Indigenous on Earth Day

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(Nichole Biber lives in East Lansing with her family, grows a home garden and is the librarian at Pinecrest Elementary.  She is a tribal member of the LTBB Odawa.) 

The theme for Earth Day 2021, “Restore our Earth,” presents us with our deepest responsibility at this time of ecological peril.  If humanity as a collective focused minds, hands and hearts upon regrowing biodiverse plant life and protecting our waters, we could absolutely heal this ailing planet. The choice to do so is always right before us. The Climate Crisis forecast is dire, and scientific projections warn us of the terrible dangers and loss if we continue on this scorched and burnt and poisoned path.  Yet, the baseline fact is that every breath we take proves that the Earth is still able to support our human masses. Despite our emissions and chemical runoffs and deadlands of asphalt and concrete, this amazing planet still manages to perpetually recreate the forces of life. Our species, utterly dependent upon Earth’s abundance for so long, has now come to a place where she needs our help.

The machines of capital and over-consumption distract us and alienate us from the relationship of our constant reliance upon the living earth. The warped redefining of human beings as consumers demands such severance.  The roots of ecological devastation are intertwined with shameful racial and economic exploitation. The extermination of my indigenous ancestors and the enslavement of African peoples were considered necessary to turn a profit.  The torturous conditions of factory farms, and the dumping of oil and chemicals, and the loss of millions of animal and insect and plant species, are also all considered necessary to the turning of profit. It is an exploitative mindset, and it relies upon death and destruction and sickness as the easiest way to power and riches that may satisfy greed but can never create the breath of life.

This crumbling of the balance is manifesting in fire and storm and drought across the globe. Still, each breath undeniably asserts the truth of our interconnected survival.  The Earth and her systems of forests and creatures and rivers is barely holding on. Some scientific projections say it is already too late, as the measures of pollution and plastics and nonstop development all point to the end of life as we know it.  Yet, it may be that the science does not and cannot fully account for the possibility of just how quickly the Earth could heal, were we to tend to her restoration.  If we were to work from a stewardship mindset, casting off the miseries wrought by exploitation, we could Restore Our Earth from a place of love and humility.

I am a jingle dress dancer, and have been wearing the dress for over 20 years.  It is a medicine dance that arose from a young Anishinaabekwe (Great Lakes indigenous woman) who had a dreamed vision of the dress and the dance at a time of great sickness and despair.  This dark time was after the clearcuts, when the animals were dying and the rivers became unclean and the people could only see death.   She made the dress with constant prayers for restoration and healing, each step sending out sounds of peace and hope like the rain.  Whenever I dance, the medicine of the jingle dress helps remind of our responsibility to that which remains.  The great forests are gone, and we have only the dregs of what once was.  But they are our dregs, and small trees grow. The bees are dying and the birds are going away, but if we see them with enough love and care, we can turn our attention to planting flowers for them to invite them back home.  We can all return home. 

In my indigenous language, the word for humility is dabasendiziwin.  It means to think lower of oneself in relation to the whole of creation.  As the youngest in the family, humans are meant to honor and serve and protect the elder members of Earth’s creation.  We have always been intended to do so. We need to reclaim our role as humble, respectful, grateful caretakers now more than ever.  We can heal our wounded hearts and lands; we can Restore Our Earth. The choice and actions we need to take are present with every breath.

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