Modern society is a hallmark of innovation since it propels new ideas, technologies, ways of living, etc. Even so, its weakest link is fear, which can be very toxic and from a spiritual perspective is the antithesis of love. There is still xenophobia, discrimination, elitism, superficiality, and a definition of success that’s based more on economic wealth than actual personal values and character. I feel hopeful that once we start shedding our fears away we will become better individuals and create a better society. To bring balance to the modern society of today, I want to share with you the thoughts of some Native Americans from the past.
Nature According to the Natives
Native Americans (including tribes from Central and South America) were very close to nature and to their own souls, which translated into a much more balanced, simple and meaningful life. Don’t get fooled though, many of these tribes were very knowledgeable in science and used extremely accurate calendars. Yes, many of the tribes lived in very simple wigwams (and still do in some parts of the world, such as in the Amazon), but they also developed great civilizations that used very precise and advanced technology and engineering that in many cases surpassed the methods used by immigrants.
“Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.
In sharing, in loving all and everything, one people naturally found a due portion of the thing they sought, while, in fearing, the other found need of conquest.”1 – Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux.
“I was deeply hurt as I witnessed the grand old forests of Michigan, under whose shades my forefathers lived and died, falling before the cyclone of civilization as before a prairie fire.”2 – Simon Pokagon, Potawatomi Chief.
“We know that the white man does not understand our ways . . . The earth is not his brother, but his enemy – and when he has conquered it, he moves on.”3 – Chief Seattle, Suqwamish and Duwamish.
We have large cities and we keep extending them to spaces where the land is untouched. To this day, natives in several parts of the world are still being robbed of their lands in the name of progress. One example that comes to mind is the Belo Monte project in Brazil, where many natives are being displaced out of their lands to build one of the largest water dams in South America. Another example, is the damage caused by gold mining companies by contaminating water and ecosystems with mercury, cyanide, and other toxic wastes. This is affecting the lives of native tribes as well as poor rural people. We keep stripping the earth trying to conquer it, which comes from a stand of greed mixed with trying to impose our “superiority,” a fear trap. Instead, if we adopted a position of love where sharing replaced conquering and respect replaced greed, then we could still enjoy many of the gifts that the earth has to offer us without destroying it.
“As a child, I understood how to give; I have forgotten that grace since I became civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas I now live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable to me then, every growing tree an object of reverence.
Now I worship with the white man before a painted landscape whose value is estimated in dollars! Thus the Indian is reconstructed, as the natural rocks are ground to powder and made into artificial blocks that may be built into the walls of modern society.”4 – Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman), Santee Sioux.
“Which of these is the wisest and happiest – he who labors without ceasing and only obtains, with great trouble, enough to live on, or he who rests in comfort and finds all that he needs in the pleasure of hunting and fishing?”5 – Micmac Chief (1676).
“No nation, I think, can be more fond of novelties than the English . . . They are truly industrious . . . But their close attention to business produces, I think, too much worldly-mindedness, and hence they forget to think enough about their souls and their God.
Their motto seems to be ‘Money, money, get money, get rich, and be a gentleman.’ With this sentiment, they fly about in every direction, like a swarm of bees, in search of the treasure that lies so near their hearts.”6 – Kahkewaquonaby (“Sacred Waving Feathers”), Ojibwe.
“They told me it was a bank, and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back, with interest.
We are Indians, and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them, with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.”7 – Maquinna, Nootka Chief.
Our relationship with materialism in modern culture traces back to centuries and even thousands of years ago, and therefore people have deeply internalized that material things are extremely important and look for fulfillment and happiness in the pleasures that money can buy. Being a workaholic is now regarded as something extremely respectable and it is encouraged (at least that’s the trend in the United States). Work ethics and being useful to society are indeed admirable, but there needs to be a balance. Being a workaholic and forgetting about other important parts of life, especially for the sake of accumulating money, leaves people without enough time to share with their families, friends, and to get in touch with nature and their own souls.
I’m not saying that we should just give up everything we have and stop aspiring to financial success or better job opportunities; this is great, but it should not be all that life is about. When will we reach a balance? When will we enjoy what we have, the technologies and innovations that were supposedly created to make our lives easier? When will we keep in mind other human beings, animals, and the earth?
War and Justice
“If my warriors are to fight they are too few; if they are to die they are too many.”8 – Hendrick, Mohawk.
“When I was a boy, the Sioux owned the world. The sun rose and set on their land; they sent ten thousand men to battle.
Where are the warriors today? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them?
What white man can say I ever stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say I am a thief.
What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian.”9 – Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux.
When will we be able to rely on what is genuinely good? I’m hoping that this will be soon and that we can learn from the wisdom of those who were very in-sync with the earth.
Let’s keep innovating and sharing the beautiful things we do have in our culture, such as our art, a lot of our music, our curiosity, and more. Let’s use our technology to do good, to help others, and to spread ideas that motivate and uplift. It is up to us to live in fear or in love and it is up to us to choose respect and community over intolerance and segregation.
1 Nerburn, Kent, and Louise Mengelkoch. Native American Wisdom. San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1991. 48.
2 Nerburn. 52.
3 Nerburn. 53.
4 Nerburn. 61.
5 Nerburn. 67.
6 Nerburn. 68.
7 Nerburn. 68.
8 Nerburn. 56.
9 Nerburn. 59.
This article was originally published on libravit.com.
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