations. It is upsetting the natural order and laws created for all our benefit. The continued extraction and destruction of natural resources is unsustainable.
There is a direct relationship between the denial of Indigenous Peoples’ land and water rights, along with the appropriation without consent of Indigenous Peoples’ natural resources, and the causes of global climate change today. Examples include deforestation, contamination of land and water by pesticides and industrial waste, toxic and radioactive poisoning, military and mining impacts.
The four elements of fire, water, earth, and air sustain all life. These elements of life are being destroyed and misused by the modern world. Fire gives life and understanding, but is being disrespected by technology of the industrialized world that allows it to take life such as the fire in the coal-fired power plants, the toxic waste incinerators, the fossil-fuel combustion engine and other polluting technologies that add to greenhouse gases. [End Page 12] Coal extraction from sacred earth is being used to fuel the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate warming.
Because of our relationship with our lands, waters and natural surroundings which has sustained us since time immemorial, we carry the knowledge and ideas that the world needs today. We know how to live with this land: we have...