“’Time is life’. With these three words, Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of the Bhutan Gross National Happiness Commission, ended his brief description of Bhutan’s distinctive approach to economic development. It caught my attention because of the striking contrast to our common Western phrase, ‘Time is money.’
The event I was attending was a small international gathering primarily of indigenous environmental leaders. I was privileged to be among the few nonindigenous writer-activists invited to join them.
Recognizing the need for a new path, indigenous peoples around the world are revisiting the wisdom teachings of their respective traditions as a guide to their survival in a world dominated by institutional forces that have long sought to wipe those teachings from our collective memory.
Some among us are realizing that we, too, have much to learn from the traditional indigenous understanding of what Goldtooth referred to as “The Original Instructions.”
The Original Instructions call us to recognize Earth as our living mother and to honor and care for her as she cares for us. In the West we have forsaken the Original Instructions in favor of an economic theory that calls us to treat Earth’s resources as saleable commodities.
…There is good reason why the wisdom at the heart of the traditional indigenous worldview strikes a deep and appealing chord in the human psyche.
Those indigenous people who maintain their cultural identity view the world through a very different lens than do those of us who view the world through a Western cultural lens. The implications of the difference are profound.
Traditional Indigenous Worldview:
Time: Time is life and is experienced through the rhythms of life’s daily, seasonal, and generational circular flow. As humans we must be ever mindful of our responsibility to meet our own needs in ways that assure life’s continued healthful flow and balance now and for generations to come. The Gross National Happiness Index developed by the nation of Bhutan appropriately assesses economic performance based on indicators of the health and well-being of people living in harmonious balance with one another and nature.
Relationships: All beings are related and interconnected. It is our individual human duty to recognize and honor the rights of all beings, including the river, the rock, and the glacier. Mother Earth provides our means of living. Her bounty is a gift that we received in common and must share, respect and care for in common. None among us created that bounty and no one has a right to claim it for their exclusive personal benefit. We are entitled only to take what we need and bear a sacred responsibility to give back or share the rest—all the while respecting the natural balance of creation and the Original Instructions that constitute a higher law to which all human laws are inherently subordinate.
Place: Earth is our sacred mother. Each being has intrinsic value and its rightful place within an interconnected whole. Our personal and collective connection to our place on Earth is sacred and inalienable. Individual human identity is linked to and defined by a deep and enduring relationship to our place and to the vocation through which we sustain ourselves and fulfill our responsibility to and for the community that in turn sustains us.”
-- David Korten, “A Plea for Rio+20: Don’t Commodify Nature”, Yes Magazine, April 24, 2012.
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Columbus Day was two weeks ago, and many of you know that for years there’s been a growing movement to rename the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
That’s to honor our continent’s original inhabitants, whose land was stolen by our ancestors, who practiced unspeakable brutality toward many of these peoples.
Historians tell us that Columbus was far from being the heroic figure he’s long been portrayed as. Among other things, he enslaved, abused, and killed natives.
Native Americans were no more perfect than the rest of us, but the majority lived peacefully and with dignity, not the “bloodthirsty savages” often portrayed by Hollywood.
Much has been written about the wisdom of many native traditions. Again, this isn’t to idealize them, but to recognize that they’ve always had a lot to teach us.
For example, the attitudes of our culture toward nature are often exploitative and destructive, whereas native perspectives tended to respect and revere the earth.
And… instead of making short-sighted decisions to maximize profit, native wisdom says it’s vital to consider the effects of our actions on future generations.
It’s regrettable that we’re taught so little about the people whose names grace many of the mountains and parks where we hike (names like Shawangunk, Schunemunk, Kittatinny, Ramapo, Wawayanda, Adirondack, and many more).
But it’s never too late to educate ourselves on these subjects, nor too late to urge/ pressure our government to redress some major injustices that were committed.
-- Charlie Cook