Heat and humidity have settled in for the week, and severe storms are rumbling around just to our south. The Air Conditioning in our office is overwhelmed and the office is steamy. In the fields, many species of wildflowers are blooming. This is high summer in Vermont.
One of the plants that came into bloom this week is St. John’s Wort, a traditional marker of mid-summer as it is often abundant in late July. It has an extensive history of use as a medicinal plant in Europe and North America. The milkweed and mullein are also blooming. Milkweed is the prime food for Monarch butterflies, and it’s decline in much of North America has been linked to the decimation of Monarch populations. Increasingly, we see milkweed being added to local perennial gardens.
I’ve been thinking about the many ways that, for Indigenous people, the ecological is both spiritual and political. We arose from the land; one can say the landscape sang us into being. We came into this new world through springs, caves, or other exits from the interior. We are made of the soil, water, and air of our birthplaces, and of the places we now reside. We cannot separate ourselves from the landscapes we inhabit. We are every plant, animal, rock, or weather that lives here, that has abode in this place. It has been so for many thousands of years.
At the same time, we are separate beings, each with our own path and destiny. We each, every single being and landscape, desire our lives; we want to live. We are united by interconnected molecules and by our hunger for life. We are each priceless, and to take a life is an act of great importance. That mosquito I swatted last night desires life as fiercely as do I.
We live in a time when people prefer to forget our interdependence with all creation. We imagine our extirpation of hundreds of thousands of species has no effect on us. Yet we also know deep within ourselves that a world without Monarchs, or song birds, or bees, is a world filled with grief. We know our lives are reduced by the death of each species, our knowledge and experience of kinship and companionship diminished. I have witnessed the erosion of our relational world in my lifetime, and in my children’s lifetimes.
Given this, one must not be surprised when Indigenous people around the world stand up to corporate and governmental attempts to steal Native lands and destroy whole ecosystems. The destruction of the Earth is a direct assault on Indigenous people. The Earth is our mother and our church. The great weathers are kindred spirits. The plants and animals are our soul partners, holding equal right to life and happiness. We realize that to take another life, even out of necessity, has import. Destroying entire species and ecosystems is evil.
Where an Indigenous person stands is sacred, because all Earth is scared. Yet it is also true that for each tribe or band, some places are more sacred than others. Our lives, our spirituality, and the stories and ancestors that make us who we are arose from our sacred landscapes. This is simply the way it is. We desire to honor our Mother Earth and the sacred places of all people. This remains a spiritual task, and in a world of greed, a political and cultural necessity.