Friday, January 21, 2011

Indigenous Peoples as Builders of Bridges by Emily VanLaeys

Photograph by Noah Jackson

For many centuries the indigenous peoples of the world have been persecuted and oppressed by “civilized” expansionists who observed how the natives of various cultures lived close to nature and dismissed them as “primitive.” Those who are more technologically advanced have had the technology to back up their aggressive goals; and equating technology with wisdom, have assumed that the natives had nothing to teach them. 

Now that environmentalists are bemoaning the destruction humanity has wreaked on the earth, intelligent people recognize the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples who, in many ways, were more spiritually advanced than the Christians who conquered them with state-of-the-art weapons hundreds of years ago. 

Dana Gluckstein reveals the gift that indigenous peoples have to offer the world in her book of photographs: Dignity, which was published to support the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to celebrate Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. The following is an excerpt from an essay by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, found in Gluckstein’s book:

“Indigenous Peoples remind us . . . that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.
Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of that it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives in one’s own human family.
The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.
And this also includes what used to be called ‘inanimate nature,’ but what the elders have always known were relatives in the family of earth. When Africans said, ‘Oh, don’t treat that tree like that, it feels pain,’ others used to say, ‘Ah, they’re pre-scientific, they’re primitive.’ It is wonderful now how we are beginning to discover that it is true—that that tree does hurt, and if you hurt the tree, in an extraordinary way you hurt yourself. Every place you stand is holy ground; every shrub has the ability to be the burning bush, if we have eyes to see.”

As a thoughtful Christian, Archbishop Desmond Tutu does not see a conflict between his Christian beliefs and the spirituality of Indigenous Peoples. Any Christian who considers it heresy to accept their gift might benefit from reading “The Canticle of the Creatures,” written by Saint Francis of Assisi 800 years ago. The following is an excerpt from this magnificent hymn of praise:

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
all the weather's moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers
and herbs.


  1. Hi Emily

    interesting post, though I disagree about Desmond Tutu --- he is a rabid anti-semite: not well known but 100% true.

    masterymistery at cosmic rapture

  2. I do not see anti-semitism in this speech by Desmond Tutu:


    I've got a theory about the meaning and purpose of life --- it's all about building bridges between science and religion, between some religions and others, and between religion and spirituality.

    The theory provides a framework in which all belief structures are reconciled, and the seemingly substantive differences between them boiled down to minor differences about which is the correct Label or Name to apply to things, eg to God. (Is Jehovah the correct name? Is Allah? Zeus? Ahura Mazda? etc)

    If you're interested you can read about it at my Big TOE (theory of everything).

    GReat blog. I like the way your mind works.

    masterymistery at cosmic rapture

  4. Ah, my beloved St. Francis knew what he was talking about....and says it so eloquently.