Ancient wisdom: every indigenous culture has it—knowledge that might also be called humanity’s “original operating instructions.” We western, secularized humans tend to think we didn’t come with any; that we have to figure life out for ourselves and that we don’t “know” anything until it’s been scientifically confirmed.
But indigenous humans throughout the world believe they were given instructions for living sustainably and properly in this world. Moreover, they believe the instructions are place-based; they are specific to the landscape. For that reason, indigenous people don’t proselytize. How can a San from the Kalahari tell an Inuit from the Arctic the proper way to live?
Nevertheless, there are common threads: Be respectful; don’t lie, cheat, or steal; be grateful for what you’re given; don’t take more than you return. We rootless modern humans can also learn the operating instructions for the places we now inhabit, by approaching with humility the keepers of that information. We also can reconnect with the instructions of our own indigenous ancestors because, as West African elder Malidoma Somé reminds us, “Once upon a time, the West, too, was Indigenous.”
One of our interviews this month is with Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, a Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation of Wyoming, who reminds us that “the universe is ordered so that planets and people and all beings can move and not create chaos.” She speaks of her own responsibility to maintaining that order–and by her example implies that this is a responsibility we all share.
Our second interview is with Sarah Agnes James, a Neets’aii Gwich’in elder from above the Arctic Circle in the great Alaskan interior. James’ people are the “people of the caribou,” stewards and guardians of the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds, sacred to them as the place where life begins.
We offer an essay from Lyla June, a Native American poet and activist, who, though she identifies as Dine, writes of the journey of love she is taking to reconnect with her European Indigenous roots.
We share stories of the gifts of age from Tiffany Jean Butler, Sharif Gemie, and Shannon Patch; poetry from Ram Nag, Annette Gagliardi, Sharon Frame Gay, Susie Gharib, John C. Mannone, Judith Simon Prager, and Sally Sandler; Movies You Might’ve Missed (but shouldn’t); and MOON Shine.
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Photo: Tomas Sobek, Machu Picchu, for Unsplash.com.