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The rock, Black Elk said,. All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your father Wakan-Tanka; and also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such.

Here we see not only the expression of relatedness on a living earth, but also the sacredness or holiness of events that some persons take for granted: the dawn, the day, and, in effect, time and the flow of life in its totality. In relation to all of these gifts, human beings are expected to be humble, not arrogant, and to respect other creatures. An ancient Nahua Mexican poem tells us that. Those of the white head of hair, those of the wrinkled face, our ancestors. They did not come to be arrogant, They did not come to go about looking greedily, They did not come to be voracious.

They were such that they were esteemed on the earth: They reached the stature of eagles and jaguars. Is he lean? Does he live in a poor cabin? Does money leave him cold? Respect and humility are the building blocks of indigenous life-ways, since they not only lead to minimal exploitation of other living creatures but also preclude the arrogance of aggressive missionary activity and secular imperialism, as well as the arrogance of patriarchy.

Let us examine some definitions first. Our ecos, from the indigenous point of view, extends out to the very boundaries of the great totality of existence, the Wemi Tali. Similarly, our environment must include the sacred source of creation as well as such things as the light of the Sun, on which all life processes depend. Ecology, then, in my interpretation, must be the holistic and interdisciplinary study of the entire universe, the dynamic relationship of its various parts. And since, from the indigenous perspective, the universe is alive, it follows that we could speak of geo-ecology as well as human ecology, the ecology of oxygen as well as the ecology of water.

Many indigenous thinkers have considered humans part of the Wemi Tali, not separate from it. As I have written:.

I can lose my hands and still live. I can lose my legs and still live.

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I can lose my eyes and still live. But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die.

If I lose the earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die.

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All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body? We are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings as European mythology teaches.


We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected with the rest of the world. Nothing that we do, do we do by ourselves. We do not see by ourselves. We do not hear by ourselves. We do not think, dream, invent, or procreate by ourselves. We do not die by ourselves. I am a point of awareness, a circle of consciousness, in the midst of a series of circles.

No Division Between the Spiritual and Real World

We, in fact, have no single edge or boundary, but are rather part of a continuum that extends outward from our center of consciousness, both in a perceptual epistemological-existential and in a biophysical sense—our brain centers must have oxygen, water, blood with all of its elements, minerals, etc. Thus our own personal bodies form part of the universe directly, while these same bodies are miniature universes in which, as noted, millions of living creatures subsist, operate, fight, reproduce, and die.

What is understood though, through the spoken word, is that silence is also Waconda, as is the universe and everything that exists, tangible and intangible, because none of these things are separate from that life force. It is all Waconda. Ecology must be shorn of its Eurocentric or, better, reductionist and materialist perspective and broadened to include the realistic study of how living centers of awareness interact with all of their surroundings.

The Great Spirit Prayer - Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center

At a practical level this is very important, because one cannot bring about significant changes in the way in which the Wemi Tali is being abused without considering the values, economic systems, ethics, aspirations, and spiritual beliefs of human groups. The beauty of our night sky, for example, now threatened by hundreds or thousands of potential future satellites and space platforms, by proposed nuclear-powered expeditions to Mars and space-based nuclear weapons, cannot be protected merely by studying the physical relations of organisms with the sky.

The cultures of all concerned have to be part of the equation, and within these cultures questions of beauty, ethics, and sacredness must play a role. Sadly, the U. When a mountain is to be pulled down to produce cement, or coal, or cinderstone, or to provide housing for expanding suburbanites, the questions that must be asked are not only those relating to stream-flow, future mudslides, fire danger, loss of animal habitat, air pollution, or damage to stream water quality. Of paramount importance are also questions of beauty, ownership, and the unequal allocation of wealth and power that allows rich investors to make decisions affecting large numbers of creatures based only upon narrow self-interest.

Still more difficult are questions relating to the sacredness of Mother Earth and of the rights of mountains to exist without being mutilated. When do humans have the right to mutilate a mountain? Are there procedures that might mitigate such an aggression? But all too often, these considerations do not include aesthetics unless the destruction is proposed for an area where rich and powerful people live , and very seldom do we hear about sacredness or the rights of the earth.

Indeed, we have made progress in the United States with the concept of protecting endangered species, but it is interesting that, for many people, the point of such protection is essentially pragmatic: we are willing to preserve genetic diversity especially as regards plant life in order to meet potential human needs.

The intrinsic right of different forms of life each to have space and freedom is seldom evoked. All over the Americas, from Chile to the arctic, Native Americans are engaged in battles with aggressive corporations and governments that claim the right to set aside small areas reserves for Native people and then to seize the rest of the Native territory and throw it open to Occidental Petroleum, Texaco, or other profit-seeking organizations.

Moreover, some prophecies changed over time, as was the case with Handsome Lake's message, which evolved into the Longhouse Religion that is still practiced today among the Iroquois. In Prophets of the Great Spirit , Cave appears to rely too much on the time-worn revitalization theory to analyze important prophets, rather than seizing the moment and providing new theories and methods to understand these important leaders and the worlds from which they came.

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  7. Still, his close analysis of how these prophets emerged, what they did, and his careful study of the rise of the "Great Spirit" as a source of spiritual comfort among eastern woodlands prophets, enhances our understanding of prophetic leadership. As a short and highly readable guide to the prophets and some of their influences over native peoples, Prophets of the Great Spirit is the best of its kind.

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