As Earth Day 2017 approaches, I am thinking about my Indian ancestors, my African ancestors and my white forefathers who fought for, and fought over this land.
I look at this planet — its worsening environment and unstable future — and I wonder. Have we honored the earth? I look at all the progress and at what cost. I ask: Have we honored ourselves? I wonder. So I searched for the voice of America’s earliest settlers. I wondered what wisdom had they found. Here is what I found:
“There is a road in the hearts of all of us, hidden and seldom traveled, which leads to an unknown, secret place. The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. Their teepees were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The soul was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing. That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.” — Chief Luther Standing Bear 1868-1939
“You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground they spit upon themselves. This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.” — Chief Seattle 1786-1866
“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.” — John (Fire) Lame Deer Sioux Lakota 1903-1976
“We do not want schools.... they will teach us to have churches. We do not want churches ... they will teach us to quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that. We may quarrel with men sometimes about things on this earth, but we never quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that.” — Heinmot Tooyalaket ( Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader1840-1904
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” — Chief Tecumseh (Crouching Tiger) Shawnee Nation 1768-1813.
Every day was Earth Day to the American Indian because they treated the earth as sacred, a gift from God. Do we view it as a gift today? I wonder. Before we die, each of us should ask if I honored the earth, myself and my God? When the white man settled in this land, he also brought a book — the Holy Bible.
That book says at Psalm 115:16: “The highest heaven belongs to the Lord, but he gave the earth to all people.” — Common English Bible. It also says at Isaiah 45:18: “For the Lord is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos.” — New Living Translation.
Is the earth in chaos today? Our planet is currently losing more than 15 billion trees each year. Jesus Christ taught us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). That day is near at hand. Are you seeking to learn and do God's will (1Timothy 2:3-4)?
In the meantime, on April 22, Earth Day Network is launching a three-year campaign for environmental and climate literacy. It all starts with respect for the earth. Interested? For more information, visit www.earthday.org.
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