When the first time I arrived in the U.S., I was just thinking about how “ luxurious” is life in here. Luxurious in the term of science and technology, public service and access to anything I need to sustain my life. At the same time, I was also thinking how careless people here; lighting New York City for 24 /7 whole year, massive chemical industries especially herbicide and pesticide, intensive mining projects and so on.
Honor the sacred. Honor the Earth, our Mother. Honor the Elders. Honor all with whom we share the Earth:- Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones, Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people. Walk in balance and beauty. ~ Native American Elder ~
I must say that I am so lucky to be able to know the people who created that proverb, who cares and loves the earth. They are the original people of the Americas, which we call in the U.S. the Native American or the Indian. I will tell you about their lives, their struggle to see the U.S. in different angle.
Before European explorers reached the U.S., the Native Americans were the managers of this land. Land for the Native Americans are their culture, home, identity and primary part of their religion. Every activity of their life involving the land; food gathering, hunting, shower, ceremonies, and so on. For them, nobody could own land but the land meant to be shared to everybody. Land is truly their mother. This view is the opposite to what European settlement worldview (and also at present day) about the land; it’s mainly about ownership and profit, more power come when more lands they can have. This different worldviews was the basic cause of Native Americans and Euro-American conflict in this present day.
When the Euro-Americans managed the Americas land, they managed as what they belief about the land. They moved most of all Native Americans to a place that strange for them, for example moving Native Americans from the west to the mid. As Native Americans really depend on land, and they were already developed their knowledge for more than a thousand year (as we called indigenous knowledge) about natural phenomena in the place they used to lived, moved to a new place and isolated was basically killing them. Euro-Americans took their land, shared it as an individual ownership and make a profit from it. The U.S. government also created the environment where the native people could not live like the way they lived (Euro-Americans thought that the native people are savages because they were not civilize and do not have same religion as them).
The native people could not gather and hunting anymore, but got supplied of unhealthy food from the federal government, their food sources are destroyed or taken away. This is one of many reasons to understand why suicide rates of some Native Americans are high, they also commonly known as drinkers, drug addicted and jobless. For me, Native Americans situation is worse than common colonialization, nothing is better of course, but as communities that lived in this present days, that is amazing that they are still trying hard to become themselves (struggle to practice their believe and life style with limited resources).
Syracuse, New York was a great place to spend leisure time back in 1930s. Some bourgeois and people across the U.S. loved to spend their weekends and some industrial companies set their factories in Syracuse, as Syracuse was so beautiful and its lake had abundance of salt. As a result, many tourism and industrial infrastructures were being built. As the Native Americans who originally live in Syracuse, the Onondaga Nation (The Native American tribes are sovereign at this present day, means they treated as a different countries than the U.S., they have their own government and system, their country is called a nation) did not have a control to what happened in Syracuse. As the lake becomes so polluted (the industrial companies dumped their residues into the lake) and the city is not as stunning as before, Syracuse fame was almost gone. Along with polluted lake, other social and environmental problems were occurred. Drinkable water and food access become critical in Syracuse, especially for Onondaga Nation.
If the Onondagas had power to manage Syracuse, or other native peoples could manage their “original” land, these problems may not happened. For the Native Americans, land is their mother, sky is their father, plants are their sisters and animals are their brothers. Their law and regulation also based on the concern of next seventh generation, because they believe that their land and natural resources are not come from their ancestors but they borrow from their children. This fundamental philosophy that implemented in their nation’s regulation is a firm reason why I believe that Native Americans could recover the polluted lands.
Right now, the Onondaga Nation asks their land back from New York State. It is not about the ownership like Euro-Americans (or maybe in this era, for almost everyone) but about to heal the land for the next generation.
I have an urge to remind you to not misunderstood, that many Americans at this present day also have big concern to recover the land and nature, they become an ally to the Native Americans and set huge campaign to fight against injustice. In Syracuse, the Onondaga Nation ally is Neighbor of the Onondaga Nation. The ally usually consists of Americans who support the Native Americans. As a neighbor they work together to seek justice.
As a Balinese, as an Indonesian, I am so proud that I still have some indigenous values that still being practiced. When I understand how painful for the Native Americans to lose their culture, I understand that this is the main reason why my path brought me to study in the U.S. Beside positive impacts of the development of the U.S., we should learn from its failure in giving freedom and respect to Native Americans. As Indonesians, we must go back to see our elders’ values, not mention them as old fashion people and removed all their knowledge just because they cannot explain in scientific way, but we are the one who should understand and learn from their knowledge and combine our scientific knowledge to acknowledge their traditional knowledge. The funny think I learn here is Americans are going back to traditional life style when Indonesians try to move forward to reach what the U.S. or any advance country has.
I would like to share a Native American story:
“A Native American grandfather talking to his young grandson tells the boy he has two wolves inside of him struggling with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other wolf is fear, greed and hatred. Which wolf will win, grandfather? asks the young boy. Whichever one I feed, is the reply.”
Thank you for reading this.
Gusti Ayu Fransiska Sri Rahajeng Kusuma Dewi (Siska)
State University of New York, Syracuse
College of Environmental Science and Forestry
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