An Interview with Evan T. Pritchard – Third Excerpt (fifth in series of blog entries)
[Excerpted from New York Spirit magazine, April & May, 2006]
(interview continued from previous blog post: https://marecromwell.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/1778/)
When you speak of the Red Road teachings—or the Native American spiritual philosophy—and equate it with the Mi’kmaq “way of truth,” the Cherokee “way of good,” the Navajo “beauty way,” and similar spiritual precepts of other cultures, beyond the Native American, what is the thematic thread that you see running through all of them?
The three levels of sacredness I just mentioned can also be found in the descriptions of the Way of the Tao, the Buddhist Dharma, the Egyptian Ma’at, the Islamic Shari’a, and others. There is the way of the eternal, in other words, the Way of Heaven. There is the way of Nature, also known as the Pure Land. Thirdly, there is the Way that Humankind Should Live. All three are sacred in different ways. The same can be said of the Red Road.
What role does storytelling play in the Native American spiritual life?
Stories are the essence of mythopoetics, which is the essence of culture. The history of the human race is nothing more than a story told to a child. Stories must have conflicts between characters, good and evil must be addressed in some way—ignorance and knowledge, innocence and experience. Without story, we remember nothing. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, all used stories to convey their teachings; it’s how children learn, and adults too. Stories are lessons in 3-D: they present objects and events without direct evaluation, and it is up to us to look at them from all sides, like a sculpture in our minds.
We learn these stories before we have the faculties to reject or censor them, and they become a part of us; they mold our values and opinions. But stories generally do have values to impart, and we have to be careful what we are teaching through them.
Do all Native American stories of the sacred have a moral or practical point to make? Which ones best express the higher concept of the right way to live? What are the major moral or practical lessons to be learned from these stories?
All the stories have moral and ethical points to make. All are expressions of the Red Road teachings (which the Mi’kmaq call Agoolamz), only many of them are presented in reverse, which is a very effective teaching tool for showing us the chain of unpleasant events that can occur if we fail to follow the Red Road and the “right way to live,”which is similar to the Eightfold Path in Buddhism.
The stories are told this way so that we can make our own decisions and not feel we’re being lectured. There are four directions for the Red Road—the body, the heart, the mind, and the spirit—all of which want to be in balance. All of these stories, either directly or inversely, teach respect for Mother Earth and for all beings upon it (creatures, plants, rocks), and this definitely includes human beings of all sizes and shapes and colors—including ourselves, with all our flaws.
Would you say that “The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth” expresses the essence of the right way to live? If so, could you elaborate on the implications of this statement—the consequences of not living life according to this principle, and the state the earth might be in if we did live according to this principle?
This saying was originally attributed to a certain speech by Chief Seattle. In fact, it has been said for thousands of years by elders across North America, in every language of this land. This is the message behind each of these stories, and it does indeed express the essence of the right way to live on the earth. We have minds and hearts that are connected to the earth, and spirits that live on, somewhere beyond this earth, but our bodies are of the clay and soil of this planet, and we cannot live long without respecting that fact. While we live, if we ignore or think harmful thoughts about our bodies and the connection we have with the earth, we will soon lose our hearts; we will eventually lose our minds; and when that happens, we will lose our souls. It’s that simple.
What we are seeing now is that large numbers of people are afraid to speak up in defense of Mother Earth, and it’s a strange silence. The consequences of not belonging to the earth are that the earth will no longer continue to serve us and help us. Whether this reversal will seem like “revenge” as foreseen by Lovelock in his new book, or whether it will be more of a crippling, a falling away of the beauty of the earth, remains to be seen. Our prayers will show us the way both as individuals and as a race. We can’t rely on mass communication alone to end this silence. We must communicate what we know to our friends and family.
Were the pre-Columbian Amerindian cultures living in a kind of state of grace in which this principle was widely or universally observed? Or was it as little or sporadically observed as it is now? What lesson might be learned from the destruction and subjugation of cultures living the Way by cultures dedicated to an opposing way of life?
I always make a distinction between “traditional” Natives and Native culture as a whole. The old stories are filled with characters such as “The Boy Who Got Mad at the Sun” (also known as “The Boy Who Snared the Sun”), who do not follow the traditional teachings and get into lots of trouble. We laugh at his efforts to snare the sun; meanwhile, we build dams that snare the rivers, make nuclear bombs that snare the atom, and launch ships that snare whales and dolphins.
When we finally learn to snare the sun only through solar panels, we’ll have learned a traditional lesson: respect, and proper use of our resources. Traditional teachings in Native culture about how to leave no traces on the earth are very exact, and, I think, sound a little extreme to those entranced by twenty-first-century culture, but those are the teachings. They’re getting harder and harder to live by in their pure form. I don’t always live up to them, but they’re constantly on my mind. There have always been Native Americans who felt those rules didn’t apply to them, but they are good rules to live by. We all are quasi-traditional to varying degrees, but the traditional teachings don’t change.
The first explorers were often crazy people who weren’t welcomed at home. They were welcomed here, by and large, and wore out that welcome in record time. It is that restless conquering spirit, implanted in the New World at that time, which has led to some of our problems. The Native culture, which takes things slow, is a good balance to that. Some of those who followed the conquerors were often kind, with good intentions, and it was these salt-of-the-earth working immigrants who often intermarried with the Natives, and whose earth-minded descendants are still here today. They know that “the earth does not belong to us,” and are not the problem, regardless of ethnicity.
What do you see as the force that contributes the most to the loss of life and the decline of wisdom? What can we do to oppose it and turn it around?
As seen in the story “Co-no, The World’s Greatest Gambler,” addiction is probably the most dangerous element that nature has placed inside of us. Addiction gets worse when fed by loowaywoodee, an Algonquin word meaning “bad things in my heart.” We say that poor communication leads to confusion, confusion leads to fear, fear to anger, and anger to violence. These all are loowaywoodee. We also know that, according to “the Way of the Heron,” the Algonquin path of conflict resolution—one of the four paths to wholeness—we can find ways to resolve all conflicts through good communication skills. This will reduce the inner emotional pain that feeds addictions.
We have a lot of inner pain these days, and it leads us into further addictions to materialistic solutions, to entertainment, oil consumption, junk food, alcohol, and drugs. All of these things weaken our connection with the spirit, the true source of wisdom, of which a warm heart and clear mind can only be good servants. Addictions can cut us off from spirit, and can destroy our hearts and minds as well, not to mention the medical problems they cause. The solution is as old as the hills—it’s communication.
We need to meet lies with facts and truth. We need to say that global warming is a fact, and that there isn’t much time, even if Lovelock, Hansen, and Lovejoy and others are wrong. We need to point out that 24 to 26 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has its origins in the United States, that everyone but us acknowledges that, and that the underlying cause is an addiction to oil and power. One of the strongest cures for addiction is passionate devotion to something we love. Religion may not always be rational, or even wise, but it’s a powerful cure for self-destructive addictions of all kinds, and this has been the salvation of millions. If we are as passionately devoted to nature as we are to our addictions, it could really help us break the yoke of addiction to refined oil and all the other unnatural things we crave. ❑
-Interview by William Myers, 2006