|FIRST PEOPLES AND NATIVE TRADITIONS
The First Peoples in the Fourth World
NOTE: Texts and quotations by Julian Burger and the indigenous peoples are
used with permission of *The Gaia Atlas of First Peoples: A Future for the
Indigenous World,* by Julian Burger with campaigning groups and native
peoples worldwide. (London: Gaia Books Ltd, 1990. Some of what follows was
written by representatives of indigenous peoples; some was provided by
Julian Burger explains that there is no universally agreed name for
the peoples he describes as first peoples:
"... because their ancestors were the original inhabitants of the lands,
since colonized by foreigners. Many territories continue to be so invaded.
The book also calls them indigenous, a term widely accepted by the peoples
themselves, and now adopted by the United Nations." (BURGER, p.16)
`Fourth World' is a term used by the World Council of Indigenous Peoples
to distinguish the way of life of indigenous peoples from those of the
First (highly industrialized), Second (Socialist bloc) and Third
(developing) worlds. The First, Second and Third Worlds believe that `the
land belongs to the people'; the Fourth World believes that `the people
belong to the land. (BURGER, p.18)
A PORTRAIT OF THE FIRST PEOPLES
First peoples see existence as a living blend of spirits, nature and
people. All are one, inseparable and interdependent -- a holistic vision
shared with mystics throughout the ages. The word for religion does not
exist in many cultures, as it is so closely integrated into life itself.
For many indigenous peoples spirits permeate matter -- they animate it.
This led the early anthropologists to refer to such beliefs as "animist."
Myths that explain the origins of the world remind people of their place
in the universe and of their connection with the past. Some are humorously
ironic, others complex and esoteric. Some, notably Aboriginal Dreamtime,
speak of the creation of the hills, rocks, hollows, and rivers formed
bypowerful ancestral spirits in the distant past. Others describe a
dramatic split between the gods and humankind or the severance of the
heavens and the Earth -- as in the sudden separation of the Sky
Father and Earth Mother in Maori legend. Others tell the story of how the
earth was peopled, as in the sacred book of the Maya of Central America.
Myths invest life with meaning. The rich symbolic associations found in
the oral traditions of many indigenous cultures bring the sacred into
everyday life -- through a pipe, a feather, a rattle, a color even -- and
help individuals to keep in touch with both themselves and the spirit
world. (Burger, p.66)
Indigenous peoples are strikingly diverse in their culture, religion, and
social and economic organization. Yet, today as in the past, they are prey
to stereotyping by the outside world. By some they are idealized as the
embodiment of spiritual values; by others they are denigrated as an
obstacle impeding economic progress. But they are neither: they are people
who cherish their own distinct cultures, are the victims of past and
present-day colonialism, and are determined to survive. Some live
according to their traditions, some receive welfare, others work in
factories, offices, or the professions. As well as their diversity, there
are some shared values and experiences among indigenous cultures....
By understanding how they organize their societies, the wider society may
learn to recognize that they are not at some primitive stage of
development, but are thoughtful and skillful partners of the natural
world, who can help all people to reflect on the way humanity treats the
environment and our fellow creatures. (Burger, p. 15)
PARTNERS TOWARD A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
by Maurice Strong
General Secretary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
As we awaken our consciousness that humankind and the rest of nature are
inseparably linked, we will need to look to the world's more than
250million indigenous peoples. They are the guardians of the extensive and
fragile ecosystems that are vital to the wellbeing of the planet.
Indigenous peoples have evolved over many centuries a judicious balance
between their needs and those of nature. The notion of sustainability, now
recognized as the framework for our future development, is an integral
part of most indigenous cultures.
In the last decades, indigenous peoples have suffered from the
consequences of some of the most destructive aspects of our development.
They have been separated from their traditional lands and ways of life,
deprived of their means of livelihood, and forced to fit into societies in
which they feel like aliens. They have protested and resisted. Their call
is for control over their own lives, the space to live, and the freedom to
live their own ways. And it is a call not merely to save their own
territories, but the Earth itself.
While no one would suggest that the remainder of the more than five
billion people on our planet would live at the level of indigenous
societies, it is equally clear that we cannot pursue our present course of
development. Nor can we rely on technology to provide an easy answer. What
modern civilization has gained in knowledge, it has perhaps lost in
sagacity. The indigenous peoples of the world retain our collective
evolutionary experience and insights which have slipped our grasp. Yet
these hold critical lessons for our future. Indigenous peoples are thus
indispensable partners as we try to make a successful transition to a more
secure and sustainable future on our precious planet.
-- excerpted from theForeword to *The Gaia Atlas of
First Peoples,* by Julian Burger
VOICES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES on: Earth
"Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine
needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing
and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people."
