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For Native Peoples, Earth Day Is a Silly Concept

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For Ojibwe and most Native peoples, Earth Day is a silly concept. Moreover, the very notion underscores the non-Native view of the natural world as something that is apart from human beings.

Not long ago, I interviewed George Sielstad, an Earth Systems scientist who taught for many years at the University of North Dakota. Sielstad is one of a group of scientists who work with NASA in its growing efforts to collaborate with indigenous peoples for answers to the problem of global warming. "In the Western world, people think they're not part of nature unless they're out camping," Sielstad said. "They have forgotten that we are all a part of nature even at home in the city. Indigenous peoples understand this."



The acknowledgement of the human spirit's relationship to the earth is at the heart of the native way of knowing. This knowledge, noted Sielstad, may be among the greatest gifts that native peoples have to share with scientists and the world.

For Ojibwe, especially women, everyday is earth day because we are the ones who care for the earth's most precious resource, water and take our jobs seriously.

For us, family and community include water, land and wildlife. We know, deep in our blood memories, that there is no escape from the natural processes that dominate our lives. No amount of money, jobs or political back room deals can buy off these forces. Ojibwe and non-Natives alike, rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans are all governed by the great leveler, nature. If we befoul our earth and our water, we poison ourselves. This is a simple fact that Ojibwe understand. Ojibwe women carry our young surrounded by water in our wombs; the power of water is etched in an unutterable place in our bodies, beyond words.

Read more here about Ojibwe women's relationship to water.

Therefore we care for the earth and its water not only for ourselves and our own families but for those future generations that will follow us.

Right now, many Native communities are taking the lead in defending our earth on many fronts. Here are two examples readers may find new and interesting:

Ojibwe in Northern Wisconsin are opposing the creation of a huge open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Mountains immediately adjacent to the Bad River Reservation. The proposed mine site would leach toxic metals from mining waste rock including iron disulfide into the huge Bad River watershed that drains directly into Lake Superior (Gichee Gumee) and through the tribe's fragile wild rice (manoomin) beds. The small impoverished tribe is battling Gogebic Taconite, (GTAC) the company that is proposing the mine. Under the auspices of economic development, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker supported GTAC lobbyist drafted legislation that reversed the state's previous environmentally conscious mining laws. Read more about GTAC's plans and the Bad River tribal response to the mine here.

On April 26, ranchers, farmers and other concerned citizens will join tribal peoples from the Great Plains region in a horseback ride to Washington D.C. in protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would cross several rivers as well as the Ogallala Aquifer. Pipeline leaks would seriously endanger water and environment. The group will set up camp near the White House for several days to call attention to the negative impact of the pipeline. See the Reject and Protect campaign.

For tribal communities, there is a deep, unbounded correlation between our bodies and the earth. The mistreatment of the earth is personal, especially for women.

During the "Protect the Women and Families from the Keystone Pipeline System Violence, " at Ft. Randall on the Dakota Reservation in South Dakota, women from the traditional Brave Heart Women's Society pointed to the dangers of such projects for women. They noted that large camps of mostly male employees would be constructing the pipeline. Such "man camps" in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota have correlated to a dramatic increase of sexual violence against women.

Lisa Brunner, White Earth Ojibwe, Program Specialist for the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center described the wide-ranging impact of extractive industries such as oil fracking and pipelines as predator economics at its worst.

"They treat Mother Earth like they treat women ... They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us. I'm happy to see that we are talking about the level of violence that is occurring against Mother Earth because it equates to us [women]. What happens to her happens to us ... We are the creators of life. We carry that water that creates life just as Mother Earth carries the water that maintains our life.

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