To protect and serve the land and the planet, we must reconnect with it. Here's how.
Solutions for the Underaffiliated spoke with David Weintraub, the Executive Director of The Center for Cultural Preservation and filmmaker and historian about native culture and what we can learn from it.
The Center aims to preserve the culture, history, and adaptive strategies of our nation’s cultural legacies through oral history, documentary films, and public programs that rekindle the power of local culture and the value of its continuance.
It develops, administers, and promotes concerts, festivals, forums, film screenings, the publication of 13 books, and completion and the broadcasting of nearly a dozen PBS films.
Nature’s Wisdom Through Native Eyes looks at history, culture and hope through the eyes of our nation’s First People. It shows how the confluence of storytelling, native wisdom and nature’s intelligence can help us heal our broken relationship with the living world.
The film explores what plants and animals can teach us and suggests listening to stories of nature’s abundance and healing powers from our ancestors. It explains our connection in the natural world and teaches the wisdom of nature, e.g. water, trees, roots, leaves, photosynthesis and our dependence on one another.
Moving from Climate Despair
We can view the climate crisis through the lens of the philosophies of Native People and Western culture.
Western culture sees people at the top of life, the planet with infinite resources, and humans as having a divine right to consume everything on it — to control nature. That philosophy has led to pollution and destruction of the planet, without preserving and protecting it.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why fact-based, climate-focused films showing the connection between Western values and climate destruction make sense.
However, they are emotionally devastating and filled with unsettling facts and dire information, leading to despair, anger and hopelessness. Such emotion can be just as bad as pesticides, clear-cutting old-growth forests, burning fossil fuels, and poisoning rivers and streams because they are immobilizing.
Native people see humans as coming after plants, animals and all of nature, and that we should be grateful for, learn from, and live in reciprocity with them. They have a deep connection with the land because they learn from it and the relationships among plants, animals and geography and weather. They don’t seek to control it.
Weintraub says that native elders don’t see climate change with anger. They see stewardship — a mindset that goes forward, He found that the best environmentalists like Rachel Carson and John Muir inspire people.
We can mourn the loss of trees, but accept that we live in an industrialized society, so need to move forward.
What can we do about our lack of stewardship, gratefulness, and reciprocity? We protect what we love, so we need to realize that we need to love nature and the planet. Only then will we protect it.
So why don’t we protect the earth?
We don’t seem to think of the planet as a living organism like the human body with interconnected systems.
It was not that long ago when many Americans grew up on family farms, where the interconnectedness of plants, soil, insects, wild animals, and weather was obvious because those interdependencies all showed up in the health of the livestock and crops.
Scientists are now learning that the connections are even deeper. Trees, for example, are connected through mycorrhizal networks fungal networks, which help them to share resources and communicate. Mother tree can distinguish seedlings from the seedlings of other trees of the same species and send her seedlings carbon.
Whether you believe random events or God made the planet, what we started with works, and there is plenty of evidence that indicates that what’s happening today isn’t.
Our focus on profit means we measure our happiness in terms of places we go and things we have, not what we share with the world like art, gardening or farming.
The Native Elders tell Weintraub their stories of how they’re connected to the land, faith, each other — not things.
Art and farming are just two examples of perfectly productive labors of love that people embrace despite the little compensation that typically comes with them.
The irony is that research from human resources departments shows that people are happiest at work when they love what they do.. Compensation is not the first thing most people value.
Our focus on individuality and success, combined with the fact that we are social creatures, means that we want to stand out. We want to be special.
But championship teams and successful organizations with cohesive cultures work together. They have a strong sense of interconnectivity and team work. You hear executives say they want to break down silos. It’s because they want their organizations to benefit from interconnectedness.
To start doing something new, we typically have to stop doing something else.
To find new ways of regaining our connectivity to the world, engaging in activities with intrinsic value to us and sharing the fruits of our work just reframing what we do today.
For example, we see a bear crossing the road or a beautiful mountain range set against a clear blue sky. We stop to position our phones to share our experience.
We see the object of beauty or nature, but we translate its value into “likes”. We share it for us, not for any creative benefit or even for our friends and family.
We are usually not reflecting on why that bear is crossing the road, or that our paths crossing means that we share the planet with it, and that we both depend on it.
We don’t experience the mountains and the life they contain. The glaciers they had, which form the lakes and rivers that feed the farms, which supply the food.
The entire experience becomes a fleeting transaction that lacks connectivity, intrinsic value, or true benefit for the people who comment on the images we post.
Compare that to gardening.
For Weintraub, planting, cultivating and sharing the bounty from his own garden provides him with inspiration and a sense joyfulness and restoration. It is a perfect example of an activity that demonstrates one’s passion for the connectivity among the land, plants and people, the intrinsic value of gardening, and the joy of sharing with others.
But it’s deeper than that. He loves the sense of growing lettuce, arugula, sweet potatoes, and turnips together as they share resources. It’s snipping the flowers of his strawberry plant, so its roots will grow deeper, so he will have the plant for longer. He lets clover grow in his yard because it brings bees and other pollinators, who help flowers and other plants grow.
All this brings him joy. So what if we make joy our goal?
That starts with believing everything — the land, the plants, the animals, the people, the weather — is interconnected.
Define productivity in terms of what creates intrinsic value for you. Do something you love that connects with the world around us and others.
Garden, paint, write, use technology — software, screens, social media — whatever you love to create connections and value for others.
We often complain about the joylessness and anxiety that comes from time on our phones. So put them down and do something that brings you joy.