-- A DUWAMISH CHIEF (Burger)
"The Earth is the foundation of Indigenous Peoples; it is the seat of
spirituality, the fountain from which our cultures and languages flourish.
The Earth is our historian, the keeper of events, and the bones of our
forefathers. Earth provides us with food, medicine, shelter, and clothing.
It is the source of our independence, it is our Mother. We do not dominate
her; we must harmonize with her."
-- HAYDEN BURGESS, native Hawaiian (Burger)
"One has only to develop a relationship with a certain place, where the
land knows you and experience that the trees, the Earth and Nature are
extending their love and light to you to know there is so much we can
receive from the Earth to fill our hearts and souls."
--INTI MELASQUEZ, Inca (Burger)
"Man is an aspect of nature, and nature itself is a manifestation of
primordial religion. Even the word `religion' makes an unnecessary
separation, and there is no word for it in the Indian tongues. Nature is
the `Great Mysterious,' the `religion before religion,' the profound
intuitive apprehension of the true nature of existence attained by sages
of all epochs, everywhere on Earth; the whole universe is sacred, man is
the whole universe, and the religious ceremony is life itself, the common
acts of every day."
--PETER MATTHIESSEN, Indian Country (Burger)
"We Indian people are not supposed to say, `This land is mine.' We only
use it. It is the white man who buys land and puts a fence around it.
Indians are not supposed to do that, because the land belongs to all
Indians, it belongs to God, as you call it. The land is a part of our
body, and we are a part of the land."
-- BUFFALO TIGER, Miccosukee (Burger)
"When the last red man has vanished from the Earth, and the memory is only
a shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, these shores and forests
will still hold the spirits of my people, for they love this Earth as the
newborn loves its mother's heartbeat."
--SEALTH, a Duwamish chief (Burger)
"When Indians referred to animals as `people' -- just a different sort of
person from Man -- they were not being quaint. Nature to them was a
community of such `people' for whom they had a great deal of genuine
regard and with whom they had a contractual relationship to protect one
another's interests and to fulfill their mutual needs. Man and Nature, in
short, was joined by compact -- not by ethical ties -- a compact
predicated on mutual esteem. This was the essence of the traditional land
-- OJIBWAY MAGAZINE
"Our roots are deep in the lands where we live. We have a great love for
our country, for our birthplace is here. The soil is rich from the bones
of thousands of our generations. Each of us was created in these lands and
it is our duty to take great care of them, because from these lands will
spring the future generations of our peoples. We walk about with great
respect, for the Earth is a very Sacred Place."
--Sioux, Navaho and Iroquois Declaration, 1978
Economy, Wealth and a Way of Life
The economic life of indigenous people is based not on competition but on
cooperation, for survival is only possible when the community works
together. Most small-scale indigenous societies have elaborate systems for
sharing food, possessions, and ritualizing conflict.... Indigenous forms
of economy cannot, of course, satisfy the needs of a burgeoning world
population now nearing six billion. But the knowledge and, especially, the
values of the peoples practicing them are vital. The scientific community
has recently begun research into indigenous skills in resource management.
But it is, above all, wisdom that is needed in Western culture -- we all
need to learn respect for the Earth, conservation of resources, equitable
distribution of wealth, harmony, balance and modest cooperation. In 1928
"God forbid that India should ever take to
industrialism after the
manner of the West . . . It would strip the world bare like locusts."
-- (Burger, p.42)
"An Innu hunter's prestige comes not from the wealth he accumulates but
from what he gives away. When a hunter kills caribou or other game he
shares with everyone else in the camp."
-- DANIEL ASHINI, Innu (Burger)
War and Peace, Life and Death
" `Was it an awful war?'
`It was a terrible war.'
`Were many people killed?'
`One man was killed.'
`What did you do?'
`We decided that those of
us who had done the killing should never meet again because we were not
fit to meet one another.'"
-- SAN describing a war to Laurens van der Post
In Papua New Guinea hostilities between groups are part of the cycle of
events encompassing long periods of peace and enmity. War is just one
aspect of cultural life. The idea of annihilating the other group is
absent; indeed, the Tsembaga and Mae Enga are known as the peoples who
marry their enemies. War is a means by which the individual and the group
find their identity, and is largely ceremonial. . . even on the point of
war there is always a ritual means of stepping back from open
confrontation. Anger can be channelled into a "nothing fight," a
competition of insults and shouting. Or else it may lead to a real fight,
with blows exchanged and sometimes even serious casualties. After a war a
lengthy process of peace-making begins. Gifts, ceremonies, and marriages
establish links and obligations between the parties. (Burger, p.62)
~ excerpted from
A Sourcebook for the Earth's Community of Religions