An Interview with Evan T. Pritchard – Second Excerpt (fourth in series of blog entries)
[Excerpted from New York Spirit magazine, April & May, 2006]
(interview continued from previous blog post: https://marecromwell.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/is-nothing-sacred-the-earth-in-crisis-crazed-world-pt-3/)
Could you comment on Lovelock’s concept of
Gaia—the earth as a self-perpetuating living organism—
and what it has in common with Native American
philosophy? Also please comment on what
Native prophecies portend for the future.
Every Native language has a different way of referring to
“Mother Earth.” They all basically mean the same thing.
This word “mother” implies that we are little children, that
we are from her womb, that we depend on her for our food
and for wisdom as to how to live our lives—and that she
loves us as a mother loves her children. All these things we
attribute to the earth, the planet on which we live.
“Mother Earth” implies that she is a living being with
thoughts of her own, and a being with which, at certain
sacred moments, we can talk, share, and give gifts. We can
cry on her shoulder, raise our arms in defense of her, and
lament for her unhappiness.
In spite of this wonderful relationship, prophecies of
countless tribes and nations foretell the possibility of a day
when she can no longer sustain us—that if we do not follow
the old teachings, she will make certain adjustments in
order to balance herself that will not be to our liking. Some
elders say it will be like a dog shaking off so many fleas. The
Washo stories of the Water Babies, for example, imply that
the forces of nature are not to be taunted or tested, and
that the earth has guardians that are so powerful that they
can level whole villages with a thought.
We are not the only ones who belong to Mother Earth—
there are millions of species, our brothers and sisters, in
fact. If we are beating up on our brothers and sisters, we
will be sent away from this beautiful home like prodigal
sons and daughters. Whether it is wisdom or anger and
revenge that causes a loving parent to make this decision is
not for me to say, but it is done to protect the rest of the
family from harm. The animals, trees, reptiles, fish, and
frogs are all family to us, and yet even as they’re being born
deformed we don’t change our behavior. Is it so unimaginable
that a loving mother such as Gaia would spank us, or
even send us out into the cold to die in order to protect the
others? In the old stories, it is the other animals who find
a way to reach us humans, to convince us to stop and think
about what we are doing. We come from a good family. We
need to listen to their advice, and it doesn’t get transmitted
in words, but in nonverbal ways.
How likely is it that we will be able to turn around climate change and gain some measure of preventive control over the loss of species and the degradation of all forms of life? Will we ever regain some ecological balance? If not, what kind of world do you foresee?
I think we have just enough time to turn it around, and
change the way we live now. I also foresee that even if we
miss that mark, great effort will be spent to slow down the
process of degradation. I foresee a great renaissance of
human culture worldwide as people realize that they might
not be able to accomplish anything in another fifty years,
similar to the inspired writings of a dying man. It makes me
wonder if our greatest achievements as humans will only be
heard thousands of years later by visitors to this planet as
they sort through our remains. I think we can do better!
I support the radical junglification of New York and
other cities, and I think that the new “green architecture,”
as developed by John and Nancy Todd, the Native American
architectural pioneer Douglas Cardinal, and New
York’s own award-winning Makrand Bhoot (the other kind
of Indian), will help us avoid this “dying man” scenario.
New York should be at the forefront of this movement. We
have the resources, and we know how to make living buildings
that do not add to but actually help alleviate pollution.
However, we must overcome the technical problems of
electric cars, and use even more public transportation than
we do now in and around New York. The spirit of the
Algonquin Landkeepers is still strong on Manhattan Island;
we can find inspiration in them as to how to make this
transition, to get ourselves off the dead-end road we’re
speeding down and onto the Red Road again, which, as the
Hopi say, leads to a world where children will be safe to
What exactly is “sacred” for the Native American?
All life? The whole manifestation? Perhaps the
question is, what is not?
In my use of this word “sacred,” I refer to that which is
eternal, that which is beyond human improvement, that
which should not be changed. I chose stories that were not
sacred stories per se—not to be interpreted or changed—but
those that referred to the sacred: everyday, fun stories.
However, the Algonquin elders say that everywhere you
stand is sacred, and every day is sacred—in fact, that all life
is sacred. I also believe this, and feel that everything that
lives has a place in the sacred hoop of life.
Nature is sacred in a different way—not exactly eternal,
not exactly beyond human improvement. Part of our purpose
is to interact with nature, to be a part of it, to “comb
the mother’s hair” by collecting fallen branches for our
hearth fires, to collect acorns, and to keep the deer and
beaver population in balance. However, we are not to dig
out or remove whole sections of the earth, or destroy any
species of local plant or animal. All holes should be refilled
eventually—even subway holes, in the long run.
Human life is sacred in a third way. Its sacredness lies in
the four gifts that are always changing and growing: our
name, which tells us of our mission in life (about which we
are always learning more), our free will (which changes its
mode of expression every day), our language (which we
should be free to use creatively), and our peace of heart and
mind (which we must regain every day).
(italics added by editor – Mare)
(continued on next blog entry – to be published)