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FIRST PEOPLES AND NATIVE TRADITIONS

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 non-indigenous people.

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." (Burger, p.64)

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 by powerful 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 250 million 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 the Foreword to *The Gaia Atlas of First Peoples,* by Julian Burger


VOICES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

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 relationship." -- 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 Gandhi wrote:

"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 (Burger)

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)

Taken from A SourceBook for Earth's Community of Religions


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